The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 19, 2018

2018 Southeastern Conference Preview

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 2:38 pm

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.
Our Power 5 Conference preseason ratings and won-loss predictions were figured before knowing the outcome of recent suspensions to Coaches Urban Meyer and D.J. Durkin at Ohio State and Maryland. Because our ratings set 100.0 as average, and the mean of all 130 teams must be 100.0, taking points away from Ohio State and Maryland require redistributing points to the other 128 teams. Expect these ratings to change prior to August 25.

 
There is an old saying that the three toughest conferences in football are the NFC, the AFC, and the SEC. The Southeastern Conference is the big dog of college football. It is followed by zealots who treat it like a religion. The fans know more about an incoming freshman than most businesses know about new employees. Some fans basically take off from work on Wednesday to take their RVs on the road for a Saturday game. Tailgating in the SEC could be a regular TV program on the Food Network. SEC Football is one of the most successful industries in the world!

 

 

In an effort to show you a little more about how the PiRate Ratings are made, we are going to reveal one of the pre-season rating scores we apply to each team. We will show you the scores of each unit on the 14 teams. These include, the Offensive Line, Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Defensive Line, Linebackers, Defensive Backs, and Special Teams. This does not make up the entire rating. This is just one look at each team, but it is the one you don’t need to understand any advanced analytics to fully understand and appreciate.

 
Each unit is graded on a scale of 60-100 at the FBS level. The grades are 95% mechanical and could be performed by anybody that has the key to how the mechanical grading is made. The other 5% is a minor adjustment based on the players’ original recruiting rankings, which sometimes can predict a player to improve by more than another.
These scores look like school grades, but in this system, the difference between 70 and 90 is much less than the difference in test grades in schools. The difference in a 90 offensive line and a 70 offensive line can be as little as 3-4 points of PiRate Rating.

 
We take these grades and assign a weighting to the units. Obviously the quarterback is much more important than the long snapper. We add or subtract points based on depth, coaching changes, and other intangibles to come up with one part of the three PiRate Ratings. Each PiRate Rating has 5 to 7 different systems that measure talent and coaching of the 130 teams, which is why it takes basically 130 days to rate 130 teams. We start as soon as a team wraps up Spring Practice and sends out their Spring Media Guide. Last year’s final rating is the starting point, and all the preseason work presents a plus or minus adjustment to the PiRate, Mean, and Bias Ratings.

 
Remember that these rankings include starters and reserves, and these are not Pro football draft ratings; an option quarterback might be rated ahead of a potential 1st round NFL selection, because we are only concerned with how the players affect the college game. Starters count for about 80% and reserves about 20% for each unit, unless the position has co-starters or the starting QB has yet to be named; there is a different algorithm for these instances. Also, these ratings do not include injuries incurred in August practices, so the sad news about Alabama losing outstanding outside linebacker Terrell Lewis is included in their score, but the recent loss of Christopher Allen is not. His injury will be reflected in Alabama’s opening rating against Louisville a week from Tuesday.

 
About the units: Tight ends are included in both the receivers and offensive line. Running backs are included as part of the receivers. When there is a true blocking fullback, he is part of the offensive line rating and contributes almost nothing to the running back score. If he is used as a receiver like an H-Back, then he is treated the same way as a tight end.

 
The style of defense factors minimally in the ratings for each unit. A 3-4 linebacker unit will be more important than a 4-2-5, so the linebackers will be given more weight in the algorithm at the end of the ratings’ process.

