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2014 SEC Preseason Football Position Rankings: Special Teams

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In a measure designed to help us all avoid the doldrums that are summer life without football, we – those that make up the SEC blogosphere here at SB Nation – will be voting once a week until football season, ranking the position groups for SEC football as we count down to the first weekend of the season. Our fifth position group ranking focuses on the guys who are either heroes or goats -- the special teams.

How do you not use a photo from the greatest special teams play of 2013 here?
How do you not use a photo from the greatest special teams play of 2013 here?
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

Georgia and Alabama battled it out for the top spot last week in our linebacker rankings, but who will claim #1 this week?  Can A&M and Drew Kaser do so? What about LSU and its all-LSU named kicker, Colby Delahoussaye?  Let's find out as we take a look at special teams rankings from SB Nation's SEC bloggers.

Ballot Posts: And the Valley Shook, Garnet and Black Attack, Red Cup Rebellion, Rocky Top Talk

1. Texas A&M (Three First Place Votes, 2.2 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Drew Kaser
Our Thoughts:

-- I feel like the Aggies are getting a ton of pub for punter Drew Kaser, and yeah he has some nice averages, but when you allow a 10 yard average per return, some of that has to go on the punter. Either he's not getting any hang time at all or not angling his kicks right. At least some times. Trey Williams is a solid returner, and the kickers are back, so there's that. (And the Valley Shook)

-- Drew Kaser is a legitimate Ray Guy Award candidate. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- The Aggies return all their major specialists including potential All-American punter Drew Kaser. (Dawg Sports)

-- The Aggies return their punter (possibly the best in the conference), their placekicker, and talented kickoff and punt returners from a group of units that was very successful overall last year. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- Sumlin's recruiting success has helped both the Aggies' special teams rankings and the Brazos County Jail: both are loaded with former blue chip recruits. (Rocky Top Talk)

2. LSU (One First Place Vote, 2.6 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Colby Delahoussaye
Our Thoughts:

-- Colby Delahoussaye missed one field goal attempt last season, though he only had 14 total kicks. The strength of the LSU unit is the coverage unit, which was again tops in the SEC last year. Believe it or not, but Beckham was a middle of the pack return guy, so the Tigers shouldn't see much drop off in their return game. Even a repeat of a middle of the pack return game makes this the top unit in the conference because it is great at all other phases of special teams. (And the Valley Shook)

-- The most LSU-named player since Ryan Perriloux, Colby Delahoussaye, is arguably the SEC's best placekicker. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- If only there were a way to wrangle one more year of eligibility for Brand Wing or Odell Beckham the Bayou Bengal special teams units would be more fun. (Dawg Sports)

-- LSU loses return specialist and Hornung Award winner Odell Beckham, but LSU always has excellent special teams units. Les Miles seems to put more of an emphasis on this aspect of the game than other coaches. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- The coverage units will be very good, but one or more of the freshmen will have to step up and contribute at the return positions. (Rocky Top Talk)

3. Alabama (3.6 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Christion Jones
Our Thoughts:

-- The one Alabama unit that is honest to God underrated. Christion Jones is the only elite return man returning this season in the SEC and their coverage unit is one of the best in the nation. They will be breaking in a new kicker, which hurts them a tad. While they have had some high profile breakdowns which I'm not above mentioning (Kick Six, the Game of the Century, pretty much any FG attempt beyond 40 yards), this is an all-around great unit. (And the Valley Shook)

-- Christion Jones could be an electric return man, and Adam Griffith will try not to leave any field goals short this season. (Dawg Sports)

-- 'Bama's epic placekicking meltdowns in the Iron Bowl last season and two years ago against LSU belies that this team generally produces good special teams units. One thing that likely helps 'Bama is that they have such a wealth of talented reserves they can play in return units. (Garnet and Black Attack)

4. Georgia (5.0 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Marshall Morgan
Our Thoughts:

-- The best returning kicker (Marshall Morgan) in the SEC, and a contender for the best punter (Collin Barber). The Dawgs also boast a terrific coverage unit that rivals LSU and Bama. So what's the problem? They can't return the ball. Like, at all. Their dismal 2.92 yards/return was by far the worst in the conference, which keeps them out of the top spot. They are a return man away from being the best special teams not just in the SEC, but the nation. (And the Valley Shook)

