Rating the Units

 

 

T.J. Yeldon leads a strong Alabama RB group.  Here he breaks a tackle by LSU Tigers linebacker Kevin Minter (46) during the second quarter of the 2012 game at Tiger Stadium. Photo: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
T.J. Yeldon leads a strong Alabama RB group. Here he breaks a tackle by LSU Tigers linebacker Kevin Minter (46) during the second quarter of the 2012 game at Tiger Stadium. Photo: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

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.

 

SEC EAST
QB RB WR OL DL LB DB ST
UGA UGA VU UT USC UK UF UF
UF USC USC UGA UK VU USC UGA
UM VU UGA USC UF UF VU UM
USC UF UM VU UGA UGA UM VU
UT UM UF UF UT UM UT UK
VU UT UT UM UM UT UGA UT
UK UK UK UK VU USC UK USC

 

SEC WEST
QB RB WR OL DL LB DB ST
TAM UA UA LSU LSU UA LSU AU
UA LSU LSU UA UA OM UA Ark
LSU TAM TAM TAM AU MSU Ark UA
OM AU OM MSU Ark TAM MSU MSU
MSU MSU Ark AU MSU LSU AU OM
Ark OM AU OM TAM AU OM TAM
AU Ark MSU Ark OM Ark TAM LSU

 

Summary

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:

 

SEC EAST

  1. Georgia              41 points
  2. Florida               40 points
  3. South Carolina 36 points
  4. Vanderbilt         34 points
  5. Missouri            28 points
  6. Tennessee         24 points
  7. Kentucky           21 points

 

SEC WEST
       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.

 

TOTAL RANKINGS
QB RB WR OL DL LB DB ST
TAM UA UA UT USC UA UF AU
UGA LSU LSU LSU LSU OM LSU UF
UA UGA TAM UGA UA MSU USC UGA
UF TAM VU UA UK UK VU Ark
LSU USC USC TAM UF TAM UA UA
UM AU UGA USC AU VU Ark MSU
USC VU OM MSU Ark UF MSU UM
OM UF UM AU UGA UGA UM VU
MSU MSU Ark VU MSU LSU AU OM
Ark OM UF OM TAM UM OM TAM
UT UM UT UF UT UT UT LSU
VU UT AU UM OM USC TAM UK
UK Ark MSU UK UM AU UGA UT
AU UK UK Ark VU Ark UK USC

 

TOTAL POINTS

  1. Alabama           97 points
  2. LSU                   85 points
  3. Florida               74 points
  4. Georgia              72 points
  5. Texas A&M       70 points
  6. South Carolina 67 points
  7. Mississippi St.  57 points
  8. Vanderbilt         56 points
  9. Ole Miss             52 points
  10. Auburn               51 points
  11. Missouri             45 points
  12. Arkansas            43 points
  13. Tennessee          39 points
  14. 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.

 

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