SEC Football: Spring 2021 Power Rankings and Storylines to Watch

Previewing what's ahead in the SEC this spring

Spring practice for the 2021 college football season is just around the corner for most teams and that includes the 14 programs in the SEC. Missouri and Florida already kicked off offseason workouts in February, but the rest of the league will begin official practices in the next couple of weeks. It’s always difficult to read too much into what happens during spring practice, but this is the first step for programs sorting out the roster, depth chart and position battles for the upcoming year.

 

With spring practice underway or set to start soon, it’s time for an early power ranking of all 14 SEC teams, along with a preview of the biggest offensive and defensive question marks for 2021.

 

SEC Spring Power Rankings and Storylines to Watch in 2021

1. Alabama

2020 Record: 13-0 (10-0 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 3, Defense: 7

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): There’s a lot of new on Alabama’s offense, so the spring is all about getting everyone acclimated to their roles. First-year play-caller Bill O’Brien will be working new quarterback Bryce Young, and assistant Doug Marrone has to restock up front. More playmakers must emerge at receiver.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): Not much. Alabama needs to replace linebacker Dylan Moses, cornerback Patrick Surtain and lineman Christian Barmore. However, this group is well-stocked for 2021.

 

2. Georgia

2020 Record: 8-2 (7-2 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 4

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): A full offseason of coordinator Todd Monken developing his offense with quarterback JT Daniels should pay big dividends in 2021. This spring is all about getting everyone on the same page, while also sorting out the offensive line and young talent at receiver.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): The front seven remains strong despite the loss of linebacker Azeez Ojulari to the NFL. Coach Kirby Smart will spend a lot of time in the secondary after the departures of Tyrique Stevenson, Tyson Campbell, Richard LeCounte, Mark Webb and Eric Stokes.

 

Related: College Football's Top 20 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2021

 

3. Texas A&M

2020 Record: 9-1 (8-1 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense: 9

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): The Aggies have enough weapons at the skill positions, but the biggest storylines in the spring rest under center and up front. Haynes King and Zach Calzada will battle to replace Kellen Mond and four starters on the offensive line must be replaced.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): Leading tackler Buddy Johnson (linebacker) needs to be replaced, and the pass defense will continue to improve with work this offseason. However, it’s hard to find too much in the way of personnel concerns for one of the SEC’s top defenses to work on this spring.

 

4. Florida

2020 Record: 8-4 (8-2 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 5, Defense: 4

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): Coach Dan Mullen has a busy spring on tap. He's got a new quarterback (Emory Jones), has to find replacements for the top three receivers from 2020 and there's work to do in the trenches. The Gators will be fine on offense in 2021, but Mullen will spend the spring putting the right pieces into place.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): Can Florida’s defense get back on track after a disappointing 2020 season? This spring is the first opportunity for a group that has question marks at every level.

 

Related: Way-Too-Early College Football Top 25 for 2021

 

5. LSU

2020 Record: 5-5 (5-5 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 9

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): How fast can new play-caller Jake Peetz get LSU’s offense to perform closer to its 2019 level? Three quarterbacks are vying for the starting job, more weapons must emerge at receiver, and the offensive line has to play a lot better in 2021.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): LSU’s defense struggled mightily in 2020. New coordinator Daronte Jones inherits a lot of talent, so there’s optimism for a quick rebound. Getting the players acclimated to the new scheme and building depth at linebacker are two priorities this spring.

 

6. Ole Miss

2020 Record: 5-5 (4-5 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 9

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): The bulk of the offense is back but sorting out the depth and pecking order at receiver to replace Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah tops the offseason list.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): Everything. This unit gave up 38.3 points a game and 6.7 yards a play in 2020. If the defense improves, Ole Miss can be a top 25 team in 2021.

 

Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Coaches from 2020

 

7. Auburn

2020 Record: 6-5 (5-4 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 9, Defense: 7

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): Can new coach Bryan Harsin get quarterback Bo Nix on track? How will the Tigers improve up front and develop receivers for Nix after the top three options departed after 2020?

