ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 19: Alec Ogletree #9, Jarvis Jones #29 and Cornelius Washington #83 of the Georgia Bulldogs tackle Maxwell Smith #11 of the Kentucky Wildcats at Sanford Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
1. Georgia - I think this defense has everything it takes to be great this year. They have 9 guys back from a stellar D last year including my pick for Defensive Player of the Year, Jarvis Jones. UGA has no weakness and they could have as many as six players on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd team all-SEC at the end of the year.
I give them the nod over LSU because their weaker schedule will give them better stats.
2. Alabama - What's that sound? It's Bama reloading. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley anchor another amazing linebacking corp. The secondary will be gutted with the exception of Robert Lester - who is a great player. This isn't exactly the same situation as 2010 when they lost 9 players, but I do expect a dip from last year - but that was one of the greatest defenses of all time.
3. LSU -
I think this D is equal to Georgia, their stats just won't be as good. They return 6 5 starters but does it really matter when John Chavis has this much talent, including the Honey Badger, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. If I wanted to be nit-picky the weakest unit is linebacker.
4. Florida - Will Muschamp has the defense to win big, but instead they'll probably be solely relied on to win anything. They have 10 returning starters and talent stacked across the board. Phil Steele ranks their D-line and LBs top 5 in the country, and DBs #8. I'm not that high on them but they will be good. The ultimate question may be: will they have enough to stave off opposing offenses if they are on the field the whole game.
5. Mississippi State - 7 returning starters but the four players that leave are sprinkled throughout the units. MSU always has a good defense, but now the quality depth may allow them to be even better. This group has the potential to be the best defense since 1999.
6. South Carolina - There's a lot of praise for the Gamecock D this preseason but they lose Ellis Johnson as D.C. and their secondary will lose Stephon Gilmore and Antonio Allen. Melvin Ingram is gone as well but there is a ton of talent on that line and the linebackers look even better than last year.
7. Auburn - We know Brian Van Georder is an excellent D.C., but how much of an impact will he have in his first year? The strength here is definitely the line, and there aren't any glaring weaknesses in the other units. Overall, the Tigers return 9 from last year's mediocre D.
8. Tennessee - The good news: 9 returning starters. The bad news: 0 returning coaches. They are switching to the 3-4. I might be way too high on this group but they do have a good bit of talent so I think they will do pretty good.
9. Arkansas - A new defensive coordinator and they lose Jerry Franklin, Jake Bequette and Jerico Nelson. Alonzo Highsmith will be back, however, with 5 other guys from an average SEC defense in 2011.
10. Vanderbilt - The 'Dores return 7 starters from a solid group last year, but they lose Chris Marve and Casey Hayward. Rob Lohr anchors what should be a good defensive line. The secondary will probably be the weak spot here.
11. Missouri - They only gave up 23.5 points per game in the offensive-heavy Big 12 last year and return 6 starters from that group. The will have to prove it though after losing 2 of their top 3 players.
12. Texas A&M - 6 returning starters off a mediocre defense going into a new conference with a new coaching staff. They lose 3 out of 4 on the secondary.
13. Mississippi - This is a tough call down here at the bottom but I'll give the nod to the Bears since they have 8 returning starters and 6 of their top 7 tacklers back. They've got some talent and should be better than the 32.1 points per game they gave up last year.
14. Kentucky - This group was okay last year, but they lose the two leading tacklers in the SEC and only return 5 starters. All the linebackers and cornerbacks are gone from last year.