The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 18, 2019

2019 Southeastern Conference Football Preview

Current Penn State and former Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin once said, “The three toughest conferences in football are the NFC, AFC, and SEC.”  Even though Clemson has taken Alabama to the woodshed twice in three years, the SEC is still the class of college football.  Clemson has no rival in the ACC like Alabama has in the SEC.  There are no Georgia, LSU, Florida, or Texas A&M types in the ACC.  Clemson played Texas A&M last year; it was a close game, and the Aggies had a chance to win it.  They go to Clemson early this season, and it is probably the only game Clemson will have to worry about until the Playoffs.

In the East Division, Georgia is the only team that has won the SEC Championship in the last 10 seasons.  The Bulldogs won the 2017 title, and they led Alabama in the National Championship Game until Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench and became the best quarterback to wear the Crimson since Ken Stabler and Joe Namath.  Georgia lost to LSU last season and then led Alabama into the second half in the Championship Game, before Tua rallied the Tide again.  Can the third year be the charm?  Coach Kirby Smart has star quarterback Jake Fromm and talented running back D’Andre Swift back behind a tough offensive line.  The receiving corps is thin on experience but has some talent, and with Fromm throwing the ball, the passing game will top 200 yards a game.

The Bulldog defense had a little trouble stopping some enemy quarterbacks last year, but the secondary will be improved in 2019.  The Bulldog defense should yield 17 or less points per game, and Georgia has a chance to go 12-0 and get that third chance in a row to stop the Tide.

Florida won 10 games in Dan Mullen’s first year as head coach in the Swamp.  The Gators should be Georgia’s principle competitor this year, but Mullen has some rebuilding to do on the attack side.  Feleipe Franks is a near star at quarterback.  If he stays healthy, Franks should pass for 3,000 yards this year, as Florida has a receiving corps that rivals Alabama’s in the league.  A defense that returns a lot up front and in back could give the Gators a chance in Jacksonville against the Bulldogs.

Unless an appeal is successful, Missouri will be on probation this year and not eligible for the SEC Championship Game, the Playoffs, or a bowl.  The Tigers might be the dark horse in the division, and if eligibility is restored, this team might be good enough to sneak into the division title picture, probably in a three-way tie.  Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant replaces Drew Lock at quarterback, and the Missouri offense will be a little different, using Bryant’s ability to run.  The Tigers have an excellent receiving corps, led by a potential Mackie Award-winning tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.  The Missouri defense is not up to the standards of Florida and Georgia, but Coach Barry Odom has been gifted with a plum of a schedule this year.  The Tigers have a chance to go to Georgia on November 9 with an 8-0 record.

South Carolina and Tennessee are teams in transition.  The Gamecocks are trying to stay relevant against a tough schedule, while Tennessee is trying to return to relevance after several years under .500 in the SEC.  The Gamecocks are looking at a mild rebuilding year with a young, inexperienced defense that gave up more than 27 points last year.  Having to compete with Florida and Georgia is tough, but USC has three tough non-conference opponents, in rival Clemson plus North Carolina and Appalachian St.

Tennessee returns the most starters of any team in a power 5 conference, and the Vols have a rather strong group of redshirt freshmen available for second year coach Jeremy Pruitt.  Pruitt is a master defensive specialist, and the Volunteers will improve on their 2018 numbers of 28 points and 377 yards per game allowed.  The Big Orange offense was inconsistent last year, and it won’t be championship quality this year.  With Jim Chaney brought on board as offensive coordinator, Tennessee should be a little more consistent in 2019, and the Vols should improve to the plus side of .500 and make a bowl game.

Kentucky had its best season since 1977 in 2018, but the Wildcats face a major rebuilding year under Coach Mark Stoops.  The Wildcats lost All-American Josh Allen off the defense, and even if they returned the rest of that unit, it would mean the defense would be weaker.  Unfortunately, UK lost six other starters from this side of the ball, and it was defense that allowed UK to win 10 games last year.  The offense also lost seven starters, including star running back Benny Snell.  Terry Wilson is a serviceable quarterback, but he’s not going to shred defensive backfields like Fromm or Franks in the East.

Vanderbilt is the perennial choice for last place in the East Division, but Coach Derek Mason has been able to produce bowl eligibility twice in three years, even having to play a tough non-conference foe in those years.  The Commodores lost star quarterback Kyle Shurmur, but they bring in former Ball State starter Riley Neal, and Neal has the talent to equal or even top the production given by Shurmur.  With running back Keyshawn Vaughn returning after leading the SEC in rushing, and with a receiving corps that is deep and talented, the Commodores could average more than 400 total yards and 30 points per game this year.  Unfortunately, the defense may give up even more, and that is why Vandy might not be as dandy in 2019.  The losses of secondary stars Joejuan Williams and Ladarius Wiley will be tough on an inexperienced pass defense.

In the West, Alabama is the odds-on favorite to go 12-0, win the SEC Championship Game, and then win the semifinal game in the Playoffs, where a rematch with Clemson will excite college football fans from coast to coast.  In the Nick Saban years in Tuscaloosa, the Tide has had numerous stars drafted into the NFL, and it looked Saban had a little rebuilding to do.  At Alabama, one future star replaces a former star.  There is no such thing as rebuilding when you perpetually have the number one recruiting class in college football.  With Tagovailoa returning at quarterback, and with the best receiving corps outside of the NFL, Alabama should have no trouble topping 40 or even 45 points and 300-350 passing yards per game.  The Crimson Tide has the SEC’s best defense yet again, but they could be a tad vulnerable against some tough running backs and top of the line quarterbacks (like Fromm).  It will not be a cakewalk for the Crimson Tide this year.  One team is liable to upset them along the way, but whether that team can also finish 7-1 in the league and win the crown is highly unlikely.

LSU appears to have the best chance of dethroning the King.  The Tigers won 10 games last year but did not compete with Alabama, losing at home 29-0.  Coach Ed Orgeron has done a fine job recruiting talent to Baton Rouge, and in quarterback Joe Burrow, he has a potentially great passer, something that has prevented the Tigers from beating Alabama in recent years.  Defensively, the Tigers have the best defense not wearing crimson, and the LSU secondary might be the best in the nation.  It will give the Tigers a chance to stop Tua and the Tide.  An early game against Texas in Austin should give the nation a great look to see if LSU has what it takes to knock off the Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium in November.

Texas A&M faces an impossible schedule.  They play Clemson, Alabama, LSU, and Georgia, which is just plain brutal.  Second year coach Jimbo Fisher has worked wonders in his short time in College Station, but the A&M defense is going to be battered and bruised by these top notch offenses.  The Aggies could average more than 40 points per game in the other eight contests, and it would not be a surprise to see them upset one of those four powers.  At the same time, Auburn, Mississippi State, and South Carolina might sneak up and upset the Aggies.  8-4 is about the best that can be expected under these circumstances.

Auburn also has an impossible schedule this year, as in addition to Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M in the West, the Tigers have their annual game against Georgia, and then they must commence play against a tough Oregon team in a neutral site game.  With the loss of Jarrett Stidham and his top two targets, the offense may take a step backwards.  The defense should be quite strong, but in the SEC West, the Tigers could lose a lot of 21-17 games.  Coach Gus Malzahn is in a bit of a pickle on the Plains, and if War Eagles don’t win nine times this year, Gus may be on the bus out of town.

Mississippi State might be strong enough to compete for a division title in the Pac-12 or Big 12, but in the SEC West, they are probably not even in the top four.  In a league with incredibly talented defenses, the Bulldogs had the best of all in 2018, holding nine teams under 14 points.  Still, it led to only an 8-5 season, and the Maroons have issues on the offensive side of the ball this year, especially the all-important passing game.  Only a strong chance of going 4-0 outside the league will guarantee the Bulldogs bowl eligibility.

Arkansas might be the true sleeper of the league this year.  Second year coach Chad Morris had a major transition when he came to Fayetteville and switched the Razorbacks from a smash mouth offense to a more finesse spread offense.  He didn’t have the personnel to make the offense shine.  He will have a lot more of the necessary pieces this season, and he has a quarterback that can make the offense go.  Ben Hicks was Morris’s quarterback at SMU, when the Mustangs passed for close to 300 yards and scored 38 points per game in 2017.  He won’t replicate those numbers in the SEC, but Arkansas should top 28 points per game and challenge for a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility.

Ole Miss comes off probation this year, and the Rebels can become eligible for a bowl once again.  Unfortunately, the Rebels face a major rebuilding and transitioning with new offensive and defensive coordinators.  The offense welcomes Rich Rodriguez, and his read-option spread to the SEC.  The West Division foes have many years experience facing a nearly identical offense at Auburn, so it will not be something new and surprising.  The Rebels will not be as talented or competent at Auburn running this offense, so Ole Miss should see a considerable dip in production on this side of the ball.  Of course, losing quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and three star receivers would hurt no matter what offense was being run.  Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre has a lot more experience to work with on his side of the ball, but the Rebels lack the talent to compete against the rest of the West.  It could be a long year in Oxford.

Here is how the SEC Media voted in the preseason poll.

 

Southeastern Conference Media Poll
 

 

East Division
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes Overall
1 Georgia 233 1789
2 Florida 21 1499
3 Missouri 3 1149
4 S. Carolina 1 883
5 Tennessee 1 804
6 Kentucky 1 798
7 Vanderbilt 0 358
 

 

West Division
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes Overall
1 Alabama 253 1813
2 LSU 5 1493
3 Texas A&M 0 1268
4 Auburn 1 1090
5 Mississippi St. 1 769
6 Ole Miss 0 504
7 Arkansas 0 343
 

 

Championship Game Winner Overall Votes
Alabama 203
Georgia 49
LSU 3
Mississippi St. 1
Tennessee 1
Florida 1
South Carolina 1
Auburn 1

 

The PiRate Ratings show just how strong the league begins the 2019 season.  Ten teams begin 2019 at least 10 points better than the average FBS school.

 

Preseason PiRate Ratings–SEC

 

East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Georgia 126.2 123.6 126.6 125.5
Florida 120.5 117.8 119.5 119.2
Missouri 115.3 112.4 115.3 114.3
S. Carolina 114.0 112.2 113.9 113.4
Tennessee 112.6 111.6 111.1 111.8
Kentucky 109.5 107.5 108.3 108.4
Vanderbilt 104.3 103.3 103.4 103.7
 

 

West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Alabama 135.6 130.6 136.4 134.2
L S U 123.3 120.4 122.0 121.9
Texas A&M 118.6 116.6 117.0 117.4
Auburn 116.8 114.4 115.9 115.7
Mississippi St. 117.0 112.5 116.7 115.4
Ole Miss 102.0 101.1 100.7 101.3
Arkansas 100.0 100.5 99.3 100.0
 

 

SEC Averages 115.4 113.2 114.7 114.4

 

Note:  These preseason ratings are accurate as of August 1, 2019, and subject to change before the first week of the season due to personnel changes prior to the first week of the season.

 

Predicted Won-Loss Records

The PiRate Ratings were not created to forecast won-loss records like other ratings might attempt.  Our ratings are valid for just the next game on the teams’ schedules, and we have pre-set adjustments built into our ratings on many teams.  For instance, if a team has exceptional starting talent but little depth, their rating has a pre-set reduction per week of the season, so that even if they win or lose a game by the exact expected margin, they will lose some of their power rating due to their depth issues.

If a team has exceptional, but inexperienced talent, their rating will have a pre-set addition per week of the season, and even if their performance may be exactly what was expected, their power rating will rise.

What you see in these predicted won-loss records are our opinion and not calculated from the ratings.  These are the estimated records based on a vote, with the Captain having 50% of the vote and the crew having the other 50%.  The Captain then rounded up or down those teams picked to have an average wins that were not whole numbers.

 

PiRate Members Predicted Won-Loss

 

East Division

Pos Team Conf. Overall
1 Georgia 8-0 12-1
2 Florida 6-2 10-2
3 Missouri 5-3 9-3
4 Tennessee 3-5 7-5
5 South Carolina 3-5 6-6
6 Kentucky 2-6 6-6
7 Vanderbilt 2-6 5-7
 

 

West Division

Pos Team Conf. Overall
1 Alabama 8-0 13-0*
2 LSU 6-2 10-2
3 Texas A&M 5-3 8-4
4 Auburn 4-4 8-4
5 Mississippi St. 3-5 7-5
6 Ole Miss 2-6 5-7
7 Arkansas 1-7 5-7
 

*

 

Alabama picked to win SEC Championship Game

 

Coaches That Could Be In Line To Get A Top 10 Job

Most of the coaches are already at a program that either is a top 10 job or has the potential to be.  However, there is one coach that could advance to a bigger program

Mark Stoops, Kentucky

 

Coaches on the Hot Seat

Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Will Muschamp, South Carolina

 

Malzahn’s seat is considerably hotter than Muschamp’s seat.  If Auburn does not find a way to finish in the top three in the SEC West, there will most likely be a change on the Plains.

 

Top Quarterbacks

We have been showcasing three and sometimes four quarterbacks in the other conferences, but there is NFL Draft potential deep into the ranking of SEC quarterbacks.

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Jake Fromm, Georgia

Feleipe Franks, Florida

Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

Kelly Bryant, Missouri

Jake Bentley, South Carolina

Joe Burrow, LSU

Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee

 

Best Offense

Alabama

Georgia

Missouri

 

Best Defense

Alabama

LSU

Florida

 

Coming Tomorrow:  It’s finally here!  This is week 0 of the NCAA Football season.  There are two games Saturday, and that means we will debut the full regular season ratings.  Look for our first weekly report tomorrow.

Here’s how we expect to release our information this year.

Mondays: Updated College Football Ratings and Spreads for the week’s FBS games

Tuesdays: Updated NFL Ratings and Spreads for the week’s games

Thursdays: Our PiRate Rating picks for the week’s college and NFL games

Very Important Reminder: The members of the PiRate Ratings do not wager on football games.  We issue our selections just for entertainment purposes only and remind you that they are presented free of charge.  You get what you paid for, so don’t go wagering your mortgage payment on our advice.

That said, the PiRate Picks have returned narrow overall profits for four consecutive seasons.  Our claim to fame is finding Money Line Parlays that return better than even money odds.  Thus, we can hit on just 40% of them and still turn a profit, because the average parlay has +150 to +180 odds.  This means that if you place $1 on a parlay at +180 odds, if you win, you will receive $2.80 back from the Nevada books (Your $1 investment plus a profit of $1.80 for winning the parlay).  If you win 30% of your wagers at +150, you will turn a profit of 5%.  If you can win one of every three parlays at an average of +150, your profit is 16.7%, more than the average return in the stock market over time.  Of course, over time, your chances of profiting in the stock market nears 100%, where in football wagering,  your chances of profiting remains at 47.6%, unless you have inside information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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January 9, 2018

PiRate Ratings 2017-18 College Football Final Polls

Congratulations go to Coach Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide for winning the National Championship in a thrilling overtime victory over the Georgia Bulldogs.  Alabama wins the top spot in all three ratings, plus the retro rankings.  Here’s how the final numbers crunched.

Retrodictive Rankings

PiRate Retrodictive
# Team
1 Alabama
2 Georgia
3 Ohio St.
4 Wisconsin
5 Central Florida
6 Penn St.
7 Clemson
8 Oklahoma
9 Notre Dame
10 Auburn
11 TCU
12 Michigan St.
13 Miami (Fla)
14 USC
15 Washington
16 Oklahoma St.
17 Northwestern
18 North Carolina St.
19 Iowa
20 Stanford
21 Virginia Tech
22 Mississippi St.
23 LSU
24 Memphis
25 Boise St.
26 Michigan
27 Iowa St.
28 Wake Forest
29 South Florida
30 Louisville
31 South Carolina
32 Washington St.
33 Toledo
34 Florida Atlantic
35 Boston College
36 Florida St.
37 Texas
38 Purdue
39 Kansas St.
40 San Diego St.
41 Fresno St.
42 Troy
43 Army
44 Navy
45 Texas A&M
46 Duke
47 Georgia Tech
48 Oregon
49 Utah
50 West Virginia
51 Missouri
52 Arizona St.
53 Houston
54 Texas Tech
55 Kentucky
56 Arizona
57 UCLA
58 Appalachian St.
59 Ohio
60 Indiana
61 Ole Miss
62 Pittsburgh
63 California
64 Northern Illinois
65 Temple
66 SMU
67 Minnesota
68 Marshall
69 North Texas
70 Virginia
71 Wyoming
72 Florida
73 Syracuse
74 Maryland
75 Central Michigan
76 Colorado
77 Colorado St.
78 Nebraska
79 Western Michigan
80 Louisiana Tech
81 Tulane
82 Vanderbilt
83 Arkansas St.
84 Southern Miss.
85 Florida Int’l.
86 Arkansas
87 Akron
88 Buffalo
89 Middle Tennessee
90 Utah St.
91 Tennessee
92 North Carolina
93 UAB
94 Eastern Michigan
95 Rutgers
96 Air Force
97 New Mexico St.
98 UTSA
99 Miami (O)
100 Cincinnati
101 Tulsa
102 UNLV
103 Western Kentucky
104 Baylor
105 BYU
106 East Carolina
107 Nevada
108 Georgia St.
109 Massachusetts
110 Connecticut
111 Illinois
112 Old Dominion
113 UL-Monroe
114 Bowling Green
115 New Mexico
116 Idaho
117 South Alabama
118 UL-Lafayette
119 Oregon St.
120 Hawaii
121 Coastal Carolina
122 Georgia Southern
123 Kansas
124 Kent St.
125 Ball St.
126 Rice
127 Charlotte
128 Texas St.
129 San Jose St.
130 UTEP

