Athlon Awards: Ranking the Best Units in the SEC

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South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore should be one of the top running backs in college football this year.

<p> The Athlon Awards for 2011 continue with a look at the best units in the SEC.</p>

Kickoff for the 2011 season is just a few weeks away. To help pass the time before the opening weekend, Athlon will be taking a look at the best units by conference. 

A "1" signifies the best unit in conference, while a "12" indicates the worst.

Athlon's 2011 SEC Unit Rankings

Best Quarterbacks – Georgia
Aaron Murray entered last season as a question mark, but quickly answered any doubts about his ability. Murray passed for 3,049 yards, 24 touchdowns and only eight interceptions, while adding four scores on the ground. Some of Murray's best performances came at the end of 2010, throwing for 273 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn. He also threw for 313 yards and three scores in a 34-31 loss to Florida. The offense will miss receiver A.J. Green, but Murray should only get better in his second season as a starter.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Arkansas
3. Mississippi State
4. South Carolina
5. Tennessee
6. Florida
7. Alabama
8. LSU
9. Auburn
10. Kentucky
11. Ole Miss
12. Vanderbilt

Best Running Backs – South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore proved to be the missing piece in South Carolina’s offense, punishing opposing defenses for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. Some of his best games came on the biggest stage; he rushed for 182 yards against Georgia, 184 against Tennessee and 212 at Florida. The scary thought for the rest of the SEC? Lattimore worked hard in the weight room all winter and should be even better as a sophomore. Kenny Miles and Eric Baker will battle to be Lattimore’s backups.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Alabama
3. Arkansas*
4. Auburn
5. Mississippi State
6. Tennessee
7. LSU
8. Florida
9. Ole Miss
10. Georgia
11. Vanderbilt
12. Kentucky

*Knile Davis suffered an injury in fall practice and his status for the start of the year is uncertain. Arkansas No. 3 running back ranking is assuming Davis is healthy for 2011.

Best Wide Receivers – Arkansas
Ryan Mallett is gone, but the Arkansas offense remains one of the best in the SEC. New quarterback Tyler Wilson will have his pick at receiver, with the top four wideouts from last year returning. Joe Adams led all Arkansas receivers with 50 receptions last year, while Greg Childs finished second with 46 despite missing five games due to injury. Cobi Hamilton returns after averaging an impressive 19.7 yards per catch. Jarius Wright is often overlooked, but he finished second on the team with 788 receiving yards. Chris Gragg is expected to get first crack at replacing tight end D.J. Williams.

2. South Carolina
3. LSU
4. Georgia
5. Alabama
6. Florida
7. Tennessee
8. Mississippi State
9. Auburn
10. Ole Miss
11. Vanderbilt
12. Kentucky

Best Offensive Line – Alabama
The Crimson Tide underachieved up front last year, but there’s plenty of talent in place to expect a rebound. Four starters return, including guard Barrett Jones and center William Vlachos — both Athlon Sports preseason All-Americans in 2011. Guard Chance Warmack started all 13 games last season, while tackle D.J. Fluker should be better in his sophomore season. Left tackle is the unit's biggest question mark, but Alabama has considered moving Jones from guard to solidify that spot. If Jones moves to tackle, look for sophomore Anthony Steen to take his place at right guard. Senior Alfred McCullough may not start, but is a valuable insurance policy, thanks to his ability to provide depth at tackle and guard.

2. LSU
3. Ole Miss
4. Kentucky
5. Mississippi State
6. Tennessee
7. Georgia
8. Arkansas
9. South Carolina
10. Florida
11. Auburn
12. Vanderbilt

Best Defensive Line – South Carolina
Despite the departure of two starters, the Gamecocks remain among the nation’s best up front. End Devin Taylor is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-SEC selection after registering 7.5 sacks last year. Taylor will be joined at end by true freshman Jadeveon Clowney, the No.1 prospect in the nation. Travian Robertson and Melvin Ingram are expected to anchor the interior. The Gamecocks finished 12th in the nation against the run and registered 41 sacks last year. Expect more of the same in 2011.

2. Florida
3. Arkansas
4. LSU
5. Alabama
6. Mississippi State
7. Tennessee
8. Georgia
9. Auburn
10. Ole Miss
11. Kentucky
12. Vanderbilt

Best Linebackers – Alabama
The linebacking corps is one of the deepest units on the Alabama roster. Dont’a Hightower is the leader of this group and was solid last fall in his first year back from a torn ACL. Courtney Upshaw came on strong at the end of 2010, recording five sacks and 15 tackles in the final two games. C.J. Mosley was one of the top freshmen in the SEC last year, collecting 67 tackles and two interceptions. Alex Watkins, Jerrell Harris and Nico Johnson are all expected to contribute heavily to the rotation in 2011.

2. Florida
3. Arkansas
4. LSU
5. Kentucky
6. Georgia
7. South Carolina
8. Tennessee
9. Auburn
10. Vanderbilt
11. Ole Miss
12. Mississippi State

Best Defensive Backs – Alabama
Despite having three new starters last season in the secondary, the Crimson Tide finished 13th nationally against the pass. With all four starters returning in ’11, Alabama should own the nation’s best defensive backfield. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was a second-team All-SEC selection in his first season as a starter, recording 53 tackles and three interceptions. Joining Kirkpatrick at cornerback as key contributors will be Dee Milliner, Phelon Jones and DeQuan Menzie. Mark Barron and Robert Lester form arguably the nation’s top safety duo.

2. LSU
3. Arkansas
4. Georgia
5. Mississippi State
6. Florida
7. South Carolina
8. Tennessee
9. Kentucky
10. Vanderbilt
11. Auburn
12. Ole Miss

After ranking all of the individual units in the conference, here's a look at what the combined totals look like - 

  QB RB WR/TE OL DL LB DB Totals
Alabama 7 2 5 1 5 1 1 22
Arkansas 2 3 1 8 3 3 3 23
LSU 8 7 3 2 4 4 2 30
South Carolina 4 1 2 9 1 7 7 31
Florida 6 8 6 10 2 2 6 40
Georgia 1 10 4 7 8 6 4 40
Mississippi State 3 5 8 5 6 12 5 44
Tennessee 5 6 7 6 7 8 8 47
Auburn 9 4 9 11 9 9 11 62
Kentucky 10 12 12 4 11 5 9 63
Ole Miss 11 9 10 3 10 11 12 66
Vanderbilt 12 11 11 12 12 10 10 78

Other SEC Content

Ranking the SEC's Top 40 Players for 2011
Athlon's 2011 All-SEC Team

Athlon's 2011 SEC Predictions

Will Mark Richt Coach at Georgia in 2012?

Ranking the College Football Coaching Jobs: SEC

The Genius of Gus Malzahn

CFB Conferences: 
Miscellaneous: 

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