From now until the kickoff of college football season, each of SBNation's SEC blogs will be ranking the conference position groups for the upcoming season. As with the weekly in-season power poll, each team blog contributes one vote to the overall rankings, which will be compiled and edited1 by all-SEC blog Team Speed Kills. (EDIT: Apparently we'll be taking turns hosting the results. This week's DL article has been front-paged here at RTT.)
I should mention here that Kid Bourbon is my co-author and the Robin to my orange-suited Batman. Or vice versa. We arrived at the below rankings with a highly complicated methodology that involves College Football Stats, Bill Connelly's team previews from last year, Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, Phil Steele's returning starters data, and loads of snark.
Without further ado, here are Rocky Top Talk's defensive line rankings for 2014:
- ALABAMA Number one by a country mile. Again. Ugh. Like Wal-Mart, Duke basketball, and Egg McMuffins, Alabama under Saban is a dominating, disgustingly popular juggernaut.
- GEORGIA Never as good as they should be; never as bad as Georgia fans believe. They have all the pieces for a dominant performance this year, but who knows?
- FLORIDA Never underestimate the ability of the worst coach in America to have his charges ready for underachievement. Muschamp is a greasy spoon cook in a Michelin-star restaurant, proud that he's made top shelf ingredients taste like a 7-11 sausage rolling ceaselessly under a broiling light.
- OLE MISS Surprisingly good last year and everyone who counts is back. Did I want to rank them lower because they ranked Tennessee last in the poll for no good reason? Yes.
- LSU Tied for third in the SEC in defensive yards-per-play, seventh in adjusted line yards, and returns most of a deep crop of talented linemen.
- AUBURN Gus Malzahn already has a pipeline of former Georgia players, so when is Rodney Garner going to get a few former Dawg defensive linemen to join Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson?
- TENNESSEE Young Talent, No Experience: Volume 1. Jones has produced solid defenses in his second year (and beyond) at both of his previous stops. He's certainly recruited enough talent to keep up the streak in Knoxville.
- TEXAS A&M Young Talent, No Experience: Volume 2. Why isn't A&M ranked higher? Well, Mark Snyder had the same young talent last year and it didn't come together.
- SOUTH CAROLINA Somehow, everyone's favorite sassy drunk uncle (and best future member of The View) Steve Spurrier has managed to recruit reasonably well along the defensive line in between rounds at Augusta National. Still, Clowney was a once-in-a-generation talent in Columbia. There will be a drop off in performance, no matter how talented his replacements.
- MISSISSIPPI STATE Chris Jones is good, but he can't do it by himself.
- MISSOURI Mizzou doesn't recruit well and lost their two best players to the NFL draft. That's not a recipe for a good defensive line, or sustainable success generally.
- VANDERBILT Vandy's defensive line played great last year and probably deserves a better ranking than this... but replacing James Franklin with former UCLA headman Karl Dorrell is like trading in your older Ferrari for a new Kia: sure it's new, but it's still a serious downgrade. If Vandy's offense sputters without Franklin's magic2, the defense is in for a long year.
- ARKANSAS Bielema needs another solid recruiting class to work with before Arkansas rises out of the conference cellar.
- KENTUCKY Not even the best team in their own state, but they s'posed to be SEC. Don't stop believin', Wildcat fans.
1. Don't worry, the Florida and South Carolina fan editors at Team Speed Kills will in no way inject any untoward anti-Tennessee bias into the rankings. Heavy sarcasm alert.↩