The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 23, 2015

2015 Southeastern Conference Preview

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 4:05 pm

Former Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin said that the three toughest leagues in football were the AFC, the NFC, and the SEC.  In most years in recent memory, the Southeastern Conference has been the clear-cut best league in college football, and in 2015, they are at the least number two and probably tied for first.

Like its chief rival, the Pac-12 Conference, the SEC has a problem this year.  That dreaded “P” word, parity, will possibly leave the one conference that could theoretically produce all four playoff representatives based on true power rating completely out of the playoff picture with seven teams suffering two losses.

Imagine this:  In the Big Ten, Ohio State and Michigan State finish 13-0 and 11-1.  TCU runs the table at 12-0 while Baylor finishes 11-1.  Notre Dame finishes 11-1.  Before looking at any other league, you have five teams vying for the four playoff spots.  Politically, we believe that if a Big 12 team is in final contention for a playoff spot, the Selection Committee will almost be forced to take one or even two teams from that league to make up for the fact that it looked like two teams were headed to the playoffs last year and, then after both won convincingly, were jilted.

The SEC missing out on the playoffs with up to seven two-loss teams could be a blessing for the rest of the FBS.  How will the multi-thousands of fans and hundreds of media in these southern states react if the SEC is left on the outside of that door?  Can you say “8 team playoffs” much sooner than planned?

It is ludicrous that if the NCAA is going to conduct a playoff that one of its Power 5 conference champions will be guaranteed to be excluded?  If the NFL started omitting an 11-5 Pittsburgh Steelers team from the playoffs even though they won the AFL North ahead of 10-6 Cincinnati and 10-6 Baltimore, do you think the Super Bowl would be the same as it is now?  Of course not, and the NCAA must fix this the sooner the better.  So, for the sake of correctness, maybe it would be a good thing for the TV ratings to take a major hit with no team from the South participating in them.

Back to the facts.  The SEC West Division’s seven teams are without a doubt the best seven in any group in the nation.  Throw in the top half of the East, and you have 10 teams that could easily win the ACC this year.  When the team that is the consensus last choice in the West having a possible Heisman Trophy quarterback candidate returning after taking his team to the top spot in the rankings for part of 2014, you know your division is incredibly stacked and one that will most likely go 28-0 outside of SEC play.

In all the years of rating college teams, we have never seen anything like this, as five of the seven teams begin the season within the home field advantage of each other.  There is no real separation between Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Ole Miss.  With standard deviations and  home field advantage factored into the equation, there is no real way to say that one of these five is any better than the other.  If it were just two, or at most three, then one could be expected to go undefeated in the league.  With five teams closely matched, and with three more in the East strong enough to pin an extra loss on these five contenders, 6-2 is about the best that can be expected by any team in the West Division.  And, this sounds totally crazy, but it is even possible that there could be a five-way tie at 5-3!  Just let the Selection Committee choose a three-loss SEC school over a one-loss Baylor, Michigan State, Stanford, or Clemson, and watch what happens.

For the SEC, parity could also be a good thing.  While seven teams may finish the regular season at 10-2, five more teams could become bowl eligible.  Yes, all but two schools figure to get six wins, and it isn’t impossible that a 13th team, with an upset, could get to 6-6.  Only one team is totally out-manned and out of the bowl picture to start the season.

In case you haven’t figure it out, what we are stating is, “There are seven SEC schools capable of playing for the National Championship!”

While the West Division is getting all the attention, there are three East Division schools with enough talent and experience to sneak up and actually produce the best overall record in the league.  Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri may not finish in the top five in the West, but in the easier East, any of this trio could go 6-0 in the division and 7-1 overall.  So, while the West is considerably stronger, the East actually has a better percentage chance of producing a resume that the Selection Committee would accept as a playoff team.

Georgia has a couple questions on offense, while their defense has to replace a couple of stars.  However, the Bulldogs continue to be the team to beat in the East.  Coach Mark Richt has been the John Cooper of the SEC, perennially producing teams that compete for championships but always come up short.  The last two years, the Bulldogs appeared to be the best team in the division, only to suffer an unexpected loss and watch Missouri pass them up.  Last year, it was an 18-point loss to a weakened Florida squad.  Two years ago, Vanderbilt humiliated UGA.

This year, Georgia’s preseason superiority has been reduced to near zero over its next two competitors.  The Bulldogs break in a new quarterback and must find receivers to replace their top two receivers from last year.  However, they have Nick Chubb, the powerful running back with enough speed to burst through the line and then run to daylight.  They also have a new offensive coordinator from a legendary coaching family.  The good news is Brian Schottenheimer has nine years experience as an NFL OC.  The not so good news is that his nine NFL offenses were very vanilla, very conservative, and on the dull side to watch.  Like his father, Schottenheimer has been criticized for playing not to lose rather than to win.  This method might have worked in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Vince Dooley had dozens of running plays and a handful of passing plays in his playbook, but in 2015, you better be able to throw the pigskin 30 times a game and run the ball inside and outside.

We are not concerned with the Bulldog defense.  In fact, we consider defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to be an elite assistant.  Look at how Florida State regressed when Pruitt left the Seminoles and came to Athens.  FSU gave up 13.5 points and 116 yards per game more in 2014 than in 2013.  Meanwhile, Georgia improved its numbers by 8.3 points and 39 yards per game in Pruitt’s first year between the hedges.

The Bulldogs have a tough conference schedule with road games against Tennessee and Auburn, along with the neutral game with Florida in Jacksonville.  Alabama comes to Athens on October 3, and the loser is virtually guaranteed to be 6-2 at best.  Georgia also must finish the regular season at Georgia Tech, and the ‘Dogs have a score to settle with their in-state rival.

Even with all the possible roadblocks, this is a highly talented team capable of beating a conference champion outside the SEC.  If Georgia gets to the SEC Championship Game, they could be the fresher team than their West Division opponent, and maybe it could finally be their year to take home the trophy.

Tennessee was not supposed to be this good this fast under Coach Butch Jones.  We predicted three years ago that Jones would take the Volunteers back to the top of the league in about four years, but it appears he has the Big Orange there in year three.  In our minds, Jones is an almost clone to former Vol coach Doug Dickey.  He is a relentless recruiter and exceptional organizer.  Think of Dean Smith coaching on the gridiron.

If quarterback Joshua Dobbs takes a leap forward similar to the leap he made last year, the Vols will be looking at the plus side of 35 points and 400 yards per game.  In Jalen Hurd and Pig Howard, they have a lethal one-two punch at running back, and there is depth behind this duo.  Howard is a dual threat back able to run pass routes and find daylight after the catch.

