By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
While college football might be a numbers game to some, putting objective numbers down to predict a team’s chances in the upcoming season can be a challenge – some say impossible.
The system we present to you tries to do the impossible. What follows is a ranking of every position group of every team in the SEC, and we try to make the results as objective as we can.
Via a process that first went to press nine years ago, TideFans/NARCAS expanded its rating system beyond the simple six-class system employed in the past. In all 14 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.
In this first graphic, a numerical value is assigned – seven points for first place in the division, six for second and so forth. Here’s each team’s point total after the first comparison:
- Georgia 41 points
- Florida 40 points
- South Carolina 36 points
- Vanderbilt 34 points
- Missouri 28 points
- Tennessee 24 points
- Kentucky 21 points
1. Alabama 50 points
2. LSU 42 points
3. Texas A&M 31 points
4. (tie) Auburn 27 points
Mississippi St. 27 points
6. Ole Miss 24 points
7. Arkansas 23 points
There isn’t much in the way or surprises in the SEC East. Georgia, Florida and South Carolina are all strong teams and are separated by just 5 points. Vanderbilt is right on their heels.
But the SEC West breakdown yields some interesting data. The fact Alabama leads LSU 50-42 isn’t all that shocking – they’re the two most talented teams, top to bottom, in the SEC – but Texas A&M coming in with 31 points is a bit of a shock. Many prognosticators have the Aggies vying for the No. 1 ranking in the country; in these lists, the Aggies not only trail LSU by a healthy margin, but also Vanderbilt.
Moving on to the second graph, we compare all 14 SEC teams against one another. It’s not as simple as shuffling two sets of seven 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.
- Alabama 97 points
- LSU 85 points
- Florida 74 points
- Georgia 72 points
- Texas A&M 70 points
- South Carolina 67 points
- Mississippi St. 57 points
- Vanderbilt 56 points
- Ole Miss 52 points
- Auburn 51 points
- Missouri 45 points
- Arkansas 43 points
- Tennessee 39 points
- Kentucky 32 points
With both divisions combined, things get a bit more evened out. Texas A&M pulls closer to Georgia’s bumper, while there seems to be a clear division between South Carolina – considered the last “good” SEC team in preseason rankings – and the start of the more mediocre teams.
Like last year, Alabama’s chief rivals don’t fare so well. Auburn is ranked 10th (the same slot the Tigers occupied in our preseason rankings last year, which proved to be correct), while Tennessee comes in 13th. If you’re the type of Alabama fan to get enjoyment out of a rival’s struggles, 2013 could prove to be a fun year.
Comparing to last year, Alabama sets a new high-water mark with 97 points, eclipsing last year’s mark of 93 set by LSU. It’s worth noting, though, that with the SEC expanding to 14 teams in 2012, the top possible score increased to 112 from 96. Expressed in percentage, Alabama scores 86.6%, a remarkable number indeed.
So how accurate are these rankings, exactly? Over TideFans/NARCAS’s history, ratings have varied between highly accurate to mid-pack. The 2012 rankings fell somewhere between those two. We missed badly on Texas A&M (tied 10th, 50 points) and Ole Miss (14th, 32 points), but nailed the struggles of Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee despite each being preseason bowl teams in some publications. On the other side of the coin, the only team we substantially overrated was Arkansas (4th place, 73 points), whose implosion was spectacular.
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 14 SEC teams have strong running back corps, it’s possible to finish 14th 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 13 points for a second-place finish among its peers.
This year, the linebacker group is an example of the latter. Only one team, Alabama, has what could be called a typical strong class of SEC linebackers. With few exceptions, the rest of the conference is divided into teams with veterans who need to improve, and teams with inexperienced youngsters who have flashed potential breakout ability. Special teams are also questionable top-to-bottom, while on the other hand, the conference has good depth at receiver and offensive line.
As always, take this research for what it really is – entertainment.