Previews 2019: Rating the Units

As the number of expert (and not-so-expert) opinions available on the internet has exploded over the past 20 years, what has been lacking in many of those prognostications is objective data of any sort. While ranking the strength of all position units at this point in the preseason demands some degree of subjective judgment, TideFans.com continues to do its best to add some hard numbers to the mix.

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 14 years ago, TideFans/NARCAS expanded its rating system beyond the simple six-class system employed in the past. 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 2019 SEC 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

UF

UGA

UF

UT

UGA

UGA

USC

UM

UT

UM

UGA

UK

UF

UM

UM

VU

UM

UK

USC

UF

UT

UF

UF

UF

UK

OL

UK

UGA

USC

UT

UT

UT

USC

VU

UM

UM

UM

USC

UK

USC

VU

UF

UT

USC

VU

UK

VU

UK

UGA

UT

VU

VU

UK

VU

SEC West

QB

RB

WR

OL

DL

LB

DB

ST

UA

UA

UA

LSU

AU

UA

UA

TAM

TAM

AU

TAM

AU

LSU

Ark

LSU

AU

LSU

Ark

LSU

UA

UA

LSU

AU

OM

Ark

LSU

MSU

TAM

Ark

MSU

MSU

MSU

MSU

MSU

Ark

MSU

TAM

AU

TAM

UA

AU

TAM

AU

Ark

MSU

TAM

OM

LSU

OM

OM

OM

OM

OM

OM

Ark

Ark

 

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

46 points

2. Florida

40

3. Missouri

37

4. Tennessee

31

5. South Carolina

29

6. Kentucky

25

7. Vanderbilt

16

SEC West

 

1. Alabama

48 points

2. LSU

40

3. Auburn

37

4. Texas A&M

33

5. Mississippi State

27

6. Arkansas

26

7. Ole Miss

13

It’s always interesting to see how this graph lines up with media expectations. The obvious disconnect is in the SEC West, where Texas A&M – a darkhorse playoff contender in the media’s eyes – is a pedestrian fourth, with 33 total points. We’re part of the problem (somewhat), ranking the Aggies ahead of Auburn in our opinion-based rankings, albeit only slightly (3rd vs. 4th in the SEC West, 8-4 vs. 7-5 for the overall records).

Other than that, there are few surprises. Georgia tops the SEC East list, with 46 points compared to 47 last year. Alabama led the SEC West with 48 points, also compared to 47 last year. LSU and Florida were second in their respective divisions, with 40 points each. Missouri’s strong showing (37 points, 3rd in the SEC East) mostly backs up what we think will happen once the games start.

Probably the most interesting showings come at the bottom of the SEC West standings, where Arkansas is showing some bounce off the bottom of the pile. But Ole Miss, at 13 points, recorded one of the lowest scores in the history of our analysis. The Rebels ranked dead last in six of the eight categories against their SEC West peers and second-worst in a seventh category. If the numbers prove correct, the Rebels are in for a difficult year and head coach Matt Luke probably on his final exit from Oxford.

Overall, just as last year, our rankings point to an Alabama-Georgia final in the SEC Championship Game.

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

UA

UGA

UA

LSU

AU

UA

UA

UGA

UGA

UA

UF

UGA

LSU

UT

UGA

TAM

TAM

UM

TAM

UM

UA

UK

UF

UM

USC

VU

UT

AU

UF

UF

LSU

UF

UM

AU

UM

UA

Ark

UGA

UT

AU

UF

UF

LSU

TAM

UGA

UM

AU

UT

LSU

UT

UK

MSU

TAM

Ark

USC

OM

Ark

TAM

USC

UK

USC

LSU

MSU

USC

UT

Ark

VU

USC

UK

MSU

UM

MSU

MSU

LSU

MSU

Ark

MSU

AU

TAM

UA

AU

MSU

Ark

OM

OM

USC

VU

UK

UK

USC

UGA

VU

UM

TAM

UK

LSU

VU

UK

AU

UF

UT

OM

OM

Ark

OM

OM

OM

UT

VU

VU

Ark

VU

TOTAL POINTS

1. Alabama

96 points

2. Georgia

89

3. Florida

78

4. Missouri

74

5. LSU

70

6. Texas A&M

69

7. Auburn

65

8. Tennessee

60

9. South Carolina

53

10. Misssissippi State

46

11. Kentucky

45

12. Arkansas

43

13. Vanderbilt

29

14. Ole Miss

23

With the divisions combined, Alabama and Georgia separate a bit, but the gap is closer than in 2018. Alabama set a record with 98 points in 2018, while Georgia was in second place at 86. This year, Alabama drops 2 points to 96 while Georgia gains 3 to 89 – as if the SEC Championship Game could get any closer.

Immediately, a surprise comes up, with Florida scoring third with an impressive 78 points. We’ve ranked the Gators inside our preseason top 25, but Missouri – coming in fourth here – was inside our top 10. The explanation is the same as always: When the divisions are combined, suddenly teams that ranked low when compared against only their division-mates can rise a bit when an entire division is stronger than the other. We’ll see how Florida fares in its inter-division matchups, as our unit rating system would seem to suggest the Gators would be favored to beat any SEC West team other than Alabama.

For Alabama, again, special teams was what held the Crimson Tide back from a 100-point showing. Alabama ranked just 10th in the SEC in our special teams category, netting 5 points. It’s an Achilles heel that keeps popping up year after year.

As for the SEC as a whole, the entire league was hard to figure at several positions. Georgia, for instance, received only 3 points in the WR category, which artificially held down the Bulldogs’ score. The truth is, just about every team in the league has good talent there, or at least good potential. On the flip side, Tennessee came second to Alabama in the linebacker category, which points to issues in several teams’ LB group. As a whole, the league is replacing a lot of key contributors at the position, and Alabama managed to score 14 points there despite still not knowing who its starting weakside linebacker will be in Week 1.

Other items of interest include LSU edging Texas A&M out by just 1 point, even though TideFans.com/NARCAS has the Tigers going 10-2, 7-1 and just missing the playoffs, while we project Texas A&M at 8-4. And while Arkansas did better against its SEC West mates, when put to the test against all SEC teams, the Razorbacks actually dropped 3 points from a year ago.

So how did last year’s rankings do? It wasn’t our finest hour, but the system still outperformed the human pickers.

Right off the bat, TideFans’ human picks had LSU blowing up under Ed Orgeron and finishing the year 5-7. The math-based system didn’t agree, ranking LSU fifth overall among SEC teams – which is exactly where the Tigers finished. However, the objective system failed to properly assess Texas A&M, ranking the Aggies 12th overall; Texas A&M finished one spot ahead of LSU.

The best call of the day came in not believing the hype surrounding Tennessee. If anything, TideFans.com/NARCAS has been one of the most accurate predictors of Tennessee football for years, and that includes both the human side and the raw numbers side of our Predictions Dept. We ranked Tennessee 13th; the Volunteers finished 12th.

The over-valuation of Missouri and Mississippi State may have been our biggest miss on the numbers side, as we predicted 3rd- and 4th-place finishes for those programs, respectively. Instead, both finished mid-pack.

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 is seen most notably in 2019 in the linebacker category, as is mentioned above. The other potential pothole for us as the season goes on is the lack of units ranked “Excellent” among all SEC teams put together. There are only six units that were labeled as such for 2019, which may mean this could be the year that some of the other Power 5 conferences begin to challenge the SEC’s dominance in head-to-head games of significance.

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

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