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Now is it Jacob Coker’s time at quarterback? He’ll have a chance to take over the starting gig with Blake Sims finished, but he’ll have to operate behind an O line that gets back Cam Robinson at left tackle, Ryan Kelly at center, and loses everyone else. Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon were good enough to be in the NFL two years ago, but it’s Alabama – there’s depth. However, the receiving corps has to replace DeAndrew White, and Christion Jones will be missed in a variety of ways. It’ll be Derrick Henry’s running game with Tyren Jones getting more work.
The defense should return nasty up front with NG A’Shawn Robinson good enough to turn his game up a few notches. The linebacking combination of Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson are gone, but Denzell Duvall and Reuben Foster will be factors and getting back LB Reggie Ragland is a big plus. The secondary loses FS Nick Perry, and SS Landon Collins is going to be the first safety off the NFL draft board, but everyone else of note will be back. P J.K. Scott will be among the best in America, while Adam Griffith is an okay kicker who needs to be a bit more consistent.
2014 was supposed to be a transitional season, and now the Tigers should take off led by RB Leonard Fournette. There will be losses to the NFL, and nowhere will be hit harder than the O line that has to replace LT La’el Collins and, most likely, guard Vadal Alexander. The receiving corps is loaded with Travin Dural and John Diarse leading the way. Is this going to be Anthony Jennings’ quarterback spot? Brandon Harris will get every opportunity this offseason to take the gig, but the Tigers aren’t going anywhere without steady quarterback play. If the line is settled early, the O will be more explosive.
DE Jermauria Rasco is gone, but three other starters are back up front including all of the key backups – this was a young line that should be tremendous. The defensive back seven should suffer a loss or two early to the NFL, but only one senior – S Ronald Martin – has to be replaced. S Jalen Mills is more than ready to go to the pros, as is LB Kwon Alexander, but this should still be a strong, athletic D overall. P Jamie Keehn is a weapon, while PK Colby Delahoussaye is solid.
The Tigers had to do some rebuilding in 2014, and it’s going to have to do more of the same with the loss of Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant from the backfield. QB Nick Marshall is gone, but there are rumblings that Jeremy Johnson has the potential to be even better, even though he loses star WR Sammie Coates early to the NFL. Star WR D’haquille Williams is back, and Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis should be decent weapons. Stalwart C Reese Dismukes is done along with RG Chad Slade, but the rest of the line returns.
The defense has to be better, but at least it’ll be experienced with three starters returning to the line along with enough depth to form a good rotation. The linebacking corps will be excellent with Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost coming back, and the secondary has options to replace the two lost starters, FS Jermaine Whitehead and CB Jonathan Mincy. Daniel Carlson had a strong first year as both a punter and placekicker, and he should turn into one of the nation’s best dual-threat kickers.
Expect even more of the same with the rushing tandem of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins combining forces behind the massive offensive line. Brey Cook is the only starter lost off the front five, and all of the top targets are back. Cook and TE A.J. Derby are the only two starters gone. QB Brandon Allen isn’t going to be Tom Brady, but he should be among the SEC’s best passers considering what he’ll have to do for the Hog offense – he’s not going to have to carry it.
The defense loses tackle-for-loss machine Trey Flowers, and the linebacking corps loses Martrell Spaight and Braylon Mitchell, but the front seven will be tough around the tackle combination of Taiwan Jones and Darius Philon and MLB Brooks Ellis. The secondary has to replace Alan Turner at free safety and nickel Tevin Mitchell. The O might be strong, but the D could be every bit as good with a little bit of time. PK Adam McFain is okay, but P Sam Irwin-Hill is gone.
5. Ole Miss
How many seniors were there on the final offensive two-deep? Two – Bo Wallace, and backup tight end Nicholas Parker. It’ll be a battle between DeVante Kincaide and Ryan Buchanan to take over for Wallace, and the offense might look a little bit different. A lot depends on the health of several key players with star WR Laquon Treadwell trying to come back from his horrific leg injury and with OT Laremy Tunsil getting injured in the bowl game. In all, though, all five starters are expected to return to the O line – again, depending on Tunsil’s health – and the rest of the O should be loaded with everyone returning at running back, tight end Evan Engram returning, and almost all the top wide receivers back.
The defense suffers some big hits losing pickoff machines Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, but Tony Conner is back in the secondary. The linebacking corps has to undergo an overhaul, but the line gets almost everyone back working around Robert Nkemdiche on the inside. There’s depth to go along with all of the high-end talent in what should be among the nation’s better defenses. PK Gary Wunderlich is back after a decent freshman year, and P Will Gleeson is back after averaging 43 yards per punt.
6. Texas A&M
Kyle Allen showed what he could do against West Virginia and has seemingly solidified himself as the star of the program for the next several years now that Kenny Hill has transferred – maybe. Super-recruit Kyler Murray might have something to say about that early on. The O line loses Jarvis Harrison, but Cedric Ogbuehi has decided to come back on the left side – Germain Ifedi might be the next great Aggie O lineman, though. Even with RB Trey Williams leaving early for the NFL, the weapons are there with Tra Carson and Brandon Williams returning in the backfield, while Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds, Edward Pope and Ricky Seals-Jones form a devastating receiving corps.
The D not only has to be far better, but it has to do it without three of its top four tacklers losing defensive backs Howard Matthews and Deshazor Everett along with LB Justin Bass. Three starters return up front including pass rushing terror Myles Garrett and Alonzo Williams on the nose. The linebacking corps that had to rely on young players should be better with time, while the secondary needs De’Vante Harris to be terrific as the only returning starters. Taylor Bertolet will get the first shot at the full-time placekicking gig, while Drew Kaser is back as one of the nation’s best punters.
7. Mississippi State
2014 might have been the high point for Mississippi State for a while considering all the key parts are gone. QB Dak Prescott returns, but RB Josh Robinson decided to leave early for the NFL. Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway will likely combine forces to take over the rushing duties. Three starters are gone off the line including C Dillon Day and LT Blaine Causell. WR Jameon Lewis is done along with Robert Johnson and TE Malcolm Johnson, but De’Runnya Wilson is a big target returning.
The defense gets gutted up front with three starters gone and only end Ryan Brown returning. Losing Benardrick McKinney early to the NFL takes away a top ten-caliber talent from the defense, and the leader. The linebacking corps will sorely miss him, but Beniquez Brown will be back on the outside. CB Jamerson Love and SS Jay Hughes have to be replaced, but safeties Deontay Evans and Kivon Coman are back along with CB Taveze Calhoun. PK Evan Sobiesk is a solid kicker, and excellent P Devon Bell is back.
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