Ranking the SEC's Defenses

FoxSportsSouth.com takes a look at the guys that win championships, at least if you believe the old cliché. The top of the list may surprise you, but consider our argument before you dismiss it.

Scout.com partner FoxSportsSouth.com takes a look at the defenses in the SEC.




Offensive Ranks: QB's | RB's | WR's | TE's | Overall Units
Defensive Ranks: LB's | DB's | Overall Units


Ranking the SEC Defenses

SouthCarolinaHelmet_75.jpg
#1- South Carolina

Who (do they have?): CB Stephon Gilmore (56 tackles), DE Cliff Matthews (7 sacks), LB Shaq Wilson (85 tackles)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Fifth in points allowed (20.4 ppg), third in yards allowed (300.7 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): If the Gamecocks are going to compete in the SEC East, as they believe they are, it'll be because of this defense. The Gamecocks don't have the name recognition, but they do have veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and playmakers in the right spots. South Carolina returns seven defensive starters, but most replace linebacker Eric Norwood and defensive end Clifton Geathers. Wilson and Matthews have to step up to fill those voids for this prediction to come true.


AlabamaHelmet_75.jpg
#2- Alabama

Who (do they have?): LB Dont'a Hightower (16 tackles in four games), S Mark Barron (7 interceptions, 11 pass breakups)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 3-4
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): First in points allowed (11.7 ppg), first in yards allowed (244.1 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): We know Alabama is bringing back only two defensive starters, but do you want to bet against Nick Saban? Hightower, who missed most of last season due to a knee injury, will slip nicely into the middle linebacker spot vacated by Rolando McClain. Hightower also will move around and could be a more effective blitzer than McClain. Barron will have to coach up a young secondary, but if the Crimson Tide gets its back line in order, there's no reason to think its defense won't be almost as good as last year's by the end of the season.


MississippiHelmet_75.jpg
#3- Ole Miss

Who (do they have?): DT Jerrell Powe (12 tackles for loss), DE Kentrell Lockett (5 sacks)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Fourth in points allowed (17.7 ppg), fourth in yards allowed (314.7)
Why (are they ranked here?): Tyrone Nix, our sleeper pick for the next SEC assistant coach to get a head coaching job, consistently turns out quality defenses. On top of that, the Rebels front seven is going to be tough to handle. Five of that group returns, including Powe, who is maybe the best defensive tackle in the league, Lockett and linebackers Jonathan Crowell and Allen Walker. Strong safety Johnny Brown is Ole Miss' leading returning tackler with his 81 stops last year.


LSUhelmet_75.jpg
#4- LSU

Who (do they have?): CB Patrick Peterson (13 pass breakups, 52 tackles), LB Kelvin Sheppard (110 tackles)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Third in points allowed (16.2 ppg), sixth in yards allowed (327.6 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): Like Alabama, the Tigers have to replace a lot, specifically seven defensive starters, but they have key defenders coming back. Sheppard is the team's leading returning tackler and could be moved from the middle linebacker spot to make way for hotshot freshman Kevin Minter, so you know Minter is good. Peterson is the best cornerback in the league and can make plays all over the field. To top it all off, defensive coordinator John Chavis will be in his second season and all the Tigers defenders expect a big jump in production because of the familiarity with his system.


FloridaHelmet_75.jpg
#5- Florida

Who (do they have?): S Ahmad Black (70 tackles), CB Janoris Jenkins (2 interceptions, six pass breakups)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Second in points allowed (12.4 ppg), second in yards allowed (253.2 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): The Gators could be higher on this list based on overall talent, but they lost defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, and that will have an impact, at least early. Teryl Austin was hired away from the NFL to replace Strong, but it's doubtful he'll be as good right away as Strong, who left to become the head coach at Louisville. Austin has plenty of talent to work with, particularly in the secondary, where Jenkins, Black and safety Will Hill make up the strength of the team. What the Gators need to find most are players who can replace the energy brought by guys like Brandon Spikes and Major Wright.


GeorgiaHelmet_75.jpg
#6- Georgia

Who (do they have?): LB Justin Houston (7.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss), CB Brandon Boykin (3 interceptions, 6 pass breakups)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 3-4
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Tenth in points allowed (25.9 ppg), seventh in yards allowed (339.4 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): The Bulldogs have embraced new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and clearly have more energy on that side of the ball than in the last few years under longtime assistant Willie Martinez, who was fired by Mark Richt following the 2009 season. Now, we'll see if that energy turns into better play on the field. Georgia was fairly wretched on defense a year ago, but there is talent in Athens. Houston played defensive end last year, but he's the perfect fit for the outside linebacker spot in Grantham's 3-4 defense, and he could have an All-SEC type season. Boykin is a playmaker, and the Bulldogs have some young talent at safety, like Bacarri Ramo and Nick Williams, who they think can make a difference.