The PiRate, Mean, and Bias Ratings

PiRate Ratings
# Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 Alabama 136.9 133.5 135.8 135.4
2 Ohio St. 132.3 130.2 132.6 131.7
3 Georgia 130.8 130.0 131.4 130.7
4 Clemson 131.3 128.6 130.9 130.3
5 Penn St. 129.4 128.1 129.8 129.1
6 Oklahoma 128.2 126.7 129.4 128.1
7 Auburn 127.0 125.2 127.2 126.5
8 Washington 126.2 124.2 126.1 125.5
9 Wisconsin 126.4 123.9 125.5 125.3
10 Oklahoma St. 121.2 120.4 121.6 121.1
11 Stanford 120.6 119.0 119.9 119.8
12 U S C 120.1 119.2 119.8 119.7
13 L S U 118.5 116.3 118.8 117.9
14 Virginia Tech 118.1 117.6 117.9 117.8
15 Miami 118.6 117.4 117.5 117.8
16 T C U 118.0 116.5 118.2 117.6
17 N. Carolina St. 117.1 116.2 117.0 116.8
18 Central Florida 116.0 116.9 117.2 116.7
19 Louisville 116.8 116.0 116.5 116.4
20 Notre Dame 116.6 115.4 116.8 116.2
21 Florida St. 116.9 116.0 115.7 116.2
22 Northwestern 115.4 114.2 115.5 115.0
23 Iowa 114.3 114.5 113.6 114.2
24 Michigan 114.2 114.0 113.4 113.9
25 Mississippi St. 113.5 113.3 113.3 113.4
26 Memphis 113.2 112.5 114.0 113.2
27 Iowa State 112.8 112.8 113.9 113.2
28 Texas 112.9 112.9 113.5 113.1
29 Kansas St. 112.9 112.7 113.0 112.9
30 Boston College 112.6 112.3 112.6 112.5
31 Michigan St. 111.0 111.6 112.1 111.6
32 Wake Forest 112.1 110.4 112.2 111.6
33 Duke 111.1 110.0 110.4 110.5
34 Utah 109.9 109.9 110.1 110.0
35 Oregon 110.5 108.6 109.9 109.7
36 Georgia Tech 110.2 108.4 108.7 109.1
37 Washington St. 109.8 107.7 109.3 108.9
38 South Florida 109.0 108.2 109.3 108.8
39 S. Carolina 109.1 108.3 108.2 108.5
40 Pittsburgh 108.8 108.1 108.7 108.5
41 Missouri 108.5 107.1 107.8 107.8
42 Boise St. 107.5 106.1 107.6 107.1
43 Texas A&M 107.9 106.0 107.0 107.0
44 West Virginia 106.7 107.4 106.7 106.9
45 Arizona St. 106.4 105.3 106.0 105.9
46 Kentucky 106.4 105.7 105.0 105.7
47 Purdue 105.6 105.4 106.1 105.7
48 Indiana 105.5 105.6 105.9 105.7
49 Ole Miss 106.3 105.0 105.4 105.6
50 Florida 105.7 105.4 105.1 105.4
51 Arizona 106.0 104.9 104.9 105.3
52 Texas Tech 105.2 104.9 104.8 105.0
53 Florida Atlantic 103.4 104.9 105.3 104.5
54 California 105.3 103.2 103.8 104.1
55 Navy 103.5 104.1 103.7 103.8
56 Colorado 104.5 103.4 102.4 103.4
57 U C L A 103.0 102.4 102.3 102.6
58 N. Carolina 102.9 102.0 102.0 102.3
59 San Diego St. 101.5 101.5 102.5 101.8
60 Houston 101.4 101.1 101.5 101.3
61 Syracuse 102.0 100.8 101.1 101.3
62 Army 100.9 100.8 101.3 101.0
63 Appalachian St. 101.2 100.0 101.4 100.9
64 Toledo 100.1 100.1 102.1 100.8
65 Minnesota 100.3 101.2 99.2 100.2
66 Vanderbilt 100.8 99.8 99.7 100.1
67 Troy 99.7 99.8 99.9 99.8
68 Fresno St. 99.9 98.6 100.8 99.8
69 Colo. State 99.8 99.1 99.7 99.5
70 Virginia 99.6 98.6 99.9 99.4
71 Ohio U 98.3 99.6 99.3 99.1
72 Arkansas 99.4 98.5 99.2 99.1
73 Baylor 98.1 99.4 98.2 98.6
74 Temple 98.2 98.5 98.8 98.5
75 Wyoming 97.8 96.9 97.2 97.3
76 Tennessee 97.3 95.9 95.3 96.2
77 Western Michigan 95.8 95.2 96.5 95.8
78 Northern Illinois 95.0 95.0 95.8 95.2
79 Nebraska 94.9 95.4 94.4 94.9
80 Eastern Michigan 94.7 94.8 95.1 94.9
81 Maryland 94.5 95.8 93.9 94.7
82 Arkansas St. 93.8 95.0 94.7 94.5
83 Tulane 94.2 94.4 94.6 94.4
84 SMU 94.0 94.5 94.3 94.3
85 Utah St. 94.0 93.3 93.7 93.7
86 Marshall 92.4 93.5 93.8 93.3
87 Central Michigan 92.8 93.1 93.4 93.1
88 Tulsa 93.1 92.8 92.7 92.9
89 Air Force 92.2 92.5 92.2 92.3
90 Louisiana Tech 90.8 92.4 91.6 91.6
91 Middle Tennessee 90.4 91.4 91.6 91.1
92 Rutgers 91.1 91.1 90.7 91.0
93 BYU 90.0 89.9 89.9 89.9
94 Nevada 88.9 90.5 90.0 89.8
95 Miami (O) 88.7 90.7 89.9 89.8
96 Oregon St. 90.0 89.9 88.4 89.4
97 Massachusetts 88.9 88.4 89.0 88.8
98 U T S A 87.6 90.0 88.4 88.6
99 Buffalo 87.3 89.3 89.3 88.6
100 Florida Int’l. 87.6 88.0 88.4 88.0
101 Illinois 87.9 89.0 86.8 87.9
102 Southern Miss. 87.5 88.4 87.8 87.9
103 N. Texas 86.4 87.8 86.9 87.0
104 U N L V 86.2 87.7 86.3 86.8
105 N. Mexico St. 86.8 85.7 86.9 86.5
106 W. Kentucky 85.7 86.2 86.1 86.0
107 Connecticut 84.5 86.3 84.8 85.2
108 Akron 84.2 86.1 84.9 85.1
109 Cincinnati 83.9 85.7 84.6 84.7
110 New Mexico 84.4 84.4 84.9 84.6
111 East Carolina 83.2 84.5 83.3 83.7
112 Georgia St. 82.7 82.7 82.5 82.7
113 Kansas 81.8 85.1 80.5 82.5
114 Bowling Green 81.5 82.6 81.8 82.0
115 Hawaii 81.8 82.9 81.1 81.9
116 UL-Monroe 81.9 82.8 81.0 81.9
117 S. Alabama 81.1 83.0 81.3 81.8
118 Idaho 80.8 81.6 81.7 81.3
119 Old Dominion 80.3 82.7 80.5 81.2
120 UAB 79.6 79.9 81.3 80.3
121 UL-Lafayette 79.3 80.5 79.0 79.6
122 Georgia Southern 79.1 80.4 78.5 79.3
123 Coastal Carolina 74.5 75.7 75.3 75.2
124 Kent St. 73.9 75.4 74.2 74.5
125 Rice 72.6 74.1 73.0 73.2
126 San Jose St. 72.3 72.4 71.6 72.1
127 Texas St. 70.3 72.5 69.4 70.7
128 Charlotte 69.5 71.8 69.7 70.3
129 U T E P 67.9 70.7 67.9 68.9
130 Ball St. 65.7 67.7 66.4 66.6
           
PiRate Ratings By Conference
# League PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 ACC 112.7 111.6 112.2 112.2
2 SEC 112.0 110.7 111.4 111.4
3 B12 109.8 109.9 110.0 109.9
4 P-12 109.4 108.1 108.6 108.7
5 BTEN 108.8 108.6 108.5 108.6
6 IND 99.1 98.6 99.2 99.0
7 AAC 97.9 98.3 98.2 98.1
8 MWC 92.2 92.2 92.3 92.2
9 MAC 88.2 89.1 89.0 88.8
10 CUSA 84.4 85.8 85.2 85.1
11 SBC 84.3 85.0 84.3 84.5

 

 

 

January 2, 2018

PiRate Ratings 2017-18 College Football National Championship Game Preview

2017-18 College Football National Championship Game

#3 Georgia Bulldogs (13-1) vs. #4 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)

Date: Monday, January 8, 2018

Time: 8:00 PM Eastern Standard

Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

TV: ESPN

Announcers: Chris Fowler–Play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit–Color commentary, Maria Taylor–Sideline, Tom Rinaldi–Sideline

Radio: ESPN

Announcers: Sean McDonough–Play-by-play, Todd Blackledge–Color commentary, Holly Rowe–Sideline, Ian Fitzsimmons–Sideline

Officiating: Big Ten Staff

Las Vegas Line (as of Tuesday, January 2, 2018, 4:00 PM EST

Spread: Alabama by 4 1/2

Money line: Alabama -200,  Georgia +170

Total: 45 1/2

PiRate Ratings

PiRate: Alabama by 6.5

Mean: Alabama by 3.7

Bias: Alabama by 4.8

Reasonable Expected Score: Alabama 31  Georgia 26

100 Computer Simulations

Wins: Alabama 68  Georgia 32

Average Score: Alabama 33  Georgia 27

Outlier ALA: Alabama 38  Georgia 9

Outlier GA: Georgia 27  Alabama 16 

 

 

January 5, 2017

Ratings & Spreads For 2017 National Championship Game

Just the Facts, Please

NCAA FBS National Championship Game

#1 Alabama Crimson Tide (14-0) vs. #2 Clemson Tigers (13-1) 

Date: Monday, January 9, 2017

Time: 8:00 PM Eastern Standard

TV: ESPN

Online: WatchESPN app

Site: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

Radio: ESPN Radio and ESPNRadio.com

To find your local radio affiliate: http://www.espn.com/espnradio/affiliate

 

Handicapper’s Corner

Las Vegas Spread: Alabama by 6 1/2

Las Vegas Totals: 51

 

PiRate Rating: Alabama by 7.1

Mean Rating: Alabama by 6.3

Bias Rating: Alabama by 7.7

Note: The firing of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and replacing him with Steve Sarkisian has bot been factored into our three ratings.  

100 Simulations

Alabama Wins: 73

Clemson Wins: 27

Average Score: Alabama 31  Clemson 22

Outlier A: Alabama 38  Clemson 7

Outlier B: Clemson 34  Alabama 26

November 13, 2016

College Football Ratings & Spreads For November 15-19, 2016

After one of the most contentious elections in over 100 years, the college football world decided to make Tuesday’s vote of the College Football Playoff Committee just as controversial before it can be released.

Truth be told, there only needs to be two playoff bids issued this year. The first one should go to Alabama as the number one seed, and the second one should go to the College All-Star Team as the number two seed. This Crimson Tide team has the look of one of John Wooden’s UCLA basketball teams during the Alcindor-Walton years. Coach Nick Saban’s team has pulled away from the pack now that Clemson, Michigan, and Washington fell Saturday.

There is still a lot to be decided, and there are some interesting scenarios left before four teams can earn golden tickets in December. Let’s take a look at each conference.

American Athletic
Temple and South Florida are tied for first in the East at 5-1 with Central Florida a game back at 4-2. Temple has the inside track to take the divisional crown, as the Owls have a road game against Tulane and a home game with East Carolina left on their schedule and hold the tiebreaker over the both contenders.

Navy leads the West and must lose to both East Carolina and SMU in order for either Houston or Tulsa to win the division. Memphis and Tulsa have such slim chances of winning the division in a multiple tie that it is not worth mentioning all the possibilities that must happen to make it real.

Atlantic Coast
Clemson’s loss to Pittsburgh is not enough to push Louisville over the top in the Atlantic Division. The Cardinals need for Wake Forest to upset the Tigers this weekend, and that is not likely to happen. Louisville could profit off a Clemson loss in the ACC Championship Game. If the Cardinals win out and CU loses again, UL could move into the playoffs without appearing in a championship game.

The Coastal Division did not change even though the two co-leaders were both upset. Virginia Tech and North Carolina are tied at 5-2. If the two stay tied at either 6-2 or 5-3, then the Hokies win the tiebreaker. Pittsburgh and Miami can both get to 5-3, but Virginia Tech wins any and all tiebreakers against any possible 5-3 opponent.

Big 12
Oklahoma leads at 7-0, but Oklahoma State and West Virginia both have just one conference loss and are still alive in the conference championship race. The Sooners close with West Virginia in Morgantown and Oklahoma State in Norman.

The three teams cannot finished tied at 8-1, because with the Sooners playing both one-loss teams, one of the three teams must lose a second conference game. There is a scenario where all three teams could finish tied with two losses, but it is not all that likely. If Oklahoma loses to both contenders to drop to 7-2, and if Oklahoma State loses at TCU this weekend, while West Virginia loses at Iowa State, then OSU will be the Big 12 Champion.

Big Ten
Oh, did this past weekend really throw a monkey wrench into the workings. With Iowa beating Michigan, it opened up the possibility that Penn State could sneak into the Big Ten Championship Game as East Division champ. If the Nittany Lions win out against Rutgers and Michigan State, and if Ohio State beats Michigan, then Coach James Franklin will lead Penn State to Indianapolis on December 3. Whether Ohio State can win out to finish 11-1, miss the conference title game, and still get a bid to the Playoffs is unsure.

In the West, there are even more possible scenarios than in the East. Wisconsin is the only divisionteam that controls its own destiny. If the Badgers beat Purdue and Minnesota , they go to Indy. If UW loses a game, and Nebraska beats Maryland and Iowa, the Cornhuskers take the flag. Then, there is the possibility that if both Wisconsin and Nebraska lose, there are scenarios where Iowa, Minnesota, and Northwestern could make it to the Championship Game.

Conference USA
The two division races are basically decided after the two division leaders won on Saturday. Western Kentucky has one game left at Marshall on November 26. If the 6-1 Hilltoppers win that game, they are East Champs. If WKU falls in Huntington, then Old Dominion can win the division title by closing with wins over Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

Louisiana Tech clinched the West with their win over UTSA Saturday. The Bulldogs have won seven games in a row after starting the year at 1-3, including pinning the lone conference loss on WKU.

Mid-American
You probably haven’t followed the race in the MAC East much this year, because the other division has gotten all the headlines. However, one of the wackiest ever races in the history of college football could be taking place on this side of the league. There is a chance that a team that began the year losing its first six games, including a home loss to Eastern Illinois, could find itself in the MAC Championship Game! Miami of Ohio was 0-6 after losing big at Akron in early October. Since then, the Redhawks have reeled off five consecutive wins and will become bowl eligible if they beat Ball State a week from Tuesday.

Ohio has the inside advantage to winning the East Division, but should the Bobcats end the year by losing at Central Michigan (who needs to win to become bowl eligible) and at home to Akron (who will need to win to become bowl eligible), then Miami will earn the right to play the behemoth in the other division.

That behemoth is Western Michigan, the number 14 team in this week’s AP Poll and current leader of the pack among the Group of 5 leagues for the Cotton Bowl bid. Before we annoint the Broncos into the Dallas classic, they must beat Toledo on Black Friday and then win the MAC Championship Game. If Toledo wins out over Ball State and WMU, then the Rockets will play in the conference title game.

Mountain West
The Mountain Division race became a bit cloudier after Wyoming lost at UNLV on Saturday. There is now a three-way tie with the Cowboys, New Mexico, and Boise State. At the moment, Boise has the clearest path to the division flag, but they must still play at Air Force. The other two contenders have tough closing schedules, as Wyoming closes with San Diego State and New Mexico, and the Lobos play at Colorado State before hosting the Cowboys. In the event there is a tie, Wyoming owns the tiebreaker over Boise State, and Boise State owns the tiebreaker over New Mexico. If the three teams finished tied with 6-2 records, it will depend on whether Wyoming’s second loss was to San Diego State or New Mexico that determines who gets the nod.

There is no trouble about the West Division race. SDSU wrapped it up about the time the Cubs won the World Series. The Aztecs will be the only division team to become bowl eligible, unless UNLV can upset Boise State and beat Nevada.

Pac-12
There is very little chance that a Pac-12 team will make the Playoffs this year after Washington fell to USC. The contending teams are now playing for a trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.

In the North, it is now Washington State in the lead, but that lead could be short-lived. After winning eight consecutive games for the first time since 1930, the Cougars close with games at Colorado and at home against Washington. The game in Boulder is now the tougher game of the two, as we believe Coach Mike Leach’s club will top the Huskies in the Apple Cup game at beautiful Martin Stadium. Washington can still win the division flag by winning in the Palouse on Black Friday.

Colorado has a half-game lead over USC in the South, but the Trojans hold the tiebreaker over the Buffs should the two teams tie. CU closes with home games against WSU and Utah, and Coach Mike MacIntyre would have to become one of the leading candidates for National Coach of the Year, should CU win both of these games and claim the South crown after being picked last in the preseason.

Don’t forget Utah just yet. The Utes are a game back at 5-2 and host Oregon before heading to Boulder a week later. If Utah beats the Ducks and then knocks off CU, the Utes would own the tiebreaker over a 7-2 CU and 7-2 USC.

USC can win the South by beating UCLA this week and then hoping that both CU and Utah lose a game. One of the other two must lose because they face off, but the winner of that game will have to lose this week as well.

Southeastern
The only race is in the East, and it is now a two-team race between Florida and Tennessee. If the Gators beat LSU this weekend, they are in the SEC Championship Game for a second consecutive year. If LSU wins, and then Tennessee beats Missouri and Vanderbilt, the Vols will head to the Championship Game.

Alabama has already wrapped up the SEC West, and if they win out, they will be the heaviest favorite in the three-year existence of the Playoffs. A 15-0 Crimson Tide National Champion would have to rank up there with Miami of 2001, Nebraska of 1971 and 1995, USC of 1932 and 1972, and Army of 1944 and 1945 as the best team of all time.

Sunbelt
If you think Louisville deserves a shot at the College Football Playoffs with an 11-1 record and the lone loss at Clemson in a game that went to the final minute, then what about Troy? Troy could also finish 11-1 with its lone loss at Clemson in a game that came down to the final minute. The Trojans debuted in the AP Top 25 this week, but don’t expect this team to make it to an New Year’s 6 Bowl game, even if they win out. Western Michigan, San Diego State, and Boise State must all lose a game before Troy has a chance, and if Houston beats Louisville, the Cougars will top the Trojans as well.

Troy still has three games left on its schedule, and one of those three is a home game Thursday night against Arkansas State. The Red Wolves are still undefeated in conference play, so the conference championship will be up for grabs this week.

This Week’s PiRate Ratings

PiRate Ratings
# Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 Alabama 138.0 131.4 138.1 135.8
2 Ohio St. 128.9 128.3 129.5 128.9
3 Michigan 129.2 126.9 129.2 128.4
4 Louisville 129.4 125.0 129.6 128.0
5 Washington 128.0 121.0 127.4 125.5
6 Clemson 127.4 120.7 126.3 124.8
7 LSU 126.3 121.2 125.9 124.5
8 Oklahoma 121.1 119.6 120.8 120.5
9 USC 122.4 117.4 120.7 120.2
10 Auburn 120.3 118.5 120.1 119.6
11 Wisconsin 119.3 116.8 120.0 118.7
12 Florida St. 120.2 114.1 119.5 117.9
13 Washington St. 118.5 115.2 118.3 117.4
14 Colorado 117.8 113.5 117.7 116.4
15 North Carolina 118.2 112.5 118.1 116.3
16 Miami 118.1 112.5 117.8 116.1
17 Virginia Tech 115.9 114.6 115.9 115.5
18 Penn St. 115.0 115.9 114.8 115.2
19 Oklahoma St. 114.8 115.8 114.2 114.9
20 Texas A&M 115.6 113.7 115.0 114.8
21 Tennessee 115.7 113.2 114.8 114.6
22 Stanford 115.9 109.6 115.4 113.6
23 Pittsburgh 115.0 110.9 114.2 113.4
24 Western Michigan 112.7 112.3 114.3 113.1
25 Florida 112.2 113.7 110.5 112.1
26 Utah 114.1 108.8 112.7 111.9
27 West Virginia 112.1 111.5 111.7 111.8
28 Notre Dame 112.8 109.9 111.9 111.5
29 Ole Miss 112.6 108.6 111.4 110.9
30 TCU 110.6 112.1 109.7 110.8
31 Iowa 111.6 109.2 111.3 110.7
32 Texas 110.0 111.0 109.2 110.1
33 San Diego St. 109.7 108.2 111.8 109.9
34 South Florida 109.8 107.9 110.3 109.3
35 Georgia 109.8 108.9 109.1 109.3
36 Northwestern 110.8 107.0 109.9 109.2
37 Arkansas 111.2 106.8 109.5 109.2
38 UCLA 110.0 108.3 109.3 109.2
39 BYU 110.6 105.3 110.5 108.8
40 Baylor 108.4 109.0 108.7 108.7
41 Georgia Tech 109.9 105.9 108.9 108.2
42 Nebraska 109.1 106.5 108.8 108.1
43 Houston 107.9 107.1 109.1 108.0
44 Kansas St. 106.9 109.1 106.8 107.6
45 Temple 107.2 106.4 107.7 107.1
46 Boise St. 106.1 107.0 107.0 106.7
47 Mississippi St. 107.5 105.7 106.5 106.6
48 Western Kentucky 106.7 104.5 108.0 106.4
49 North Carolina St. 106.6 103.5 106.4 105.5
50 Michigan St. 105.9 105.0 104.3 105.1
51 Minnesota 105.5 104.3 105.0 104.9
52 Tulsa 104.1 105.4 104.8 104.8
53 Texas Tech 105.3 104.6 104.2 104.7
54 Toledo 103.2 103.7 104.2 103.7
55 Duke 103.9 103.1 103.5 103.5
56 Navy 103.7 102.1 103.6 103.2
57 Memphis 103.9 102.1 102.8 103.0
58 Oregon 103.7 102.2 102.6 102.8
59 Indiana 102.5 104.1 101.9 102.8
60 Wake Forest 102.2 100.6 102.6 101.8
61 Virginia 102.8 100.1 102.0 101.6
62 Arizona St. 102.4 101.1 100.8 101.5
63 Kentucky 101.4 102.0 100.9 101.4
64 Vanderbilt 101.8 98.9 100.5 100.4
65 South Carolina 100.4 100.1 100.1 100.2
66 Appalachian St. 99.3 100.3 101.0 100.2
67 Louisiana Tech 98.7 100.7 100.7 100.0
68 Central Florida 99.1 100.2 100.0 99.8
69 Syracuse 99.9 96.8 98.1 98.3
70 Iowa St. 98.6 98.4 97.8 98.3
71 Missouri 98.7 97.9 98.1 98.3
72 California 100.8 94.5 98.4 97.9
73 Air Force 96.5 98.3 96.8 97.2
74 Troy 94.1 98.2 96.2 96.2
75 Maryland 95.9 98.4 94.1 96.1
76 New Mexico 94.6 96.8 95.4 95.6
77 SMU 95.0 94.5 97.1 95.6
78 Northern Illinois 94.7 96.0 95.8 95.5
79 Oregon St. 97.3 92.8 96.0 95.4
80 Boston College 95.9 94.6 95.0 95.2
81 Wyoming 94.1 94.4 94.9 94.5
82 Ohio 92.0 97.7 92.8 94.2
83 Central Michigan 93.0 94.9 93.3 93.7
84 Arizona 94.8 92.5 93.2 93.5
85 Colorado St. 92.6 94.3 93.6 93.5
86 Cincinnati 93.1 93.5 92.7 93.1
87 Arkansas St. 91.3 93.6 93.0 92.6
88 Illinois 93.0 90.0 92.0 91.7
89 Army 88.8 95.2 90.0 91.3
90 East Carolina 90.0 91.6 90.2 90.6
91 Miami (O) 89.6 91.1 91.1 90.6
92 Connecticut 90.8 89.8 90.3 90.3
93 Old Dominion 88.7 91.7 89.7 90.0
94 Purdue 90.5 89.0 89.1 89.5
95 Utah St. 88.6 91.3 88.3 89.4
96 Middle Tennessee 88.6 90.1 88.9 89.2
97 Kent St. 87.9 89.4 88.8 88.7
98 Georgia Southern 87.1 87.7 88.8 87.9
99 UTSA 84.9 91.2 87.2 87.8
100 Eastern Michigan 86.7 88.8 87.2 87.6
101 Rutgers 88.7 86.6 87.3 87.6
102 Southern Mississippi 87.1 87.5 87.2 87.3
103 UNLV 85.8 88.6 86.2 86.9
104 Tulane 84.7 88.5 85.5 86.2
105 Idaho 83.3 88.3 85.3 85.6
106 Nevada 84.5 86.7 85.1 85.5
107 Ball St. 84.0 86.3 84.8 85.0
108 Marshall 83.2 86.6 84.0 84.6
109 South Alabama 82.1 88.4 82.9 84.5
110 Kansas 83.5 88.1 81.2 84.3
111 San Jose St. 84.0 84.0 83.7 83.9
112 Akron 81.2 86.4 82.0 83.2
113 Bowling Green 82.8 83.6 83.1 83.2
114 Massachusetts 80.2 86.5 81.3 82.7
115 UL-Lafayette 79.5 84.3 81.1 81.7
116 Florida International 79.6 84.0 80.0 81.2
117 North Texas 79.9 82.9 80.3 81.1
118 Hawaii 80.8 80.3 80.5 80.5
119 Georgia St. 78.0 82.6 79.8 80.1
120 Charlotte 76.7 82.3 77.3 78.8
121 Fresno St. 77.3 80.8 77.0 78.4
122 Florida Atlantic 75.7 80.4 78.3 78.1
123 Buffalo 75.8 82.2 76.3 78.1
124 Rice 75.3 81.9 75.6 77.6
125 UTEP 72.4 76.9 73.8 74.4
126 New Mexico St. 71.8 74.7 72.8 73.1
127 UL-Monroe 70.2 75.4 71.0 72.2
128 Texas St. 65.9 68.4 66.8 67.0