-- The Dawgs seem to always have excellent special teams, with this year being no exception. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- Junior kicker Marshall Morgan is a legitimate All-American candidate coming of a sophomore campaign that saw him hit 22 of 24 field goals (including 7 of 8 from 40+) and nail 47 of 47 extra points. But the rest of the Bulldog special teams were far from special, and I'm going to have to see it on the field before I believe offseason reports of improvement. (Dawg Sports)

-- Despite enjoying a ton of reserve talent to employ on special teams, the UGA special teams units generally haven't been very good in recent years. They've got some good individual players coming back, but how good will the units be as a whole? (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- The Dawgs were one returner away from a really good special teams unit last year. Another excellent recruiting class and plenty of veterans returning from injury means that Richt should be able to find a solid returner who will impress this year, purchase a scooter, get suspended for a scooter-related incident by the Athens-Clarke County PD, and transfer to Louisville or Auburn. (Rocky Top Talk)

5. Florida (5.2 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Andre Dubose
Our Thoughts:

-- The kickers are a little iffy but Kyle Christy is a good punter, and the coverage units are stout. Andre Debose has been in school since the Spurrier days, but he's a good returner. (And the Valley Shook)

-- If Andre Dubose is healthy, then the Gators return unit is dangerous. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- A healthy Andre Debose returning kicks could take a lot of pressure off of Kurt Roper's offense. While Solomon Patton filled in admirably in 2013, few recent SEC players have been capable of flipping the field like Debose. (Dawg Sports)

-- Despite its struggles in the placekicking game a year ago, Florida routinely has great special teams units, particularly in the return game, and if Andre Debose is able to regain his stride, that should be the case again this year. The Gators did better in the placekicking game after inserting Francisco Velez late in the season. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- If college football only consisted of special teams and defense, Will Muschamp would be the best coach in the business. He may not have any of your fancy book learnin' but he teaches the four "in"s better than almost anyone: runnin', blockin', tacklin', and brushin'. There's never an excuse for poor dental hygiene. (Rocky Top Talk)

6. Missouri (5.6 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Marcus Murphy, Andrew Baggett
Our Thoughts:

-- They were average at best year, but the thing is they return every single specialist. That's a major boost in my opinion. (And the Valley Shook)

-- One of the few teams that returns all of their specialists. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- Missouri returns a group of solid, if not spectacular, specialists. (Dawg Sports)

-- The Tigers were middle of the pack in the SEC in special teams last year but return some nice pieces that make you believe improvement is coming. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- Mediocre in everything last year and many of the key players are now vying for starting positions. (Rocky Top Talk)

Drew Kaser

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

7. Auburn (5.8 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Daniel Carlson, Corey Grant
Our Thoughts:

-- They weren't a great FG kicking team last year, but they excelled in returns and KOs. They are ushering in a new K, but they should be alright. (And the Valley Shook)

-- Auburn loses a lot of specialists from a year ago but has good players ready to plug in for them. I doubt you'll see a profound drop-off. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- I'm sure everyone else will make "kick six" or "one second" jokes here, but did any of you stop for a second and consider the feelings of the Alabama field goal unit? Words can hurt, y'all. (Rocky Top Talk)

8. Tennessee (8.6 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Devrin Young
Our Thoughts:

-- Matt Darr is a pretty good punter, but their coverage unit flat out sucks. Auburn is still running back kicks against them. However, they return the favor pretty well when they return punts themselves. (And the Valley Shook)

-- The Vols lose reliable placekicker Michael Palardy but look to be in decent shape elsewhere and have a highly rated freshman kicker coming in to replace Palardy. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- The coverage and return units will be much improved from last year's middle of the pack ranking, but Michael Palardy took his one man punting/kicking band to the NFL. (Rocky Top Talk)

9. South Carolina (9.6 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Tyler Hull
Our Thoughts:

-- Returning four of five starters, though they weren't any good at anything but FGs last year. Pretty much Georgia with less talent. (And the Valley Shook)

