The absence of star players like Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush is one of the top storylines in the Pac-10, but Southern California still has talent stockpiled.
The Trojans have six first-team all-conference selections - three on offense and three on defense - to lead the Pac-10.
However, California will take the league lead in preseason all-conference players with 10. Seven members of Cal's defense make up Rivals.com's two defensive teams, while Heisman hopeful running back Marshawn Lynch takes a first-team spot at running back.
Leak enters his fourth year as a starter with 8,271 career passing yards, below only Houston's Kevin Kolb and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn among active quarterbacks. Although Leak needed time to adjust to Gators coach Urban Meyer's spread offense, he completed 68 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns with only two interceptions in the last five games of the 2005 season. Leak has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 31 of his 33 career starts.
The former Rivals.com freshman All-American made an immediate impact with 10 tackles for loss and 7 ½ sacks in 2004. He followed that up last year with eight tackles for loss and six sacks last season. But he still hasn't come close to tapping his tremendous potential. Don't be surprised if he doubles last year's sack total this fall. Groves and Marquies Gunn should give Auburn the SEC's most dangerous pass-rushing duo.
A big 2006 campaign would make Darby the first Alabama running back to compile three straight 1,000-yard seasons. He gained 1,242 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry last year. Darby ranks seventh on Alabama's career rushing list with 2,489 yards, which puts him 1,076 yards away from Shaun Alexander's school record. Darby has 10 career 100-yard games and needs five more to match the school record shared by Alexander and Bobby Humphrey.
Moses earned Rivals.com third-team All-America honors last year and ranked second in the SEC last year in sacks (11 ½) and tackles for loss (20 ½). He enters his senior year as a Rivals.com preseason first-team All-American. Although last season marked his first year as a starter, Moses already has 20 ½ career sacks and 32 ½ career tackles for loss.
The Rivals.com preseason second-team All-American led the SEC with 107.8 rushing yards per game last year and finished the season with 256 carries for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also became the first Auburn running back since Joe Cribbs in 1978 to rush for 100 yards in six straight games. In four of those games, he reached the century mark by halftime. The streak included a 218-yard performance against LSU and a 179-yard outburst against Georgia.
Harrell saves his best performances for Tennessee's best opponents. He collected six tackles and recovered a fumble in the Vols' comeback victory over LSU last year. Harrell also had a career-high eight tackles against Florida and finished the year with 39 stops, including 7 ½ behind the line of scrimmage. The big-play performer also picked off two passes and even scored a touchdown last year.
Baker will try to pick up right where he left off last year after earning Outback Bowl MVP honors with 10 catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the Gators' victory over Iowa. He averaged 63 receiving yards per game against Top 25 opponents to rank third in the nation in that category.
Thomas delivered arguably Florida's biggest highlight of the 2005 season when he blocked a field-goal attempt that Reggie Lewis returned for a touchdown against Florida State. But he delivered many other big plays during a stellar junior season. Thomas finished the year with 45 overall tackles, 10 ½ tackles for loss and four sacks.
Rice was named the Rivals.com freshman of the year last fall after setting single-season school records for receiving yards (1,143) and touchdown catches (14). He led the SEC in receiving yards per game. Rice also set school records by catching a touchdown pass in eight straight games and having six 100-yard receiving games. He should be at full strength this fall after missing spring practice with a broken left thumb.
Olajubutu hasn't allowed his lack of height to prevent him from becoming one of the SEC's top defensive playmakers. The Rivals.com preseason second-team All-America selection ranked third in the conference with 110 tackles last year. He also delivered 14 ½ tackles for loss and 4 ½ sacks. Olajubutu also delivered big-time performances against big-time opponents, as he collected 18 tackles against Auburn and 16 more against Alabama.
Georgia has sent tight ends Jermaine Wiggins, Randy McMichael, Ben Watson and Leonard Pope to the NFL over the last decade. Milner has the ability to continue that tradition. Although this marks his first year as a starter, Milner displayed his dazzling potential last fall by averaging 22.4 yards per catch. He caught 14 passes and scored two touchdowns last season.
Nobody in the SEC has a greater nose for the ball than Siler, who led the conference with seven fumble recoveries last season. He also collected 64 tackles, five sacks and a team-high seven quarterback hurries. The natural leader made numerous freshman All-America teams in 2004 and has collected 141 total tackles over the last two years.
The anchor of Georgia's offensive line has started 36 games at right tackle over the past three years. He will need to deliver another big season to help the Bulldogs replace three of last year's five starting offensive linemen. Because Nick Jones will move from guard to center this year, Inman is the Bulldogs' only starting offensive lineman who started at the same position last year.
Willis missed spring practice to recover from foot surgery, but that shouldn't bother this Rivals.com preseason first-team All-American. Willis already has proved he can deal with injuries. He led the nation with nine solo tackles per game last year despite playing with a broken middle finger on his right hand, a sprained left knee, a right mid-foot sprain and a partial AC joint separation of his right shoulder. He also topped the SEC with 128 total tackles.
This third-year starter may be the SEC's most versatile offensive lineman. He has started at both tackle and guard spots during his career. He alternated between all four positions during the Vols' victory over LSU last year. Sears will open this season at tackle and should play a major role in the rejuvenation of Tennessee's offense.
Bennett's one-on-one matchups with teammate Sidney Rice should provide some exciting moments in practice each day. Bennett has intercepted seven passes in his two years as a starter. He tied for third in the SEC last year with 1.08 passes defended per game. As the lone returning starter in South Carolina's secondary, he will need another big season for the Gamecocks to earn a bowl invitation.
Jones is one of the biggest reasons Kentucky doesn't savor its meetings with Georgia. Jones has been named the SEC offensive lineman of the week for his performance against the Wildcats each of the last two years. After starting at guard the last two years, Jones has moved to center, a position he played as a true freshman in 2003.
Auburn, Sr., 5-11, 188
Irons, the brother of teammate and All-America running back Kenny Irons, didn't intercept a pass last year. Don't let that fool you. He played a vital role on Auburn's secondary by ranking third in the SEC with 11 pass deflections. He closed the season with 11 tackles in the Capital One Bowl. The Rivals.com preseason second-team All-America selection also was an A-Day defensive MVP this spring with five solo tackles and an interception.
: [db]Tim Duckworth
Auburn, Sr., 6-4, 318
Duckworth and teammate Ben Grubbs give Auburn the best pair of guards in the nation. Both players made Rivals.com's preseason All-America team. Duckworth, a Rivals.com second-team preseason All-American, recorded 22 ½ pancake blocks in the first 10 games of the 2005 season. The converted nose guard graded out at 101 percent against Georgia and at 93 percent against LSU.
Battle collected 76 tackles last season in his first year as a starter. He also intercepted two passes and broke up four more. Battle posted a team-high seven tackles against Florida and forced a fourth-quarter fumble in the Bulldogs' victory over Tennessee. As the lone returning starter in Georgia's secondary, Battle will have to deliver even better results this fall.
Grubbs' combination of experience and consistency made him a Rivals.com preseason first-team All-America selection. In his second year as a starter last season, Grubbs graded out at over 90 percent against Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina, Ball State and Mississippi State. The former tight end and defensive tackle also graded out at over 90 percent at least six times in 2004.
The Rivals.com preseason first-team All-America selection is generally regarded as the nation's top college safety. The probable first-round draft pick has led the Tigers in tackles two of the last three years. As a true freshman, he posted a team-high 80 tackles for the 2003 team that won a share of the national title. He enters his senior year with 241 career tackles and nine career interceptions.