Five Most Dominant SEC Units
By Jeremy Hillman
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Not surprisingly, the SEC's five most dominant units come mostly from the defensive side of the football.
The SEC is literally filled with super-star talent. NFL-caliber players line up across the conference at every position. Just one of these big time athletes can make a big impact on a game and potentially even on a season. However, the biggest impact comes when a collection of these stars form a dominant unit on a single team. These type of units help win championships.
Here are the five most dangerous and dominant units in the SEC for 2012:
1. Alabama Offensive Line
Alabama averaged 5.5 yards per carry rushing the ball last season, best average in the SEC. The Tide also allowed the fewest sacks of anyone in the conference a year ago. It all starts with the offensive line. This dominant line from 2011 returns four starters in 2012. The one replacement is highly regarded 6-6, 332 pound sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio. The center position is held down by All-American and Outland Award winner Barrett Jones. You won’t find a better center or leader in college football. Both guards return in Anthony Steen and Chance Wormack; both will be future NFL draft selections. The best of them all may be left tackle returning starter D.J. Fluker. The 335 pound beast is a powerful run blocker and fast on his feet for a big man. Look for another dominant season of play from this ridiculously talented O-line.
2. LSU Defensive Line
Defensive end Barkevious Mingo was second team All-SEC last season, and registered an impressive 15 tackles for a loss a year ago. The other star defensive end for LSU is Sam Montgomery, arguably one of the very best defenders in the conference, who racked up 50 tackles and nine sacks in 2011. In the middle of the line for LSU you will find returning starter Bennie Logan and a new starter in 310 pound run stopper Anthony Johnson, a first team Freshman All-American last season. This unit combined for 38 sacks in 2011, best in the conference, and allowed just 90 rushing yards per game. Those are monster stats which should continue in 2012.
3. Tennessee Wide Receivers
If Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray stays out of trouble and these wide outs stay healthy, this unit could easily move to number one on this ranking by season’s end. Two of the better receivers in the entire nation headline this group: Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. Both wide outs are big targets, each at least 6-3 and over 200 pounds. Rogers was second in the SEC last season, averaging 87 receiving yards per game, and hauled in nine touchdowns. In limited action, due to injury, Hunter reeled in an amazing 17 receptions for 314 yards and two touchdowns in just 2.5 games in 2011. He is healthy now and should be ready to roll. Add to this dynamic duo returning starter Zach Rogers and a talented newcomer in junior college transfer Cordarelle Patterson. The transfer is 6-3, 205 pounds, with soft hands, and is already turning heads at practice. This unit is deep, big, and talented and could have a monster year in 2012.
4. Auburn Defensive Line
Auburn returns all four starters and all four backups from last year’s solid, yet injured, defensive line. Everyone is healthy this fall and have seemingly benefited from new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s attacking style of defense. The Tigers are loaded at defensive end with NFL-ready and first team All-SEC DE Corey Lemonier, who recorded 9.5 sacks a year ago, and fellow starter Nosa Equa. They will both be pushed by Dee Ford, arguably the Tigers' most dangerous rush end, who missed most of last season with an injury. The defensive tackle position is stocked with big bodies and experienced talent. Jeff Whitaker, Angelo Blackson, Kenneth Carter and Gabe Wright all had significant starting and playing experience a year ago, and all weigh in at over 300 pounds. This unit could help Auburn surprise in 2012.
5. Georgia Defensive Line
The Bulldogs' 3-4 defense is set up to make big plays all season long. One of the strengths of this group is the defensive line. Defensive ends Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington are returning starters that provide Georgia with speed and power on the outside. Up the middle is the huge John Jenkins. The Bulldogs' star defensive tackle is 350 pounds and has the ability to fill up running lanes in a hurry. There is also solid depth with DE Ray Drew and DT Kwame Geathers ready to step in and contribute. The ability of these talented linemen to occupy the offensive line, while linebacker Jarvis Jones attacks the opposing backfield, is key to Georgia’s success. Look for a big time year from this group, as Georgia fights to meet high preseason expectations.
Honorable Mention: Florida DL (injury to Powell kept them off this list), Alabama DL, South Carolina DL, Georgia LB, Miss State DB