PiRate Ratings by Conference

American Athletic Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
South Florida 109.8 107.9 110.3 109.3
Temple 107.2 106.4 107.7 107.1
Central Florida 99.1 100.2 100.0 99.8
Cincinnati 93.1 93.5 92.7 93.1
East Carolina 90.0 91.6 90.2 90.6
Connecticut 90.8 89.8 90.3 90.3
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Houston 107.9 107.1 109.1 108.0
Tulsa 104.1 105.4 104.8 104.8
Navy 103.7 102.1 103.6 103.2
Memphis 103.9 102.1 102.8 103.0
SMU 95.0 94.5 97.1 95.6
Tulane 84.7 88.5 85.5 86.2
         
AAC Averages 99.1 99.1 99.5 99.3
         
Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Louisville 129.4 125.0 129.6 128.0
Clemson 127.4 120.7 126.3 124.8
Florida St. 120.2 114.1 119.5 117.9
North Carolina St. 106.6 103.5 106.4 105.5
Wake Forest 102.2 100.6 102.6 101.8
Syracuse 99.9 96.8 98.1 98.3
Boston College 95.9 94.6 95.0 95.2
         
Coastal Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
North Carolina 118.2 112.5 118.1 116.3
Miami 118.1 112.5 117.8 116.1
Virginia Tech 115.9 114.6 115.9 115.5
Pittsburgh 115.0 110.9 114.2 113.4
Georgia Tech 109.9 105.9 108.9 108.2
Duke 103.9 103.1 103.5 103.5
Virginia 102.8 100.1 102.0 101.6
         
ACC Averages 111.8 108.2 111.3 110.4
         
Big 12 Conference
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Oklahoma 121.1 119.6 120.8 120.5
Oklahoma St. 114.8 115.8 114.2 114.9
West Virginia 112.1 111.5 111.7 111.8
TCU 110.6 112.1 109.7 110.8
Texas 110.0 111.0 109.2 110.1
Baylor 108.4 109.0 108.7 108.7
Kansas St. 106.9 109.1 106.8 107.6
Texas Tech 105.3 104.6 104.2 104.7
Iowa St. 98.6 98.4 97.8 98.3
Kansas 83.5 88.1 81.2 84.3
         
Big 12 Averages 107.1 107.9 106.4 107.2
         
Big Ten Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Ohio St. 128.9 128.3 129.5 128.9
Michigan 129.2 126.9 129.2 128.4
Penn St. 115.0 115.9 114.8 115.2
Michigan St. 105.9 105.0 104.3 105.1
Indiana 102.5 104.1 101.9 102.8
Maryland 95.9 98.4 94.1 96.1
Rutgers 88.7 86.6 87.3 87.6
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Wisconsin 119.3 116.8 120.0 118.7
Iowa 111.6 109.2 111.3 110.7
Northwestern 110.8 107.0 109.9 109.2
Nebraska 109.1 106.5 108.8 108.1
Minnesota 105.5 104.3 105.0 104.9
Illinois 93.0 90.0 92.0 91.7
Purdue 90.5 89.0 89.1 89.5
         
Big Ten Averages 107.6 106.3 106.9 106.9
         
Conference USA
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Western Kentucky 106.7 104.5 108.0 106.4
Old Dominion 88.7 91.7 89.7 90.0
Middle Tennessee 88.6 90.1 88.9 89.2
Marshall 83.2 86.6 84.0 84.6
Florida International 79.6 84.0 80.0 81.2
Charlotte 76.7 82.3 77.3 78.8
Florida Atlantic 75.7 80.4 78.3 78.1
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Louisiana Tech 98.7 100.7 100.7 100.0
UTSA 84.9 91.2 87.2 87.8
Southern Mississippi 87.1 87.5 87.2 87.3
North Texas 79.9 82.9 80.3 81.1
Rice 75.3 81.9 75.6 77.6
UTEP 72.4 76.9 73.8 74.4
         
CUSA Averages 84.4 87.8 85.5 85.9
         
FBS Independents
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Notre Dame 112.8 109.9 111.9 111.5
BYU 110.6 105.3 110.5 108.8
Army 88.8 95.2 90.0 91.3
Massachusetts 80.2 86.5 81.3 82.7
         
Independents Averages 98.1 99.2 98.4 98.6
         
Mid-American Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Ohio 92.0 97.7 92.8 94.2
Miami (O) 89.6 91.1 91.1 90.6
Kent St. 87.9 89.4 88.8 88.7
Akron 81.2 86.4 82.0 83.2
Bowling Green 82.8 83.6 83.1 83.2
Buffalo 75.8 82.2 76.3 78.1
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Western Michigan 112.7 112.3 114.3 113.1
Toledo 103.2 103.7 104.2 103.7
Northern Illinois 94.7 96.0 95.8 95.5
Central Michigan 93.0 94.9 93.3 93.7
Eastern Michigan 86.7 88.8 87.2 87.6
Ball St. 84.0 86.3 84.8 85.0
         
MAC Averages 90.3 92.7 91.1 91.4
         
Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Boise St. 106.1 107.0 107.0 106.7
Air Force 96.5 98.3 96.8 97.2
New Mexico 94.6 96.8 95.4 95.6
Wyoming 94.1 94.4 94.9 94.5
Colorado St. 92.6 94.3 93.6 93.5
Utah St. 88.6 91.3 88.3 89.4
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
San Diego St. 109.7 108.2 111.8 109.9
UNLV 85.8 88.6 86.2 86.9
Nevada 84.5 86.7 85.1 85.5
San Jose St. 84.0 84.0 83.7 83.9
Hawaii 80.8 80.3 80.5 80.5
Fresno St. 77.3 80.8 77.0 78.4
         
MWC Averages 91.2 92.6 91.7 91.8
         
Pac-12 Conference
North Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Washington 128.0 121.0 127.4 125.5
Washington St. 118.5 115.2 118.3 117.4
Stanford 115.9 109.6 115.4 113.6
Oregon 103.7 102.2 102.6 102.8
California 100.8 94.5 98.4 97.9
Oregon St. 97.3 92.8 96.0 95.4
         
South Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
USC 122.4 117.4 120.7 120.2
Colorado 117.8 113.5 117.7 116.4
Utah 114.1 108.8 112.7 111.9
UCLA 110.0 108.3 109.3 109.2
Arizona St. 102.4 101.1 100.8 101.5
Arizona 94.8 92.5 93.2 93.5
         
Pac-12 Averages 110.5 106.4 109.4 108.8
         
Southeastern Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Tennessee 115.7 113.2 114.8 114.6
Florida 112.2 113.7 110.5 112.1
Georgia 109.8 108.9 109.1 109.3
Kentucky 101.4 102.0 100.9 101.4
Vanderbilt 101.8 98.9 100.5 100.4
South Carolina 100.4 100.1 100.1 100.2
Missouri 98.7 97.9 98.1 98.3
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Alabama 138.0 131.4 138.1 135.8
LSU 126.3 121.2 125.9 124.5
Auburn 120.3 118.5 120.1 119.6
Texas A&M 115.6 113.7 115.0 114.8
Ole Miss 112.6 108.6 111.4 110.9
Arkansas 111.2 106.8 109.5 109.2
Mississippi St. 107.5 105.7 106.5 106.6
         
SEC Averages 112.3 110.1 111.5 111.3
         
Sunbelt Conference
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Appalachian St. 99.3 100.3 101.0 100.2
Troy 94.1 98.2 96.2 96.2
Arkansas St. 91.3 93.6 93.0 92.6
Georgia Southern 87.1 87.7 88.8 87.9
Idaho 83.3 88.3 85.3 85.6
South Alabama 82.1 88.4 82.9 84.5
UL-Lafayette 79.5 84.3 81.1 81.7
Georgia St. 78.0 82.6 79.8 80.1
New Mexico St. 71.8 74.7 72.8 73.1
UL-Monroe 70.2 75.4 71.0 72.2
Texas St. 65.9 68.4 66.8 67.0
         
Sun Belt Averages 82.1 85.7 83.5 83.7

 

PiRate Ratings By Conference
# League PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 SEC 112.3 110.1 111.5 111.3
2 ACC 111.8 108.2 111.3 110.4
3 Pac-12 110.5 106.4 109.4 108.8
4 Big 12 107.1 107.9 106.4 107.2
5 Big Ten 107.6 106.3 106.9 106.9
6 AAC 99.1 99.1 99.5 99.3
7 Independents 98.1 99.2 98.4 98.6
8 MWC 91.2 92.6 91.7 91.8
9 MAC 90.3 92.7 91.1 91.4
10 CUSA 84.4 87.8 85.5 85.9
11 Sun Belt 82.1 85.7 83.5 83.7

PiRate Retrodictive Ratings

Retrodictive ratings are similar to poll rankings–wins and schedule strength

These ratings are not predictive in nature

PiRate Retrodictive
# Team
1 Alabama
2 Ohio St.
3 Louisville
4 Clemson
5 Michigan
6 Wisconsin
7 Washington
8 Penn St.
9 USC
10 Colorado
11 Western Michigan
12 Washington St.
13 Oklahoma
14 Florida St.
15 Auburn
16 LSU
17 West Virginia
18 Boise St.
19 Nebraska
20 Texas A&M
21 Utah
22 Stanford
23 Tennessee
24 Florida
25 Oklahoma St.
26 South Florida
27 North Carolina
28 Virginia Tech
29 Houston
30 San Diego St.
31 Troy
32 Ole Miss
33 Pittsburgh
34 Miami (Fla)
35 Navy
36 Temple
37 Iowa
38 BYU
39 Arkansas
40 Toledo
41 Tulsa
42 Northwestern
43 Minnesota
44 Western Kentucky
45 Appalachian St.
46 Georgia
47 Kansas St.
48 Baylor
49 Georgia Tech
50 Louisiana Tech
51 TCU
52 UCLA
53 Wyoming
54 Memphis
55 Texas
56 Central Florida
57 North Carolina St.
58 Arizona St.
59 Air Force
60 Wake Forest
61 Indiana
62 Kentucky
63 California
64 Mississippi St.
65 Maryland
66 South Carolina
67 New Mexico
68 Notre Dame
69 Old Dominion
70 Texas Tech
71 Oregon
72 Ohio
73 Colorado St.
74 Duke
75 SMU
76 Vanderbilt
77 Arkansas St.
78 Idaho
79 Syracuse
80 Eastern Michigan
81 Boston College
82 Middle Tennessee
83 Oregon St.
84 Michigan St.
85 Central Michigan
86 Illinois
87 Missouri
88 Georgia Southern
89 Southern Miss.
90 UTSA
91 Army
92 Miami (O)
93 Cincinnati
94 Arizona
95 South Alabama
96 Northern Illinois
97 Utah St.
98 Akron
99 East Carolina
100 Virginia
101 Tulane
102 UL-Lafayette
103 Kent St.
104 UNLV
105 Hawaii
106 Iowa St.
107 Connecticut
108 Purdue
109 North Texas
110 Ball St.
111 Rutgers
112 UL-Monroe
113 San Jose St.
114 Charlotte
115 Marshall
116 Bowling Green
117 Nevada
118 Georgia St.
119 Florida Int’l.
120 New Mexico St.
121 Massachusetts
122 UTEP
123 Kansas
124 Florida Atlantic
125 Texas St.
126 Buffalo
127 Rice
128 Fresno St.

This Week’s PiRate Ratings Spreads

Home Visitor PiRate Mean Bias
Tuesday, November 15
Bowling Green Kent St. -3.1 -3.8 -3.7
Central Michigan Ohio U 3.5 -0.3 3.0
         
Wednesday, November 16
Toledo Ball St. 21.7 19.9 21.9
Eastern Michigan Northern Illinois -5.5 -4.7 -6.1
         
Thursday, November 17
Houston Louisville -18.5 -14.9 -17.5
Troy Arkansas St. 5.8 7.6 6.2
         
Friday, November 18
Cincinnati Memphis -7.8 -5.6 -7.1
Boise St. UNLV 23.3 21.4 23.8
         
Saturday, November 19
Oregon St. Arizona 5.5 3.3 5.8
Colorado Washington St. 2.3 1.3 2.4
Utah Oregon 13.4 9.6 13.1
SMU South Florida -11.8 -10.4 -9.2
TCU Oklahoma St. -1.2 -0.7 -1.5
Illinois Iowa -15.6 -16.2 -16.3
Minnesota Northwestern -1.7 0.3 -1.9
Baylor Kansas St. 4.7 2.9 4.9
Nebraska Maryland 16.2 11.1 17.7
Purdue Wisconsin -25.8 -24.8 -27.9
Michigan St. Ohio St. -20.0 -20.3 -22.2
Texas A&M UTSA 33.2 25.0 30.3
Georgia UL-Lafayette 33.3 27.6 31.0
Rice UTEP 5.4 7.5 4.3
Georgia Tech Virginia 10.1 8.8 9.9
North Carolina St. Miami (Fla.) -8.5 -6.0 -8.4
LSU Florida 17.1 10.5 18.4
Boston College Connecticut 7.1 6.8 6.7
Charlotte Middle Tennessee -9.4 -5.3 -9.1
BYU Massachusetts 33.9 22.3 32.7
Georgia St. Georgia Southern -7.1 -3.1 -7.0
Appalachian St. UL-Monroe 32.1 27.9 33.0
Pittsburgh Duke 14.1 10.8 13.7
Western Michigan Buffalo 39.9 33.1 41.0
Syracuse Florida St. -17.3 -14.3 -19.4
Kansas Texas -23.5 -19.9 -25.0
Wyoming San Diego St. -12.6 -10.8 -13.9
Notre Dame Virginia Tech -0.1 -1.7 -1.0
Tennessee Missouri 20.0 18.3 19.7
Tulane Temple -19.5 -14.9 -19.2
Iowa St. Texas Tech -3.7 -3.2 -3.4
Michigan Indiana 29.7 25.8 30.3
East Carolina Navy -10.7 -7.5 -10.4
New Mexico St. Texas St. 8.4 8.8 8.5
California Stanford -14.1 -14.1 -16.0
North Texas Southern Miss. -4.7 -2.1 -4.4
Florida Atlantic Old Dominion -10.0 -8.3 -8.4
Wake Forest Clemson -22.2 -17.1 -20.7
Fresno St. Hawaii 0.5 4.5 0.5
Florida Int’l. Marshall -1.1 -0.1 -1.5
Mississippi St. Arkansas -0.7 1.9 0.1
Washington Arizona St. 28.6 22.9 29.6
Central Florida Tulsa -2.0 -1.8 -1.8
West Virginia Oklahoma -6.0 -5.1 -6.1
Vanderbilt Ole Miss -8.8 -7.7 -8.9
Rutgers Penn St. -23.8 -26.8 -25.0
Colorado St. New Mexico 1.0 0.5 1.2
UCLA USC -11.4 -8.1 -10.4
San Jose St. Air Force -9.5 -11.3 -10.1
Nevada Utah St. -0.9 -1.6 -0.2

FBS vs. FCS Games

FBS vs. FCS Week 12  
Home Visitor PiRate
Army Morgan St. 41
North Carolina Citadel 28
South Carolina Western Carolina 30
Kentucky Austin Peay 41
Alabama Chattanooga 49
South Alabama Presbyterian 30
Auburn Alabama A&M 59

Bowl Projections

This week, we show 77 teams reaching bowl eligibility.  Three non-bowl eligible teams would thus be needed to fill in as alternates.  Of the three, only one team would have a 5-7 record, as the other two teams figure to be 6-6 with two FCS wins apiece.  Oddly, no at-large spots were needed other than the three alternate slots.

Bowl Conferences Team vs. Team
New Mexico MWC CUSA New Mexico vs. UTSA
Las Vegas Pac-12 MWC Arizona St. vs. San Diego St.
Cure AAC SBC Central Fla. vs. Idaho
Camellia MAC SBC Central Mich. vs. Arkansas St.
New Orleans CUSA SBC Middle Tenn. vs. Troy
Miami Beach AAC MAC Memphis vs. Ohio U
Boca Raton AAC CUSA SMU vs. Old Dominion
Poinsettia MWC BYU Wyoming vs. BYU
Idaho Potato MAC MWC Miami (O) vs. Colorado St.
Bahamas AAC/CUSA MAC/CUSA Houston vs. Toledo
Armed Forces Navy Big 12 Navy vs. Kansas St.
Dollar General MAC SBC Eastern Mich. vs. Appy St.
Hawaii CUSA MWC La. Tech vs. Air Force
St. Petersburg AAC ACC/ND Temple vs. Miami (Fla.)
Quick Lane ACC/ND Big Ten Wake Forest vs. {Army}
Independence SEC ACC/ND Kentucky vs. {Boston Coll.}
Heart of Dallas Big Ten CUSA {S. Alabama} vs. North Texas
Military ACC/ND AAC N. C. State vs. South Florida
Holiday Big Ten Pac-12 Minnesota vs. Washington
Cactus Big 12 Pac-12 TCU vs. California
Pinstripe ACC/ND Big Ten Pittsburgh vs. Maryland
Russell Athletic ACC/ND Big 12 Florida St. vs. Oklahoma St.
Foster Farms Big Ten Pac-12 Northwestern vs. Utah
Texas Big 12 SEC Baylor vs. Auburn
Birmingham AAC SEC Tulsa vs. S. Carolina
Belk ACC/ND SEC Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas
Alamo Big 12 Pac-12 Oklahoma vs. USC
Liberty Big 12 SEC Texas vs. Texas A&M
Sun ACC/ND Pac-12 N.Carolina vs. Stanford
Arizona CUSA/SBC MWC/SBC W. Kentucky vs. Boise St.
Music City ACC/ND/B10 SEC Indiana vs. Georgia
Orange ACC/ND B10/SEC Clemson vs. Penn St.
Citrus ACC/ND/B10 SEC Nebraska vs. Tennessee
TaxSlayer ACC/ND/B10 SEC Georgia Tech vs. Ole Miss
Peach Semifinal Semifinal Alabama vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta Semifinal Semifinal Ohio St. vs. Louisville
Outback Big Ten SEC Iowa vs. Florida
Cotton At-Large At-Large Western Mich. vs. Colorado
Rose Big Ten Pac-12 Michigan vs. Wash. St.
Sugar Big 12 SEC West Virginia vs. LSU
CFP Championship Semifinal Winners Alabama vs. Ohio St.
           
           
{Team} Alternate Selection of non-bowl eligible team

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 24, 2016

2016 Southeastern Conference Football Preview

Our final conference preview has become an annual conclusion to this 10-day preseason opening to the PiRate Ratings’ football coverage. In every instance since moving from radio to print, the Southeastern Conference has been our preseason number one league, and in most years, the top-rated team has been the overall number one team in the nation. This year, our PiRate Ratings show the top two teams in the league to be number one and number two nationally to begin the season, and the third best team is number four nationally.

In recent seasons, the West Division has been several points better than the East Division. While overall, the West is still better than the East, the difference is not as obvious as in past seasons. In fact, the number one team to begin the 2016 season is the Tennessee Volunteers from the East Division. Coach Butch Jones has been quietly building the Big Orange back to a point where they were in the late 1990’s, the late 1960’s, and during the reign of the great General Robert Neyland.

In 2015, Tennessee lost four times in games they could have won with a little better offensive line and a little more depth in the defense. The Vols have that this year. The team that won its last six games by an average of 22+ points per game is about a touchdown better this season. A four-game stretch between September 24 and October 15 will determine if this team can run the table and play for the SEC Championship. The Vols begin this tricky trek by hosting Florida, a team that Tennessee finds a way to lose to every year. Then, back to back road trips to Georgia and Texas A&M should be the two easier games of the four. FInally, the annual rivalry game against Alabama comes at home this year, and Tennessee would be a 3-6 point favorite if that game were to be played this weekend. After a week off, the road to the finish presents no major impediments with five games that could be won by an average in excess of 30 points per game.

Tennessee has powerful talent in every unit. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs will be one of the top 10 players at his position in the next NFL Draft. Dobbs completed 60% of his passes with a 15/5 TD-Interception ratio, but he averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt. That number needs to go north of 7.0 this year. Dobbs will have some famiiar receviers returning this year, led by the Josh’s (Malone and Smith), who teamed for 13.2 yards per reception on 54 catches last year. There is depth behind this duo, plus the Vols have talent at tight end in Ethan Wolf.

The running game will be solid with the return of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Hurd gained close to 1,300 yards and Kamara added almost 700 last year, and if the two stay healthy, Tennessee could top 225 yards rushing and passing this year.

Making the offense more efficient this year is a no-name blocking corps. There is experience and depth here, but it is the one potential fly in the offense’s ointment.

The Orange have star talent in the defensive trenches, at linebacker, and in the secondary. Up front, end Derek Barnett was one of five SEC defenders to record double-digit sacks last year. He will team with Corey Vereen on the other side of the line, and the two should team for at least 15 sacks and another 15 hurries.

Jaleen Reeves-Maybin led UT with 105 tackles last year, including six sacks and 14 total tackles for loss. The weakside linebacker will team with Darrin Kirkland to form a dynamic duo in the second line of defense.

The secondary is deep and talented, with four returnees from last year that teamed to 34 defended passes. Opponents barely completed 50% of their passes last year, on par with Alabama’s defense.

When Tennessee was a dynasty in the 1930’s through the 1950’s special teams were very special indeed. General Neyland’s teams were noted for blocking punts, punting the ball a long distance with excellent coverage, and a high kick and punt return average. The Vols may have the number one special teams unit in the land this year with a top-rated punter, kicker, kick returner, and punt returner.

The race for second place in the East should come from the other two annually successful teams in the division. Georgia returns a lot of talent, especially on the attack side, but they begin anew with Coach Kirby Smart. Smart has never been a head coach, but former Alabama assistant coaches have a rather good history of success. The Bulldogs have some issues, namely a quarterback issue where a true freshman, an inexperienced junior, and a senior, who has started at two Power 5 schools are competing for the starting job. Top high school recruit Jacob Eason may be a major star in a couple years, but he may not be the best fit to lead this team as a true freshman. Junior Brice Ramsey has a rocket thruster on his throwing arm, and he can throw the ball down the field quickly, but not always where it should go. Senior Greyson Lambert is more of a game manager with experience, and he is likely to get the nod to start the first game.

The Bulldogs have two running backs capable of topping 1,000 yards rushing when healthy, but the problem has been that neither has been healthy. Nick Chubb may be ready to start the season, but he might not be 100%, while Sony Michele may not be ready. Coach Smart is preparing for the opener as if neither will be able to play, and that makes Georgia 7-10 points weaker than if the two stars were totally healthy.

Smart is a defensive genius, and he will mold the Bulldogs into a strong and cohesive unit this year. However, they may not gel until the second half of the schedule, and with North Carolina, Ole Miss, and Tennessee coming in the first half, UGa may be out of the race early.

Florida won the East Division in Coach Jim McElwain’s first season. McElwain, the former offensive coordinator at Alabama and head coach at Colorado State, has less experience returning to Gainesville this year than his friend and former co-worker has in Athens, but the Gators have a year of experience in his system, which equalizes the two rivals. The winner of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is likely to decide second place with a better than small chance of besting Tennessee for the top spot. The Gators will go as far as new quarterback Luke Del Rio (Jack’s son). The Gators should have a decent passing game with three capable receivers, led by Antonio Calloway, who averaged nearly 20 yards per pass reception last year.

The Gators may be a little weaker in the defensive line this year, but the back seven is strong. How well they can stop the stronger running games will determine if they can contend for the division crown.

After the top three, the other four are fairly evenly matched, and they could finish in any combination. Of the four teams, Vanderbilt has the highest initial PiRate Rating, but the Commodores have an unfavorable schedule this year with road games against Kentucky and Missouri probably leading to losses, and leaving the Commodores with just one winnable SEC game. Third year coach Derek Mason should field another competent defense, but once again a weak offense will prevent the Commodores from winning consistently.

Missouri has had so many issues on and off the field in the last 16 months, and now the Tigers start over with a new coach in Barry Odom. Odom is a defensive wizard, having improved defenses at every stop, and he has brought in former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel to run the offense. Because the Tigers’ roster has changed a lot since the end of Spring Practice, it is hard to get a real gauge on their true identity this year. What figured to be one of the strongest defensive lines in the league took a major blow when two expected starters were dismissed. The offensive line took a hit with the unexpected loss of their only experienced lineman, but then Missouri picked up a “free agent” from Memphis in Michael Stannard, who should start immediately at guard.

Kentucky begins the season with the sixth best rating in the East, but the Wildcats have the best chance of the four second division teams of breaking through with a bowl eligible season for fourth year head man Mark Stoops. If they cannot get to six wins, there may not be a year five for Stoops. The concern is finding a capable passer to throw to a stable full of quality receivers so that defenses will play running back Boom Williams more honestly. Drew Barker has to prove he can be an SEC quarterback, as the Wildcats have not had consistency here since Andre Woodson played a decade ago. Kentucky will have to outscore opponents to win, because their defense is somewhat suspect to start the season.

South Carolina begins the year as the obvious choice for number seven in the division and number 14 overall. The Gamecocks went 3-9 last year with just one conference win, and they face a bigger rebuild than any team in the league. First year head coach Will Muschamp did not fare well in his final two years at Florida, going 7-12 in his last 19 games after beginning his career 22-9. The Gamecock offense could struggle to score 20 points per game and gain 350 yards, and their defense might regress from last year’s 28 points and 430 yards allowed. If USC drops the opener at Vanderbilt, they may struggle to win a conference game. There are some gimme non-conference games on the schedule, which should allow Carolina to win three times without a conference opponent going down.

Now to the West. Usually, this is the spot where we tell you how easy the path will be for Alabama to win the division, the league, and the national title. This year, we thought we would offer you something different, as we have another team to place that burden upon. It surprised us too when we placed all our data into our algorithmic equations, and the computer spit out somebody other than the Crimson Tide as the top team in the division. That honor goes to LSU this year.

The Tigers could have begun this season with a new coach, as Les Miles was on a very warm seat last December. The Tigers’ big guys decided to stick with him for another season, as they knew the Bayou Bengals had a stockpile of quality talent returning. When you have Leonard Fournette at running back, the tendency is to hand him the ball 35 times a game and take your chances, and then when you throw the ball, look for Fournette in the flats or short zones. This gave the Tigers 23 touchdowns last year, but somebody else must help take off some of this load. It’s one thing to have a back carry the ball 300 times in the Pac-12, but against the brutal defenses in the SEC week after week, that method doesn’t do so well.

That’s where having two highly skilled wide receivers come in, and Miles must remember that Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural are eligible to receive passes. This tandem averaged more than 17 yards per catch last year, but they need to see more passes thrown their way, as they combined for just 71 receptions.

Therein, lies the rub. Somebody has to throw the ball relatively close to these guys’ hands, and in recent years, finding a quarterback to do just that has been somewhat difficult. Junior Brandon Harris has the potential to be that guy. Harris played injured in the second half of 2015, and his production fell off the table. He is healthy once again, and his passes look sharp so far in August. Backing him up will be former Purdue starter Danny Etling, who could challenge for playing time if Harris takes a step back.

Defensively, LSU could look more like their great 2011 team. The Tigers are loaded in the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary. New Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda made Wisconsin the best defensive team in the Big Ten, and he has more than enough players with J.J. Watt’s collegiate talent level to guide the Purple and Gold to the top of the stop charts in the top league in the land. Up front, Gavin Godchaux forces more than one offensive lineman to keep him from penetrating into the backfield, and this frees up the linebackers. End Lewis Neal is a multi-tool defender, able to put QBs on the turf and able to cover the short passing zones. He is a potential All-American this year.

Aranda’s starting Wisconsin linebackers recorded 229 tackles last year, and he didn’t have a player the equal of Kendell Beckwith or Arden Key. Look for these two stars to record crazy defensive numbers this year, and Key might become one of the best blitzing ‘backers in the nation.

We’ve saved the best for last. There is not another secondary outside of the NFL that can match the quartet in Baton Rouge. It begins with Jamal Adams, who led the Tigers with four interceptions last year from his safety spot. Cornerbacks Kevin Tolliver and Tre’Davious White cover receivers like gloves. Free safety Rickey Jefferson covers a lot of real estate between the sidelines, and this group should give the Tigers the extra impetus to get over the hump this year and edge out the big crimson-colored rival.

Don’t count Alabama out, just because they lost enough talent to start an expansion franchise in the NFL. The Tide does not rebuild; they reload, and Coach Nick Saban has enough talent to win the national title again if the younger players play mistake-free.

Alabama still plays somewhat old fashioned, blood and guts football, so the running game is very important to the overall offense. Without Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and top backup Kenyan Drake, there is no way this year’s team can come close to matching last year’s production, even with a strong offensive line opening holes. Those 50-yard touchdown bursts last year will become 7-12 yard excellent gains this year, and that will keep the offense from matching the 35 points per game of last year.

Add to the minor troubles the fact that a new quarterback must replace the highly underrated Jake Coker, who completed 67% of his passes last year and averaged almost eight yards per attempt. Cooper Bateman started just one game last year, and it was the only one ‘Bama lost. He may not be the eventual starter, as true freshman Jalen Hurts has impressed offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin enough to be considered a co-number one at this point in the preseason.

It is imperative that a QB emerges that can throw the ball, because the Tide has the best wide receiver group in the league, and they are going to need to throw the ball more this year in order to open up holes for the running game. Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, and Robert Foster should all play for pay one day, and they make the receiving corps one of the best in the nation. What may keep them from teaming for 200 receptions is lackluster quarterback play.

One need never worry much about the Alabama defense. It has been a long time since the Crimson Tide surrendered 20 points per game or 350 yards per game. As long as they don’t have to face DeShaun Watson, look for the Tide to give up about 15-17 points and 275-300 yards per game even with four of the top five tacklers missing from last year.

One of those returnees led the TIde with a dozen QB sacks last year, and end Jonathan Allen could be a first team All-American this year. Middle linebacker Reuben Foster returns after making eight stops behind the line of scrimmage and breaking up nine passes a year ago. On the back line, it starts with All-American Eddie Jackson at the strong safety position. Jackson tied for the league lead with six interceptions last year.

Alabama’s schedule presents the young Tide player with a challenge that will be a little too much to completely conquer. A neutral game with USC to start the season could give the Tide some confidence, as we believe they can win this one. However, road games against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU will not be easy, and we feel like this team may split these four games. Still, 10-2 isn’t that bad when you consider that most other schools replacing this much talent would be lucky to win three or four games.

After the top two, there really isn’t a lot of distance between the numbers three through seven teams in the West Division. The parity is incredible, and all five of these teams should end up with six to eight wins each. We feel at this point that no team will exceed 4-4 in conference play, and maybe four of the five will come in at exactly 4-4.

The initial PiRate Ratings shocked us by placing LSU so high, but they shocked us even more when the computer spit out Mississippi State as the third highest preseason rating. Personally, all of us here figured the Bulldogs would be picked last in the division, which is what the media gurus said when they voted at SEC Media Days. We cannot obviously tell you why the algorithm gave the Maroon Bullies the nod as the third best East Division team to start 2016, because Coach Dan Mullen has to replace his star quarterback, top two receivers, three excpetional offensive linemen, and six quality defensive starters. Mullen is possibly one of the two or three most underrated coaches in college football, and when faced with a similar rebuilding project three years ago, the Bulldogs managed to win seven games. Their schedule takes Mississippi State to LSU, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss, four games they could easily lose. Even if they win one of those four, there is no guarantee they will hold serve at home against Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas, so the Bulldogs are just one of a quartet we believe will split their conference games.

We believed that Ole Miss would be the clear choice for third best in the league, but the computer says they are fourth best this year. As long as quarterback Chad Kelly stays healthy and doesn’t try to force the ball in tiny spaces, the Rebels’ offense should do just fine, even without an SEC-caliber running back or a highly-rated offensive line. When Kelly gets the time to throw, he will have some good receivers getting open. Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow will see their numbers inflate by at least 50%, as the Rebels try to replace All-American Laquon Treadwell’s 82 receptions and 1,153 yards. The Rebels averaged 41 points per game last year, but that number will drop by as many as 7-10 points in 2016.

The Ole Miss defense has a lot of holes to fill, but Coach Hugh Freeze has recruited well, and the Rebels have some talented, albeit inexperienced players to fill these gaps. End Marquis Haynes might be the top defensive player in a lower-rated conference, but in the SEC, he’s just above average. Haynes registered 10 sacks and 16.5 total tackles for loss last year, while adding eight QB hurries. Fadol Brown gives Ole Miss a fine bookend to compliment Haynes. The other defensive star is cornerback Kendarius Webster, but the Rebels lost a lot of talent from the secondary. It adds up to another 4-4 team from the West.

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn began his tenure on the plains with a 12-win season and came within a whisker of winning the national championship. Since then, his Tiger teams have endured through 8-5 and 7-6 seasons, and if the fortunes don’t begin to turn this year, Malzahn could be interviewing for a new situation. The prospects for this year’s team being much improved are slim, because like all five of the little brothers in the West Division, Auburn has too many holes to plug, and at best the Plainsmen will only top last year’s seven-win record by a game. Whether 8-5 is good enough to keep Malzahn’s job is a question to be answered in the early Winter. As of this writing on August 23, Malzahn has yet to decide on a starting quarterback from among three, and the eventual starter will need a lot of first team reps to be ready for the opening game against Clemson. Add the issue of having to replace the running back that was expected to start with three inexperienced and pedestrian candidates, plus the loss of the top two receivers, and Auburn could struggle to score enough points against the teams that score in rapid succession.

Arkansas should have an improved defense in year four of the Bret Bielema era in Fayetteville. However, the offense lost its quarterback, star running back, and one of its two star receivers. Bielema usually produces an incredible offensive line, so we feel like the Razorbacks have the best potential of the bottom five of pulling some surprises and sneaking into the three-hole. However, if the new quarterback cannot get the job done, the Razorbacks also have the most risk of falling into the pit in this division.

Texas A&M has been through some tough times in the last several months. Not one, but the top two quarterbacks left College Station after the final regular season game last year. Two assistants were suspended without pay for making sexually explicit comments to a group of women fans.

Then, the top-rated quarterback in the high school ranks, Tate Martell, who outdueled UCLA QB Josh Rosen two years ago when their high school teams met, decommitted from Aggieland to sign with Ohio State. This led receiver’s coach Aaron Moorhead to issue an ill-advised Tweet, which then forced Head Coach Kevin Sumlin to discipline yet another assistant.

All this dissension cannot be good for Sumlin, who begins the season on a hot seat, and if the Aggies lose the opener at home to UCLA, it could snowball into something much worse. Games at Auburn, against Arkansas in Jerryworld, at home with Tennessee, at Alabama, at Mississippi State, and at home with LSU would then put the Aggies in jeopardy of getting to six wins should the Bruins come to Kyle Field and get the “W” on September 3.

Here is how the SEC Media picked the order of finish at Media Days in Birmingham last month.

SEC East Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Tennessee 225 2,167 29
2 Florida 57 1,891 5
3 Georgia 45 1,860 7
4 Kentucky 0 933 0
5 Vanderbilt 2 810 1
6 Missouri 0 807 0
7 South Carolina 2 800 1
         
SEC West Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Alabama 246 2,220 223
2 LSU 76 1,984 59
3 Ole Miss 5 1,479 4
4 Texas A&M 3 1,130 1
5 Arkansas 1 1,047 1
6 Auburn 0 890 0
7 Mississippi St. 0 518 0

 

Here are our initial PiRate Ratings for the top league.

Southeastern Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Tennessee 127.7 121.8 128.4 126.0
Florida 113.5 116.8 111.1 113.8
Georgia 112.5 114.0 112.1 112.9
Vanderbilt 106.9 100.7 105.1 104.3
Missouri 103.0 101.8 102.5 102.5
Kentucky 100.4 102.3 99.2 100.6
South Carolina 99.0 99.3 98.1 98.8
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
LSU 127.6 121.1 126.8 125.2
Alabama 126.5 119.0 125.0 123.5
Mississippi St. 120.1 115.9 119.7 118.6
Auburn 114.5 113.8 113.9 114.1
Arkansas 116.4 110.3 114.2 113.7
Texas A&M 112.1 111.4 112.0 111.8
Ole Miss 113.6 107.4 112.1 111.0
         
SEC Averages 113.9 111.1 112.9 112.6

The PiRate Ratings are meant to be used only to predict the outcomes of the next week of games, and are not best used to predict beyond that point. Because we use algorithms that include automatic adjustments by each team based on depth and experience, two different teams can win by the exact score we predict, and their new ratings might change differently.
Thus, using our ratings to predict won-loss records and bowl projections is a bit comical, but then we all need some laughs every now and then. So, laugh away at our projected standings and bowls.

Southeastern Conference Projected Standings
East Division
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Tennessee 8-0 13-0 * Playoffs–Peach
Georgia 5-3 8-4 Citrus
Florida 5-3 8-4 Outback
Kentucky 2-6 5-7  
Missouri 2-6 5-7  
Vanderbilt 1-7 4-8  
South Carolina 1-7 4-8  
       
West Division
Team Conference Overall Bowl
LSU 8-0 12-1 NY6–Sugar
Alabama 6-2 10-2 NY6–Rose
Mississippi St. 4-4 8-4 Texas
Ole Miss 4-4 7-5 Liberty
Auburn 4-4 7-5 Music City
Arkansas 4-4 7-5 Taxslayer
Texas A&M 2-6 6-6 Belk

 
This wraps up the conference previews. Coming later today, we will be posting the updated PiRate Ratings and debut the Retrodictive PiRate Rankings, which is sort of comical, since no games have been played. Our first Retro Rankings of the season are actually predictive in nature, because we simply update last year’s final Retro Rankings in a similar manner to how we update our Predictive Ratings. Nevertheless, the Rankings will make their 2016 debut in this post.

Also, by this evening in the Eastern Time Zone, our webpage will be updated with the latest ratings and rankings as well. You can find this at piratings.webs.com. It is a no-frills just the stats ma’am site with stats and no commentary.

Our regular college schedule once the season begins in earnest is to have the updated ratings posted by Monday afternoon and the predicted spreads of the next week’s games online by Tuesday evening.

For those of you interested in our NFL data, we will have our NFL ratings and predicted spreads for the following week by Wednesday evening.

And, for those of you that promise, and we mean PROMISE, not to use our data to bet and lose your house, car, and family at the betting windows in Vegas, we will issue our JUST FOR FUN money line parlays this year. In theory only, if you actually did use just our parlay predictions last year, you might have come out ahead with a 40% return on investment, but this was most likely an anamoly. If we can convine you any more to this fact, we would not bet one dollar on these fun only parlay predictions. It’s simply all about the math for us analytics nerds. After all, we are a team of professional baseball scouts and sports metric analysts that just happened to play one or more of the big three sports. Our parlay predictions are more like how many play fantasy football just for fun not expecting to win anything.

Did you see the part above about NOT using our free predictions to lose your hard-earned, or even easy-earned money?

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!”

EAST
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.

WEST
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?

August 24, 2013

2013 Southeastern Conference Preview

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 7:07 pm

2013 Southeastern Conference Preview

 

Today, we conclude our college conference previews.  To some, it could be thought that we begin our professional football previews.  The SEC is in a league by itself, Bob Stoops’ opinion notwithstanding.  There have been seasons in the past where an undefeated team from the SEC failed to receive the opportunity to play for the national championship, but those days are long gone.  With one final year remaining in the BCS Bowl alignment, the SEC will try to produce the national champion for the eighth consecutive season.  Alabama owns three of those previous seven championships, including the last two.  No team has ever officially won three consecutive national championships, and the Tide is a heavy favorite to run the table with a memorable season similar to 1992 and 1979.

 

Alabama will be favored in every game this season, but running the table in this league is not much different than running the table in the NFL.  In actuality, five league teams could compete for the national title.  Thus, we shall pick no team to run the table in the SEC.  The only thing that could prevent the SEC from winning that eighth consecutive title is not getting the opportunity to play for it.  Can a 12-1 SEC champion skip over an undefeated team from the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12?  This could be the year where the SEC champ sits in that situation.  Alabama could go 12-1 and have to settle for the Sugar Bowl, because we believe at least two teams from the other power conferences will run the table.

 

Concerning the Tide, Coach Nick Saban cannot automatically inscribe his team’s name on the trophy.  There are spots on both sides of the ball that need new starters.  Yes, this powerhouse reloads rather than rebuilds, but it leaves the Crimson Tide with a couple of liabilities that can be exploited.  One of those new starters that will step in without the team missing a beat is running back T. J. Yeldon.  Yeldon averaged 6.3 yards per rush as the key backup last year, and he showed the nation what he could do in the opener against Michigan

 

Yeldon will draw in defenses for quarterback A. J. McCarron to exploit through the vertical passing game.  McCarron reminds us a lot of another QB that once wore crimson—Bart Starr.  Starr played in an era where Johnny Unitas and Sonny Jurgensen produced the gaudy stats, but Starr was the one cashing the most championship checks.  McCarron actually had a higher passing efficiency than the two top stars at Georgia and Texas A&M.  He completed 67+% of his passes for an average of 9.3 yards per attempt and with 30 TDs to 3 Int.  Those numbers are more than adequate to be considered a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

 

McCarron has most of his receiving targets coming back, including Amari Cooper and his 1,000 receiving yards.

 

On defense, Alabama takes a back seat to nobody, except maybe the Baltimore Ravens.  There are holes to plug in the secondary and in the interior line, but ‘Bama’s second teamers would still go 9-3 if they were a separate team, so the new starters will be much better than average.

 

There are three Western Division teams capable of upsetting the Tide on a given Saturday.  LSU must replace a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but the Tigers start a lot of juniors and seniors.  The underclassmen still get a good deal of experience, so don’t expect much regression in Baton Rouge.

 

Coach Les Miles has an offense that will be potent this year.  Quarterback Zach Mettenberger may be no better than third or fourth best in the division, but he has a chance to play at the next level.  Running backs Jeremy Hill and Kenny Hillard will combine for 1,200-1,500 yards and 20-25 touchdowns.  Almost all the pass catchers return, and the offensive line has four starters that should play for pay in a couple years.

 

According to our preseason ratings, the Ole Miss Rebels are the most improved team in the nation this season.  Second year coach Hugh Freeze surprised fans across the South when he guided the Rebels to a bowl game in his first season, following a disastrous 2-10 mark the year before.  There is a chance Ole Miss could sneak into division title contention if the defensive backfield can improve enough.

 

Freeze welcomes back 19 starters and adds the best recruiting class seen in Oxford since the days of Johnny Vaught.  If it were not for a brutal schedule that finds the Rebels playing at Texas, and at Alabama in back-to-back games, we would forecast a BCS At-large Bowl Bid for this team.  Quarterback Bo Wallace should improve upon his 2012 numbers (63.9%/2,994 yds/22 TD/17 Int.) with a year of experience in Freeze’s no-huddle offense.  Keep an eye on receiver Donte Moncrief, as we believe he is on the cusp of a major breakout season with 85-90 receptions for 1,200 yards.

 

Texas A&M is one of two teams in limbo as the season approaches.  Quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel has made headlines and could be looking at a suspension for selling autographs.  Even if he plays, we do not believe he has the wherewithal or fortitude to lead his team.  A swollen head rarely performs at peak performance, and it is our opinion that he will not replicate his big statistics of last season.  While our ratings do not factor this belief, they will factor the loss in rating if he cannot play.  Manziel’s loss would cost the Aggies roughly 9.4 points per game.  For now, A&M gets these 9.4 points.

 

Two Western Division schools introduce new coaches to the league in 2013, and both of the pair know how to coach and get positive results.

 

Gus Malzahn takes over at Auburn after guiding Arkansas St. to a conference title.  The Tigers dropped off a mountain in the two years following their national championship, and the Tigers lost their last two Iron Bowl games to their rival by a combined score of 91-14.  Malzahn should immediately produce results in Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the War Eagles have way too much ground to make up in one year and will probably come up short at least one times too many for bowl eligibility.

 

Bret Bielema has landed at Arkansas after doing yeoman’s work at Wisconsin.  He brings a power running game philosophy with big passing targets at the tight end position.  It will take him a couple seasons to create a new mold, as this team was built for the quick passing game.  Year one should see another losing mark in Fayetteville.

 

Mississippi St. began 2012 with seven consecutive wins, but none of those victories came at the expense of a bowl team.  A closing schedule of Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss saw the Bulldogs go 1-4, yielding 38.5 points in the four losses.  In the Gator Bowl, MSU lost to Northwestern to make it a 1-5 finish.  It would not surprise us one bit if the Bulldogs lose eight games this year, even though our ratings call for a .500 season.

 

The Eastern Division has not won a conference championship since Tim Tebow led Florida to the 2008 national title.  Last year, Georgia came very close to pulling the upset over Alabama in the title game.  That team was really good, but this team should be even better.  Georgia may actually have the best chance of going 12-0 before the conference title game, but we figure that with a schedule that includes Clemson, South Carolina, LSU, and Florida, as well as Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs will stumble at least once.

 

Aaron Murray must be considered a Heisman Trophy contender.  After all, he was voted as the preseason number one QB by the coaches’ poll ahead of McCarron and Johnny Football.  Last year, he completed 64.5% of his passes for 3,893 yards and an average per attempt of 10.1 yards!  Usually, a double-digit ypa means an option qb threw 60 passes for 600 yards.  No, Murray attempted 386 passes.

 

A couple of high quality receivers are no longer around for Murray, but he still has Malcolm Mitchell and big tight end Arthur Lynch.

 

What makes the Bulldogs so deadly on offense is the running game.  It used to be that teams ran to set up the pass, but Georgia can do it in reverse.  If defenses don’t plan to stop Murray’s downfield passing attack, they are committing suicide.  Thus, putting eight in the box is like playing Russian Roulette with only one empty chamber in the firearm.  Backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall teamed for 2,144 yards and 25 scores on the ground in 2012.  It’s pick your poison if you are an enemy defensive coordinator.

 

Now add to the equation the fact that the entire starting offensive line returns, and Georgia fans can expect their team to average 40-45 points and gain 475 to 500 yards per game.

 

The only possible impediment that could keep the Bulldogs from repeating as Eastern champs is a defense that is a bit too generous and must break in a host of new starters.  Alabama torched the ‘Dogs for 512 yards.  Tennessee gained 478.  Nebraska gained 443, and yet UGA won two of these contests.

 

Added to the defensive woes for this season are the losses of Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Jarivs Jones, and Bacarri Rambo, the top four tacklers from a year ago.

 

If Georgia does not win the Eastern Division flag, South Carolina should.  The “Ole Ball Coach” has guided the Gamecocks to consecutive 11-2 seasons, and Steve Spurrier welcomes back enough talent to compete for another 11-win season.  Like Georgia, USC lost a considerable amount of talent on the defensive side, but The Gamecocks have one very big advantage.  They have the best defensive player in college football returning to the defensive flank.  Jadeveon Clowney has no peer at defensive end.  A year ago, the behemoth made headlines for a bone-shattering tackle in the offensive backfield at the Outback bowl, but take a look at his stats, as they are even more eye-popping.  He recorded a league best 23.5 total tackles for loss with 13 sacks.  The SEC routinely has the most NFL-caliber offensive tackles in the nation, and still Clowney could not be contained.  Opponents can eliminate him only by running to the opposite flank.

 

The Carolina offense returns its key contributor for the ninth year in a row.  Spurrier runs the offense much like Tom Landry ran the Dallas Cowboys’ offense for close to three decades.  You can always count on USC to average about 380-400 yards per game and 31-35 points per game.

 

Florida has too much of a rebuilding project this year to be a serious contender in the division, but the Gators have the talent to beat out everybody else for third place.  Jeff Driskel plays in virtual anonymity in a league with so many star signal callers, but he has an NFL arm.  Unfortunately, this year, he does not have the same quality of receivers as last year.  To add to the troubles, the Gators must replace Mike Gillislee at running back.

 

There are more holes on the defensive side of the ball as five of the top six tacklers from last year are gone.

 

After Florida, the next three spots are up for grabs.  Missouri, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt will jostle for the four, five, and six spots.

 

Tennessee welcomes Butch Jones as its new coach.  We believe of the four new coaches to enter the league, Jones will have the most success in year one, as he inherits a team that underperformed greatly in 2012.

 

The offense must break in a new quarterback, and that man figures to be Justin Worley.  Worley benefits by enjoying the best offensive line in the league if not in the entire nation.  The Vols are especially talented inside, and that should bode well for their running back tandem of Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal.  This duo teamed for 1,366 yards, and it is likely that they will move that number north of 1,750 yards this year.

 

Part of the reason for the bump in rushing yards is due to the fact that Tennessee lost two receivers that heard their names called early in the 2013 NFL Draft.  The Vols do not have a receiver on this year’s roster that can equal Justin Hunter and Cordarelle Patterson.

 

Tennessee played matador defense last year, giving up more points and total yards (428 pts/5,666 yards) than any stop unit in school history.  We have a suspicion that having Jones on the sidelines will be worth at least seven points improvement per game on this side of the ball.  If so, look for the Big Orange to return to a minor bowl this year.

 

Vanderbilt is coming off its most successful season since 1948 and first nine-win season since World War I.  Third year coach James Franklin is a hot commodity and has already turned down offers to coach elsewhere.  He has simply led the Commodores to bowl games in consecutive seasons and just signed the best recruiting class in Vandyland since the days of Coach Henry “Red” Sanders.

 

Vanderbilt suffered a major black eye in July, and the wound is still oozing.  Four players were dismissed from school and later indicted for an alleged rape on an unconscious student.  A fifth player has since been indicted for alleged evidence tampering.  The other four had never played for the Commodores, but one of those involved was expected to compete for a starting spot this year and had NFL potential.

 

However, that fifth player was one of the top players on the team.  Chris Boyd was suspended with less than two weeks to go before the opening game, and that leaves the black and gold in a bind.  Boyd would have teamed with Jordan Matthews to form the best two-man receiving punch in the league.  Without Boyd, Matthews figures to see a lot of extra attention from pass defenders.  His catch total might actually go up, but his yards per catch is headed south.

 

Austyn Carta-Samuels takes over for Jordan Rodgers at quarterback.  Carta-Samuels has prior starting experience at Wyoming, but the SEC and the Mountain West are not comparable.  Also missing from the offense is all-time leading rusher Zac Stacy, who rushed for 1,141 yards and 10 TDs last year.

 

The defense should be as talented this year as last, but the offense may force it to stay on the field a bit longer.  The secondary is very talented with two players capable of becoming NFL draft picks.  Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler combined for four interceptions and 19 Passes Defended.

 

Missouri was on course for a rather decent first season in the SEC until star quarterback James Franklin went down with an injury in October.  Three close losses followed, and the Tigers finished 5-7.  Franklin returns for one final season, and MU has the pieces in place to reverse that record and head back to a bowl in 2013.

 

Kentucky has a lot of ground to make up before the Wildcats can compete for sixth in the Eastern Division.  New coach Mark Stoops has already received commitments that would make this next recruiting class one of the best ever in Lexington, but the only thing Wildcat fans can look forward to this fall is the commencing of basketball practice in mid-October.  The Cats could very well go 0-8 in league play for the second year running.

 

New Teams: None

 

Departures: None

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

Southeastern Conference

East Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Georgia

0-0

0-0

121.4

117.4

121.7

South Carolina

0-0

0-0

119.8

116.7

119.5

Florida

0-0

0-0

117.8

113.3

116.0

Missouri

0-0

0-0

114.1

109.7

112.9

Vanderbilt

0-0

0-0

109.8

106.8

109.2

Tennessee

0-0

0-0

107.6

107.5

107.2

Kentucky

0-0

0-0

100.0

100.9

98.1

     

 

 

 

West Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Alabama

0-0

0-0

132.9

123.9

133.7

Ole Miss

0-0

0-0

122.0

117.2

122.0

Texas A&M

0-0

0-0

122.0

114.7

121.9

L S U

0-0

0-0

120.2

117.3

120.6

Mississippi St.

0-0

0-0

109.2

109.6

109.3

Auburn

0-0

0-0

105.5

103.5

103.9

Arkansas

0-0

0-0

101.7

107.3

99.8

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

114.6

111.8

114.0

 

 

Official SEC Preseason Media Poll

 

Pos

Team Points 1st Place

Eastern Division

1

Georgia

1570

149

2

South Carolina

1474

75

3

Florida

1300

19

4

Vanderbilt

858

0

5

Tennessee

694

0

6

Missouri

577

0

7

Kentucky

331

0

     

Pos

Team Points 1st Place

Western Division

1

Alabama

1681

225

2

Texas A&M

1333

11

3

L S U

1324

7

4

Ole Miss

883

0

5

Auburn

579

0

6

Mississippi St.

516

0

7

Arkansas

488

0

     

Picks To Win SEC Championship

1

Alabama  

182

2

Georgia  

38

3

South Carolina  

18

4

Texas A&M  

4

5

L S U  

1

 

Official Media SEC Preseason All-SEC Teams

OFFENSE

First-Team  
Pos Player Team
QB Johnny Manziel Texas A&M
RB T. J. Yeldon Alabama
RB Todd Gurley Georgia
WR Amari Cooper Alabama
WR Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt
TE Arthur Lynch Georgia
OL Cyrus Kouandjio Alabama
OL Jake Matthews Texas A&M
OL Anthony Steen Alabama
OL Gabe Jackson Mississippi St.
OL Travis Swanson Arkansas
     
Second-Team  
Pos Player Team
QB A. J. McCarron Alabama
RB Tre Mason Auburn
RB LaDarius Perkins Mississippi St.
RB Keith Marshall Georgia
WR Donte Moncrief Ole Miss
WR Mike Evans Texas A&M
TE Rory Anderson South Carolina
OL Antonio Richardson Tennessee
OL Jon Halapio Florida
OL Chris Burnette Georgia
OL JaWuan James Tennessee
OL Reese Dismukes Auburn
     
Third-Team  
Pos Player Team
QB Aaron Murray Georgia
RB Matt Jones Florida
RB Jeff Scott Ole Miss
RB Alfred Blue L S U
WR Malcolm Mitchell Georgia
WR Jarvis Landry L S U
TE Brian Vogler Alabama
OL La’el Collins L S U
OL Josh Williford L S U
OL Wesley Johnson Vanderbilt
OL A. J. Cann South Carolina
OL Zach Fulton Tennessee
OL James Stone Tennessee
OL Jonotthan Harrison Florida
     

DEFENSE

First-Team  
Pos Player Team
DL Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina
DL Dominique Easley Florida
DL Anthony Johnson L S U
DL Chris Smith Arkansas
LB C. J. Mosley Alabama
LB A. J. Johnson Tennessee
LB Denzel Nkemdiche Ole Miss
DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Alabama
DB Craig Loston L S U
DB Loucheiz Purifoy Florida
DB Deion Belue Alabama
     
Second-Team  
Pos Player Team
DL Xzavier Dickson Alabama
DL Ed Stinson Alabama
DL Dee Ford Auburn
DL Jeoffrey Pagan Alabama
LB Adrian Hubbard Alabama
LB Jordan Jenkins Georgia
LB Lamin Barrow L S U
DB Damian Swann Georgia
DB Andre Hal Vanderbilt
DB Marcus Roberson Florida
DB Vinnie Sunseri Alabama
     
Third-Team  
Pos Player Team
DL Garrison Smith Georgia
DL Daniel McCullers Tennessee
DL Alvin Dupree Kentucky
DL C. J. Johnson Ole Miss
LB Ronald Powell Florida
LB Tahj Jones L S U
LB Trey DePriest Alabama
LB Avery Williamson Kentucky
DB E. J. Gaines Missouri
DB Charles Sawyer Ole Miss
DB Jalen Mills L S U
DB Chris Davis Auburn
     

SPECIALISTS

     
First-Team  
Pos Player Team
P Kyle Christy Florida
K Carey Spear Vanderbilt
Ret Odell Beckham, Jr. L S U
All-Purp Bruce Ellington South Carolina
     
Second-Team  
Pos Player Team
P Cody Mandell Alabama
K Cody Parkey Auburn
Ret Bruce Ellington South Carolina
All-Purp Odell Beckham, Jr. L S U
     
Third-Team  
Pos Player Team
P Steven Clark Auburn
K Zach Hocker Arkansas
Ret Andre Debose Florida
All-Purp Loucheiz Purifoy Florida

 

 

PiRate Ratings Summary

 

About Grades

93-100         A+

86-92           A

79-85           A-

72-78           B+

65-71           B

58-64           B-

51-57           C+

44-50           C

37-43           C-

30-36           D

0-29             F

 

About Predictions

Predictions are based on the PiRate Ratings with home field advantage factored in.  The PiRate Ratings use different home field advantages for every game, since the opponent factors into the equation.

 

Eastern Division

 

Team

Florida Gators

               
Head Coach

Will Muschamp

               
Colors

Orange and Blue

               
City

Gainesville, FL

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

86

Pass Offense

76

Run Defense

87

Pass Defense

84

               
Ratings              
PiRate

117.8

Mean

113.3

Bias

116.0

               
Rankings              
PiRate

14

Mean

18

Bias

19

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

 

Team

Georgia Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Mark Richt

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Athens, GA

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1 (lost in SEC Champ. Game)

Overall

12-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

94

Pass Offense

97

Run Defense

80

Pass Defense

75

               
Ratings              
PiRate

121.4

Mean

117.4

Bias

121.7

               
Rankings              
PiRate

9

Mean

3

Bias

8

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1 (lose in SEC Champ. Game)

Overall

11-2

 

 

Team

Kentucky Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Mark Stoops

               
Colors

Blue and White

               
City

Lexington, KY

               
2012 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

2-10

               
Grades              
Run Offense

61

Pass Offense

70

Run Defense

69

Pass Defense

60

               
Ratings              
PiRate

100.0

Mean

100.9

Bias

98.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

57

Mean

59

Bias

71

               
Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

 

Team

Missouri Tigers

               
Head Coach

Gary Pinkel

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Columbia, MO

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

77

Pass Offense

92

Run Defense

76

Pass Defense

70

               
Ratings              
PiRate

114.1

Mean

109.7

Bias

112.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

30

Mean

30

Bias

31

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-5

 

 

Team

South Carolina Gamecocks

               
Head Coach

Steve Spurrier

               
Colors

Garnet and Black

               
City

Columbia, SC

               
2012 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

72

Pass Offense

92

Run Defense

89

Pass Defense

84

               
Ratings              
PiRate

119.8

Mean

116.7

Bias

119.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

12

Mean

6

Bias

12

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-1

 

 

Team

Tennessee Volunteers

               
Head Coach

Butch Jones

               
Colors

Orange and White

               
City

Knoxville, TN

               
2012 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

5-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

79

Pass Offense

74

Run Defense

73

Pass Defense

66

               
Ratings              
PiRate

107.6

Mean

107.5

Bias

107.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

40

Mean

37

Bias

41

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

Vanderbilt Commodores

               
Head Coach

James Franklin

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Nashville

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

75

Pass Offense

72

Run Defense

70

Pass Defense

81

               
Ratings              
PiRate

109.8

Mean

106.8

Bias

109.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

37

Mean

39

Bias

38

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

6-6

 

 

Western Division

Utah Utes

                 
Team

Alabama Crimson Tide

 
                 
Head Coach

Nick Saban

 
                 
Colors

Crimson and White

 
                 
City

Tuscaloosa, AL

 
                 
2012 Record                
Conference

7-1

 
Overall

13-1

 
                 
Grades                
Run Offense

98

 
Pass Offense

97

 
Run Defense

100

 
Pass Defense

97

 
                 
Ratings                
PiRate

132.9

 
Mean

123.9

 
Bias

133.7

 
                 
Rankings                
PiRate

1

 
Mean

1

 
Bias

1

 
                 
Prediction                
Conference

7-1

 
Overall

12-1

 

 

 

Team

Arkansas Razorbacks

               
Head Coach

Bret Bielema

               
Colors

Cardinal and White

               
City

Fayetteville, AR

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

               
Grades              
Run Offense

70

Pass Offense

66

Run Defense

80

Pass Defense

55

               
Ratings              
PiRate

101.7

Mean

107.3

Bias

99.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

50

Mean

38

Bias

59

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Auburn Tigers

               
Head Coach

Gus Malzahn

               
Colors

Burnt Orange and Navy

               
City

Auburn, AL

               
2012 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

69

Pass Offense

72

Run Defense

68

Pass Defense

72

               
Ratings              
PiRate

105.5

Mean

103.5

Bias

103.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

43

Mean

45

Bias

44

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

L S U Tigers

               
Head Coach

Les Miles

               
Colors

Purple and Gold

               
City

Baton Rouge, LA

               
2012 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3

               
Grades              
Run Offense

90

Pass Offense

88

Run Defense

85

Pass Defense

79

               
Ratings              
PiRate

120.2

Mean

117.3

Bias

120.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

11

Mean

4

Bias

9

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

 

Team

Ole Miss Rebels

               
Head Coach

Hugh Freeze

               
Colors

Harvard Crimson and Yale Blue

               
City

Oxford, MS

               
2012 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

88

Pass Offense

93

Run Defense

90

Pass Defense

78

               
Ratings              
PiRate

122.0

Mean

117.2

Bias

122.0

               
Rankings              
PiRate

7

Mean

5

Bias

6

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

 

Team

Mississippi St. Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Dan Mullen

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

Starkville, MS

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-5

               
Grades              
Run Offense

75

Pass Offense

73

Run Defense

82

Pass Defense

69

               
Ratings              
PiRate

109.2

Mean

109.6

Bias

109.3

               
Rankings              
PiRate

38

Mean

31

Bias

37

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

Texas A&M Aggies

               
Head Coach

Kevin Sumlin

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

College Station, TX

               
2012 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3

               
Grades              
Run Offense

84

Pass Offense

99

Run Defense

78

Pass Defense

84

               
Ratings              
PiRate

122.0

Mean

114.7

Bias

121.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

6

Mean

12

Bias

7

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

 

This closes the college football conference previews.  Beginning Monday, we commence with our NFL previews.  Additionally, on Tuesday, we will publish our regular weekly college ratings and spreads for week one of the FBS season.