Dobbs has a bevy of quality receivers to catch his passes, and Tennessee dodged a bullet when one of their best suffered a torn bicep in practice.  Marquez North should be healthy and able to play from the start of the season.  Von Pearson and Jason Croom give the Vols the number one backups in the league; both can turn short tosses into ones that cross several white lines.

The UT defense shaved five points and 50+ yards off their averages in year two of the Jones tenure, and with most of the key players returning this year, the Vols could contend for top defense in the division.  End Derek Barnett as a true freshman put up numbers capable of making an All-American squad if produced by a senior.  Barnett put enemy QBs on the turf 10 times last year and added another 10.5 tackles behind the line.  When he wasn’t disrupting passing plays, Sam linebacker Curt Maggitt’s blitzing was.  Maggitt recorded 11 sacks.

A strong secondary features shutdown cornerback Cameron Sutton and safety LaDarrell McNeil, and it has excellent depth.  Expect more nickel and dime packages with the quality depth in this unit.

Tennessee’s season could receive a big boost in September.  If the Vols knock off Oklahoma when the Sooners visit Neyland Stadium on the 19th, and if UT can get over its Florida problem by defeating a definitely weaker than they are Gators squad, then there is a legitimate window toward a 6-0 start entering the bye week before the big game at Alabama.  The Crimson Tide has a tough road game during the Vols’ bye week, so there is a possibility that this team could win in Tuscaloosa and continue to run the table to a road game against Missouri.  Of course, the Vols could also drop the OU game, the Florida game, a home game against Georgia, as well as the road games against Alabama and Missouri.  In a highly competitive league, we figure that all the contenders will split their games against other contenders, which we believe leads to the Vols finishing in a three way tie in the division and losing on a tiebreaker for the right to go to Atlanta on December 5.

Missouri has not gotten a lot of respect for two years running, and all the Tigers have done is won back-to-back division titles.  Coach Gary Pinkel rarely gets the due he deserves.  Once again this year, Mizzou is not getting its due.  The Tigers have slowly built up quality depth capable of competing week in and week out against the SEC.  Only a dearth of talent at the receiving positions may prevent MU from three-peating in the East.

Maty Mauk didn’t have the zip on the ball last year, but the junior quarterback was not healthy.  Expect vast improvement this year in his passes, but who is going to be catching those passes?  Gone are the top four pass catchers from 2014, who combined for 175 receptions, 24 (of the team’s 25) touchdowns, and almost 2,300 yards.  Tight end Sean Culkin returns after grabbing 20 passes but with no breakaway speed.  J’Mon Moore has the potential to become a big-time receiver, but the sophomore may need additional seasoning first.

Russell Hansbrough was one of seven SEC backs to top 1,000 rushing yards last year, but MU had a two-headed monster last year with Marcus Murphy almost making it to 1,000 yards.  Hansbrough needs a partner to split reps in the backfield, as his frame cannot handle toting the pigskin 25 times each week.

The Tiger offensive line is a blue collar success.  The Tigers do not have an All-American in the unit, but they have no real liability either.  Center Evan Boehm has three years of starting experience, and as a senior, he will lead this veteran unit.

The Tigers’ other side of the ball could be called a “no-name defense,” but the stop troops actually carried the load for this team last year.  Linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Michael Sherer created their own force field last year, when the teammates combined to make 236 tackles.  They will need to continue their relentless pursuit this year, because the defensive line is a bit suspect with four new starters inheriting the positions.  If the front four can provide a decent pass rush, then the secondary will make some big plays.  Cornerbacks Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton both registered double digits in passes defended, while Ian Simon proved to be an excellent last line of defense last year.

Pinkel’s Tigers have a favorable schedule, especially in the first half of the season.  The first three games should be easy wins, allowing the new starters to gel in time for a crucial road game at Kentucky followed by home games against South Carolina and Florida.  It is possible, MU will be 6-0 when they go to Georgia on October 17.  Last year, Mizzou was destroyed by the Bulldogs 34-0 in Columbia, and it could have been worse, as Maty Mauk completed as many passes to Georgia players as he did his teammates (not really, but it seemed so).

While the Tigers have the third best talent in the division, they have the easiest schedule of the three contenders.  Even another loss to Georgia may not be a killer.  They get Tennessee at home, and they draw Mississippi State and Arkansas from the West.  Two of their road games come against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and this team has the look of a 6-2 conference team.
The top three teams have created some distance from the next two in the East.  South Carolina and Florida do not figure to contend for the division title, but both should find a way to become bowl eligible.  The Gamecocks might surprise a few folks this year, as many of the so-called pundits believe Steve Spurrier will suffer his first losing season since he was at Duke in 1987.  It’s hard to believe the “Ole Ball Coach” will go 5-7 or worse.  Last year, the USC defense nosedived into an out of control tailspin, beginning with their opener against Texas A&M.  The Gamecocks gave up 52 points and 680 yards.  Against Kentucky, Carolina yielded 45 points 447 yards.  On the year, USC gave up 30 points and 433 yards, a year after giving up 20 points and 350 yards.

The Gamecock defense returns eight starters and adds a new co-defensive coordinator in Jon Hoke (Brady’s brother), who has a long relationship with Coach Steve Spurrier.  When last he was a defensive coordinator for Spurrier (Florida, 2001), his defense gave up less than 15 points and just 290 yards per game.  Hoke will immediately impact the South Carolina passing game.

Offensively, Carolina has a lot of holes to fill, especially at quarterback.  Connor Mitch has not firmly secured the starting nod yet, and Spurrier has been known to have a short leash with his passers, so expect more than one to play early in the season.  It’s not that Mitch doesn’t have the skills; the Gamecocks have three quarterbacks that are all equally above average but not spectacular.

The other key issue with this offense is an inexperienced receiving corps.  Pharoh Cooper is the leading returning receiver in the league, and he could top 1,250 receiving yards this year.  After Cooper, there is no experience, and the young receivers are not overly talented.  Drops and improper route-running could be a problem and lead to interceptions that are not the QBs’ fault.

The USC running game loses its top rusher from last year, but there is talent here.  Brandon Wilds is a game-changer when he gets a little bit of running room.  David Williams combines more power running ability but isn’t quite the breakaway threat.  Might Spurrier go with two backs in the backfield to take some of the heat off the passing game and help keep his defense off the field?  If anybody might go with split backs, it would be Spurrier.

An average offensive line has one potential star, and fortunately for USC, he plays the most important position.  Left tackle Brandon Shell will protect the blind side.

