Power Ranking Every SEC West Football Team Post-Spring Practice
Over the last five seasons, six SEC West teams have played for the national title. The quest for seven (or eight or nine, depending on what happens in the College Football Playoff) began this spring in the nation's toughest division, as spring practice served as a proving ground for players looking to fill holes on the rosters of big-time teams.
Some of those questions were answered this spring, as Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall clearly progressed as a passer, Alabama's secondary looked sharp and contenders to replace former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel were reduced by one.
What does the SEC West look like after spring practice? Our post-spring power rankings are in this slide show.
Click here for SEC East post-spring power rankings.
7. Arkansas Razorbacks
Bret Bielema's first season as Arkansas' head coach concluded with a nine-game losing streak and questions abound, particularly at quarterback.
Brandon Allen, last year's starter who completed just 49.6 percent of his passes (128-of-258), entered spring practice in a quarterback battle with his brother Austin Allen and true freshman Rafe Peavey and appears to have solidified himself as the No. 1 option for the Razorbacks.
But who's he going to throw to?
Arkansas has to find some consistent weapons downfield to keep opposing defenses who will undoubtedly want to creep up and try to shut down running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
Defensively, new coordinator Robb Smith has work cut out for him. Defensive end Trey Flowers will be a monster off the edge, but this defense needs to get deeper and better in one offseason, and I'm not sure that's possible.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Don't be fooled by the No. 6 next to Mississippi State above, because the Bulldogs are going to be better in 2014.
Head coach Dan Mullen returns quarterback Dak Prescott for his first full season as the starting quarterback, Josh Robinson and a host of talent running backs behind him and the SEC's leading returning receiver in Jameon Lewis. For the first time since getting the job prior to the 2009 season, Mullen—the former offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Florida—has the pieces around him to run the offense that got him the job in the first place.
Defensively, they'll be solid as well. Eight starters return on the defensive side of the ball, according to Phil Steele, including linebacker Benardrick McKinney. They finished fourth in the conference in total defense last season (349.3 YPG), but eighth in yards per play (5.45 YPP). Up that yards per play average, and Mississippi State could surprise a team or two.
This will be a competitive football team in 2014, but the gap between being a lower-tier bowl team in the SEC West and contending for the division is about the size of the Grand Canyon.
Mississippi State will take a step forward, but it won't be a gigantic leap.
5. Texas A&M Aggies
The 2014 season will be an interesting one in College Station for the Texas A&M Aggies.
Gone is superstar quarterback Johnny Manziel, and in his place will either be sophomore dual-threat Kenny Hill or true freshman, pro-style early enrollee Kyle Allen.
That will put pressure on head coach Kevin Sumlin to make a decision. Will he run an offense similar to the one he was successful with while Manziel was on campus, or go more Air Raid like his offense at Houston was with Case Keenum?
Whatever he decides on, it will put more pressure on that defense—which finished last in the SEC in total defense (475.8 yards per game) and yards per play (6.36) last season.
Will another year in the system benefit the young Aggies, who return eight starters including linebacker Darian Claiborne? It better, and part of that success could hinge on 5-star defensive end Myles Garrett coming in and instantly providing a consistent pass rush.
Texas A&M will be competitive, but another 8-4-type season could be in the cards for Sumlin in Year 3.
4. LSU Tigers
LSU has been in full-on reload mode every offseason since Nick Saban roamed the sidelines in Baton Rouge in the early 2000s, but this season may be more of a rebuilding effort than initially anticipated.
True freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris emerged from spring not only as a competitor but likely the leader in the clubhouse ahead of rising sophomore Anthony Jennings. Assuming he wins the job, he should be fine under center but will make some "freshman mistakes."
Those miscues will be exaggerated a bit due to an incredibly inexperienced wide receiver corps that didn't look up for the challenge in the spring game. Travin Dural is a nice option and there's some potential in house, but head coach Les Miles really needs incoming freshman Malachi Dupre to be a star right away and help out his quarterback.
They'll be able to run the ball with Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and incoming freshman Leonard Fournette, but it's hard to imagine the offense becoming more explosive based on spring practice.
Defensively, it's lather rinse repeat.
Danielle Hunter looked like a star at defensive end in the spring game, and the move of Jalen Mills to safety will open the door even further for Tre'Davious White to become a star.
LSU will be solid, but will that offense be consistent? Stay tuned.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
Can Ole Miss really contend for the SEC West title? It's going to need some fortunate bounces, but it's certainly possible.
The 2013 recruiting class will really begin to payoff this season, as defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will move inside essentially full time; wide receiver Laquon Treadwell will take over for Donte Moncrief and become a deep threat in addition to a possession receiver, and safety Tony Conner will further solidify the back end of the Rebels defense with reigning All-American Cody Prewitt.
What has held Ole Miss back over the last few years is the absence of a between-the-tackles running game. Quarterback Bo Wallace assumed some of those duties, which is a big reason his shoulder has been a problem for the majority of his Ole Miss career.
Mark Dodson and Jordan Wilkins will assume those duties this season, which will help take the Rebel offense to the next level.
The Rebels are on the rise, and you'll see another glimpse of that in 2014.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
The biggest question facing Alabama this offseason wasn't at quarterback, it was at cornerback.
True freshman Tony Brown did his part to answer it in the Crimson Tide's spring game, recording four tackles and an interception while wearing a non-contact black jersey. The Crimson Tide need his performance to be the foundation not an aberration, because despite posting the SEC's second-best pass defense last season (180.3 YPG), it was lit up by teams that could actually stretch the field.
No, Blake Sims didn't look the part of a starting quarterback in the spring game. But that job was incoming Florida State transfer Jacob Coker's to lose from the jump. All Sims' spring game performance did was lower the bar a bit once Coker gets on campus.
The good news for whoever wins the quarterback job is that, in addition to a stout and deep backfield and wide receiving corps, redshirt freshman Robert Foster looked like a potential breakout star at wide receiver in the spring game.
Alabama will be squarely in the mix for a College Football Playoff spot following the 2014 season.
1. Auburn Tigers
Auburn had two goals this spring, get quarterback Nick Marshall to progress as a passer and play consistent on the defensive side of the ball.
Marshall was sensational in the spring game, completing 13-of-22 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns. What's more is that he showed off throws that he simply didn't make last year. Deep crosses, quick slants, fade routes...they were all there for Marshall.
Head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as a college head coach or assistant, so Auburn will be able to replicate last year's punishing multi-dimensional rushing attack. If the big-armed Marshall adds an intermediate passing game to his repertoire, Auburn's offense is going to be impossible to stop.
The first-team defense gave up just 73 yards and a field goal in one half of play in the spring game, and that was without starting defensive ends Carl Lawson and LaDarius Owens. The depth built from a rash of spring injuries will pay dividends this fall, when Auburn will also get an influx of big-time defensive talent from the 2014 recruiting class.
Look out for Auburn, because this team has staying power.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All spring game statistics are courtesy of each school's website, all historical stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
Click here for SEC East post-spring power rankings.
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