 

EAST

Florida
Quarterback: 80
Receivers: 83
Offensive Line: 82
Running Backs: 91
Defensive Line: 94
Linebackers: 88
Defensive Backs: 93
Special Teams: 86

Outlook: The recovery period for the Gators will be brief. This team quit on the previous staff after narrow losses to LSU and Texas A&M. The defense is better than it played last year, and Mullen brought Todd Grantham with him from Mississippi State, where the Bulldogs were much better defensively than their talent level predicted.
The schedule is almost a dream. Three cupcakes in non-conference play, home games with Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, and South Carolina, and road games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt make nine wins possible and eight wins probable. The Gators aren’t ready to challenge Georgia for the East Division championship, but they figure to compete for number two in Mullen’s first year back at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The Captain Says: 5-3 in the conference and 8-4 overall

Georgia
Quarterback: 89
Receivers: 91
Offensive Line: 96
Running Backs: 97
Defensive Line: 93
Linebackers: 91
Defensive Backs: 94
Special Teams: 95

Outlook: Normally, a team that lost as much as Georgia lost on defense would be expected to fall back by at least two wins if not more. Also, when a team that lost first and second round-drafted running backs, the offense lost might decline enough to cost the team another win. That is far from the case with Georgia. With potential future All-American Jake Fromm returning at quarterback after an incredible freshman year that saw him finish a close second in passing efficiency, Fromm should top 3,000 yards passing behind a top-notch offensive line. The defense returns more than enough talent to keep holding opponents to around 17 points per game, and the schedule gives the Bulldogs a chance to run the table to the SEC Championship Game.

The Captain Says: 7-1 in the SEC and 11-1 overall and berth in SEC Championship Game

Kentucky
Quarterback: 77
Receivers: 82
Offensive Line: 82
Running Backs: 92
Defensive Line: 78
Linebackers: 90
Defensive Backs: 90
Special Teams: 84

Outlook: Mark Stoops has slowly increased the talent level in Lexington to the point where the Wildcats are just a little behind the teams competing for second place. Close losses to Florida and Ole Miss kept Kentucky from playing in the Outback or Gator Bowl last year. Depth concerns will hurt this team, just like it did last year, when the Wildcats ran out of gas following a 5-1 start.

The Captain Says: 2-6 in the SEC and 5-7 overall

Missouri
Quarterback: 94
Receivers: 89
Offensive Line: 94
Running Backs: 92
Defensive Line: 85
Linebackers: 86
Defensive Backs: 77
Special Teams: 93

Outlook: Missouri will go as far as the passing game takes them. Drew Lock had a 202.9 passer efficiency ratings in the 7 wins, all against teams with losing records or an FCS member. His efficiency rating fell to 124.9 in the six losses, all to teams that played in bowls. The Tigers might win a game or two with their special teams.

The Captain Says: 3-5 in the SEC and 7-5 overall

South Carolina
Quarterback: 85
Receivers: 94
Offensive Line: 84
Running Backs: 84
Defensive Line: 86
Linebackers: 88
Defensive Backs: 88
Special Teams: 93

Outlook: Will Muschamp has this team in contention for second place in the East, but the Gamecocks do not have a strong enough offensive or defensive line to compete with the Georgia’s and Alabama’s in this conference. South Carolina rarely dominates the stat box.

They were outgained by 258 yards in a season-opening win over North Carolina State, by 64 yards the following week in a win over Missouri, and by 54 yards in a win over Vanderbilt. Expect a better yardage output this year, but the Gamecocks are not likely to be +11 in turnovers, so the final outcome should be about the same.

The Captain Says: 5-3 in the SEC and 8-4 overall

Tennessee
Quarterback: 81
Receivers: 82
Offensive Line: 76
Running Backs: 79
Defensive Line: 80
Linebackers: 86
Defensive Backs: 83
Special Teams: 89

Outlook: Tennessee last competed for the SEC Championship in 2007. Derek Dooley and Butch Jones failed to make this program great again, and now the job is in the hands of Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt is a tough disciplinarian with the ability to teach kindergarten, a rare combination. He’s also a top-notch recruiter, so it is only a matter of time before the talent level moves upward. 2018 will be a tough introduction to the head coaching world.