The toughest roadblock in USC’s road to bowl eligibility is one of the toughest schedules in the nation.  Their four non-conference games include a neutral opener against North Carolina and a season finale against Clemson.  Central Florida is no cupcake.  Inside the SEC, Carolina draws LSU and Texas A&M from the West and must go on the road to face Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee.  Still, we believe this team will be tough enough to get six wins.

Many in the media believe Florida will struggle to have a winning or break even season this year.  New head coach Jim McElwain did great things at Colorado State, and he should return the Gators to greatness, but in year one, there will be weeks where Florida does not compete.  The Gators have a weak offensive line (as SEC standards go).  McElwain will not have a two-deep at this position, and finding eight blockers capable of playing in the SEC will be a stretch.  Among those expected to earn a starting spot are a transfer from Fordham University and a true freshman who would redshirt at Alabama, Auburn, or Georgia.

The Gators have issues at quarterback as well.  Will Grier and Treon Harris are currently in a dead heat for the starting job, and McElwain has indicated that he may platoon them at the start of the season.  Harris is a better runner, and Grier is a better passer, but neither will make Gator fans think they have their next Danny Wuerffel or Chris Leak.

The receivers feature one near star in Demarcus Robinson.  Last year, Robinson nabbed 53 passes for 810 yards and seven scores, showing an ability to add yards per catch.  In Latroy Pittman and Ahmad Fulwood, the Gators have potential in this position.

The running back position is in a similar boat to the receivers.  Potential is there, but somebody has to step up and prove he can carry the load.  Kelvin Taylor has drawn comparisons to Emmitt Smith, but he has yet to come close to Smith’s production in Gainesville back in the 1980’s.

Defensively, expect Florida to take some lumps this year.  Departing coach Will Muschamp may have had his problems winning big at UF, but his defenses were top rate.  Geoff Collins was a decent defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, but he is not Muschamp, and Florida’s defense will suffer a bit this year.

Each unit on the defensive side has its star.  Up front, tackle Jonathan Bullard has NFL potential.  He did not produce many QB sacks and made just 8.5 tackles for loss, but he did plug the inside.  Linebacker Antonio Morrison led the Gators with 101 tackles, and he will probably lead the team once again this year.  Where those tackles are made will determine how tough the UF defense is this year.  Cornerback Brian Poole recorded 14 passes defended, including four picks.

Florida’s schedule makes the Gators play a ninth regular season opponent as tough as an SEC contender in Florida St.  The Gators figure to win their other three non-conference games.  The key to their season will be in the three SEC games they figure to be favored in or are considered toss-ups.  Kentucky and South Carolina are road games, while the Gators play Vanderbilt at home on homecoming.

Mark Stoops inherited a Kentucky team that had been outscored 36-11 in conference play in 2012.  After a repeat 0-8/2-10 season in 2013, the Wildcats shot out to a 5-1 record last year.  Needing one win in the final six to get bowl eligible, Kentucky dropped all six contests.  The Wildcats were competitive in three of those losses, and just a little improvement and maybe one upset could propel the Big Blue into a bowl this year.

Stoops has a potentially powerful offense this year.  The ‘Cats improved from 20.5 to 29.2 points and added more than 40 yards per game last year.  With most of the key players returning this year, expect Kentucky to top 30 points a game for the first time in five years.  Quarterback Patrick Towles won the starting job over redshirt freshman Drew Barker, and we expect Kentucky’s passing game to improve by 20 or more yards per game this year.  Towles does not have a receiving corps as talented as the other East Division contenders, but he can count on Ryan Timmons and Garrett Johnson to hold onto most of the balls thrown their way.  In the past, UK has been notorious for receiver drops.

The running game has been hampered with injuries in recent years.  If Stanley Williams can stay healthy, the Wildcats will be hard to stop.  Williams requires an extra defender to spy on him, because just one small opening can turn into a 70-yard touchdown run.  When Kentucky adds a fullback and goes to a power running game, expect a lot of attention to focus on nose tackle Jacob Hyde.  Why?  Stoops has added Hyde to the offense as a blocking fullback, and we pity the poor linebackers that must face an isolation block from the 330+ pounder with enough quickness to allow Williams to follow at near top speed and cut to daylight.  And, if Stoops should decide to call a play for Hyde, we can see the behemoth converting on third or fourth and one or two or at the one yard line.  Will the fans in Lexington start calling him “The Fridge?”

Kentucky’s blocking wall has improved both years under Stoops, and with four starters returning, there will be additional improvement in 2015.  This will allow Towles a little more comfort, and just a half-second more time to survey the defense could be the difference between 6.5 to 7 yards per pass attempt and 7.5 to 8 yards per attempt.  That extra yard per attempt is similar to the running game improving from 3 to 4 yards per attempt.

Stoops is a long time defensive coach, but his Wildcat teams have yet to catch the magic.  In his nine years as defensive coordinator at Arizona and Florida State, Stoops’ teams gave up 21 points per game.  His UK squads have given up 31 points per game.  None of the three units can be considered top notch.  While not spectacular, the secondary should be decent after finishing 5th in the league against the pass last year.  Three starters return to the back line.  Safety A. J. Stamps had four interceptions, while cornerback Fred Tiller recorded 11 passes defended.  Nickel back Blake McClain has potential to become a third potential star in this unit.

Middle Linebacker Josh Forrest returns after leading the ‘Cats with 110 tackles.  Forrest showed an ability to play the run and pass with equal competency.  Up front, nose tackle Melvin Lewis hits the scales in the 350-pound range, and moving him out of the way is a tough task.

Kentucky begins the season with three guaranteed wins (UL Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, and Charlotte).  They host Florida,   Louisville, and Missouri, three teams that give the Wildcats a fighting chance to pull off an upset.  Road games against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt give the Wildcats two additional chances at wins.  All told, Kentucky has eight games that can be considered winnable.  Can they win six of these?  Our ratings show it to be about a 30% chance that UK will go bowling in the postseason.  This team could be better but repeat the 5-7 season.

What happens when a team that had a 50-year period of mostly not being able to compete in their league all of a sudden competes for three consecutive seasons and then reverts back to their 50-year failure the next season?  You look for correlations that reveal why the three-year turnabout occurred.

At Vanderbilt, the correlation can be easily found in two words–James Franklin.  Franklin rates in the top five of head coaches in our PiRate Ratings.  His presence at Vanderbilt from 2011 to 2013 gave the Commodores an extra touchdown plus in overall power ratings.  His 2014 replacement, Derek Mason, unfortunately cost the Commodores more than a touchdown per game in overall power rating, and the organizational incompetency showed itself immediately, when Vanderbilt lost by 30 points as a double digit home favorite to Temple.

Year two in Nashville under the Mason regime should find better organization.  The Commodores may come closer to getting everything out of the talent on hand.  The problem is that Vanderbilt’s talent rates a distant 14th in the SEC.  There is limited SEC caliber talent, with no SEC caliber depth.  So, losing a starter is to Vandy what losing both the starter and the top reserve is to other SEC schools.

The Commodore offense struggled to move the ball against SEC foes, as Vanderbilt averaged less than 13 points and just 257 yards per game in conference play.  VU used four different starting quarterbacks last year, never allowing the offense to achieve any type of consistency.  The most effective QB (Patton Robinette) and the most talented QB (Stephen Rivers) have both departed, leaving the third and fourth QB from last year to compete for the starting position this year.  Wade Freebeck and Johnny McCrary are not SEC passers.  True freshman Kyle Shurmur might be, but we doubt he will win the starting nod this year–unless the roulette wheel starts spinning once again.

Further hurting the offense is the fact that this team has no legitimate SEC caliber receivers.  They had one, but C. J. Duncan unfortunately did not make it two the second August scrimmage.  Losing Duncan is like the Detroit Tigers losing Miguel Cabrera.  Enemy defenses will now concentrate on defending horizontally without worrying about getting beat vertically.  Tight end Steven Scheu is one of the few players on this team that might start at other SEC schools, but the passing game will not flourish if Scheu is the only consistent pass catcher.  Latevius Radford and Kyle Kentera have potential to become contributors, but the Commodores as a whole have a receiving unit equal to that of an average Conference USA team.

Worse than the receiving unit is a weak and undermanned blocking group.  Like the receivers, this unit recently lost its only star lineman.  Left tackle Andrew Jelks figured to be a contender for All-SEC honors, but he was lost for the season a week after Duncan was lost.  Depth is such a critical issue here, and replacing the most important blocker on this team is like replacing Mike Trout with a minor league centerfielder.  Star kick returner Darrius Sims may need to become more of an option here, but he is likely to get more touches returning kicks due to the number of scores Vandy gave up last year.

The running game is the one strength of this side of the ball.  Vanderbilt’s running back contingent is still in the bottom third of the SEC, but it is the only offensive unit not deeply entrenched in last place in the league.  Ralph Webb rushed for more than 900 yards last year, and although many of those runs consisted of picking up 10 yards on 3rd and 15, he also had some nice gains when they counted for something.  Dallas Rivers is not as speedy as Webb, but he has more bulk and could get a lot of looks at the fullback position.  A possible wildcard may not get much playing time this year, but it will be interesting to watch the progress of true freshman Jaire George, the son of NFL great and former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George.

The Vanderbilt defense has some talent and a little depth, but with the offense showing no ability to sustain long drives, it stayed on the field too long last year, and it frequently had to take the field with very few stripes between their opponent’s line of scrimmage and the end zone.  The three years of the Franklin regime produced defenses that surrendered an average of 337 yards and 21.6 points per game.  Last year under Mason, VU gave up 33.3 pints and 402 yards per game.  In SEC play, those numbers inflated to 35+ points and 425 yards per game.

You won’t find a Commodore starter on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team preseason All-SEC squad, but the Commodores’ top unit on the entire team is at linebacker.  Three full-time and one part-time starter return to this unit, including leading tackler Nigel Bowden and leading quarterback sacker and tackler for loss Stephen Weatherly.

Up front, Caleb Azubike combines size and speed and just needs a little more consistency to become a quality anchor on the three- man front.  He and fellow end Adam Butler need to improve on their 6.5 total sacks.

The secondary returns all four starters from a year ago, and with Mason taking over as defensive coordinator, the Commodores should perform better against the pass this year.  The problem the secondary has is a pass rush that does not make their job easier.  Cornerback Torren McGaster and safety Oren Burks could make double digits in passes defended this year.

Vanderbilt’s out-of-conference schedule only guarantees the Commodores one win.  Games against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee will be tossups at best, and a road game at Houston may give the Cougars a chance to get revenge for the pasting the Franklin Commodores handed them in the 2013 Birmingham Bowl.  Realistically, this team cannot be a serious threat to win a conference game this year, and just equaling last year’s 0-8/3-9 season should be considered an accomplishment.  There is a chance the win total could slip to just one.  Remember the correlation: James Franklin was the three-year anomaly, and he isn’t walking through the Vanderbilt Stadium door.

Now to the Wild, Wild West.  Put the names of Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Ole Miss in a hat and then draw them out one at a time.  You might be more successful picking the final order of these contenders more successfully than any of the professional handicappers.  Any of these five contenders would be instant favorites to win the ACC, and we believe any of these five would beat Ohio State, TCU, Baylor, Oregon, USC, and Notre Dame in a home game.

The above paragraph was written prior to Arkansas losing Jonathan Williams’ injury.  We have lowered UA’s ratings.

Alabama is the team that must be considered the hunter, even though there might be some holes in the Crimson ship.  Nick Saban has become the Vince Lombardi of college football.  He can do no wrong in the eyes of ‘Bama fans.  However, in the last two years, his Tide teams have come up a bit short.  It reminds us a little of Bear Bryant’s 1967 and 1968 teams, two squads that were heavily talented but could not complete the deal that the 1964-66 teams did and two teams that lost unexpectedly in bowl games.

Alabama faces a major rebuilding job on the offensive side of the ball.  What they lost in talent would make for a decent NFL expansion team’s offense.  The first concern this year for the Tide is the quarterback position.  Saban wanted senior Jake Coker to easily win the starting job so he could concentrate on plugging the holes elsewhere, but apparently ‘Bama still has not found its definite starter.  In fact, Saban has not been able to narrow it down to two.  As a matter of fact, heading into a weekend scrimmage, UA still had five, count them FIVE, players contending for the starting spot.  Saban has not been pleased with any of the quintet’s consistency and execution of the offense, and this could make it easier for top flight defenses to focus on the ground game and essentially send the Tide out to sea.

Whoever wins the starting job will have an entirely new group of receivers lining up.  The best receiver in college ball, Amari Cooper, will not be replaceable this year.  Cooper left Alabama after catching an incredible 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns!  Some of the past Alabama National Championship teams did not produce this amount on the whole.  His loss is Derek Carr’s gain in Oakland.

Running back Derrick Henry shared the load with T. J. Yeldon last year, and this year he will no doubt share it with a new contributor.  This position is like the pitching staff with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where there will always be more than one star in the backfield.  However, the backfield needs to find a complimentary fullback for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense to shine.  Jalston Fowler opened a lot of holes for the backs last year and provided an excellent pass target for former QB Blake Sims.

Only two starters return to the offensive line, but Alabama will plug those openings with future stars.  One returnee, tackle Cam Robinson could earn All-American honors as a true sophomore.  Center Ryan Kelly is a Rimington Award candidate.

As questionable as the offense is, the defense is as sure.  Alabama’s stop troops are the best in the land!  After giving up 18.4 points and almost 330 yards per game (something 120 other teams would love), expect the numbers to improve to something similar to the year before (14 points and 290 yards).  Look for Saban to try to shorten games and let his defense create great field position for his fledgling offense.

There hasn’t been a front seven in college football this talented since maybe the 2011 Alabama team.  It would not surprise us at all if all seven starters eventually make it to the NFL.  Ends Jonathan Allen and Jarran Reed have no equals as a tandem in the 3-4 defense.  As good as these two are, nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson is better.  How much better?  He just may be the best defensive player in college football.

Four linebackers will often find themselves unblocked and easily able to pursue the ball thanks to the trio helping up front.  Inside linebacker Reuben Foster is a new starter this year, and before he gets one snap as starter, he may already be the equal of fellow ILB Reggie Ragland.  We’re talking a pair of defenders in the Derrick Thomas range.

The secondary is the closest thing to a liability on this team, as Alabama did have some breakdowns here last year, which led to quick scores by the opponent.  Cornerback Cyrus Jones and safety Eddie Jackson both have NFL potential.

Helping the defense out is one of the top punters in the nation.  J. K. Scott ran away with the punting title in the SEC last year, both in average yards and in net punting.  Alabama pushed opponent offenses more than five yards farther back than the average team, and five yards in college football adds up to about a half-point additional power rating.

Looking at the conference schedule, The Crimson Tide faces Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn on the road, and we believe they will split these four games.  Facing LSU at home is not a given, and additional home games with Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Arkansas cannot be considered iron-clad sure things.  It is why we believe no West Division team will top 6-2 in the conference.

Les Miles seems to fit perfectly in LSU sports history along with characters like Charlie McClendon, Paul Dietzel, Press Maravich, and Dale Brown.  Maybe you have to be part nut to survive the most incredible fan base in sports.  Miles won more than 100 games in his first 10 years in Baton Rouge with a national championship and a runner-up, yet there are fans that think he has underachieved.  Following an 8-5 subpar finish last year, the fans expect considerable improvement in 2015.  LSU will be much improved, but 2015 is not a season where the Tigers can repeat their feat of 2011.

One advantage LSU has over some of its rivals is knowing who will be their starting quarterback.  Brandon Harris got his Baptism under fire as a true freshman last year, and the now sophomore should be much improved this year, but not enough to make LSU a balanced offense.  Former starter Anthony Jennings is still around and can replace Harris if the predicted improvement does not materialize.

Making the QB job much easier is having a running game that can carry the offensive load.  Leonard Fournette was the top running back recruit in the nation when he signed with the Tigers in the Winter of 2014.  Fournette saved the best for last in 2014, destroying Texas A&M with 146 rushing yards, including a 46-yard touchdown breakaway that looked like Walter Payton, and then topping it with an incredible Music City Bowl game against Notre Dame, in which he looked like part Jim Brown and part Devon Hester.  His 100 yard kickoff return and 89-yard streak up the middle kept the Tigers in the game.  Look for Fournette to become a breakout superstar if he stays healthy.  We foresee 1,800 rushing yards this year, unless another stellar back emerges to help share the load.

The top four receivers from 2014 return, including Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, and John Diarse.  This trio combined for just 66 receptions but averaged 20.5 yards per catch as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron attempted to stretch the field vertically to take pressure off Fournette.  Fournette is also a candidate to catch a pass out of the backfield and given a little pocket can become just as dangerous as a receiver as he is a runner.

Making all this possible is a deeply talented blocking corps.  The left side should be brutal on opposing defenses with guard Ethan Pocic and tackle Jerald Hawkins pushing defenders out of the way.  Right tackle Vadal Alexander has three years of starting experience under his belt.

The Tiger defense will be a work in progress this year.  Along with five key players from last year, legendary defensive coordinator John Chavis has packed his bags and hopped over to Texas A&M.  The LSU front seven does not approach the Alabama front seven in talent, but the secondary is a little better (although one key member is out for two games with an injury).

The Tigers’ biggest problem last year was a lack of pass rush.  A defense that usually records about 35-40 sacks per season tapered off to just 19.  LSU has been known for putting defensive linemen into the NFL, but at the present time, only tackle Christian LaCouture figures to continue that trend, and it will be 2017 and not 2016.

The linebacker unit has both talent and depth, albeit mostly untested.  Kendell Beckwith and Lamar Louis will try to take over from former star Kiwon Alexander, and the second team has enough talent to give the two stars some rest.

Jalen Mills suffered an ankle injury in Mid-August, and the Tigers’ secondary might need a true freshman to contribute right away.  Fortunately for Miles and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, one of the nation’s top recruits, Kevin Toliver may be ready to step in and make plays.  Look for LSU to substitute here frequently this year, as there are additional backups talented enough to contribute.

The Bayou Bengals should ace their non-conference part of the schedule.  In league play, LSU ventures to Mississippi State, South Carolina, Alabama, and Ole Miss, while hosting Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M.  We believe they have the most favorable schedule of the top West Division contenders, and an upset over Alabama might be enough to allow them to emerge ahead of their rivals.  However, the loss of Chavis and the uncertainty with the defensive front seven have us tempering our beliefs that LSU could win the division outright.  Thus, the Tigers become just one of five contenders and yet another probable 6-2 team.

Ole Miss is the one team of the five contenders that has the greatest deviation in our ratings.  Our standard PiRate Ratings picks the Rebels as the top team in the league, while the Mean Rating says they are just fifth best in the division.  This just shows how muddled this division is this year.  Coach Hugh Freeze had Ole Miss close to returning to the lofty status the Rebels enjoyed under Johnny Vaught.  For a couple weeks, Ole Miss looked like the top team in the nation and beating Alabama, Texas A&M, and Tennessee in consecutive weeks moved the Rebs up to number three in the nation.

Ole Miss will be even more talented this year than last year, but it will be hard to improve much in the win area, with one game representing the most the Rebels can add to the left side of the won-loss ledger.  Expect the Rebels to be more consistent and more explosive on offense this year with the return of almost the entire offense.  One exception is at quarterback where Bo Wallace was the leader of the inconsistent brigade.  Wallace looked like Andrew Luck some of the time and bad luck other times.  New quarterback Chad Kelly appears to be the leader in the race for the starting position, but Freeze is remaining tight-lipped about the verification of that presumption.  Kelly has the tools Freeze wants to run his offense.

Ole Miss had a receiver by committee approach last year, not because they lacked a star, but because they had hordes of talent in this position.  It’s not just at the wideout positions where the Rebels excel.  Tight end Evan Engram has no peer in the league and very few in the nation.  A year ago, he caught 38 passes and averaged 17.4 yards per reception.  If he decides to leave Oxford early, he could easily be the first tight end taken in the next NFL Draft.  Fellow junior Laquon Treadwell is certain 1st round NFL pick when he finishes his career in Oxford.  We believe he will have a breakout season and catch 60-70 passes for 850+ yards.

Ole Miss has not had a star running back since Dexter McCluster played for Houston Nutt.  Jaylen Walton, Jordan Wilkins, and Eugene Brazley may split the load this year and combine to equal one McCluster.  It doesn’t matter how the yards are gained as long as they are gained, and a 4.3 to 4.5 yard per attempt average will be sufficient to make the Rebels go.

What’s better than having a really good offensive line that by the end of 2014 was among the best in the nation?  How about having nearly the entire two deep return in 2015, including all the starters, and then how about adding one of the top O-line recruits?  For this reason, the Rebel offense should explode past 30 points and 450 yards per game this year.

The Ole Miss defense was subtly overlooked last year, but in reality, it was this side of the ball that won the big game against Alabama.  The Rebels held SEC foes to less than 17 points per game and return experienced talent to all three units this year.  Except for Alabama’s ridiculously talented front seven, few teams can compare to Ole Miss’s front seven this year.  Start with the second best tackle in college football (to Robinson at ‘Bama) in Robert Nkemdiche.  Nkemdiche is not as strong as Robinson, but he has better first-step quickness, and he figures to become a top NFL player in two years.  End Marquis Haynes will contend for the SEC lead in sacks this year, especially if fellow anchor Fadol Brown can provide some sack contribution from the other side.

The linebacker position got a lot better in the Spring when C. J. Johnson was moved from the line to the Mike position.  Johnson is quick and agile, more suited to the second line of defense than the front.

The key strength of the secondary is the number of players capable of contributing SEC caliber play in the backfield, especially at the corners.  Ole Miss’s nickel defense is as good as it gets, and nickel back Tony Conner can play the run and pass equally well.  Cornerbacks Tony Bridges, Tee Shepard, Kendarius Webster, and Kailo Moore will share time, while safeties Mike Hilton and Trae Elston rank as one of the best tandem in the country.

Ole Miss should easily go 4-0 outside of the SEC, and the Rebels benefit by drawing Vanderbilt and Florida from the East.  The Rebels get Texas A&M, Arkansas, and LSU at home, but they cannot be expected to go 2-1 in road games against Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State.  So, once again, you have a potential National Champion contender that might have to be content with a 6-2/10-2 record.

Before discussing Auburn’s roster, let’s begin with the most important factor in their favor this year.  The Tigers face Georgia and Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium and draw Kentucky from the East.  Additionally, Auburn’s road schedule in the West Division includes games against Arkansas and Texas A&M, two of the less dangerous opponents.  Of course in the SEC West, the less dangerous opponents are like a couple of Wolverines and piranhas in a league full of hungry tigers and sharks.

Auburn has some rebuilding to do on the offensive side, but with Coach Gus Malzahn, we are sure he will find replacements to make his spread offense work.  It all starts at quarterback, and Auburn will have more of a passing presence with Jeremy Johnson directing the offense.  Johnson is big and strong with a cannon arm, and expect the Tigers to pass the ball a bit more this year from about 25 to 30-33 times per game.  Expect a healthy Johnson to approach the all-time single season passing yards mark on the Plains (3,277 by Dameyune Craig in 1997).

Here’s where the rest of the skill positions gets a bit murky.  At receiver, only D’Haquille Williams returns as a starter, and he will have to team with Ricardo Louis and Jason Smith to try to make up for the loss of Sammy Coates, who led the team with 741 receiving yards and a league best 21.8 average per catch.  Redshirt freshman Kamryn Pettway tries to replace NFL Draft pick C J Uzomah at tight end.  Pettway may be a better receiver but not as talented as a blocker.

Running back is another reclamation project, as the leading returning rusher is a wideout.  Junior college transfer Jovon Robinson was once a top high school recruit out of the state of Tennessee, and he joins the Tigers after becoming the top-rated running back in the Juco ranks and one of the top overall.  Expect Roc Thomas to see action here, but we do not believe Auburn will come close to last year’s 255 rushing yards per game.

The offensive line rates in the middle of the Division, but there are talented players capable of giving Johnson adequate time to throw the ball.  Tackle Avery Young and guard Alex Kozan will contend for all league honors.

The defense has been a tad suspect in Malzahn’s two years on the Plains, and he did something to try to rectify that in the off season by hiring Will Muschamp as his defensive coordinator.  Expect immediate improvement in the aggressiveness of the stop troops, but the talent on hand is at best number four in the West Division.

Up front, the War Eagles feature two four-star linemen in end DaVonte Lambert and tackle Montravius Adams.  The two combined for 15 total tackles for loss and 27 quarterback hurries last year.  The key to this unit improving is the healthy return of end Carl Lawson.  If he recovers fully from his ACL injury, Lawson is a prime pass rusher.

The linebacker unit features two more stars in Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, who combined for 178 tackles, 21 of which were for lost yardage.  Frost is a capable pass defender as well as run stuffer.

The league’s leading returning thief plays cornerback at Auburn.  Jonathan Jones picked off six passes and further broke up another 11 passes.  Safety Johnathan Ford led the Tigers with 93 tackles, but Malzahn would prefer that a linebacker leads in this stat.

When we first began rating the SEC teams, Arkansas was a prime contender and one of the five we expected to compete for the division title.  However, all that changed a week ago when they lost half of the nation’s top running back tandem, when Jonathan Williams went down with a season-ending injury.  Williams rushed for close to 1,200 yards and scored 12 touchdowns last year in Arkansas’s smash-mouth offense.