August 28, 2012

2012 Southeastern Conference Preview

What else can this conference do to top what it has done in the last six years?  It wasn’t enough that the SEC won the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 national championships.  They had to find a way to do one better, so they decided to send a second team to the title game.  When Alabama and LSU met, it really should have been the second time that this big game had been played between conference rivals that had played a tight game in the regular season.  In 2006, we felt that Michigan and Ohio State should have played for the national championship, because Ohio State’s home field advantage was 5.5 points, and the Buckeyes won by three in the regular season.  Of course, Florida showed Ohio State that the SEC was too powerful.

 

The last time the SEC did not win the title, Vince Young quarterbacked Texas to a last minute win over Southern California, with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White. 

 

With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC needed another bowl contract, so now this league has ten bowl tie-ins.

 

Texas A&M has three other major tie-ins with the SEC.  Three famous SEC coaches had Aggie ties.  General Robert Neyland played football for a season at A&M, before he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy.  Bear Bryant was the A&M coach prior to taking over at his alma mater.  Gene Stallings played for Bryant at A&M and later became the head coach there.  Stallings became the coach at Alabama and won a national championship there.

 

Missouri has one gigantic contribution to not just the SEC but to all college football.  The Tigers were the team that first introduced the option play to football.  Coach Don Faurot, the father of the Split-T offense, first began to use the regular (double option) at Missouri.  The split-t was the forerunner of the veer and wishbone offenses and even today’s zone read option from the spread formation.

 

The SEC media poll featured 222 voters.  Here is how the voting went.

 

 

SEC East

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Georgia

132

1434

(14)

2

South Carolina

72

1358

(6)

3

Florida

12

1045

(1)

4

Missouri

2

797

 

5

Tennessee

4

718

 

6

Vanderbilt

0

598

 

7

Kentucky

0

266

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEC West

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

L S U

139

1449

(129)

2

Alabama

72

1379

(65)

3

Arkansas

6

1093

(14)

4

Auburn

4

827

(2)

5

Texas A&M

0

653

 

6

Mississippi State

0

554

 

7

Ole Miss

1

261

(1)

 

 

 

 

 

Number in ( ) represents votes to win SEC Championship Game

 

The PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings have minor differences, but are not that much different from the media poll votes.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

SEC East

PiRate

1

Georgia

118.6

2

South Carolina

117.3

3

Florida

116.1

4

Tennessee

115.5

5

Missouri

114.3

6

Vanderbilt

110.6

7

Kentucky

95.2

 

   

Rank

SEC West

PiRate

1

L S U

131.4

2

Alabama

126.5

3

Arkansas

119.5

4

Texas A&M

113.2

5

Auburn

111.5

6

Mississippi State

108.6

7

Ole Miss

100.8

 

   

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

SEC East

Vintage

1

Georgia

116

2

South Carolina

114

3

Florida

111

4

Tennessee

109

5

Missouri

108

6

Vanderbilt

103

7

Kentucky

100

 

 

 

Rank

SEC West

Vintage

1

L S U

120

2

Alabama

119

3

Arkansas

112

4

Mississippi State

106

5

Texas A&M

105

6

Arkansas

105

7

Ole Miss

99

 

 

Team

Florida Gators

               
Head Coach

Will Muschamp

               
Colors

Blue and Orange

               
City

Gainesville, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

116.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

17

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

Can year two of the Coach Will Muschamp era in Gainesville replicate the feats of the two previous coaching geniuses at the Swamp?  In Steve Spurrier’s second year, the Gators went 7-0 in the SEC.  In Urban Meyer’s second year, Florida won a national championship.

 

Muschamp returns 10 defensive starters, although one of those (end Ronald Powell) is injured and will not be available until October.  The Gators were stingy last year, giving up 20 points and 300 yards per game, and this group could chop those numbers down to 17 points and 275 yards per game this year. 

 

Up front, Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter form an excellent tandem at tackle.  Floyd does more than protect his linebackers; he gets into the offensive backfield and disrupts running plays.  Ends Lerentee McCray and Dominique Easley both registered 7 ½ tackles for loss last year.  McCray actually played linebacker last year and switches to the “buck” end (part end/part linebacker).

 

Speaking of linebacker, the Gators’ top defensive player returns to the Mike position.  Jonathan Bostic led the Gators with 94 tackles.  He recorded three sacks and 10 total tackles for loss.  Jelani Jenkins can do it all; he can blitz and dump a passer; he can stop a runner for little or no gain; and he can cover a receiver in the underneath zones like a cornerback.

 

The Gators have an excellent group of defensive backs.  All four starters from last year are back, as well as the nickel and the top reserve.  Safety Matt Elam is a smaller version of Jenkins; he can fill up a stat sheet with sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions and passes defended.

 

The offense lacked the oomph that past Gator teams had.  The scoring average dropped to its lowest number since 1992.  In SEC, the Gators failed to average 300 yards per game.  Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis took the Kansas job, and former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease takes over.

 

Pease does not have a Kellen Moore passing to Titus Young and Austin Pettis.  In fact, the Gators don’t even have a solid number one quarterback.  Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are liable to continue competing for the starting job well into the season.  Driskel will start against Bowling Green on Saturday, but he has not secured the spot.  In limited action for both last year, they teamed for 354 yards and two touchdowns against six interceptions.  Neither completed 50% of his passes.

 

With the losses of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, last year’s number three back takes over as starter.  Mike Gillislee actually had the highest rushing average of the trio, as he rushed for 5.9 yards per try.

 

Muschamp doesn’t have a big star among his wideouts, but Andre Dubose made the most of his 16 catches last year.  He averaged 27 yards per reception and scored four touchdowns.  Frankie Hammond, Quinton Dunbar, tight end Jordan Reed and fullback Trey Burton give the QBs multiple above-average receivers, but none of these guys will become all-Americans.

 

The offensive line must deal with an injury to tackle Matt Patchan, but there is enough depth in the trenches to keep the offense moving.  Guards Jon Halapio and James Wilson join center Jonotthan Harrison in the middle.

 

Caleb Sturgis is the top kicker in the league.  He was 100% accurate on PATs, and he connected on 22 of 26 field goal attempts.  Two of those four misses were from 50 or more yards.  He made three from 50 or more, including a 55-yarder.

 

The Gators have a weird schedule this year, because they were saddled with putting both Texas A&M and Missouri on their slate.  UF closes their conference schedule on November 3, and then they play three non-conference games to end the season.  In past years, they always took advantage of playing two patsies prior to the Tennessee game.  Now, they have a trip to Texas A&M the week before heading to Knoxville.  We like this team’s talent and think they could compete for the East Division crown, but the Gators will have a hard time splitting their first four league games.

 

 

 

Team

Georgia Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Mark Richt

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Athens, GA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-4

               
PiRate Rating

118.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

6

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3

 

The Bulldogs lost their first two games and their last two games, but won the 10 games in between last year.  Those four losses came to teams that went a combined 47-6.

 

Coach Mark Richt welcomes back his starting quarterback and five of his top six receivers.  Aaron Murray is one of three potential All-American quarterbacks in the SEC.  He tossed 35 touchdown passes, while completing 59% of his passes for 3,149 yards.

 

Murray has three receivers returning that caught 30 or more passes.  Tavarres King had 47; Malcolm Mitchell had 45; and Michael Bennett had 32.  King and Mitchell can burn a secondary with a quick six.

 

The loss of Isaiah Crowell may end up being addition by subtraction.  Ken Malcome will try to hold off a couple of true freshmen.  Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley were both highly-rated running backs.

 

The one area of concern on this side of the ball is in the trenches.  There are no big stars here, and one of the expected starters (Kolton Houston) cannot gain eligibility because he continues to test positive for a banned steroid used on an injury two years ago during a shoulder surgery.  Two line starters are back.

 

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham did a great job with the defense last year, as UGA gave up just 277 yards per game.  With 12 of the top 13 tacklers returning, the Junkyard  Dogs will continue to bark.

 

Let’s start at linebacker, where the ‘Dogs are loaded at this spot, possibly the tops in the land.  Jarvis Jones frequently made it to the drop back point before the quarterback!  He led the SEC with 13 ½ sacks, and he added six more tackles for loss.  Unbelievably, he was credited with 49 QB hurries.  Michael Gilliard finished third on the team with 65 tackles, and he was a jack of all trades with a pair of sacks, seven TFL, and four passes defended.  A couple of linebackers, Chase Vasser and Alec Ogletree face one game suspensions, but the Bulldogs can beat Buffalo without them.

 

The three-man defensive line returns intact this year.  Nose tackle John Jenkins tips the scale at more than 350 pounds.  He can sit and take up two gaps.  Ends Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington teamed up for nine sacks and 49 QB hurries.

 

The secondary benefitted from an excellent pass rush, and they responded by allowing less than 51%  completions and 176 passing yards per game.  Safety Shawn Williams led the Bulldogs with 72 tackles and four interceptions.  His counterpart at the other safety position is Bacarri Rambo, a first team All-American, is one of a handful of players facing a suspension at the beginning of the year.

 

The Bulldogs are Missouri’s first ever conference game, and they will play at Faurot Field in week two.  It is the only one of the opening five that the Bulldogs could lose.  Game six takes UGA to South Carolina, where the ‘Dogs have a score to settle with the Gamecocks.  This has the look of another double-digit win season between the hedges, and it isn’t impossible for them to settle a score with LSU in the Conference Championship Game.

 

 

Team

Kentucky Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Joker Phillips

               
Colors

Royal Blue and White

               
City

Lexington, KY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

95.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

67

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

The bowl streak ended last year for Coach Joker Phillips’ Wildcats last year.  Kentucky had been bowl eligible for five consecutive years.  The last time UK had a five-year run with a better showing was 1952 to 1956.

 

The trend has been headed the wrong way though, as Kentucky’s records since 2006 have been 8-5, 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, and 5-7.  Unfortunately for Phillips and his Cats, it looks like the trend will continue in 2012.

 

Kentucky had quarterback issues last year.  Morgan Newton began the season as the starter, and he looked like an SEC quarterback throwing to Division III receivers.  Poor pass protection eventually sent him to the sidelines for the season with multiple injuries.  Maxwell Smith took over, and UK had the same results; the receivers had difficulty getting open, and Smith ate turf too many times.  Eventually, he was forced to the sideline with injuries.  In the finale against Tennessee, Kentucky basically used a single wing offense and ran the ball over 90% of the game.  It shortened the game by about 10 plays, and the Wildcats upset the Vols for the first time since 1984.

 

Newton and Smith both return this year, and they clearly are the weakest quarterback tandem in the league.  The two combined for just 1,612 passing yards and completed just 51% of their passes.  The average yards gained per pass attempt was just 4.9. Smith will get the initial start against Louisville this Sunday.

 

Kentucky’s receivers dropped several passes in almost every game.  As weak as the quarterback talent is when comparing it to the rest of the league, this unit is less talented than many MAC teams.  La’Rod King is the one and only receiver that looked like he belonged on the field last year.  He caught 40 passes for 598 yards and seven touchdowns last year.  The rest of the roster averaged a miserable 7.9 yards per reception.  There isn’t much help coming from any newcomers this year.

 

The running game was not the answer either last year, as the Cats gained just 124.2 yards per game (117 prior to switching to the single wing for the Tennessee game).  The one offensive bright spot on the team, Josh Clemons, was expected to become the next Rafael Little, but he didn’t quite live up to those standards.  He ran all over Central Michigan but he couldn’t get it done against LSU, Florida, and South Carolina.  He suffered a knee injury and needed surgery.  He may not be available for the first couple of games.  CoShik Williams led UK last year with 486 yards rushing, but most of that came against Jacksonville State and Ole Miss.  This is by far the weakest unit in the SEC.

 

The offensive line would be considered the strong point of this offense, but that is like saying that the 1962 New York Mets’ had some good hitters.  Guard Larry Warford is the best player on the team and only one that could end up earning 1st Team All-SEC honors.  Phillips cannot run 40 plays over his blocking hole, and Warford cannot block four pass rushers at the same time.  Look for the Wildcats to continue to struggle on offense this year.

 

The defense was not all that bad last year.  UK surrendered less than 25 points per game, which was an improvement by more than three points from the year before.  Former Cincinnati coach Rick Minter serves as the defensive coordinator.  He probably will see his troops surrender more yardage and points this year, because the offense will not be able to sustain many drives.  Kentucky had to defend 69 plays per game last year, and they could be forced to defend more than 70 this year. 

 

The defensive line returns three starters.  End Collins Ukwu is the top returning man in the trenches.  He finished with 6 ½ tackles for loss and picked up four QB hurries.  Tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph bring the beef up front, as they weigh 328 and 301 pounds respectively.

 

It is an entirely different story at linebacker, where all the key contributors from last year are gone.  Avery Williamson, Miles Sampson, and Tyler Brause will not adequately replace a trio of linebackers that produced a pair of NFL Draft choices.  Kentucky will be much more generous against the run this year.

 

The secondary might be decent if there was any type of pass rush, but we don’t see the Cats putting much fear in the minds of enemy passers.  Safety Martavius Neloms is the leading returning tackler with 71.  Mikie Benton forms a better than average safety tandem with Neloms, but the Cats are really weak on the corners.

 

Everything is relative when you compare teams against each other.  Kentucky’s talent is by far the weakest in the league, but in the SEC, the weakest talent might be able to compete for the Conference USA Championship.  Kentucky will win three games outside of the league, but that is all we can predict them winning.  However, by the time they face Georgia on homecoming on October 20, they will have filled the gym to watch the defending national champions take the floor, and all will be good once again in Lexington, where basketball, bourbon, and babes are the big draws once the horse tracks are closed for the year.

 

 

 

 

Team

Missouri Tigers

               
Head Coach

Gary Pinkel

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Columbia, MO

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

114.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

31

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-5

 

The Tigers may be really glad that the Big Ten did not ask them to join with Nebraska.  The SEC will give their program a much bigger payday by the time the league’s profit-sharing check arrives next year.

 

Missouri will bring excellent programs to the SEC and give the league three terrific TV markets.  Besides the obvious, Kansas City and St. Louis, they get a lot of coverage in Chicago with a lot of Missouri alums living downstate.  Maybe best of all, Tiger fans will bring their great barbecue tailgating to the South and make the SEC the top culinary conference as well.  Note: We are available to test any KCBBS champion tailgater’s food and give it a blue ribbon.

 

Missouri becomes the second team in the league to wear black and gold and treat a man named James Franklin as their savior.  This Franklin is a quarterback, perhaps the best one in the league (don’t yell Arkansas fans).  Last year Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, while completing better than 63% of his passes.  Factoring out QB sacks (the way the NCAA should figure rushing), Franklin topped 1,000 yards rushing and scored 15 touchdowns.  Redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser is built just like Franklin and will become a good QB in his own right in the future, but if Franklin goes down, Mizzou will be miserable.

 

Franklin has a quality receiving corps to play toss with.  T. J. Moe caught 54 passes and gained 649 yards in the Big 12 last year.  Marcus Lucas gives Franklin a big and fast target, and Lucas should double his production this year (23-414 5 TD in 2011).

 

Other than Franklin, the running game is a liability and may be the reason MU has troubles in SEC games.  With star back Henry Josey expected to miss the season due to a second knee operation, the Tigers lose someone that rushed for 1,168 yards and nine scores, while averaging 8.1 yards per try with several big plays.  Kendial Lawrence is a capable back able to rush for 100 yards a game against a team like Kentucky, but he will not beat Alabama or Florida with his running ability.

 

There is a considerable amount of rebuilding to do in the front line, as four starters must be replaced.  The spread offense that Pinkel uses gives his new starters an advantage, because Franklin’s ability to read defenses on the run will overcome some of the line’s liabilities.  Tackles Justin Britt and Elvis Fisher are SEC-caliber blockers.

 

The Missouri defense was good enough to hold Texas to a field goal last year, but it surrendered 45 points to Oklahoma State, 42 to Baylor, and 38 to Oklahoma.  Factor out the big three, and MU gave up a very respectable 18 points and 313 yards per game.  The Tigers will give up more than that in the SEC, but they won’t see Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, and RG3. 

 

If the Tigers can generate a decent pass rush, the secondary will be really good.  E. J. Gaines is a possible all-league cornerback.  Last year, he led the Tigers and finished third in the Big 12 with 18 passes defended.  Fellow cornerback Kip Edwards may miss the start of the season due to a knee injury, and if he is not ready by week two when Aaron Murray comes to Memorial Stadium, Mizzou is going to have some trouble.

 

Andrew Wilson and Zavier Gooden return to the second line of defense.  Wilson led the Tigers with 98 tackles (9 ½ TFL), while Gooden finished third with 80.  Gooden is tough in pass coverage, while Wilson is the better run-stopper.  Middle linebacker Will Ebner is coming back from an injury year, and if he is healthy, he could lead the team in tackles.

 

End Brad Madison needs to step up and enjoy a big senior year.  He led MU with 4 ½ sacks last year, but he needs to double that amount for the Tigers to even think about competing for the SEC East title.  He’s the only returning starter to the D-line, and this could prevent MU from finishing in the upper half of the division standings.

 

The SEC did the new teams a big favor for their first season.  Both new teams get to host one of the national championship participants.  Alabama comes to Columbia on October 13.  The Tigers should be 5-1 or 4-2 heading into that game.  Make no mistake about it’ Missouri will enjoy another winning season and play in a bowl, but moving to the SEC is like being called up to the Major Leagues from AAA.  Expect the Tigers to lose the most games they have lost since 2006.

 

 

Team

South Carolina Gamecocks

               
Head Coach

Steve Spurrier

               
Colors

Garnet and Black

               
City

Columbia, SC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

117.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

114

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

9

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

The “Old Ball Coach” guided USC to its best record since 1982.  The Gamecocks won 11 games and finished in the Top 10.  They begin the season ranked #6 in the polls, and they are considered a strong contender in the SEC East, where they won the division two years ago.

 

The man that makes the offense go is junior Marcus Lattimore.  His two years in Columbia coincided with Spurrier’s Fun and Gun offense taking off and resembling his offenses at Florida.  Lattimore missed four games last year after he suffered a season-ending injury against Mississippi State.  In the six games that he played prior to injury, USC averaged 35.5 points and 416.5 yards per game.  In the seven games that he did not play in (or finish in the case of Miss. St.), the Gamecocks averaged 10 less points per game and 80 fewer yards per game.  Lattimore was on pace to run for about 1,700-1,750 yards and score 20 or more touchdowns.  He must remain healthy, especially early in the season, because his key backups are all banged up. 

 

Connor Shaw took over for good once Spurrier had enough of Stephen Garcia’s off-the-field problems.  Shaw completed 65.4% of his passes with a TD/Int ratio of 14/6.  His yards per attempt fell just short of greatness at 7.7 (anything over 8.0 is considered A1).

 

The Gamecocks have produced a star wide receiver with regularity since Spurrier arrived in Carolina.  They lost a big one in Alshon Jeffrey, but they return some quality talent with the potential to make this the best USC passing game since Steve Tannehill was there in the mid-90’s.  Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington, and D. L. Moore will give Garcia a lot of open looks this year.  Tight end Justice Cunningham will be adequate as a receiver, but he is there to open the off-tackle hole for Lattimore.

 

The only reason why we don’t see the Gamecocks taking the East flag and finishing in the top five in the nation is a weaker offensive line.  Three starters depart, including a first team all-league performer (and NFL Draft pick).  Center T. J. Johnson will open some holes in the middle for Lattimore, but expect USC to give up more QB sacks this year, and if Shaw goes down with an injury, Dylon Thompson will not be able to keep the offense rolling.

 

The Gamecocks won several games with a stifling defense the last couple of years.  They lose their biggest piece of this puzzle—coordinator Ellis Johnson has left to take over at Southern Miss.  Additionally, USC must replace six starters including NFL Draft choices in the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary.  Do not expect USC to repeat their exceptional numbers of last year (18.4 points and 268 yards allowed per game).

 

The front seven will still be formidable but not as strong as last year.  Ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney are top notch.  They teamed up for 14 sacks and 20 ½ TFL, even though Clowney played in reserve for former All-American Melvin Ingram.

 

The Gamecocks do not have a star replacement for leading tackler Antonio Allen.  Damario Jeffrey may be able to come close to making the 88 tackles Allen made, but they will be about a yard further down the field.  Shaq Wilson and Devonte Holloman return to the linebacking unit after combining for 103 tackles.

 

Stephen Gilmore may be the hardest star to replace.  Gilmore led SC with four interceptions, but teams often threw away from where he covered.  D. J. Swearinger is the lone holdover in the defensive backfield, and he should contend for all-conference honors this year.

 

The Gamecocks will be tested right off the bat, as they open the season on national television against Vanderbilt in Nashville.  The Commodores will be at full strength and fired up to show last year was not a fluke, so this game will be extremely important for both teams.  A week two game with East Carolina could be a trap game, but we believe USC will start 3-0 after they face UAB.  The week four game against Missouri will determine if Spurrier can keep this team in contention for the SEC East flag.  We believe Carolina will just miss winning the East, but if Lattimore stays healthy and rushes the ball more than 300 times, it is possible that Carolina could make it back to the SEC Championship Game.

 

 

Team

Tennessee Volunteers

               
Head Coach

Derek Dooley

               
Colors

Orange and White

               
City

Knoxville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

115.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

28

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

Third year coach Derek Dooley was sitting on a good hand.  He had three-of-a-kind with a king high on offense, and he knew that most of the defenses his Volunteer team was playing against had a pair or worse.  Only one or two defenses had a full house.

 

Then, on the eve of the season, his three-of-a-kind turned into a pair.  Sadly for fans on Rocky Top, what looked like a possible dark horse contender for the SEC East Crown turned into another year of mediocrity.

 

Da’Rick Rogers led the Vols with 1,040 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last year, but he also led the team in suspensions, the most recent leading to his dismissal.  Combined with Justin Hunter, Zach Rogers, and tight end Mychal Rivera, this would have been the top receiving corps in the SEC and one of the top five in the nation.  When Hunter and D. Rogers were both healthy last year (Hunter went down for the count against Cincinnati in game two), the Vols’ offense was nearly unstoppable, and UT would have averaged 35-40 points per game this year.  Without Rogers, expect the Vols to average 25-28 points per game, and that will cost them two or three wins.

 

Tyler Bray had a few disciplinary bumps in the road this summer, but he will not lose any playing time (although pro scouts will take note of his maturity issues).  Bray is one of five fantastic passers in the SEC that should all play in the NFL one day.  He completed just under 60% of his passes last year for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns against just six picks.  His yards per attempt came in just at the spectacular level (8.0), but it was almost 11 when both Hunter and Rogers were playing together.  Bray missed five games last year.  He should top 3,500 yards through the air if he stays healthy this year.

 

Tennessee has not had the pleasure of having a workhorse back the last three years, and this position is still a liability.  Rajion Neal has some potential to take heat off the passing game, but he will remind nobody of Arian Foster.

 

The offensive line is better suited to block for the pass than the run, and that is one reason why the Vols rushed for just 90 yards per game last year.  Six linemen saw considerable starting action, and all six return, so Bray should be able to eat a sandwich and still have time to throw this year.  Tackle Ja’Wuan James begins his third season as a regular and has all-conference ability.  Guard Dallas Thomas will earn an all-conference mention this year.

 

Even in the most recent run of malaise on the hill, the Tennessee defense has performed admirably, giving up just over 21 points per game in the most recent four seasons (23-27 W-L record).  The Vols have produced rather talented defensive backfields, and this year will be more of the same, as five key players return.  Cornerbacks Justin Coleman, Marsalis Teague, and Prentiss Waggner combined to make 85 tackles in 2011.  Waggner led the trio with nine passed defended, two of which were interceptions.  Safeties Brian Randolph and Brent Brewer both return, but junior college transfer Byron Moore will see a lot of time at strong safety as well.  Expect Tennessee to shut down the opposing quarterbacks not named Murray, McCarron, or Franklin, and they will not face one named Wilson.

 

The Volunteers used to be famous for producing All-American linebackers (almost as much as Penn State), but it has been some time since they had a gem.  A. J. Johnson may be the next ruby.  He finished second on the team with 80 tackles as a freshman.  Herman Lathers missed 2011, but if he returns to 2010 form, the Vols will be much tougher to run on than they were last year.

 

The defensive line is not as talented as the secondary or linebackers, and this will be their big problem against the power teams on their schedule.  Dooley is hoping that human eclipse, junior college transfer Daniel McCullers at 6-6 and 377, can be a brick wall in the A-gaps.  Maurice Couch now moves from nose tackle to end, where Dooley can take advantage of his quickness.  The Vols did were not pass rushing monsters last year, finishing with 16 (11th in the league).

 

Dooley will come under fire if Tennessee does not begin to show marked improvement.  We believe he is a capable game manager and mentor, and he inherited a mess in Knoxville when he became the third coach in three years.  Volunteer fans run the risk of becoming another New Mexico or Minnesota if they think they can hire a new coach and return to the way things were in the 1990’s. 

 

As for 2012, the opening game against North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome just became a tossup.  Games against Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and South Carolina will determine if Tennessee flounders around .500 again or wins eight regular season games and returns to a better bowl (Outback or Gator).  We believe 7-5 should warrant Dooley a little insurance.

 

 

Team

Vanderbilt Commodores

               
Head Coach

James Franklin

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Nashville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

110.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

54

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

What Tommy Lasorda did for the Los Angeles Dodgers, James Franklin did for Vanderbilt.  Lasorda took over for Mr. Excitement, Walter Alston, in LA, and the Dodgers responded to his motivational methods.  Franklin came in after Bobby Johnson and his assistant Robbie Caldwell were not the life of the party.  Franklin’s motivational methods were just short of Anthony Robbins.  He also brought in a group of excellent teachers, and Vanderbilt responded immediately.  The Commodores found offense they didn’t have the year before, when Franklin installed the West Coast Offense to replace the spread from the previous three years.

 

It is nice that the Commodores have royal quarterback bloodlines.  Jordan Rodgers can turn to the best quarterback in the world for advice (his brother Aaron), and working with him some in the off-season can only be a big plus.  Rodgers took over as the starter midway through the season, and the Commodores began to move the ball like Jay Cutler was back on campus.  While Rodgers’ numbers were not the best (50% completions and 9/10 TD/int ratio), he proved to be a big scrambler and forced defenses to assign a spy on him rather than drop back into the coverage.  Expect Rodgers to take a giant step forward this year and top 2,500 yards through the air.

 

The Commodores are still behind most of the league at receiver.  Jordan Matthews cannot catch 100 passes, so VU needs to come up with two other quality options.  Matthews led Vandy with 41 catches, and he averaged 19 yards per catch.  Look for his catches to go up and maybe approach 70, but his average will drop.  Chris Boyd and Jonathan Krause teamed for 54 receptions and 644 yards.  Boyd has the ability to emerge as a co-leader with Matthews, while Krause is more of a possession receiver.  The return of John Cole could be a factor if Cole can return to his 2010 form.  The West Coast Offense works a lot better when it has a reliable tight end that can split the seams in Cover 3 and flood a Cover 2 zone.  Austin Monahan needs to play a full season without injury if the Commodores are to return to a bowl this year. 

 

Vanderbilt has one of the better running games in the league.  Zac Stacy emerged as a star last year, rushing for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging close to six yards a try.  Former starter Warren Norman tries to come back after missing all of last year and part of 2010.  He was the Freshman Player of the Year back in 2009, but he has been passed in the depth chart by last year’s freshman contributor Jerron Seymour.  True freshman Brian Kimbrow is the Commodores most coveted recruit in over a decade.  He may be as fast as the star back on the other side of the Cumberland River, the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson.

 

The offensive concern this year is in the offensive line, where Vandy’s projected starters are the smallest in the league.  There are no All-SEC blockers in this group.  The left side, consisting of guard Ryan Seymour and tackle Wesley Johnson should do a good job protecting Rodgers’ blind side.

 

The defense improved just as much as the offense last year, giving up 10 fewer points per game and close to 100 less yards per game and finishing in the middle of the pack in the SEC.  Things will not be as golden this year for the black and gold; the top three tacklers have left the building, including a high draft pick.

 

Gone from the secondary is Casey Hayward, who led the SEC in passes defended with 17, including seven interceptions.  Trey Wilson now becomes the main man in the secondary, after the cornerback intercepted three passes and broke up eight other last year.

 

The defensive line loses its top man in Tim Fugger, who led the team with eight sacks and 13 ½ TFL.  Tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter will have to share some playing time with Vince Taylor, while ends Walker May and Johnell Thomas will rotate with a couple of freshman standouts, Caleb Azubike and Darien Bryant.

 

The middle unit is the big concern.  Leading tackler Chris Marve was the glue that held the improved defense together.  He prevented some breakaway runs last year and will not be adequately replaced.  Archibald Barnes and Chase Garnham are serviceable linebackers but not stars.  Karl Butler would be a nice reserve on most SEC teams.  Expect opponents to find the going much easier this year when they try to run the ball on the Commodores.

 

The schedule features two non-conference games against BCS conference opponents (the only team in the SEC to do so).  The Commodores are also the only team to play six true road games (Texas A&M plays five plus a neutral site game).  They absolutely must go 4-0 outside the league to have a real shot at bowl eligibility, and the early road game at Northwestern will be extremely tough to win following the emotional season opener Thursday night against South Carolina.  Vandy rode a 3-0 start to a 6-6 regular season record last year, and we believe they could start 0-2 this season, which will put them in a hole the rest of the year, one they cannot dig out of.  Call it a five win season.  

 

 

Team

Alabama Crimson Tide

               
Head Coach

Nick Saban

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Tuscaloosa, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

12-1

               
PiRate Rating

126.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

119

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

2

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-1

 

Alabama fans may be willing to change their coach’s name to “Bear Saban.”  If he can win another national championship with this team, he will deserve to place the hounds’ tooth hat on his head.  Alabama lost enough talent from their 2011 National Championship team to produce a bowl eligible team by itself.  However, Alabama’s second team could have won the ACC Championship last year.

 

One first-teamer returning is quarterback A. J. McCarron.  While he is not Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, or Scott Hunter, McCarron is an excellent manager of the offense, and he has enough talent.  He’s more like a Bart Starr; he’ll do just enough to beat you.  Last year, he completed better than 2/3 of his passes, throwing for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns against just five interceptions.  He gained eight yards per attempt, which places him in the spectacular category.

 

The Tide will miss having one of the most talented receivers in the country, but Duron Carter never played a down for the Tide, so they will get by just fine without him.  Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Amari Cooper, and Christion Jones are not household names, but by December, a lot of defenses will remember this group.  Add tight end Michael Williams and Jalston Fowler, who might line up as a fullback, h-back, tight end, or even in the slot, and the Tide have a very credible group of receivers.

 

Alabama routinely sends running backs into the NFL, and the latest might be the best yet.  Trent Richardson is going to be sorely missed, but don’t cry for the Tide.  Eddie Lacy will top 1,000 yards this year, but only if he can keep true freshman Eddie Yeldon on the bench.  Yeldon should see the field quite a bit this season.

 

How good is the Alabama offensive line?  Oh, we estimate it is about the 27th best in the country; of course the 26 ahead of them are NFL lines.  This line will open holes that an average high school back could average four yards per attempt.  Barrett Jones returns at center, where he won the Outland Trophy last year and is the leading contender to win it again this year, joining all-time greatest college center Dave Rimington as the only back-to-back winner.  Tackle D. J. Fluker could actually be the first player picked in the 2013 NFL Draft, if the team in question does not need Matt Barkley.

 

Alabama’s defense cannot match what it did last year.  The Tide’s stop troops looked more like Coach Bryant’s teams of the early 1960’s, when offenses had not yet evolved.  Alabama held opponents to 8.2 points and 183.6 yards per game!  That sounds like the days when offenses ran the ball 80% of the time and tried to win 13-7.  Nobody will forget what they did to LSU in the title game, holding the Tigers to 92 total yards with no chance to ever score.  In two games against LSU, they kept the Bayou Bengals out of the end zone and held them to 144 passing yards in more than eight quarters.

 

There is way too much all-star talent to replace on this side of the ball, so expect the Tide to give up a lot more points and yards this year.  They could even be generous and allow opponents to score 14 points per game.

 

The secondary returns just one starter, but the three new regulars already make this the top secondary in the league (thanks to one big loss at LSU).  Safety Robert Lester will become a millionaire next year after his name is announced by Roger Goodell at the NFL Draft.  He will team with Vinnie Sunseri to give ‘Bama the best safety tandem in college football.

 

Alabama lost too much at linebacker to repeat the production.  Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw were the two best outside linebackers in the nation.  Opponents had little chance of turning the corner when they ran wide.  Quarterbacks never knew which one was rushing and which was dropping back in pass coverage.  Nico Johnson and C. J. Mosley give the Tide the best inside tandem in the league.

 

Up front, Saban used a lot of defensive linemen last year, so Josh Chapman will be easily replaced.  Look for end Damion Square to become the next big star in the trenches.

 

Usually when a team loses 11 starters off its first team, they will not be as good as the year before.  Alabama is different.  What we see in the SEC is something like a repeat of last year.  We believe the Tide can win 11 regular season games and avoid having to play in the SEC Championship.  Then, if the voters and computers show them to be number two in the BCS, we could have a rematch for the National Championship.  The SEC can do no better than this until the playoffs begin in 2014-15.  Then, they might put three teams in the kitty.  

 

 

Team

Arkansas Razorbacks

               
Head Coach

John L. Smith

               
Colors

Cardinal and White

               
City

Fayetteville, AR

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

119.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

15

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

Poor Razorback fans:  just when it looked like your Hogs had the necessary pieces in place to make a national title run, your coach had to do something really stupid and prove that the male gender sometimes thinks with the wrong part of their body.  Unfortunately, your emergency replacement coach was accused of not being able to think at his prior head coaching stop.

 

When last a head coach in Division 1, John L. Smith was accused of bungling several decisions at Michigan State.  Ask Spartan fans to talk to you about the 2006 game against Ohio State, but be prepared to duck first.

 

Smith finds himself in an impossible position, and he will be blamed when the Razorbacks don’t run the table.  They have possibly the best quarterback in the nation not playing in the Pac-12.  Tyler Wilson thrived last year in Bobby Petrino’s offense.  He picked up where Ryan Mallett left off and passed for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns versus just six interceptions.

 

Wilson lost three outstanding receivers that all heard their names called in the 4th round of the NFL Draft.  Additionally, three other wide receivers expected to either start or see action in reserve left Fayetteville.  That forced Smith to make a big change.  Backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell rarely saw the field thanks to Wilson’s performance.  He was too talented with a lot of athleticism to let ride the bench, so with the endorsement of the entire offensive staff, Mitchell switched to receiver.  He instantly becomes a major asset here, as he will provide Wilson a big target with a lot of speed, and he will be a weapon blocking downfield.  He will team with Cobi Hamilton and true freshman Mekale McKay to give UA the right combination to continue to average over 300 passing yards per game.

 

Can Knile Davis return to his 2010 form after missing all of 2011 with a broken ankle?  That is the big question in Fayetteville this year.  Davis rushed for more than 1,300 yards two years ago.  The Razorbacks have good depth with Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo returning after splitting carries in replace of Davis.  Both could line up in a slot and become receiving weapons.

 

Three starters return to the offensive line, and there is room for some improvement here.  Travis Swanson gets overlooked due to Jones at Alabama, but he is one of the nation’s top centers.  Guard Alvin Bailey rates near the top in the league at his position.

 

Arkansas averaged 37 points and 440 yards per game last year, and those numbers can be duplicated this season.  Now, it will be up to the defense to rise to the occasion and more closely resemble the defenses at the two teams ahead of them in the standings.

 

This defense will not hold opponents under 300 yards and 14 points per game like both Alabama and LSU, but Arkansas could surprise everyone and still sneak in as SEC West champs if the defense could hold the opposition to 20 points and 350 yards per game.

 

Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith looks the part of an all-conference defender.  He paced the Hogs with 12 ½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2011.  Jarrett Lake and Tenarius Wright are not as talented, so Highsmith will need to make 100+ tackles this year.

 

The defensive line is not up to the standards of an LSU or Alabama, or even a Georgia, Florida, or South Carolina.  UA will be breaking in a new pair of ends, neither of whom can compare to Jake Bequette.

 

The secondary will be vulnerable more this season, as there will not be the same pass rush as last year.  Safety Eric Bennett finished with three interceptions and three more passes broken up last year, but he will not be able to take up the slack by the departure of Tramain Thomas.

 

Last year, Arkansas had to play Alabama and LSU on the road, and this year both teams come to Fayetteville.  Road games at Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State will all be tough.  Any of those six teams can beat Arkansas, so we cannot pick the Razorbacks to challenge in the West this year.  We figure Arkansas will split those six tough games.  At 9-3, Smith may not be welcomed back for a second season.  He did not even get one full year when he signed here.

 

 

Team

Auburn Tigers

               
Head Coach

Gene Chizik

               
Colors

Navy and Burnt Orange

               
City

Auburn, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

111.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

45

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

2010 seems like ages ago.  Auburn did not fare so well without Cam Newton.  Now, the Tigers have to go on without offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the mastermind of the spread offense that led the Tigers to the national championship in 2010.

 

Can Auburn win in the toughest division in college football with a sophomore quarterback that would be more suited to playing tailback in an I-formation?  Kiehl Frazier was a five-star recruit when he arrived at Auburn last year, but he was picked to run the Malzahn spread.  Auburn is switching to a pro offense with new coordinator Scott Loeffler.  Frazier is an excellent runner, but just a so-so passer.  It will be interesting to see how he performs under center.  Backup Clint Moseley seems to be the better fit for this offense, but the coaches obviously believe Frazier can make the transition.

 

Frazier will benefit from the return of the top four receivers on this team.  Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen is expected to see a lot more passes thrown his way this year after catching 24 and scoring seven times last year.  Emory Blake will be counted on once again to make big gains out of short passes.  Blake led the Tigers with 36 receptions and 613 yards. 

 

In the backfield, Onterio McCalebb should capitalize on the switch to the new offense.  He rushed for 641 yards and five scores, and he finished second on the team with 32 receptions and 344 yards.  Tre Mason will see significant time in reserve.

 

The offensive line took an unexpected blow just on the eve of the big opening game in Atlanta against Clemson.  Center Reese Dismukes was suspended following his arrest for public intoxication.  That leaves guards John Sullen and Chad Slade as the only two holdovers from last year.  True freshman Avery Young now moves into the starting lineup.

 

The War Eagle defense will be better this season after giving up 29 points and more than 400 yards per game last year.  While nine starters return from 2011, two thirds of them have lost their spots on the first team to other players.

 

One starter that will keep his job is end Corey Lemonier, who finished among the SEC leaders with 9 ½ sacks and 13 ½ TFL.  He was close on several other attempts to sack QBs, and he finished with 15 hurries.  Fellow end Nosa Eguae lost his spot to Dee Ford.

 

Daren Bates led the Tigers with 104 tackles, and he will keep his spot at the Sam linebacker.  Jake Holland and Justin Garrett are the two new starters, while Jonathan Evans goes to the bench.

