Rating the units: Clear winners, surprise runners-up in this year’s ratings matrix

 

After a year in which we were not able to produce our regular preseason guides due to the abbreviated and accelerated schedule, it’s nice to be able to take a longer look at SEC teams and how they measure up.

Reviving a feature more than two decades in the making, we present “Rating the Units,” a scoring system that allows each of the 14 SEC teams to be judged against the other teams in its division – and then against all 13 other teams together, regardless of division – so as to remove some of the subjectivity out of the rankings.

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.

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 2021 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

UK

UK

UGA

UGA

UK

UGA

UM

UK

UF

UGA

USC

UF

UT

UM

UT

UF

VU

UM

UM

UK

UGA

UK

UF

USC

UGA

UF

UF

UM

UM

USC

UK

UT

UM

USC

UK

UT

VU

UT

VU

VU

UT

UT

UT

USC

UF

VU

USC

UM

USC

VU

VU

VU

USC

UF

SEC West

             
               

QB

RB

WR

OL

DL

LB

DB

ST

UA

TAM

TAM

Ark

TAM

UA

LSU

AU

OM

UA

Ark

LSU

UA

AU

UA

LSU

LSU

OM

UA

UA

LSU

Ark

AU

UA

AU

AU

LSU

OM

Ark

OM

TAM

TAM

TAM

LSU

OM

TAM

AU

LSU

OM

MSU

Ark

Ark

MSU

AU

OM

MSU

MSU

OM

MSU

MSU

AU

MSU

MSU

TAM

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

50 points

2. Kentucky

43

3. Missouri

34

4. Florida

32

5. Tennessee

26

6. South Carolina

22

7. Vanderbilt

17

   

SEC West

 

1. Alabama

47 points

2. LSU

39

3. Texas A&M

36

4. Auburn

32

5. Ole Miss

29

6. Arkansas

28

7. Mississippi State

13

You don’t have to look far to find the big surprise, which is Kentucky sitting second in the SEC East with 43 points. For now, that’s the third-highest score on the board (before we throw all 14 teams together and compare them, irrespective of divisional alignment). Missouri third in the SEC East with 34 isn’t a tremendous surprise until you find Florida sitting fourth at 32. The Gators have been a lot of prognosticators’ alternative pick to win the SEC East division.

For once, though, our Rating the Units scores back up what we predicted in the narrative versions of the SEC East and West previews: We had Kentucky winning the UK-UF game and taking the tiebreaker for second in the SEC East. In the West, we had LSU knocking on Texas A&M’s door.

Other mild surprises include Auburn ranking 4th with a solid 32 points even though in the narrative, we picked the Tigers to go 5-7, 2-6 in 2021. It isn’t such a surprise that South Carolina outranks Vanderbilt – the Commodores are notoriously hard to judge because of the talent differential between them and the other SEC schools – but it might be a surprise that Mississippi State ranked so poorly here. Georgia outscoring Alabama 50-47 isn’t much of a surprise given the Bulldogs’ talent, but things change a bit when we go to the 14-team rankings below:

TOTAL RANKINGS

             
               

QB

RB

WR

OL

DL

LB

DB

ST

UGA

UGA

TAM

Ark

TAM

UA

UA

UGA

UA

TAM

Ark

LSU

UA

UGA

LSU

UM

OM

UA

UA

UK

UGA

UF

UK

UK

LSU

UK

LSU

UGA

USC

AU

AU

USC

UM

UF

UK

UA

LSU

Ark

TAM

AU

UT

USC

UF

OM

UM

OM

UT

LSU

AU

OM

OM

TAM

UF

LSU

UGA

UA

UF

AU

VU

UM

Ark

UK

UM

UT

TAM

LSU

UGA

UF

UK

MSU

VU

TAM

UK

Ark

UM

USC

AU

TAM

UF

MSU

VU

UT

UT

AU

UT

UM

OM

VU

Ark

MSU

MSU

UT

OM

UT

MSU

OM

MSU

VU

USC

MSU

MSU

USC

Ark

UF

USC

UM

AU

VU

VU

VU

USC

Ark

TOTAL POINTS

 

1. Alabama

96 points

2. Georgia

92

3. LSU

81

4. Texas A&M

76

5. Kentucky

75

6. Florida

59

7. Auburn

57

8. (tie) Missouri

56

(tie) Ole Miss

56

10. Arkansas

55

11. Tennessee

43

12. South Carolina

42

13. (tie) Mississippi State

26

(tie) Vanderbilt

26

Divisions combined, the scores begin to track more closely to where and how teams were picked. Kentucky and Florida are still the outliers; Kentucky scores solidly within the second tier at 75 points, while there is a 16-point gap back to Florida, which heads the third tier. Missouri falls back under Florida, and while Auburn is still ahead of Ole Miss and Arkansas, the gap closes considerably, to where it’s a pick-em situation between the three teams. South Carolina manages to make a slightly better showing, but it’s debatable whether either the Gamecocks or the Tennessee Volunteers are part of the third tier or the fourth.

The record score for a team in the 14-team SEC era is Alabama with 98 points in 2018. Just like in 2019, when Alabama also netted 96 points overall, the special teams category was the biggest culprit keeping Alabama from a score of 100 (a perfect score is 112). But Alabama ranked seventh overall this year, grabbing 8 points – not a bad showing for a team replacing its punt returner and punter.

So what does this all mean? Over the years, TideFans.com/NARCAS has typically been quite accurate in its preseason predictions, both in regards to subjective analysis and in our Rating the Units feature, which almost always produces different results. This year might be the closest the two methods have tracked since we began paying close attention to the numbers around 15 years ago. Since the 2020 season was more or less a washout for everyone at the start of the season – it seemed pointless to do a lot of deep dives into the content when entire conferences were opting out for part or all of the year – we’ll go back to the last full analysis in 2019. In that year, we enjoyed one of our best years ever.

While we missed on Alabama winning the SEC West (our second-place team, LSU, won it instead), there were no big surprises on either side of the ledger. We correctly predicted Florida’s ascendance, picking the Gators second in the SEC East with the third-most points of all SEC teams (Florida finished the year ranked No. 6 in the country). The only team we seemed to overvalue was Missouri.

The most obvious choice for an overvalued team this year is Kentucky, especially since the Wildcats haven’t settled their quarterback situation yet. And if you’re looking for an undervalued team? It may wind up being Missouri if the Tigers can piece together a competitive secondary.

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

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