-- South Carolina was dead last in the SEC in 2013 in net punting with a 34.1 yard average. But hey, Tyler Hull's back and isn't likely to do any worse than that in 2014. (Dawg Sports)

-- The Gamecocks have a talented return specialist in Pharoh Cooper and a reliable placekicker in Elliott Fry. The punter job is currently in open competition between Tyler Hull, who has struggled the past two years, and newcomer Zach Cimiglia. In any event, Gamecocks special teams have been atrocious for most of the Spurrier era, despite the fact that the program has enjoyed some good kickers in Ryan Succop and Spencer Lanning and an electric return man in Ace Sanders. I'll believe Spurrier has committed to improving this part of the program when I see it. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- At this point, the only explanation for South Carolina's continued futility on special teams is that the HBC enjoys playing with a substantial handicap. Hey, it works in golf! (Rocky Top Talk)

10. Arkansas (9.8 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Sam Erwin-Hill
Our Thoughts:

--Teams average 13.16 yards/return against them. That's off the charts terrible. (And the Valley Shook)

-- Their punter's one of those wacky Australians who can use either foot. I'm sure that comes in handy. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- The Hogs have a strong returning punter but not much else to be excited about on special teams. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- Recruiting pitch: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. If you can't make it here, waste your potential on special teams instead of transferring. (Rocky Top Talk)

11. Kentucky (10.6 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Joe Mansour
Our Thoughts:

-- They were dreadful last year and return one specialist. Why should I believe? Good thing we hired their STs coach! (And the Valley Shook)

-- UK struggled on special teams a year ago, and while they have some decent kickers on return men on the roster, the challenge for UK remains placing good enough players on the return units. Mark Stoops brought in a good recruiting class last year, but how much will it help this year? (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- Surprisingly good. Attention Big 10 teams: you are letting one of the worst teams in the SEC absolutely pick your pocket for Ohio recruits. (Rocky Top Talk)

12. MSU (11.6 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Devon Bell, Jameon Lewis
Our Thoughts:

-- Having the principle players back at least provides some hope that there might be some improvement, and it's more than the rest of the teams on this list have. Jameon Lewis could be dangerous on returns if they could give him room. (And the Valley Shook)

-- State returns their kickers... who were abysmal last season. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- The Bulldogs were among the worst in the league in many special teams categories a year ago. They return a lot of their key contributors, but is that a good thing? (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- Despite being composed of lesser known characters, this is a really entertaining group with enormous potential. I expected the talking raccon and tree-like hill person, but Dan Mullen (played by John C. Reilly) was surprisingly believable as a middle manager who choses to trust a loveable scofflaw with the safety of his family. (Rocky Top Talk)

13. Vanderbilt (11.8 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Tommy Openshaw
Our Thoughts:

-- They do nothing well in special teams now that Carey Spear is gone. (And the Valley Shook)

-- Vandy had decent special teams units a year ago, but it loses all of its major kickers and return men, which may cause a return to the days when Vandy special teams were comically bad. However, new head coach Derek Mason has experience working with special teams and saw how much good special teams matter at Stanford, so look for him to emphasize this part of the game. The key is for him, as it always is at Vandy, to get good enough players on the field. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- Like a hardworking pair of Spanx, Vandy's quietly excellent special teams unit (well, everything except kickoff returns) held together and shaped a bunch of mismatched elements into a relatively attractive overall package. (Rocky Top Talk)

14. Ole Miss (13.0 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Jaylen Walton
Our Thoughts:

-- Who cares about the Rebs? (And the Valley Shook)

-- Ole Miss is breaking in a new placekicker and punter, and still hasn't found a reliable punt returner. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- Ole Miss struggled on special teams a year ago despite enjoying the services of talented return man Jeff Scott. Without Scott and other key departed players, it's unclear why we should expect improvement. (Garnet and Black Attack)

-- The Rebels were pretty terrible on special teams last year, probably because most of the heralded recruiting class had to play right away. With another decent class on campus, Freeze has more to work with, but Oxford still needs depth. I'm pretty sure Oxpatch Andrew and cuppycup are on the two-deep. (Rocky Top Talk)

Colby Delahoussaye

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports