2019 SEC Power Rankings: Is this the year LSU pushes Alabama from top of SEC West?

Yahoo Sports

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2019 conference power rankings. With the official start of the college football season just days away, we’re power ranking the teams in each FBS conference. It’s time for the SEC.

Other Power Rankings: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Group of Five, Pac-12

14. Arkansas (2018 record: 2-10, 0-8 SEC)

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Let’s start with the bright side. Arkansas should win more than two games in 2019.

Chad Morris’ first season in Fayetteville showed the holes that were on the roster. The Hogs were hardly competitive — save for a few minutes against Alabama and a four-point loss to Ole Miss — and only beat Eastern Illinois and Tulsa. Year 2 of the Morris era has four winnable games in Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky. After that, well, look for an SEC win at your own risk.

The QB play should be better too. Ty Storey and Cole Kelley threw for 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions a season ago. They’re both gone and transfers Ben Hicks — who played for Morris at SMU — and former Texas A&M QB Nick Starkel are competing for the starting job.

13. Ole Miss (5-7, 1-7)

An offense that averaged 34 points per game in 2018 has to replace eight starters including QB Jordan Ta’amu and WRs A.J. Brown, DeMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf. At least RB Scottie Phillips is back. Phillips scored 12 TDs and averaged over six yards a carry in 2018.

Phillips will be fun in new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez’s scheme. So could redshirt freshman QB Matt Corral, who looked good in extremely limited playing time in 2018.

The defense returns 10 starters, but the reason Ole Miss was 5-7 in 2018 is because the defense gave up 36 points per game and allowed three opponents to score 45 or more. Former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is in charge of the defense now after he was fired at the end of 2018. Don’t be surprised if Ole Miss gives someone a scare in 2019.

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12. Vanderbilt (6-7, 3-5)

The Vandy offense looks good with RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, WR Kalija Lipscomb and TE Jared Pinckney back. But its success may all hinge on the quarterback play. Kyle Shurmur is now at training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs and former Ball State QB Riley Neal looks to take over.

Neal played in nine games in 2018 but threw for fewer than 2,000 yards and only had 11 touchdowns. He’s got a ton of skill position talent around him. Will his numbers elevate accordingly?

Defensively, Vanderbilt has to replace four of its top five leading tacklers. With a road game against Purdue and a visit from Northern Illinois on the schedule, a bowl bid may be tough to come by.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn averaged over 100 yards rushing per game for Vanderbilt in 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
Ke'Shawn Vaughn averaged over 100 yards rushing per game for Vanderbilt in 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

11. Kentucky (10-3, 5-3)

Yes, we have the Wildcats this low. It’s not going to be surprising in the slightest if UK makes a bowl game for the fourth straight season. But it’s also easy to expect some regression after a surprise 10-win season in 2018.

RB Benny Snell is in the NFL. He accounted for nearly 60 percent of Kentucky’s rushing offense and the run was the dominant way the Wildcats moved the ball. Kentucky could afford to run so much (and so well) in the style that it did because of a fantastic defense that allowed fewer than 17 points per game. But pass rusher Josh Allen is gone and so are six other starters. Kentucky will have to break in what’s almost an entirely new defensive backfield. A Week 1 game against Toledo won’t be a cakewalk; 6-6 or 7-5 feels about right.

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10. South Carolina (7-6, 4-4)

South Carolina shouldn’t be any worse than it was roster-wise in 2018. QB Jake Bentley is back for another season and Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster has joined the team at RB. TJ Brunson is an unheralded linebacker who had over 100 tackles in 2018 and five of the seven players who started up front on defense for the Gamecocks last season return in 2019.

But boy, the schedule is awful. South Carolina draws Alabama in addition to Texas A&M from the SEC West this year. It also has to travel to Georgia and Missouri, two of the top three teams in the SEC East and then there’s that annual end-of-season rivalry game against Clemson to worry about. Only A&M also plays Clemson, Alabama and Georgia, the top three teams in our preseason top 25.

9. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6)

What can Jarrett Guarantano do in 2019? Keller Chryst transferred from Stanford ahead of the 2018 season but Guarantano was the better quarterback for the duration of the season. Guarantano threw 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions and played well in upsets of Auburn and Kentucky in 2018.

Nine other starters return on offense, including running back Ty Chandler and everyone who caught a touchdown pass for the Vols in 2018 is back in 2019. Improving the pass rush and a defense that has given up 28 points per game or more in each of the past three seasons is the key to bowl eligibility. With games against South Carolina and Vanderbilt both at home this season, Tennessee could get it done.

Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw 12 touchdowns in 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw 12 touchdowns in 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

8. Missouri (8-5, 4-4)

The Tigers bring back seven starters on offense including RB Larry Rountree, who rushed for 1,216 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018 and preseason All-American TE Albert Okwuegbunam, who had 43 catches for 466 yards and six scores in an injury-plagued 2018 campaign.

