Rating the units

Any ratings system – save perhaps for the mysterious computers used in the BCS statistical conglomerate – is subjective. But anything that can be done to lessen the impact of personal opinion or bias is generally regarded as a good thing.

Via a process that first went to press seven years ago, TideFans/NARCAS expanded its rating system beyond the simple six-class system employed in the past. In all 12 SEC previews, you’ll notice eight unit divisions – quarterbacks (QB), running backs (RB), wide receivers and tight ends (WR), offensive line (OL), defensive line (DL), linebackers (LB), defensive backs (DB) and kickers, punters, return men and coverage units (ST, for special teams).

Prior to 2004, ratings were doled out to each team during the individual previews. The only way to compare teams was for the reader to manually swap back and forth between two separate reports. In the individual reports, ratings are assigned as follows: Excellent (Ex), Very Good (Vg), Average (Av), Fair (Fr) and Poor (Pr). It also bears mentioning that teams can have a great starter at a particular position, but if depth is poor behind that starter, the ranking for the unit as a whole can be affected. These are unit rankings, not rankings of individuals.

In this first comparison box, you’ll see the teams compared against each other within their respective divisions. The team with the highest score is ranked first. At the end of the report, we’ll summarize.

SEC EAST

QB
RB WR OL DL LB DB ST
1
USC USC USC UGA USC USC UK UGA
2 UGA VU UT UF UF UGA USC UF
3 UF UF UF USC UGA VU VU UK
4 UT UT UK UK UT UK UT USC
5 UK UGA UGA UT VU UF UGA UT
6 VU UK VU VU UK UT UF VU

SEC WEST

QB
RB WR OL DL LB DB ST
1
LSU UA Ark UA LSU UA UA OM
2 Ark Ark LSU LSU Ark Ark LSU MSU
3 MSU MSU UA Ark UA LSU Ark Ark
4 UA AU AU MSU MSU AU MSU UA
5 OM OM MSU OM AU OM AU AU
6 AU LSU OM AU OM MSU OM LSU

Summary
In this first graphic, a numerical value is assigned – six points for first place in the division, five for second and so forth. Here’s each team’s point total after the first comparison:

SEC EAST
Team/Points
1. South Carolina 42
2. Georgia 32
3. Florida 30
4. Kentucky 23
5. Tennessee 22
6. Vanderbilt 19

SEC West
Team/Points
1. (tie) Alabama 38
Arkansas 38
3. LSU 33
4. Mississippi State 25
5. (tie) Auburn 17
Ole Miss 17

In the SEC East, there is a huge surprise at the top – not necessarily in regards to who it is (South Carolina), but by the 42-point total and the margin of the lead over second-place Georgia. Given that South Carolina was considered somewhat of an upset winner of last year’s SEC East crown, it’s surprising to note just how consistent the Gamecocks are across the board. South Carolina was in the top three of its division in all categories other than special teams, where it was fourth. The rest of the division largely falls into place as expected, with the only possible exception being Kentucky finishing ahead of Tennessee.

In the SEC West, there’s another surprise – Arkansas, which is tied for the division lead with Alabama. Alabama led four of the eight categories (running back, offensive line, linebacker, defensive backfield) and Arkansas led only once (wide receiver), but Arkansas was in the top three for all eight categories while Alabama dipped in the categories of quarterback and special teams. LSU, considered by most to be a more attractive national title contender than the Razorbacks, came in a solid third. Perhaps just as big a surprise as Arkansas, however, was Auburn, which tied for fifth (or dead last, depending on perspective) with an Ole Miss team no one thinks is going anywhere. The Tigers simply weren’t strong in any category.

Moving on to the second graph, we compare all 12 SEC teams against one another. It’s not as simple as shuffling two sets of six figures. Compared against the entire league, a team could be both fourth-best in its division and also fourth-best across the entire league when taken as a whole. Again, a summary follows this report.

TOTAL RANKINGS

QB
RB WR OL DL LB DB ST
1
LSU UA Ark UA USC UA UA UGA
2 USC Ark USC UGA LSU USC LSU UF
3 UGA USC LSU LSU Ark UGA UK OM
4 Ark MSU UA Ark UF Ark USC UK
5 UF VU UT UF UA VU Ark MSU
6 MSU AU UF USC UGA LSU VU Ark
7 UA UF AU UK UT UK UT UA
8 UT OM UK MSU MSU UF MSU USC
9 OM LSU UGA UT AU AU UGA AU
10 UK UT MSU OM OM UT UF UT
11 AU UGA VU AU VU OM AU LSU
12 VU UK OM VU UK MSU OM VU

Here’s the point breakdown:

Team/Points

1. Alabama 77
2. South Carolina 76
3. Arkansas 75
4. LSU 67
5. Georgia 60
6. Florida 57
7. Mississippi State 43
8. Kentucky 41
9. Tennessee 38
10. Auburn 31
11. Vanderbilt 30
12. Ole Miss 29

The first thing that has to jump out to people is South Carolina coming in second place with 76 points, just 1 behind Alabama. Arkansas nips at Alabama’s heels as well with 75 points, before a gap down to LSU at 67 points.

This is a testament to the consistency of the South Carolina team, but few people are taking the Gamecocks seriously in 2011. It won’t be a surprise if South Carolina returns to Atlanta at season’s end, but are the Gamecocks really that close to Alabama?

As for the rest of the list, surprises are few. Again, few really expect Auburn to be the tenth-best team in the SEC. The Tigers’ offense is too quirky and dangerous for that. Plus, a lot of what holds Auburn back in the rankings is sheer inexperience, but most of Auburn’s talent is concentrated in the freshman and sophomore classes. There will be some hiccups early as those players get acclimated to the pace of SEC play, but in the long run, most of Auburn’s new starters figure to be better than the players they have replaced.

In comparison to last year, and years gone by, no one scored anywhere close to Florida’s all-time NARCAS record of 89 (out of a possible 96 points), put up in 2009.

In terms of accuracy, the 2010 poll didn’t miss the SEC East by much. It had Florida winning the division ahead of South Carolina, but picked the rest of the division just as it finished, and the scores were indicative of the actual performances those teams actually achieved.

But the SEC West was a different story. Auburn was picked to finish fourth, yet won. Arkansas was not only picked fifth, the Razorbacks scored only 24 points in the intra-divisional comparison and 47 in the 12-team comparo, good for a tie for ninth. In fact, the 2010 poll, at least in regards to the SEC West, was one of the least accurate in its history.

Two of the things that most affect this poll’s accuracy, on a historical basis, are the presence of weak units and poor unit balance. To wit, if all 12 SEC teams have strong running back corps, it’s possible to finish 12th yet still be strong at the position. Conversely, in a poor year for offensive linemen, a team could have a very weak line yet still grab 11 points for a second-place finish among its peers.

The more such anomalies are present, the more effect it has on the poll’s accuracy. This season, for instance, finds the SEC with plenty of good running backs, but a weak overall quarterback group. There is widespread weakness in the special teams category. How will this effect 2011’s poll performance?

As always, take this research for what it is: entertainment.

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