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SEC Power Poll Ballot: Pre-Season Special Teams Team Rankings

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Who should have the best special teams units in the SEC?

Streeter Lecka

Here's my perception of how SEC special teams units stack up. It's a bit difficult to rank special teams units given that there's so much turnover in the return units from year to year, but given that special teams effectiveness may be largely a product of how much emphasis a program places on this aspect of the game, you can make decent enough assumptions about special teams based on prior performance.

1. Texas A&M Aggies

The Aggies return their punter (possibly the best in the conference), their placekicker, and talented kickoff and punt returners from a group of units that was very successful overall last year.

2. LSU Tigers

LSU loses return specialist and Hornung Award winner Odell Beckham, but LSU always has excellent special teams units. Les Miles seems to put more of an emphasis on this aspect of the game than other coaches.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

'Bama's epic placekicking meltdowns in the Iron Bowl last season and two years ago against LSU belies that this team generally produces good special teams units. One thing that likely helps 'Bama is that they have such a wealth of talented reserves they can play in return units.

4. Missouri Tigers

The Tigers were middle of the pack in the SEC in special teams last year but return some nice pieces that make you believe improvement is coming.

5. Florida Gators

Despite its struggles in the placekicking game a year ago, Florida routinely has great special teams units, particularly in the return game, and if Andre Debose is able to regain his stride, that should be the case again this year. The Gators did better in the placekicking game after inserting Francisco Velez late in the season.

6. Auburn Tigers

Auburn loses a lot of specialists from a year ago but has good players ready to plug in for them. I doubt you'll see a profound drop-off.

7. Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols lose reliable placekicker Michael Palardy but look to be in decent shape elsewhere and have a highly rated freshman kicker coming in to replace Palardy.

8. Georgia Bulldogs

Despite enjoying a ton of reserve talent to employ on special teams, the UGA special teams units generally haven't been very good in recent years. They've got some good individual players coming back, but how good will the units be as a whole?

9. Vanderbilt Commodores

Vandy had decent special teams units a year ago, but it loses all of its major kickers and return men, which may cause a return to the days when Vandy special teams were comically bad. However, new head coach Derek Mason has experience working with special teams and saw how much good special teams matter at Stanford, so look for him to emphasize this part of the game. The key is for him, as it always is at Vandy, to get good enough players on the field.

10. Arkansas Razorbacks

The Hogs have a strong returning punter but not much else to be excited about on special teams.

11. South Carolina Gamecocks

The Gamecocks have a talented return specialist in Pharoh Cooper and a reliable placekicker in Elliott Fry. The punter job is currently in open competition between Tyler Hull, who has struggled the past two years, and newcomer Zach Cimiglia. In any event, Gamecocks special teams have been atrocious for most of the Spurrier era, despite the fact that the program has enjoyed some good kickers in Ryan Succop and Spencer Lanning and an electric return man in Ace Sanders. I'll believe Spurrier has committed to improving this part of the program when I see it.

12. Kentucky Wildcats

UK struggled on special teams a year ago, and while they have some decent kickers on return men on the roster, the challenge for UK remains placing good enough players on the return units. Mark Stoops brought in a good recruiting class last year, but how much will it help this year?

13. Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss struggled on special teams a year ago despite enjoying the services of talented return man Jeff Scott. Without Scott and other key departed players, it's unclear why we should expect improvement.

14. Mississippi St. Bulldogs

The Bulldogs were among the worst in the league in many special teams categories a year ago. They return a lot of their key contributors, but is that a good thing?