The Arkansas offense basically requires two backs to share the load, because it asks too much for one to rush the ball 20 times or more per game for 12 games.  Alex Collins cannot mimic Melvin Gordon and continue to run with the same effectiveness as he did last year.  It may take three reserves to replace the carries Williams would have made.  It will cost Arkansas a couple hundred rushing yards this year, and due to that fact, we adjusted their expected win total down.  Whereas they once were a top contender with as much chance to win the division title as the top four, we now believe they will struggle some against those monsters and have to settle for another minor bowl.

Coach Bret Bielema is one of the few coaches in the league that knows for sure who his starting quarterback will be.  One thing we can state for sure is that the son of Bobby and Marcela Allen will take almost every scrimmage snap this year, if not all of them.  Of course, the first and second team quarterback happen to be sons of the Allen’s as older brother Aaron starts and younger brother Austin backs him up.  Last year, the two combined for 2,438 passing yards, but Aaron contributed to the yardage like Hank contributed to the Aaron home run total over Tommy.

The receiving game under Bielema always resolves around a bulky tight end that can block like a tackle and catch passes in a crowd and make the tackler wish he had been elsewhere.  Hunter Henry caught 37 balls last year, ad at 6-5 and 250+ pounds, he fits the Bielema mold.  Keon Hatcher’s job just got a lot more important with the Williams injury, and Arkansas may pass the ball three to five more times per game than originally planned.

What would a Bielema offense be without five bulls leading the charge up front?  The Hogs have the top blocking corps in the league and one of the top five in the nation, led by two highly talented tackles in Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland.  The interior averages 328 pounds per man, so if you or someone you know is an aspiring restauranteur, consider Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The Razorback defense was a tale of two halves.  In the first six games against FBS opposition, UA surrendered 30.2 points and 400 yards per game.  In the last six games, the Razorbacks gave up just 10.3 points and 262.5 yards per game.  Included in that improvement were back-to-back shutout victories over LSU and Ole Miss.  Kudos go to 2nd year defensive coordinator Robb Smith.

The offense absolutely must eat the clock with sustained drives, because the Arkansas defense this year has some big holes to fill.  Among those gone are leading tackler Martrell Spaight, leading sacker and tackler for loss Trey Flowers.  Arkansas will build its 2015 defense around its front line, where two starters return along with six others that made a start or played significantly in a backup role.  Tackle Taiwan Johnson made 8 total tackles for loss last year.

Brooks Ellis returns to a linebacker unit that must bring in new starters at the other two positions.  Ellis showed an equal ability to play the run and pass last year, and he will need to step up and be a real leader this year, as his partners in this unit have limited experience.

Three of four starters return to the defensive backfield, but this trio combined for just three interceptions (but 23 passes broken up).  Cornerbacks Jared Collins and D. J. Dean should up their interceptions to more than five, while safety Rohan Gaines should add more than the one pick he had last year.

Arkansas should go 4-0 outside the SEC, so the Razorbacks only need two more wins to return to a bowl.  Additionally, the Razorbacks have just three home conference games, choosing to play Texas A&M and Cowboys Stadium, where it will be a 50-50 fan split.  Road games against Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU could all result in losses, while beating Auburn and Missouri at home is no guarantee.  What might have been a 5-3 or possibly 6-2 conference record has been adjusted down to 3-5 due to the loss of one of the top running backs in the nation.

Texas A&M is the no-respect team this year in the SEC.  The Aggies fell to 3-5/8-5 last year after beginning the season 5-0 and being ranked as high as 6th in the nation.  The Aggies return the most starters and seasoned reserves of any SEC West team, including a budding star quarterback, and they add one of the best defensive coordinators in college football history, yet you will not find A&M picked to contend for the division title.

Fourth year head coach Kevin Sumlin has been a head coach for seven years, and his offenses have averaged 42 points per game in that time.  His lowest mark was the 35.2 points his Aggie team averaged last year.  We believe A&M will move that number north of 40 again, like they did in Sumlin’s first two years in College Station.

Quarterback Kyle Allen started five games in 2015 as a true freshman and appears to have secured the spot for 2015, as expected true freshman phenom Kyler Murray has been dropped to third team behind Juco transfer Jake Hubenak.  Allen needs to improve his accuracy to make the Aggies move more efficiently, as his interception percentage was high at 3.6.

A deep and exceptional receiving corps will make life easier for Allen.  Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noi, and Ricky Seals-Jones teamed for 147 receptions, 1,890 yards, and 22 scores, and they will be joined by four-star recruit Christian Kirk.

The running game returns its top rusher from 2014 in Tra Carson, who ran for 581 yards on 124 attempts.  A&M averaged just 32 rushes per game (including 27 quarterback sacks and a handful scrambles), and the Aggies may run a bit more this year.

Three experienced linemen return to the starting interior this year.  Center Mike Matthews teams with guard Joseph Cheek, and tackle Germain Ifedi, as two juniors with little combined experience must immediately come in and protect the quarterback.

We have a sneaky suspicion that the Aggie defense will respond to Chavis’s teaching and improve quickly.  Chavis always does great things when he has talent at end and at cornerback, and we believe he will like what he gets from these four positions this year.

One of those ends, Myles Garrett, may be the top pass rusher in the league, and Chavis will design stunts to help him improve on his 11.5 sacks.  Daeshon Hall added 4.5 sacks, and you can bet that the teammates will top the 16 combined sacks if they stay healthy.

The aforementioned talent at the cornerback positions include De’Vante Harris, Victor Davis, Nick Harvey, and Alex Sezur.  Harris led this group with 53 tackles and six passes defended.

Linebacker is a work in progress this year after being a train wreck in 2014, where numerous injuries led to a walk-on winding up the number three tackler on the team.  Shaan Washington missed three games, but he still finished number four on the team with 64 tackles.

Texas A&M always has excellent special teams, and “The 12th Man” may be better this year than they have in a long time.  With a newly remodeled Kyle Field, the home field advantage might be worth an extra half-point.  These intangibles give the Aggies an added boost that further strengthens our beliefs that our ratings are full of bunk when looking at this team.  The more we study this group of Aggies, the more we believe that they could be sitting on a major surprise season in College Station.

The Aggie schedule begins with a tough but winnable game against Arizona State played in Houston.  A&M doesn’t have to leave their home area until October 24, their seventh game of the season, as they face Arkansas in the DFW.  Their only true road games come against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and LSU, so they could sneak into the West race with a 6-2 record if they can win all their Lone-star State games.  Our official ratings call for 3-5/7-5, but we give those ratings a giant raspberry.

How could a team rated number one in the nation for four weeks last year and that returns one of the top quarterbacks in the nation with one of the top coaches in the nation be picked to fall all the way to last place in their division?  For Mississippi State, it is almost a unanimous belief among the Southeastern media that the Bulldogs will do just that.  Our ratings concur, because the Bulldogs lost more talent than any other SEC team.

