Ranking the SEC: LB

Next week, SEC Media Days kick off followed by the release of the all-conference teams. As usual, there will be several expected selections and some surprises. In anticipation of the new season getting underway, here's a look at how the league's linebackers stack up.

It's no surprise that most pre-season publications rank LSU the second best team in the SEC. After leading the SEC last year in defense, the Tigers return all three starting linebackers.

#1 LSU - Not only do the Bayou Tigers have the best defensive line, but they also have the best linebacking corps. LSU returns all three starters to a defense that was No. 1 in just about every defensive category last season. Led by Pre-Season All-SEC First Team selection Ali Highsmith, the Tigers also have a Second Team selection in Darry Beckwith.

#2 South Carolina - Jasper Brinkley finished the 2006 season with 107 tackles. This year, he'll be joined by his twin brother Casper Brinkley who moves back from end. The two combined for 27 tackles for a loss last year.

#3 Tennessee - Assuming Jerod Mayo's knee is okay after missing time at the end of last season and slowing him during spring drills, the Vols will once again have a solid group of linebackers. Mayo is a pre-season first team selection and is joined by senior Ryan Karl who finished last season with 66 tackles.

#4 Mississippi State - The Bulldogs return two of three starters, led by third team All-SEC selection Jamar Chaney. Gabe O'Neal has two years of starting experience under his belt and may lose his job to a junior college transfer. And two capable backers in Anthony Litlejohn and Jamon Hughes are competing for the third spot.

#5 Vanderbilt - One of the best linebackers in the SEC lines up in the middle for the Commodores with Jonathan Goff. On the strong side is Marcus Buggs who led Vandy with 10.5 tackles for a loss last season.

#6 Auburn - Gator fans know Tray Blackmon all too well after he returned a fumble for a touchdown in the Gators' only loss last season. Apparently the sophomore has straightened out his personal issues and is back with team after missing the spring. If so, Auburn should be fine at linebacker.

#7 Florida - The Gators are young and untested at linebacker, but there's lots of promise and desire. Florida can easily move up the list if Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe are all they're expected to be. Both had chances to prove themselves on special teams and back-up roles last season, but can the do it on a full-time basis?

#8 Kentucky- The Wildcats return three starters, including an All-SEC selection in Wesley Woodyard. But they play on the worst defense in the SEC.

#9 Alabama - The Crimson Tide return only one starter to a defense that played with three linebackers a year ago. In the fall, they plan on going with four linebackers. Anchored by Prince Hall who posted 77 tackles last season, Alabama is looking for more starters and depth.

#10 Georgia - The Bulldogs must rebuild after losing all three starters after last season. They're led by senior Brandon Miller who was a second team All-SEC selection, but there is lots of youth after him.

#11 Arkansas - The Razorbacks return two talented linebackers in Freddie Fairchild and Weston Dacus, but lost their best defensive player in linebacker Sam Olajubutu.

#12 Mississippi - It's tough to recover after losing the nation's best linebacker in Patrick Willis. Willis led the SEC with 137 tackles, and Ole Miss will be turning to three new starters to fill in the holes.

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