Best of SEC rankings
Best of the Best: SEC
By B.J. Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com Senior Editor
We forecast who will be best at what in the SEC come the 2007 season.
Best Passing Game
1. Kentucky ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Senior AndreÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ Woodson may be the best quarterback in the SEC. He threw for 3,515 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2006, tops in the conference in both categories. Woodson has his top two targets, Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons back as well. The Wildcats can stretch the field better than any team in the league.
2. Georgia ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Matt Stafford took his lumps as a freshman, but is now ready to become a leading name in the SEC. The sophomore quarterback has all of the skills and has a deep wide receiver rotation returning as well. Junior Mohamed Massaquoi and senior A.J. Bryant return as starters.
3. Tennessee ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe got the best out of quarterback Erik Ainge last season and the senior is back for another run. Ainge just recently suffered an injury but should be back by fall. Though receivers Robert Meachem and Bret Smith are gone, incoming recruit Kenny OÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢Neal, formerly of FSU, is ready to step in and play.
Best Rushing Game
1. Arkansas ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ The Razorbacks led the SEC in rushing by more than 1,000 yards last season, as stars Darren McFadden and Felix Jones finished one-two in the league in rushing. McFadden, a Heisman finalist last season, might be the best running back in all of college football. Nobody will run the football quite like the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‹ÂœHogs.
2. LSU ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ There is great depth in the offensive backfield as Jacob Hester, Alley Broussard and Keiland Williams all return. The Tigers finished second in the SEC in rushing last season and may be even more dependent on the running game in 2007. LSU will have the luxury of using a running back by committee approach.
3. Florida ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ The Gator rushing attack will have tremendous versatility. Sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow will be the catalyst as he is a forceful runner from under center. Tailback Kestahn Moore returns, as does hybrid Percy Harvin. The Florida skill position players have blazing speed.
Best Offensive Line
1. LSU ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Veteran players line the front wall for the Tigers. Senior guard Will Arnold will team with junior center Bret Helms and junior guard Herman Johnson. Sophomore Ciron Black is an emerging presence at tackle. LSU will control the line of scrimmage in most of the games they play.
2. Florida ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ All but one starter returns from a front line that spearheaded one of the most potent offenses in college football last season. Interior guards Drew Miller and Jim Tartt are strong inside blockers. Tacklers Carlton Meddler and Phil Trautwein have the agility to protect the edge.
3. Tennessee ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Senior tackle Eric Young leads a Volunteer offensive line that returns three starters. Young and his interior partner Anthony Parker solidify one side of the line. Sophomore Josh McNeil and senior Michael Frogg are back along the interior.
Best Run Defense
1. LSU ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Good luck running on the Tigers. The defensive front returns numerous key veterans, including star tackle Glenn Dorsey. LSU has dynamic players up front who will control the line of scrimmage. All three starting linebackers return, including senior Ali Highsmith. There may not be a better front seven around.
2. Auburn ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Tackles Josh Thompson and SenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢Derrick Marks are strong interior plugs who are tough to move. They, along with active end Quinten Groves, are the foundation of the Tiger run defense. Junior linebacker Merrill Johnson returns and will team with athletic sophomore Trey Blackmon to cover the field. Erick Brock and Aairon Savage are sure tacklers in the secondary.
3. Arkansas ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ End Jamaal Anderson and linebacker Sam Olajubutu are gone, but a strong defensive core remains. A trio of upperclassmen with starting experience are back on the defensive line and seniors Matt Hewitt and Weston Dacus are back at linebacker. The Razorbacks will be very experienced along the defensive front seven.
Best Pass Defense
1. Georgia ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ The secondary will be the heart and soul of the Bulldog defense. Safety Kelin Johnson is back alongside a cornerback rotation that is led by senior Paul Oliver. Georgia will be able to cover the field when teams go to multi-receiver sets as they have three to four capable cover corners.
2. Auburn ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Two excellent safeties, Erick Brock and Aairon Savage, anchor the defensive secondary. Brock is a senior who brings great experience to the backfield. Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite will have to take over for where David Irons left off. He and Patrick Lee are solid lead corners.
3. Alabama ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Senior Simeon Castille is a versatile safety who can change a game from the defensive backfield. Castille totaled 4.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions and three fumble recoveries as a junior. He and Lionel Mitchell are ballhawks who can bait opposing quarterbacks into mistakes.
Best Pass Rush
1. LSU ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ The Tigers led the SEC in sacks with 39 in 2006 and return the top front seven in the SEC. Junior Tyson Jackson is a talented edge rusher who has the speed and agility to beat even the best offensive tackles. He, Ricky-Jean Francois and Glenn Dorsey get a phenomenal push off the ball.
2. Auburn ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Bookends Quinten Groves and Marques Gunn combined for 13.5 sacks last season. They bring a strong rush that makes timing difficult for opposing quarterbacks. Tackle SenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢Derrick Marks recorded 3.5 sacks from his tackle position as a freshman.
3. South Carolina ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ No team has more experience coming back along the front seven than USC. All seven starters are back, including senior end Casper Brinkley who had six sacks after transferring from the JUCO ranks. His brother, linebacker Jasper Brinkley, had five sacks from his linebacker position.
Best Special Teams
1. Georgia ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ Senior Brandon Coutu suffered through some injuries last season but is a proven, accomplished kicker. Having an experienced kicker like him is luxury in big games. Return man Mikey Henderson is one of the most explosive return men in all of college football.
2. Ole Miss ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ As a freshman, kicker Joshua Shene converted on 14 of 17 field goal attempts. He and punter Rob Park both return. Ole Miss has two tremendous, game-changing return men in Marshay Green and Mico McSwain.
3. Alabama ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ The Crimson Tide return kicker Jamie Christensen and punter P.J. Fitzgerald. Christensen is a veteran kicker. In his freshman season, dangerous return man Javier Arenas return two punts back for touchdown.
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