AuburnHelmet_75.jpg
#7- Auburn

Who (do they have?): LB Josh Bynes (104 tackles), LB Craig Stevens (95 tackles), CB Neiko Thorpe (2 interceptions, 9 pass breakups)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Twelfth in points allowed (27.5 ppg), eleventh in yards allowed (374.1 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): Auburn brings back eight starters on defense, and defensive coordinator Ted Roof should be able to work with that. Thorpe and Bynes, at least, are NFL-type talents. Head coach Gene Chizik has added another good recruiting class, and that should help depth, which is important considering the Tigers' fast-paced offense. Auburn was 10th in the league last year in time of possession, so the defense needs to be deep.


MississippiStHelmet_75.jpg
#8- Mississippi State

Who (do they have?): DE Pernell McPhee (5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss), LB K.J. Wright (82 tackles)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Eleventh in points allowed (26.8 ppg), Tenth in yards allowed (366 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): The other Bulldogs also have a new defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, who was a candidate for Georgia's position as well after earning a stellar reputation at Middle Tennessee State. Like Grantham, Diaz has his work cut out for him. Mississippi State has lots of room for improvement and at least has some experience to build on. Eight starters from last year's team return, including McPhee, a monster off the edge. Wright will be the key as he has to make up for the loss of fellow linebacker and last year's leading tackler Jamar Chaney.


ArkansasHelmet_75.jpg
#9- Arkansas

Who (do they have?): DE Jake Bequette (5.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss), LB Jerry Franklin (94 tackles, 3 interceptions), CB Ramon Broadway (55 tackles, 4 pass breakups)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Ninth in points allowed (25.1 ppg), Twelfth in yards allowed (401.2 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): Arkansas has to be a little better on defense, right? The Hogs won't have to make a ton of stops because their offense is so good, but they can't expect to compete for an SEC championship if there defense is last in the league like last season. Seven starters return from last year's unit, so hopefully that's a good thing. One thing the Razorbacks do want to carry over from a year ago is their talent for creating turnovers. Only Alabama forced more turnovers than Arkansas' 30. If that number stays that high, Arkansas might be onto something.


TennesseeHelmet_75.jpg
#10- Tennessee

Who (do they have?): S Janzen Jackson (37 tackles, 1 interception), LB Nick Reveiz (27 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss), DE Chris Walker (42 tackles)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Sixth in points allowed (22.2 per game), fifth in yards allowed (318.8 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): The Volunteers knew they had their work cut out for them headed into preseason camp because they had to replace their four leading tacklers from a year ago, including NFL first round draft picks Eric Berry and Dan Williams. Things have gotten worse since then. Returning starter Ben Martin (an end) and potential starter Marlon Walls (a tackle) have been lost for the season due to Achilles' tendon injuries. Tennessee has only one tackle, Montori Hughes, with any real experience, and it's going to be tough for their run defense to hold up until this unit matures.


KentuckyHelmet_75.jpg
#11- Kentucky

Who (do they have?): LB Danny Wreathen (82 tackles, 5 tackles for loss), DE Dequin Evans (12.5 tackles for loss), S Winston Guy (60 tackles, 5 pass breakups)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Seventh in points allowed (22.7 ppg), eighth in yards allowed (359.7 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): Four of Kentucky's top six tacklers from a year ago are gone, and they must replace four starters overall. There is talent on this side of the ball; it just needs to play more consistently. Case in point: Guy, who has NFL ability but last year made too many mistakes. If the Wildcats can play with a little bit more energy under first-year head coach Joker Phillips and make fewer mistakes, they could finish higher than this spot.


VanderbiltHelmet_75.jpg
#12- Vanderbilt

Who (do they have?): LB Chris Marve (121 tackles), S Sean Richardson (84 tackles, 4.5 sacks)
What (kind of scheme do they run?): 4-3
Where (did they finish in defense in the SEC last year?): Eighth in points allowed (23.3 ppg), ninth in yards allowed (362.8 ypg)
Why (are they ranked here?): Marve is a unique talent and a future NFL player, but the Commodores don't have the depth across the board to be an elite defense all season long. Consider that Richardson led all SEC defensive backs in tackles last year. That's not a good thing when your safeties, the last line of defense, are making so many stops.



Scout.com partner FoxSportsSouth.com takes a look at the defenses in the SEC.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories