Way-too-early SEC power rankings

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With recruiting almost over and Spring games at a close, it’s time to take a critical look at the SEC and decide who will be winners and losers in both divisions.

East Division

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RB Nick Chubb has proved an invaluable asset to the Bulldogs. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

1. Georgia

Even after an 8-5 season last year, the Bulldogs will dominate the East Division. Sophomore QB Jacob Eason had 2,430 yards in his freshman season, and threw for 16 touchdowns.

With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel returning for the 2017 season, the UGA ground game will be in full force. Chubb had 1,130 rushing yards last season, while Michel had 840.

The Dawgs also had an outstanding recruiting class, nabbing 21 4-star recruits and two 5-star recruits; rated second best by Campus Insiders.

2. Florida

The Gators showed promise during last year’s season, finishing 9-4. The offense remains strong with a slew of returners, and a new quarterback ready to take the reins, Felipe Franks. He threw for 2,766 yards and 35 touchdowns in his senior year of high school and is rated No. 5 at his position. Franks should do well with a strong receiving and running corps.

3. Tennessee

The Volunteers come into this season after losing two key defensive players, DE Derek Barnett and CB Cameron Sutton. They also lose QB Joshua Dobbs, although they have two promising quarterbacks vying for the spot.

Four-star recruit Jarrett Guarantano will battle Quinten Dormady, a junior backup who has completed 24 of his 39 total passes. The Vols add five-star OT Trey Smith, as well as four-star RB Ty Chandler to bolster the offense.

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Gamecocks QB Jake Bentley had an impressive 2016 season. Photo via Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports

4. South Carolina

USC returns 16 starters, including sophomore QB Jake Bentley, who impressed Gamecocks fans last season with 1,420 yards and a 65.8% completion rate.

South Carolina is picking up plenty of talent on both sides of the football, but the most important aspect of their recruiting is the offensive line.

The Gamecocks gave up 41 sacks last year, but they performed much better than in 2015, where their record was 3-9.

Muschamp was able to turn around the program to a bowl run in one year, so we’ll see how much he can turn them around after two seasons.

5. Kentucky

The most important thing for the Wildcats this season is improving their defense. They only racked up 21 sacks last season, and allowed 228.2 rushing yards a game.

However, Kentucky’s offense should be impressive, as they return both QB Stephen Johnson and RB Benny Snell, who ran for 1,091 yards last season.

The SEC is such a tough conference to compete in, and the Wildcats will struggle to hold their own against much better opponents.

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RB Ralph Webb will be part of the Commodores’ recipe for success. Photo via Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports

6. Vanderbilt

The Commodores aren’t looking bad for the 2017 season. Despite losing linebacker Zach Cunningham to the NFL, Vandy returns RB Ralph Webb, who rushed for 1,283 yards last season, as well as most of the offense. If QB Kyle Shurmur performs with his considerable offensive depth, the Commodores will make it to a bowl game again.

7. Missouri

Mizzouri isn’t looking great for the 2017 season. After a 4-8 2016 season, they lost almost all of its defensive starters, only returning three players, and this after last season when they gave up 31.5 points per game.

The offense returns 10 players headed by QB Drew Lock, who had 3,339 passing yards with 23 touchdowns last season.

(West Division on next page below)

December 26 Bowl Game Guide and Predictions

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The day after Christmas, or the day that bowl season starts up again after an interruption? These three games don’t tout any ranked teams, but there are a couple of historically strong programs squaring up on Monday, and the potential for some good football.

The St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Ohio) vs. Miss St.

11 AM EST on ESPN

Tropicana Field—St. Pete, Florida

Winner: Mississippi State

The St. Pete bowl isn’t the most glamorous of bowl games, but both teams have something to prove. Miami started the season at 0-6, but instead of buckling and resigning themselves to their fate, head coach Chuck Martin rallied back and led his team to 6 straight victories. Miss. St. has a record of just 5-7, but of course, deals with a harder schedule in a tougher conference.

You don’t have to think too far back to remember how powerful the Bulldogs used to be. They had a Gator Bowl appearance in 2013 and an Orange bowl appearance in 2014—two years ago, not many people would be able to guess how far St. would fall.

Nick Fitzgerald will be the key to victory for the Bulldogs: he has 3,524 yards on the season, making him the SEC leader in yards. The Bulldogs will also need to watch out for a Miami run defense that holds opponents to 3.9 yards per carry.

Miami’s Gus Ragland touts some impressive stats as well, with 0 interceptions and a 62.4% completion rate.

Ultimately, MSU is the stronger of the two programs. 5 wins in the SEC is a whole world of difference compared to 6 wins in the MAC. The Bulldogs will handle them well.

Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland vs. Boston College

2:30 PM ET on ESPN

Ford Field—Detroit, Michigan

Winner: Maryland

This is gonna be a close game, and there’s no question about that. It’s putting one of the absolute worst defenses in the Big 10 against a struggling BC offense. Whoever has the best run defense will most likely win the game, because both teams have a more than an alright run game (well, Boston College’s run is pretty bad but the Terps’ run defense is even worse).

Harold Landry, of the Golden Eagles, has 15 sacks on the year and has the potential to disrupt Maryland’s game plan.

When Maryland drops back to the throw the ball, they are going to have to slide protection towards Landry if they want their quarterback upright for the whole game.

Neither offense will be able to put many points on the board, and Maryland will probably win by 3 or less in a game where neither team gets past 20 points.

Independence Bowl: NC State vs. Vanderbilt

5PM ET on ESPN2

Independence Stadium—Shreveport, Louisiana

Winner: Vanderbilt

It’s hard to tell who will win this game because both have strengths that play off the other team’s weaknesses. In Vandy’s last game, Kyle Shurmur was on fire and passed for 416 yards. The Commodores also have a great asset in linebacker Zach Cunningham, who boasts 119 tackles on the season.

Things are looking up for the NC State offense because QB Ryan Finley has a pretty great record against teams with a limited pass rush (guess who?).

The NC State defense is a top defense and will look to force a few turnovers to help the NC State offense.

This game is important for both teams. Both teams are looking for the win in order to finish the season with a winning record. If Vanderbilt’s Shurmur can heat up and stay on top, the Commodores will be able to take the game.

Vandy will need to be efficient passing, but if they do, they will have the game in the bag.  My final prediction is a close Vanderbilt win.