The Vols have decent talent on the defensive side of the ball, not enough to make noise in the SEC, but enough to win a couple times in the league and to lose games by fewer points. It’s up to the offense to move the ball and keep the defense off the field, and we don’t think the offense is up to the task.

The Captain says: 3-5 in the SEC and 6-6 overall

Vanderbilt
Quarterback: 83
Receivers: 80
Offensive Line: 81
Running Backs: 74
Defensive Line: 76
Linebackers: 75
Defensive Backs: 81
Special Teams: 82

Outlook: Derek Mason’s defensive Midas Touch turned from gold to balsa wood last year. Coming off a bowl season, the Commodores were expected to compete for another in 2017. A 3-0 start looked like Vanderbilt might have been on its way to its third 8-win regular season of the decade. Three tough games with Alabama, Florida, and Georgia left the team battered and bruised, and the Commodore ship took on too much water. That great defense gave up 505 yards and 46 points per game in the seven conference losses.

The Commodores lost seven starters off that defense, and the 2018 edition could be a little weaker. The offense could not run the ball in SEC play, averaging just 79 yards per game in the seven losses.

The Captain Says: 1-7 in the SEC and 4-8 overall
WEST

Alabama
Quarterback: 96
Receivers: 86
Offensive Line: 96
Running Backs: 99
Defensive Line: 96
Linebackers: 95
Defensive Backs: 93
Special Teams: 89

Outlook: For anybody else in the league, maybe including Georgia, when a team lost as much talent as the Tide, they would be picked to drop from the national championship to maybe 9-3. When a team plugs new All-Americans into the lineup to replace those that just left, the only thing that changes are the names in the program.

Make no mistake about it: Alabama could be vulnerable against an excellent mobile quarterback that can evade the pass rush and find an open receiver (isn’t everybody vulnerable in this case). The Johnny Manziel, Deshaun Watson, and Chad Kelly type beat other Alabama defenses, so this could be the case in 2018. Who on the schedule has this type of quarterback with an offensive line that can protect him, and with receivers that can get open and pick up big yards? Well, they aren’t officially on the schedule, as least not until game number 15–Clemson.

The Captain says: 8-0 in the SEC and 12-0 overall and berth in SEC Championship Game
Arkansas
Quarterback: 78
Receivers: 81
Offensive Line: 82
Running Backs: 87
Defensive Line: 79
Linebackers: 83
Defensive Backs: 79
Special Teams: 91

Outlook: The Bret Bielema era is over in Fayetteville, and grocers and restaurant owners are in mourning. Chad Morris brings his spread offense where the Razorbacks have been a pro-style power team in recent years. The talent level on both sides of the ball has fallen below the top teams in the league, and Arkansas is about on par with Kentucky in the other division. The two quarterbacks competing for the starting nod, Ty Storey and Cole Kelley, are both pro-style quarterbacks not necessarily equipped to run the Morris offense. The defense lacks a lot of quality talent, but new coordinator John Chavis will get more out of this unit than last year’s showing.

The Captain says: 2-6 in the SEC and 6-6 overall

Auburn
Quarterback: 92
Receivers: 90
Offensive Line: 83
Running Backs: 87
Defensive Line: 94
Linebackers: 91
Defensive Backs: 92
Special Teams: 87

Outlook: Auburn has the talent to win the SEC Championship, but the schedule will prevent the Tigers from doing so. The Tigers must play the two division favorites plus dark horse Mississippi State on the road, and we wouldn’t pick the Cam Newton Auburn team to win all three games.
This could be the year where Auburn passes the ball for more than 250 yards per game. Jarrett Stidham has a stable full of race horse receivers and an offensive line that may be better at pass blocking than run blocking. The defense is still quite strong, so Auburn will compete in every game; it’s just that they will lose some close ones away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Captain says: 6-2 in the SEC and 9-3 overall

LSU
Quarterback: 78
Receivers: 82
Offensive Line: 85
Running Backs: 80
Defensive Line: 90
Linebackers: 92
Defensive Backs: 94
Special Teams: 87

Outlook: On paper, this might look like a team that is in danger of falling down to the bottom of the division. But, the Tigers still have a lot of talent, especially on defense, where it would not surprise us if LSU gives up less than 300 yards per game this year.

