1. Alabama – Not much surprise here. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will once again field an excellent group. Their linebackers are scary good. The secondary will be excellent, and while the D-line is the worst on this side of the ball, it’s still good for the top 1/3 of the SEC.
2. Florida – Will Muschamp is set on building the Gators into a nasty team that wins with defense. He had a good one last year and this group only look to get better. Dominique Easley leads a fierce front four.
3. LSU – When I started this list I didn’t think they’d be this high, not with only 3 starters returning, but they are. Much of it has to do with the linebacking corp which is right there will Bama’s and a nasty unit that is the best in the country.
4. Ole Miss – I don’t want to put them here, but on paper they look good at DL, LB and the secondary. They’ve got everybody back from a good pretty defense last year and add Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner and Lavon Hooks.
5. Mississippi State – This defense is set to surprise some people. There is a lot of youth but there is experience there as well in all places except cornerback where there is a pretty big question mark.
6. Vanderbilt – The Commodores are sort of the opposite of State – their strength is in the back end and weakness in the front. Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler lead a solid secondary.
7. South Carolina – It’s hard to rank a team with as good of a D-line as South Carolina has this low, but there are so many question marks at linebacker where they lose their top 5 guys. Clowney may make up for it, but this doesn’t look like a dominating defense, just a solid one.
8. Georgia – LSU lost a lot, but Georgia lost more. And the Bulldogs don’t have a reputation for reloading on defense. Todd Gratham struggled a little bit last year for someone having a roster chalked full of NFL talent.
9. Tennessee – A.J. Johnson is the star at LB, and the defensive line returns most of their weight including Daniel McCullers who is closing in on 400 lbs. The secondary may struggle, however.
10. Arkansas – The Hogs defensive line has a bunch of talent led by DE Chris Jones. The LB and secondary maybe not so much. But they may be improved with a new coaching staff preaching defense.
11. Auburn – There is talent here but none of it has seemed to pan out. If Ellis Johnson can turn over a new leaf they could shoot up the board, but that remains to be seen.
12. Texas A&M – The front 7 for the Aggies is a complete unknown as they have lost their playmakers including 1st team All-American DE Damontre Moore. They may get pushed around early, and be involved in some shootouts this year (no surprise).
13. Kentucky – Really, UK and Mizzou may be tied for last, but with Mark Stoops emphasis on defense I’ll give the Wildcats the benefit of the doubt here.
14. Missouri – CB E.J. Gaines is pretty good but that’s about all I see.