SEC Football: Power Ranking the SEC West After National Signing Day

Michael TaglientiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2014

SEC Football: Power Ranking the SEC West After National Signing Day

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    National signing day is over, and once again the SEC dominated the national recruiting race. Programs from the SEC signed seven of the top 10 classes, per 247Sports, which means the conference race will be as competitive as ever in 2014. 

    Teams from the SEC West signed four of the top six classes, including Alabama with the No. 1 overall class in the country. A lot of these recruits will see the field in 2014 and help their teams compete for the SEC title. 

    The SEC West looks to be the toughest division in the toughest conference in college football. All seven teams could conceivably qualify for a bowl game. In 2013, six of the seven teams played in a bowl game, and Arkansas should be a better team in 2014.

    This slideshow power ranks all of the SEC West programs after national signing day. There will be a lot of changes to the teams between now and the first game of the college season in August, however.

    Some members of the 2014 signing class will not qualify, a few players will likely give up on football, and others will get kicked off their teams. This list does not take into consideration possible changes after spring practice or during the summer. It is simply a snapshot of where the SEC West programs rank right now. 

7. Arkansas

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    The Arkansas Razorbacks struggled to a 3-9 record in head coach Bret Bielema's first year in charge. The bright side for Razorbacks fans is that the Hogs played a lot of youth in 2013 and should benefit from that experience in 2014. 

    The Razorbacks return a tremendous trio of skill position players on offense in junior running back Jonathan Williams, sophomore running back Alex Collins and sophomore tight end Hunter Henry.

    Collins rushed for 1,026 yards as a true freshman, while Williams added 900 yards on the ground. 

    Henry caught 28 passes for 409 yards as a true freshman. He should be one of the top tight ends in the SEC in 2014. 

    The Razorbacks lost their starting offensive tackles and three defensive linemen. They signed Brian Wallace and Sebastian Tretola to compete for starting spots on the offensive line. 

    They are bringing in four defensive linemen including the high regarded defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson to compete for playing time in the defense. 

    The Razorbacks will need much improved quarterback play if they want to compete for the West division title. There is enough talent in place to win six games and qualify for a bowl game. 

6. Ole Miss

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    The Ole Miss Rebels made a national splash in 2013 when they signed the No. 8 class in the nation including the No. 1 player in Robert Nkemdiche. They followed that up with a solid class in 2014, which was ranked No. 16 overall, per 247Sports.

    The Rebels went 8-5 in 2013 and only lost two starters from their defense. They do lose three offensive linemen and three skill position starters on offense, though.

    Jeff Scott struggled with injuries in 2013, but when he was healthy, he made the offense go. The senior running back averaged seven yards per carry, and the Rebels will miss his ability to make big plays in 2014.

    Junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief entered the NFL draft after catching 59 passes for 938 yards. Senior receiver Ja-Mes Logan was third on the team with 44 catches for 583 yards. 

    Senior quarterback Barry Brunetti gave the Rebels a spark off the bench. They will miss his playmaking ability in 2014.

    Incoming freshman Markell Pack will be given the opportunity to replace Moncrief. Laremy Tunsil is the best sophomore offensive lineman in the country and will lead the Rebels line in 2014. 

    The Ole Miss coaches are not afraid to start young linemen, so do not be surprised to see Roderick Taylor and Jordan Sims playing extensively in 2014.

    Ole Miss has some top-flight talent on the roster, but it needs more consistent play from quarterback Bo Wallace if it wants to break into the upper echelon of the conference.  

5. Mississippi State

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Mississippi State appeared to be going nowhere in 2013 with a 5-6 record heading into the Egg Bowl with in-state rival Ole Miss. The Bulldogs beat Ole Miss 17-10 and then pounded Rice 44-7 in the Liberty Bowl.

    Dak Prescott grew into the quarterback position as the season wore on and finished with 1,940 yards passing and 829 yards rushing. The junior will be one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation in 2014.

    He led one of the younger teams in the country in 2013. The Bulldogs had only four seniors among their starting 22. They will be a veteran team in 2014 and a threat to make some real noise in the SEC.

    247Sports ranked the Bulldogs' 2014 recruiting class No. 38 in the country. Mississippi State fans should expect running back Aeris Williams and tight end Darrion Hutcherson to make an immediate impact on the field.  

    With so many players returning, the Mississippi State coaches will have the privilege of redshirting most of the 2014 recruiting class. 

4. LSU

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    The LSU Tigers finished the 2013 season 10-3 and then signed the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, according to 247Sports.com. They are going to need those talented recruits to make an immediate impact, because they continue to lose a large number of starters to the NFL draft every year. 

    The Tigers lost juniors Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Ego Ferguson, Anthony Johnson and Trai Turner to the NFL draft. They lost their skill position starters on offense and the middle of their defense. 