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): New coordinator Derek Mason has plenty of pieces to work with, but as with any new scheme and play-caller, it will take a little time for everyone to get on the same page. That’s the priority for Mason this spring, along with shoring up safety with Jamien Sherwood departing and getting the defense to play better against the run in 2021.

 

Related: Ranking and Grading the New Head Coach Hires for 2021

 

8. Missouri

2020 Record: 5-5 (5-5 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 6

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): Connor Bazelak is set at quarterback, but coach Eli Drinkwitz needs to find a new go-to back to replace Larry Rountree III and continue to develop the weapons at receiver.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): New coordinator Steve Wilks inherits a solid group with six returning starters. Some retooling is needed at safety and the pass rush has to develop, but the biggest question mark for 2021 is finding a replacement for standout linebacker Nick Bolton.

 

9. Kentucky

2020 Record: 5-6 (4-6 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 4

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): Some changes are on the way after Liam Coen was hired as the team’s new play-caller. Coen was hired to improve a sluggish passing game but question marks remain at receiver and at quarterback. The strength of the offense remains up front and at running back.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): Kentucky has finished in the top five of scoring defense in the SEC for three consecutive years. A couple of key names are gone – linebackers Jamar Watson and Jamin Davis, cornerbacks Kelvin Joseph and Brandin Echols and lineman Quinton Bohanna – but there’s still a good foundation in place. This spring is all about patching the gaps at every level.

 

10. Arkansas

2020 Record: 3-7 (3-7 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 9, Defense: 9

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): This group is on the rise under coordinator Kendal Briles, but the Razorbacks have a quarterback competition between KJ Jefferson and Malik Hornsby set to unfold this spring. Better play is also needed up front after allowing 34 sacks last fall.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): Keep improving. Coordinator Barry Odom has this group on the right path but more improvement is needed after giving up 34.9 points a game in 2020. The top personnel loss is lineman Jonathan Marshall.

 

11. Mississippi State

2020 Record: 4-7 (3-7 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 8

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): A full offseason to work under Mike Leach and get comfortable with the Air Raid will help Mississippi State’s offense improve in 2021. And there’s a lot to like about this group with Will Rogers returning at quarterback, along with weapons like Jaden Walley at receiver.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): The defense has room to improve, but this unit is positioned to take a step forward with eight starters returning in 2021. Filling the voids left behind by linebacker Erroll Thompson and Marquiss Spencer and Kobe Jones up front are crucial.

 

Related: 35 Key Super Seniors Returning to College Football in 2021

 

12. Tennessee

2020 Record: 3-7 (3-7 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 2, Defense: 5

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): The Volunteers need to adapt to new coach Josh Heupel’s up-tempo offense, while also finding a quarterback and developing depth and options at the skill positions. Just getting comfortable with the new offense is a good starting point.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): New coordinator Tim Banks has holes to fill at every level. The unit’s top player – linebacker Henry To’o To’o – is in the transfer portal. Banks needs to identify players who can get pressure on the quarterback this spring.

 

13. South Carolina

2020 Record: 3-7 (3-7 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 7

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): The Gamecocks return a strong backfield with Kevin Harris and MarShawn Lloyd leading the way. But this spring is all about new coach Shane Beamer getting quarterback Luke Doty ready for 2021 and developing playmakers in a thin receiving corps.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): Rebuilding the secondary is atop the list of priorities for new coordinator Clayton White. The Gamecocks lost Jammie Robinson, John Dixon, Shilo Sanders, Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu from last year’s group.

 

14. Vanderbilt

2020 Record: 0-9 (0-9 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense: 9, Defense: 7

 

Key Spring Question (Offense): It’s going to be a slow build for new coach Clark Lea. Quarterback Ken Seals is a rising star, but Vanderbilt has work to do up front along the offensive line and must sort out the options at running back after Keyon Henry-Brooks transferred.

 

Key Spring Question (Defense): Lea’s arrival should help this unit, but the Commodores have a lot of question marks here after giving up 37.3 points a game in 2020. Finding players who can get after the quarterback is a priority after Dayo Odeyingbo (5.5 sacks) departed.

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