Dak Prescott begins the 2015 season as the top quarterback in the league and one of the top five in the nation, but the senior signal caller will likely see his numbers regress this year with most of his receiving corps gone and a trio of capable blockers missing from last year’s squad.  Prescott tossed 27 touchdown passes with 3,449 passing yards and more than 1,000 rushing yards after factoring out sacks.

The rest of the State skill position players come up a bit short when compared to the rest of the division.  Receivers Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson give Prescott a couple of capable couple of pass-catchers, but the unit does not compare to those of Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss, or even Arkansas.

Besides Prescott, it is questionable who will contribute to the running game.  Ashton Shumpert and redshirt freshmen Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams will try to keep the pressure off Prescott.

The reason why the offense will take a backward move this year is the interior line, which is the definite weakest one in the division.  Just two starters return to this unit, and neither of the Justins (Malone and Senior) will challenge for an all-SEC spot.

The rebuilding on the offensive side of the ball is nothing compared to what faces Coach Dan Mullen and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.  Diaz returns to Starkville after former DC Geoff Collins moved to Florida.  One starter returns to each of the three units on this side of the ball, but some key backups saw significant action in 2014.  While there is more experience than normal from a defense that lost eight starters, the talent level does not match the rest of the West Division.

One player that belongs on any SEC roster is cornerback Will Redmond.  Redmond has all the natural gifts a NFL defensive back needs, including sub-4.0 speed in the 40-yard dash.  Redmond should be an NFL Draft pick next year.  Fellow cornerback Taveze Calhoun is the lone returning starter to this unit, and the Bulldogs could be okay here if the front seven can pressure quarterbacks.

Up front, Ryan Brown is the only returning starter of the quartet.  Brown finished 2014 with 3.5 sacks and 10 QB hurries.  The second team line saw a lot of playing time, so once again there is some experience but less talent in the unit.

The linebacker unit’s one returning starter is Beniquez Brown.  A year ago, Brown finished second on the team with 62 tackles, which included seven stops behind the line.  New starters Richie Brown and Zach Jackson saw extensive playing time, so State should not suffer too much of a regression in this unit.

Even the expected last place team in this division should go 4-0 outside of SEC play.  Finding two additional wins to become bowl eligible will be difficult but possible.  Home games against Kentucky and Ole Miss seem like the most likely chances to get those two wins, and the Bulldogs would just love to ruin Ole Miss’s season by seeking revenge after the Rebels ruined their chance to sneak into the first playoff.

SEC Preseason Media Poll

Southeastern Conference Media Poll
Pos. Team 1st Place Total Champ. Votes
East Division
1 Georgia 166 1,498 28
2 Tennessee 36 1,231 2
3 Missouri 20 1,196
4 South Carolina 1 830
5 Florida 1 768 1
6 Kentucky 1 534
7 Vanderbilt 0 243
West Division
1 Alabama 92 1,405 80
2 Auburn 108 1,362 96
3 LSU 10 870 9
4 Arkansas 6 821 3
5 Ole Miss 3 732 3
6 Texas A&M 4 628 2
7 Mississippi St. 2 482 1

Media Preseason All-SEC Team

SEC Preseason All-Conference Team
Offense Player School
Quarterback Dak Prescott Mississippi St.
Running Back Nick Chubb Georgia
Running Back Leonard Fournette LSU
Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell Ole Miss
Wide Receiver D’haquille Williams Auburn
Tight End Evan Engram Ole Miss
Offensive Line Cam Robinson Alabama
Offensive Line Laremy Tunsil Ole Miss
Offensive Line Vadal Alexander LSU
Offensive Line John Theus Georgia
Offensive Line Ryan Kelly Alabama
Defense Player School
Defensive Line Robert Nkemdiche Ole Miss
Defensive Line A’Shawn Robinson Alabama
Defensive Line Myles Garrett Texas A&M
Defensive Line Carl Lawson Auburn
Linebacker Reggie Ragland Alabama
Linebacker Jordan Jenkins Georgia
Linebacker Curt Maggitt Tennessee
Defensive Back Vernon Hargreaces III Florida
Defensive Back Cyrus Jones Alabama
Defensive Back Jonathan Jones Auburn
Defensive Back Jalen Mills LSU
Special Teams Player School
Punter J. K. Scott Alabama
Kicker Marshall Morgan Georgia
Return Specialist Speedy Noil Texas A&M
Return Specialist Pharoh Cooper South Carolina

Preseason PiRate, Mean, Bias, and Average Ratings

Southeastern Conference
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Tennessee 122.1 116.8 121.8 120.2
Georgia 123.2 114.6 122.1 120.0
Missouri 115.9 111.9 115.4 114.4
Florida 112.7 107.8 112.0 110.8
South Carolina 108.4 105.6 107.4 107.1
Kentucky 106.7 102.6 106.0 105.1
Vanderbilt 99.8 93.6 98.5 97.3
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Alabama 124.3 122.6 123.7 123.5
LSU 124.9 120.6 124.8 123.4
Ole Miss 126.2 118.6 124.5 123.1
Arkansas 125.3 118.6 125.1 123.0
Auburn 121.4 119.6 120.5 120.5
Texas A&M 116.9 114.6 114.9 115.5
Mississippi St. 112.5 107.6 112.5 110.9
SEC Averages 117.2 112.5 116.4 115.3

PiRate Ratings Predicted Won-Loss Records and Bowl Projections

PiRate Ratings Predicted Records
Pos Team Conf. Overall Bowl
East Division
1 Georgia 6-2 11-2 * Sugar
2 Tennessee 6-2 10-2 Outback
3 Missouri 6-2 10-2 Music City
4 South Carolina 3-5 6-6 Birmingham
5 Florida 2-6 6-6 At-Large
6 Kentucky 1-7 4-8 None
7 Vanderbilt 0-8 2-10 None
West Division
1 Alabama 6-2 10-3 ^ Orange
2 Auburn 6-2 10-2 Citrus
3 LSU 6-2 10-2 Gator
4 Ole Miss 6-2 10-2 Texas
5 Arkansas 3-5 7-5 Belk
6 Texas A&M 3-5 7-5 Liberty
7 Mississippi St. 2-6 6-6 Independence
* Wins Title Game
^ Loses Title Game

Coming This Week: We begin previewing the 8 NFL Divisions starting with the AFC North.  Will New England’s won-loss record deflate without Tom Brady playing in the first four games?

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