NCF Nation: Lavon Hooks

Everyone who knows anything about college football knows that one major thing that separates the SEC from all the other conferences is the play -- and talent -- along the defensive lines.

Ask any coach out there to describe the biggest difference and "defensive line" is bound to be one of the first things that slip out of his mouth. It truly is all about the trenches in the SEC, both defensively and offensively. The offensive lines deserve some love for just putting up with their burly counterparts, but the defensive lines really do get all the attention.

So it should come as no surprise that when Phil Steele ranked his top 15 defensive lines in college football that the SEC was represented by five teams -- the most of any conference.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJadeveon Clowney headlines a deep crop of SEC defensive linemen.
While none ranked first or second -- that was reserved for Notre Dame (No. 1) and USC (No. 2) -- South Carolina topped the SEC lines at No. 3 on Steele's list. Florida ranked sixth, Ole Miss was 12th, Alabama was 13th and LSU was 14th.

That's pretty good when you consider that Florida lost first-rounder Sharrif Floyd and Mr. Solid Omar Hunter in the middle, while LSU pretty much lost its entire starting defensive line from a year ago.

The SEC truly does just reload up front.

South Carolina's ranking isn't surprising because there's more than just Jadeveon Clowney to work with. Sure, Clowney might be the best player in the country, but he has help from Kelcy Quarles and J.T. Surratt inside and Chaz Sutton on the other side of him. Quarles was pretty consistent for the Gamecocks last year, while Sutton grabbed five sacks as a backup. The departure of starters Devin Taylor and Byron Jerideau shouldn't shake this lineup too much.

Getting Ronald Powell back should help the Gators with Lerentee McCray gone on the outside. Powell will play that hybrid linebacker/defensive end "Buck" position, where he'll get help from freshman All-SEC player Dante Fowler Jr. Dominique Easley is moving back to defensive tackle, where he was very disruptive during his first two years on campus. He can still move outside if needed. End Jonathan Bullard is coming off of a solid freshman season, while more is expected out of tackle Damien Jacobs, who came from the junior college ranks last year.

Ole Miss still has depth issues at defensive tackle, but has plenty to work with at end. C.J. Johnson should be healed from the leg injury he suffered this spring, while Cameron Whigham is coming off of a season in which he started 11 games. Rising sophomore Channing Ward should be fun to watch, and top recruit Robert Nkemdiche is expected to see the field very early. Tackle Issac Gross should be back from his groin injury this fall and he'll get help from juco transfer Lavon Hooks, who had a very good spring.

Alabama might not have the elite players it's had in the past up front, but defensive ends Jeoffrey Pagan and Ed Stinson could have big years. Pagan has a lot of potential, while Stinson recorded 30 tackles last season, including 8.5 for loss and three sacks. Stinson is versatile enough to play both inside and out. Then there's Brandon Ivory at noseguard, who has to replace the talented Jesse Williams. Alabama still needs players to step up more as starters and reserves because the line as a whole has a ways to go before the season starts.

You can tell how well Les Miles has recruited along the defensive line when the Tigers can lose so much but still have a line that's considered one of the nation's best. Tackle Anthony Johnson has so much potential and it sounds like he's ready to unleash his talents on the rest of the league. Miles raved about end Jermauria Rasco this spring and doesn't think the Tigers will miss much of a beat with him outside. True freshman Christian LeCouture played his way into the two-deep at defensive tackle this spring, while Miles expects to get more from tackle Ego Ferguson and ends Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen.
Earlier this week, we took a look at five true freshman to keep two eyes on in the SEC this fall.

But there are some other first-year players who could make immediate splashes with their respective teams. Of course, I'm talking about junior college transfers. You don't bring veterans in just to stand around and watch. Coaches sign juco players because they need immediate help at certain positions.

This year is no different for league coaches, as a handful of juco players are expected to help out this fall. Will another Nick Fairley or, dare I say, Cam Newton emerge from this year's crop of juco transfers? We'll find out soon enough.

Here are five juco transfers (in alphabetical order) to keep an eye on in 2013:
  • Justin Cox, CB, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have to replace three starters in their secondary, including Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. That won't be easy, but Cox could ease some of the coaches' worries with his speed and athleticism. He was one of the fastest players on the team this spring and had a superb juco career, intercepting 11 passes and breaking up 19 during his two years at East Mississippi Community College.
  • Lavon Hooks, DT, Ole Miss: Depth in the interior of the Rebels' defensive line is crucial going forward. That means Hooks has a great chance to see the field early. He did a great job of securing a spot in Ole Miss' rotation with a very solid spring. He's extremely strong and athletic and should help the Rebels against both the run and pass this fall.
  • Toby Johnson, DT, Georgia: The Bulldogs need help in the interior of their defensive line and Johnson could be the answer. Johnson was one of the top juco players last year, but he's rehabbing from an anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered last November. He should be able to go through fall -- and if he's in the right shape he'll have a shot a starting spot.
  • Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: New coach Mark Stoops has a very good foundation to work with along his defensive line, and adding Smith to the rotation makes that unit even stronger. He was a monster in the weight room before spring practice and was just as good once he got out on the field. He should help enhance what looks to already be a pretty solid pass rush for the Wildcats this fall.
  • Brandon Vandenburg, TE, Vanderbilt: The Commodores might have some solid skill players coming back on offense, but coach James Franklin has made it clear that there is some concern at tight end. Help is needed and Vandenburg could certainly provide it with his speed and solid blocking ability. He could be a deceptive weapon for the Commodores this fall and will have every opportunity to take the starting job.
Ole Miss has announced its 2013 signing class.

Ole Miss' historic class is in, with 27 players signing with the Rebels. There's no question that first-year coach Hugh Freeze had the most successful signing day in the country, signing No. 1-rated recruit Robert Nkemdiche (Loganville, Ga./Grayson), No. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) and No. 2 safety Antonio Conner (Batesville, Miss./South Panola). The Rebels also signed No. 3 offensive tackle Austin Golson (Prattville, Ala.) and finished the day with five ESPN 150 and 10 ESPN 300 members.

Before signing day, Freeze grabbed No. 1 receiver Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee), ESPN 300 quarterback Ryan Buchanan (Jackson, Miss./Jackson Prep) and junior college standout defensive tackle Lavon Hooks (Northeast Mississippi Community College.)

Ole Miss finished ranked fifth in the ESPN class rankings.

To see Ole Miss' entire 2013 class, click here.