    They do return four of their five starters on the offensive line and seven starters on defense. LSU head coach Les Miles loves to control games with his offensive line, and he will have that opportunity in 2014. 

    Leonard Fournette has been ranked by some as the No. 1 recruit in the nation. He will get a chance to compete for carries at running back with Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee. 

    The LSU secondary struggled with consistency in 2013, so expect Edward Paris and Jamal Adams to see early playing time at safety. Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn will try to replace Beckham and Landry at receiver, while Travonte Valentine will expect to see immediate playing time at defensive tackle. 

    If LSU can get some big contributions from its freshmen, then it will compete for the SEC and national title.

3. Texas A&M

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    Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

    Texas A&M signed the No. 5 signing class in the country on national signing day. After going 9-4 in 2013, the Aggies lost quarterback Johnny Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans to early entry into the NFL draft. 

    The Aggies struggled on defense in 2013 and needed help at safety and on the defensive line. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff did a great job of addressing these needs in the 2014 class. 

    They need to find a replacement for Manziel at quarterback in 2014. Kenny Hill, Matt Joeckel and Kyle Allen will fight it out for the starting spot. Speedy Noil will likely start at slot receiver in 2014 and fill some of the void created by Evans' departure. 

    The A&M defense only lost two starters from the 2013 squad and will be much improved with more experience. The 2013 defensive line was not able to generate a consistent pass rush. The addition of defensive ends Myles Garrett, Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson should solve that problem. 

    The Aggies will have an improved defense in 2014, and that will take a lot of pressure off the offense. Sumlin has never had poor quarterback play during his career as a head coach. The Aggies will still have a formidable offense in 2014 even without Manziel. 

2. Auburn

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Auburn Tigers played in the BCS title game in 2013 and then signed the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation in 2014, per 247Sports. They return eight starters on offense and six on defense. 

    Auburn should again compete for the SEC and national title in 2014. Whether or not it will win it depends on whether it can replace left tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason. Both were early entrants into the NFL draft. 

    Mason carried the Tigers all season with 1,816 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. Robinson was one of the top offensive tackles in the nation and is projected by CBS Sports to be a first-round draft pick. 

    Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's offensive system does not require the Tigers to have a dominant running back, but incoming recruit Roc Thomas will do his best to replace Mason.

    Nick Marshall got better as the season went on and passed for 1,976 yards in 2013 while rushing for 1,068 yards. Expect his passing numbers to improve in 2014.

    The defensive line returns six players in its two-deep who will give Auburn a formidable defense again in 2014. The additions of four defensive backs in the 2014 class should help shore up a secondary that was occasionally taken advantage of in 2013. 

    Auburn should start the 2014 season ranked in the top five. 

1. Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Alabama signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the third year in a row, per 247Sports. The Crimson Tide are stacking talented players on top of talented players. 

    They had three starters graduate and five juniors declare early for the NFL draft. Senior quarterback A.J. McCarron and senior wide receiver Kevin Norwood graduated from the offense, and junior left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio declared early for the draft.

    That leaves a bevy of skill position talent and four starters on the offensive line available for whoever wins the quarterback competition to become the next starter at Alabama. An interesting twist is that head coach Nick Saban has hired Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator and may be leaning more toward a hurry-up type of offense, per ESPN's Joe Schad.

    With the talent that is returning on offense, this seems like the ideal time to install a game manager at quarterback. Whoever lines up under center could simply hand off to T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry while throwing the occasional play-action lob to O.J. Howard. 

    Yeldon and Henry make up arguably the most talented tailback duo in the SEC. Yeldon rushed for 1,235 yards in 2013, while Henry rushed for 382 yards and averaged 10.9 yards per carry. Howard had 14 receptions for 269 yards as a true freshman. 

    With four offensive linemen returning, a new quarterback and those two tailbacks, Alabama's best game plan may be to grind out wins with the running game. The Tide suffered some personnel losses on defense, but A'Shawn Robinson is returning for his sophomore year on the defensive line. 

    He was the team's best defensive lineman in 2013. He led the team with 5.5 sacks and had eight tackles for loss. He will compete for All-SEC honors in 2014. 

    Cameron Robinson signed with the Tide and enrolled early. He is on campus and participating in workouts with the team. He was ranked as the No. 1 offensive lineman in the country and will compete for Kouandjio's vacated left tackle position. 

    The defense only produced 22 total sacks in 2013. Da'Shawn Hand is a 5-star defensive end who will try to change that in 2014. He had 56 career sacks in high school. 

    Rashaan Evans was one of the top outside linebacker recruits in the nation. He will compete for playing time at one of the outside linebacker spots that opened up when C.J. Mosley graduated and Adrian Hubbard declared early for the draft.