The offense looked to be a large negative with so much talent lost, but a little bird told us that recent Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow is wowing the coaches in Baton Rouge. Since his arrival post Spring ball, two of the three quarterbacks expected to contend for a starting spot have transferred. Burrow had a 153.1 passer rating in very limited action with the Buckeyes. He has an accurate arm and plays with poise, but he has minimal game experience and dumped the ball to his backs even when he had open receivers downfield.

The Captain says: 3-5 in the SEC and 6-6 overall

Mississippi
Quarterback: 81
Receivers: 96
Offensive Line: 88
Running Backs: 80
Defensive Line: 84
Linebackers: 79
Defensive Backs: 94
Special Teams: 89

Outlook: Matt Luke should have been given a special award for keeping the Ole Miss team together and bringing normalcy back to the program. Old-timers like us see a lot of John Vaught in his ability to lead a team and play an open style of offense. Ole Miss is still on probation with a bowl-ban, and it will likely cost this team a bowl game for the second consecutive season, because the Rebels can pass the ball and defend the pass well enough to win half of their games.

Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was quite effective when he finally took over as the starter. In the final five games, his 167.3 passer rating was the best in the league over the time period, and he averaged 321 yards per game in that stretch. Of course, it is a lot easier to have great passing stats when your receiving corps is more talented than three or four NFL teams. A.J. Brown might be a leading Heisman Trophy contender if he played for Notre Dame, Oklahoma, or USC.

The Captain says: 2-6 in the SEC and 6-6 overall

Mississippi St.
Quarterback: 91
Receivers: 82
Offensive Line: 92
Running Backs: 90
Defensive Line: 93
Linebackers: 82
Defensive Backs: 90
Special Teams: 81

Outlook: Joe Moorhead comes to Starkville at the perfect time. He inherits all the pieces he needs to run a potent offense and play aggressive, smart defense. Except for the Alabama game, the Bulldogs can compete in the other 11. If Moorhead and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop can get improved play from the linebackers, and a couple of serviceable receivers can come forth to help take the heat off the running game, State could make a run at an 11-win season.

All this comes with a major caveat. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald must be 100% healthy and able to do the same thing this year that he did prior to the injury last year. If he stays healthy for 12 games, then State should have two, 1000-yard rushers.

The Captain says: 5-3 in the SEC and 9-3 overall

Texas A&M
Quarterback: 84
Receivers: 83
Offensive Line: 84
Running Backs: 86
Defensive Line: 88
Linebackers: 91
Defensive Backs: 85
Special Teams: 93

Outlook: Jimbo Fisher figures to make a lot of changes in year one compared to how Kevin Sumlin ran the team. The offense will go from a spread passing game to a pro-style with more power running. Fisher is a great mentor of quarterbacks, but as of this writing, the starter for 2018 has not been decided. NIck Starkel is the better passer, while Kellen Mond adds a running aspect that Starkel does not have.

The Aggies are solid at all positions but not spectacular at any. They have experience at linebacker with Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka back after combining for 182 tackles with 22 for loss and 11 sacks.