Oh, there’s also Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant succeeding Drew Lock at QB too. But by now you know that. We should find out soon if the Tigers will get their postseason ban lifted.

For a more in-depth preview of Missouri, No. 21 in our preseason top 25, click here.

7. Mississippi State (8-5, 4-4)

The MSU offense should be more two-dimensional than it was in 2018, especially with Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens as the starting quarterback. Stevens beat out Keytaon Thompson, who backed up Nick Fitzgerald in 2018, for the job. Stevens played under Bulldogs coach Joe Moorhead when Moorhead was the offensive coordinator at PSU.

MSU’s offense was still really good without a stellar passing game last season too. RB Kylin Hill is back and averaged 6.3 yards a carry in 2018. Three offensive linemen return too. The defense has to replace three first-round picks, but there’s still a lot of talent on that side of the ball.

For a more in-depth preview of Mississippi State, No. 19 in our preseason top 25, click here.

6. Texas A&M (9-4, 5-3)

The Aggies could be a top-10 team with a schedule similar to Missouri’s. But it’s hard to be too high on A&M with those games against Alabama, Clemson and Georgia on the schedule in addition to LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State.

A&M’s offense should be just fine despite the loss of leading rusher Trayveon Williams. What will be tested is the defense, which returns just four starters and none of the top six tacklers from a year ago. But A&M’s defense showed good depth in 2018.

For a more in-depth preview of Texas A&M, No. 17 in our preseason top 25, click here.

Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond will have even more responsibilities in 2019. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond will have even more responsibilities in 2019. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

5. Auburn (8-5, 3-5)

Bo Nix is officially Auburn’s starting QB for the Aug. 31 opener against Oregon. He’s the first true freshman to start a season-opening game for the Tigers since the 1940s.

There’s plenty of offensive talent around him with a speedy group of wide receivers and a trio of good running backs. The defense should be strong too, especially up front. Auburn hasn’t given up more than 20 points per game since 2015. A Sept. 21 game against Texas A&M could end up being for third in the SEC West.

For a more in-depth preview of Auburn, No. 13 in our preseason top 25, click here.

4. Florida (10-3, 5-3)

The Gators are already 1-0 after an ugly win over Miami on Saturday night. Don’t read too much into that game because that game sure as heck can’t be an indicator of what’s to come for either team.

Feleipe Franks should be as good or even better than he was at the end of the 2018 season and the defense can still get after the quarterback despite the talent lost to the NFL. Florida’s schedule is far from easy, however. The Gators draw both Auburn and LSU from the SEC West this season.

For a more in-depth preview of Florida, No. 10 in our preseason top 25, click here.

3. LSU (10-3, 5-3)

Is this the year Ed Orgeron’s team makes a run at Alabama in the SEC West? MLB Devin White and CB Greedy Williams are gone but eight starters are back on a defense that gave up fewer than five yards a play in 2018. It’ll be stellar once again.

The big question is about the offense, which also returns eight starters. It’s set to look a lot different in 2019 with the hire of Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints as the team’s passing game coordinator. The Tigers have been spreading the field and throwing the ball more often so far this preseason. But will it stick? The Matt Canada experiment at LSU didn’t last very long before Orgeron went back to a more plodding offensive system that he was familiar with.

For a more in-depth preview of LSU, No. 6 in our preseason top 25, click here.

How will LSU QB Joe Burrow fare in a new LSU offense? (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
How will LSU QB Joe Burrow fare in a new LSU offense? (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

2. Georgia (11-3, 7-1)

Kirby Smart enters the season with an experienced quarterback in Jake Fromm and two new coordinators. Former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is now the head coach at Colorado and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney took the same position at Tennessee.

Smart promoted from within to replace both assistants and there’s no reason to believe there will be much of an adjustment. Georgia does have to replace its top four receivers from 2018, but the offensive line is really good and the running game will be strong again. Oh, and Fromm is pretty good too.

For a more in-depth preview of Georgia, No. 3 in our preseason top 25, click here.

1. Alabama (14-1, 8-0)

What will Alabama’s offense look like in 2019? Is it going to be full of deep shots like it was in 2018 or will the passing game be more measured to go along with a rushing attack that will, like clockwork, be extremely consistent?

QB Tua Tagovailoa is a Heisman contender and a receiving group led by Jerry Jeudy is the best in the country. Alabama does have to replace No. 3 overall draft pick DL Quinnen Williams, but Raekwon Davis and Anfernee Jennings are around to keep the pass rush really good. And the secondary is loaded.

For a more in-depth preview of Alabama, No. 2 in our preseason top 25, click here.

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