The Captain says: 4-4 in the SEC and 7-5 overall

Here is how the SEC Media voted in the preseason poll

SEC
East 1st Place Points
Georgia 271 1977
South Carolina 8 1535
Florida 4 1441
Missouri 0 1057
Kentucky 1 874
Tennessee 1 704
Vanderbilt 0 392
West 1st Place Points
Alabama 263 1971
Auburn 19 1664
Mississippi St. 2 1239
Texas A&M 0 1091
LSU 0 1025
Ole Miss 0 578
Arkansas 0 412

The PiRate Ratings differ minimally

Southeastern Conference
East Division
Team SEC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Georgia 0-0 0-0 130.9 126.3 132.4 129.8
Missouri 0-0 0-0 114.4 112.7 116.0 114.3
S. Carolina 0-0 0-0 112.9 111.7 112.2 112.3
Florida 0-0 0-0 112.9 110.6 113.3 112.2
Kentucky 0-0 0-0 106.8 105.3 106.3 106.1
Tennessee 0-0 0-0 98.8 99.5 98.4 98.9
Vanderbilt 0-0 0-0 96.8 97.5 96.2 96.9
West Division
Team SEC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Alabama 0-0 0-0 132.0 129.3 133.8 131.7
Auburn 0-0 0-0 122.0 121.2 124.4 122.5
Mississippi St. 0-0 0-0 122.5 119.2 122.7 121.5
L S U 0-0 0-0 110.1 110.3 110.7 110.4
Texas A&M 0-0 0-0 110.7 109.6 110.7 110.3
Arkansas 0-0 0-0 109.3 106.4 107.6 107.8
Ole Miss 0-0 0-0 105.3 105.1 106.1 105.5
SEC Averages 113.2 111.8 113.6 112.9

New Coaches
Dan Mullen isn’t a new coach to the league, but he is a new head coach at Florida. Mullen has a storied history with his new team. He tutored Tim Tebow during the Urban Meyer years when Florida won two national championships. He left Mississippi State stocked with incredible talent, and his recruiting efforts in Gainesville will quickly bring the Gators back to prominence.
Jeremy Pruitt has an incredible resume as a defensive genius, and he takes over a Tennessee team that did not play a lot of defense in recent years. Pruitt has produced top defenses at Georgia, Florida State, and Alabama, and he comes to Knoxville with multiple championship rings. His recruiting strengths in the Deep South should give the Volunteers a decent chance of returning to glory, but not for a few years.

Arkansas welcomes Chad Morris to Fayetteville after he turned the SMU program back into a bowl team. Morris brings his up-tempo,spread offense to the SEC West, where it has worked just fine at Auburn. The style is a complete contrast to former coach Bret Bielema’s power offense. Morris previously was offensive coordinator at Clemson and helped develop Deshaun Watson into a star.
Joe Moorhead takes over for Mullen at Mississippi State. Moorhead most recently was offensive coordinator for Penn State, where his offenses took off the last two years. He was the head coach of the Fordham Rams from 2012 to 2015, taking the Rams to three consecutive FCS Playoffs.

Jimbo Fisher takes over at Texas A&M after a brilliant career at Florida State, first as a coach-in-waiting under Bobby Bowden, and then as a national championship-winning head coach. His previous SEC experience included six years as quarterback coach under Tommy Tuberville at Auburn.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. Ohio State and Maryland could see their ratings change by large amounts depending on the outcome of the two coaching investigations.  The predicted won-loss records in the team capsules are more realistic.

SEC
Team Conference Overall
East
Georgia 8-0 12-1
Florida 6-2 9-3
South Carolina 6-2 9-3
Missouri 4-4 8-4
Kentucky 2-6 5-7
Vanderbilt 1-7 4-8
Tennessee 0-8 3-9
West
Alabama 8-0 13-0 *
Mississippi St. 7-1 11-1
Auburn 5-3 8-4
Texas A&M 4-4 7-5
Arkansas 3-5 7-5
Ole Miss 1-7 5-7
LSU 1-7 4-8

Bowl Tie-ins
1. Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA
2. Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL
3. Outback Bowl in Tampa, FL
3. Texas Bowl in Houston, TX
3. Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, FL
3. Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC
3. Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN
3. Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN
9. Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA
9. Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, AL

Coming Tuesday–The PiRate Ratings return to the in-season format. Our first ratings for the pre-week one schedule debut for the 2018 season. A couple of early games begin the college football season on Saturday, August 25.

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