 

Chris Davis is the only defensive back to keep his starting job.  The corner finished fourth with 60 tackles, but he did not intercept a pass last year.

 

Auburn faces a tough season-opener against Clemson in Atlanta, and we are concerned with Frazier’s inexperience in this game.  Clemson will be out to prove that they can hold an opposing bowl team under 70 points, and they could smother the Plainsmen.  Games against Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama look very difficult indeed, and we think Auburn will struggle to make it through the season without losing five and maybe six times.

 

 

 

 

Team

Louisiana State Tigers

               
Head Coach

Les Miles

               
Colors

Royal Purple and Gold

               
City

Baton Rouge, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-0

Overall

13-1

               
PiRate Rating

131.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

120

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

1

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

8-0

Overall

13-0

 

Through the 2011 regular season, LSU looked like one of the top college teams of all time.  The Tigers faced a difficult schedule and came through unscathed, defeating Oregon, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, all of whom were ranked when they played them.  Then, with multiple weeks to prepare for the game, Nick Saban figured out how to stop LSU cold, and the Tigers had to settle for the consolation prize.

 

No competitor wants to go home with a year supply of Rice-a-Roni, and LSU returns this year with a chip on its collective shoulder and a mean streak ready to prove to the public that they are not satisfied with being number two.

 

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger assumes controls of the attack unit.  He saw limited action as the number three man behind Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson.  Stephen Rivers, younger brother of Phillip, will be ready to go if Mettenberger fails to live up to his hype.  We are not totally sold on this unit, but whoever ends up playing the most under center, his principal assignment will be to hand the ball off and fake the handoff and throw off play-action. 

 

The Tigers have enough quality running backs to switch to the old full-house T-formation and ram the ball through the defense like Ohio State did in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford,  and Spencer Ware will all see time in the backfield.  This quartet rushed for 2,338 yards and 30 touchdowns last year (5.3 avg per rush).  Now, add a new wrinkle to this mix.  Coach Les Miles moved big defensive tackle J. C. Copeland, at 280 pounds, into fullback, and he will personally escort the running backs through holes with much less interference.  Miles even plans to give Copeland a rushing attempt every now and again.  LSU could rush for 225-250 yards per game this year.  Woody Hayes would be smiling.

 

Receivers Odell Beckham, Russell Shepard, James Wright, Jarvis Landry, and tight end Chase Clement make up a decent group of pass catchers.  They may not catch as many passes as the receivers at Arkansas, but their yards per catch could be better.  Defenses will have to go to great lengths to stop the running game, so the receivers should exploit the fact that there will be more open space when they run their routes. 

 

LSU’s offensive line is almost as good as Alabama’s.  Four starters return, led by tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst, who could both vie for 1st Team All-SEC accolades.  This unit paved the way for the runners to perform like they did, and they weren’t too shabby as pass blockers, except against Alabama.

 

The Tiger defense was one of the best in the nation last year, but only second best in this division.  LSU gave up just 11 points and 260 yards per game.  The Tigers may be vulnerable at times this year due to the loss of six starters from this side of the ball, including the “Honey Badger,” Tyrann Mathieu.  Mathieu tied for the team lead with 76 tackles.  He made 7 ½ tackles for loss, and he had 11 passes defended.  He also scored two touchdowns on punt returns.  However, he decided that synthetic marijuana was more important, and it cost him.  He is now in rehab with the hopes of coming back in 2013.  We wish him luck.

 

The defensive line is where LSU will dominate in 2012.  Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo teamed up for 17 sacks, 28 ½ tackles for loss, and 12 QB hurries.  They are both juniors, but they could be 1st round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.  Bennie Logan is a pro prospect at tackle.

 

Kevin Minter is the stud of the second line of defense.  The middle linebacker made 61 tackles.  Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow round out this unit, but this trio is not as talented as the line.  Expect true freshman Deion Jones to eventually take over as a starter.

 

Replacing Mathieu will be difficult, but LSU has other talented players on the back line.  Eric Reid tied with Mathieu in tackles with 76, and he picked off two passes.  However, Miles is replacing the Honey Badger with a true freshman, Jalen Mills, and there will be a drop-off in talent here.  Note: while defensive backs finished one-two in tackles, this was not a sign of a weak defense.  LSU rotated defenders up front, so the number of tackles was more spread out.  Also, opposing teams had to try to pass the ball, so there were fewer opportunities for the line and linebackers to make a lot of tackles.

 

LSU’s non-conference schedule will allow the new players to gel and be ready for SEC play.  Easy wins over North Texas, Washington, and Idaho will allow the Tigers to invade Auburn and come away with a win.  A breeze game against Towson State will allow them to prepare for Florida at The Swamp.  If they beat the Gators, they would have two more tough games before “The Game.”  South Carolina at home and Texas A&M on the road will be tough games, but we believe LSU will wear both down.  At 8-0, they would then get a week off to prepare for the big one, while Alabama is forced to play Mississippi State.  We believe LSU can win that one and then knock off the two Mississippi teams and Arkansas to run the table in the regular season once again.  Could we see another LSU-Alabama national title match?  It isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

 

 

Team

Ole Miss Rebels

               
Head Coach

Hugh Freeze

               
Colors

Cardinal and Navy

               
City

Oxford, MS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

100.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

70

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

Last year, Hugh Freeze produced a conference champion in his first year as a FBS head coach.  Of course, that happened at Arkansas State.  He takes over an Ole Miss program that has never been able to duplicate what Johnny Vaught did for a quarter century.  Houston Nutt guided the Rebels to back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins in his first two seasons, but the best he could do in conference play was 5-3.  His last two years saw Ole Miss fall into last place with 1-7 and 0-8 league marks.  Freeze takes over a program that will require a large remodel.  He wants to implement the same no-huddle hurry-up offense with a 50-50 run/pass mix, but his roster was recruited to run the spread running game.

 

Nutt used three quarterbacks last year, and two return this season.  However, one of the two is now a running back.  Big-time junior college recruit Bo Wallace was supposed to come in and take over command in the pocket, but last year’s number three man Barry Brunetti earned the starting spot.  Brunetti completed 19 of 35 passes for 144 yards last year.  He is a decent runner, and that may help keep him from being clobbered too many times trying to set up with a weak blocking wall.

 

Ole Miss was not much of a passing team last year, completing just 13 passes per game, so there were not a lot of receptions to be had.  The receiving contingent welcomes back five of the seven players that caught 10 or more passes last year.  Donte Moncrief led the Rebels with 31 receptions and 454 yards.  Ja-Mes Logan added 20 receptions and 274 yards.  Tight end Jamal Mosley caught a dozen passes for 166 yards.  Expect this trio to more than double the 63 combined passes caught this season. 

 

Freeze will use a platoon at running back with Jeff Scott and former quarterback Randall Mackey seeing an equal amount of reps.  Both are speedy backs without much power.

 

The offensive line is weaker than the line at Kentucky, so that tells you why Ole Miss will struggle to move the ball and score in the SEC.  Two starters are left from last season, and neither will earn all-league recognition.  These linemen were brought in to block for the spread and are not the best pass blockers, so expect a rough transition this year.

 

The Rebels will improve on defense first, but the statistics may not show the improvement, because Ole Miss will be forced to defend for five to 10 more plays per game this year.

 

Middle linebacker Mike Marry is the best player on this side of the ball.  Marry led Ole Miss with 81 tackles last year.  Of course, a good many of those tackles came after opponents gained four or five yards.  Aaron Garbutt and converted defensive back Dehendret Collins join Marry at linebacker.  At 200 and 175 pounds, they are well undersized to stop the run, but quick enough to defend the short zones.

 

Freeze moved a former fullback and tight end over to the defensive side, and E.J. Epperson was impressive enough to become one of the starting defensive ends.  C. J. Johnson and Epperson will give Ole Miss some athleticism on the outside.  True freshman Isaac Gross will start immediately at tackle.  This group will have its moments, but they are going to be generous against the good teams.

 

The Ole Miss secondary gave up just 194 passing yards per game last year, but the weak run defense was mostly responsible for the low amount.  Unfortunately, the one star on the back line will not play until October at the earliest.  Safety Charles Sawyer is out with a torn quadriceps muscle. 

 

It is going to be a long year in Oxford, but Rebel fans will be entertained with a more wide open offense.  Texas A&M comes on to the schedule, while Kentucky goes off.  Out of the league, games with UTEP and Texas will be tough.  We’ll give them the game against the Miners plus wins over Central Arkansas and Tulane.  3-9 will be a minor improvement over 2-10.

 

 

Team

Mississippi State Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Dan Mullen

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

Starkville, MS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

108.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

106

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

42

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

What was the difference between Dan Mullen’s great 2010 season and so-so 2011 season?  Their opponents were improved last year.  In 2010, Mississippi State beat Georgia and Arkansas; last year they lost those two games, because Georgia was much better than the year before and Arkansas was much tougher at home than in Starkville.

 

The schedule becomes easier again this year, as the Bulldogs do not have to play Georgia and South Carolina from the East (and avoid Florida).  They keep Kentucky and get Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas at home.

 

Mullen welcomes back a seasoned veteran at quarterback this year.  Tyler Russell split time at QB with Chris Relf, and he now gets full control.  Russell took over at halftime of last year’s UAB game, when the Blazers went to the locker up 3-0 at the half.  Russell led the Bulldogs on three touchdown drives in the second half and became the starter for most of the remainder of the season. If for some reason Russell does not move forward this year, Dak Prescott will take over.  There isn’t that much separating the two.

 

The Bulldogs have a decent group of receivers this year, as the top three guys return.  Arceto Clark, Chad Bumphis, and Chris Smith teamed for 90 receptions and 1,111 yards last year.  Marcus Green and Brandon Hill will try to replace Malcolm Johnson, who suffered an injury earlier this summer.

 

State loses 1,000-yard rusher Vic Ballard, but they return two quality backs that could combine for more yards than Ballard.  LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin averaged better than five yards per attempt.

 

The offensive line needs some rebuilding, but there is adequate talent here.  Guard Gabe Jackson made the all-SEC second team last year.

 

MSU has three rather talented units on the defensive side of the ball; of course, rather talented is not great in a division that has dominating defenses.  Linebacker is the top unit; top tackler Cameron Lawrence (123 stops).  Lawrence recorded six tackles for loss and defended seven passes.  Deontae Skinner made 69 tackles with nine going for negative yards.

 

In the trenches, tackle Josh Boyd had 4 ½ sacks last year and finished with 51 tackles.  Ends Kaleb Eulls and Denico Autry need to step up quickly to replace the production lost by Fletcher Cox’s graduation.

 

The Maroons have a pair of quality cornerbacks in Johnathan Banks and Corey Broomfield.  The duo teamed up for 130 tackles.  Banks picked off five passes and batted away nine others.  Broomfield may actually split time with Darius Slay.

 

As we discussed before, we believe Mullen will guide this team to a better record than last year, if only because the schedule is much more favorable.  This is a team that could sneak into the Cotton Bowl.

 

 

Team

Texas A&M Aggies

               
Head Coach

Kevin Sumlin

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

Nashville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

113.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

46

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-5

 

The Aggies gave up a lot when they lost their rivalry with Texas.  However, annual games against LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas will more than make up for that loss.  The gigantic check the school receives will place this move over the top in the positive column.

 

Kevin Sumlin takes over at head coach after leading Houston to a spectacular season last year.  On the plus side, SEC fans will love watching his teams play their wide open style of football.  On the minus side, Case Keenum does not get to come too.

 

Sumlin is going with a freshman as his new quarterback.  Johnny Manziel redshirted last year, while Ryan Tannehill threw for almost 300 yards per game.  Behind Manziel on the depth chart are two untested sophomores.

 

SEC fans will quickly get to know Ryan Swope.  The senior wide receiver led the Aggies with 89 receptions, 1,207 yards, and 11 touchdowns.  Uzoma Nwachukwu added 50 catches. 

 

A&M loses their 1,000-yard rusher, Cyrus Gray, but the Aggies return backup Christine Michael, who rushed for 899 yards with a higher average per carry than Gray.  Michael should top 1,000 this year.

 

Four starters return to a blocking wall that opened holes for the offense to run for more than five yards per carry and gave up just nine sacks all year.  The Aggies are exceptionally strong at tackle with Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel returning.

 

Texas A&M might have been the Big 12 Champions last year if their defense had been better on just one or two plays in their six losses.  They blew big leads to Oklahoma State (20-3), Arkansas (35-17), Missouri (28-17), and Texas (13-0), and they lost all five games!  They could have been 8-1/11-1 and won the league.

 

The Aggie defense gave up 28 points and almost 380 yards per game, and these five blown leads cost Mike Sherman his job.  This year, the Aggies will be no better defensively, but their numbers might improve in a more conservative league.  Instead of blowing leads and losing 42-38 to quality teams, they will lose 27-23.

 

The Aggies are strongest at linebacker, where all three 2011 starters return.  Jonathan Stewart led A&M with 98 tackles.  Steven Jenkins contributed 61 stops, and Sean Porter finished with 79.  Porter was the big star, leading the Big 12 with 9 ½ sacks and adding another 7 ½ stops for loss.

 

End Damontre Moore finished just behind Porter with 8 ½ sacks, and he added nine more stops for loss.  Spencer Nealy proved to be a big play defender with eight TFL.  Gavin Stansbury and Kirby Ennis become the two new starters in the line.

 

This will be a double transition season for the Aggies—a new coach and a new league.  While there will be growing pains, we feel like there is enough talent on board to sneak through with a winning record and bowl bid. 

 

Unfortunately for the Aggies, Hurricane Isaac has forced the postponement of their opening game.  They will now play Louisiana Tech on October 13, meaning their home opener with Florida will be their first game, but Florida’s second.  This puts them at a huge disadvantage, because college football teams improve the most between their first and second game.

 

Coming Wednesday, August 29: We reveal the PiRate Ratings for all 124 FBS teams and the lines for week one.  Then, on Thursday, we will take our “just for fun” look at beating the spread.

August 29, 2011

2011 Southeastern Conference Preview

2011 Southeastern Conference Preview

 

This Southeastern Conference started the new age of expansion in 1991, when Arkansas and South Carolina were admitted.  The conference split into two divisions, and the first conference championship game was played in 1992 between Alabama and Florida.

 

Other conferences soon decided to follow suit.  The Western Athletic Conference actually expanded to 16 teams for a couple years.  The Southwest Conference and Big Eight Conference merged, kicking out SMU, Rice, Houston, and TCU to become the Big 12—had they gone to 16 teams, they might still be in good shape.

 

The Atlantic Coast Conference added three teams to get to 12, and the Mid-American Conference expanded to 12 and then 13.

 

Last year, the Pac-10 attempted to expand to 16, and settled on 12 for the time being, while the Big Ten added Nebraska to get to 12.

 

Now, it appears the SEC will take the initiative and become the first super league of 16.  The worst kept secret in football is the story of Texas A&M and their move to this conference, as early as next season.  The conference will not stand pat at 13 teams.  It works for the MAC in football, but Temple is not a MAC member in basketball.

 

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has been quoted (several variations of his quote have been published) saying that he could expand to 16 teams in 15 minutes if he wanted.  We think he is on the verge of wanting.  With Texas A&M, we believe three more teams will be invited to join the league, if not for 2012, then for soon after.  Missouri and Virginia Tech are the names most often mentioned.  Those schools bring two new, heavily populated markets.

 

Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville have been mentioned, but they bring no new markets, and any expansion must generate new markets and new television revenue.

 

Who might team number 16 be?  What program could make this league be a true super league?  How about a team from Northern Indiana that is an independent?  Could Notre Dame be that 16th team—the one that bleeds ratings from the Midwest?  Or, what about Oklahoma?  Is there a way to pry the Sooners away from the Cowboys?  Oklahoma City and Tulsa are big markets.  It will be interesting.

 

2011 should be an interesting year in the nation’s toughest conference.  The SEC is shooting for six consecutive national titles, and at least two teams are capable of pulling off the feat. 

 

The West’s top four teams could all be stronger than any team in the East.  Two new coaches come to schools in the East Division.  Will Muschamp was the head coach-in-waiting at Texas, but he realized Mack Brown wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.  He became the surprise replacement at Florida.  At, Vanderbilt, for about 12 hours, it was thought that Gus Malzahn had left Auburn for the Commodores; he turned the job down when Auburn gave him a great deal.  James Franklin was hired to take over the moribund Commodore program.  He brings a Tommy Lasorda-like attitude to Nashville. 

 

EAST DIVISION

 

South Carolina

OFFENSE

Quarterback

With Steve Spurrier as your head coach, you never know for sure from one play to the next who your number one quarterback will be.  For a long time this summer, it appeared that Connor Shaw could be the opening game starter, as Stephen Garcia was under multiple suspensions. 

 

Miraculously (tongue firmly in cheek), Garcia’s suspensions were lifted just in time for him to take over as the starting quarterback in fall practice.  He comes off a season in which he led the Gamecocks to the East Division title.

 

Garcia passed for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns last year.  His 14 interceptions caused Spurrier to toss a few visors, and Shaw saw action in nine games when Spurrier had seen enough.  Shaw passed for 223 yards at a 70% clip, but his interception was over 6%.

 

Receivers

The best receiver in the conference and one of the top receivers in college football returns for his junior season.  Alshon Jeffrey led the league with 88 receptions and 1,517 yards, scoring nine times.  D. L. Moore did not see many balls thrown his way, and he caught just 17 passes for 164 yards.  Ace Sanders caught 25 passes for 316 yards, and we believe he will become more of a big play receiver this year.

 

Justice Cunningham is not going to remind anybody of Jared Cook, but the tight end will open holes for the other star of this team.

 

Keep an eye of D. D. Smith.  He caught just one pass as a freshman last year, but he has the potential to be a prime time player.

 

Running Backs

Carolina doesn’t just have the best receiver in the league; they have the best running back in the league as well.  Marcus Lattimore is half bruising power runner and half speedster.  As a true freshman, he rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns.  His 4.8 yard per carry average was a little lower than others, but unlike a lot of the other big yard backs, he served as the short yardage option and was called on several times to gain one or two yards at the goal line or to dive for a first down on 3rd and two.

 

Kenny Miles led the Gamecocks in rushing two years ago; he is best as an outside stretch runner.

 

Offensive Line

This unit has been the one glitch keeping the offense from performing like Spurrier’s Florida offenses.  In each of the last four seasons, the offensive lines have surrendered 30 or more sacks.

 

Center T. J. Johnson was a 2nd Team All-SEC selection last year.  None of the other four starters have all-conference potential.  Terrence Campbell and A. J. Cann will be the new starting guards, while returning starters Kyle Nunn and Rokevious Watkins are the tackles.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Defensive line coach Brad Lawing has a big problem this year, and the other 11 defensive line coaches in the league hate him for it.  His problem:  defenses cannot play 8 defensive linemen.  You see, he has one of the deepest and most talented defensive lines in the country if not the best.

 

Most teams are fortunate to go two-deep with little drop in talent; USC can go more than three-deep and still have a great unit on the field.  Lawler faces a difficult time trying to determine who will play and who will sit.

 

At tackle, Travian Robertson will start for sure.  He made 10 tackles for loss last year among his 42 tackles overall.  Aldrick Fordham could start beside Robertson.  Fordham is not as physically strong as other options, but he has incredible football sense, and he is quick off the ball, almost always making contact with the offensive linemen before they can carry out their assignment.  Byron Jerideau is 40 pounds bigger than Fordham, and he will be used in short yardage situations.  J. T. Surratt is sure to see action as well.

 

Now to defensive end.  The Gamecocks were already in great shape here with 1st Team All-SEC star Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram.  Taylor recorded 7 ½ sacks, 11 hurries, and 13 tackles for loss in 2010.  He also proved to be a great zone pass defender when Carolina zone blitzed, as he intercepted one pass and knocked away eight others.  Ingram led the team and finished third in the conference with nine sacks.

 

That wasn’t enough.  USC signed the top freshman defensive line recruit and another that was one of the top 20.  It will be tough to keep Jadeveon Clowney off the field.  He is the defensive equivalent of Lattimore last season.  Kelcy Quarles can play both tackle and end, and he should see a lot of time as well.  With this great plethora of talent, USC should equal or surpass last year’s 41 sack total and maybe hold teams under 100 yards rushing.

 

Linebackers

Who remembers any of the wide receivers that played for Arkansas when they had Darren McFadden, Julio Jones, and Peyton Hillis in the backfield?  One was a star in his own right (Marcus Monk).  Well, this starting trio knows the feeling.  They are not as talented as the unit in front of them, but they are really good in their own right.

 

Shaq Wilson returns to his middle linebacker spot after missing all of last year with an injury.  He was on the verge of becoming an all-conference player before missing 2010.  Rodney Paulk came back from almost two years off due to ACL injuries and had a decent year with 32 tackles and four for losses.  The sixth year senior figures to return to his 2007 level.  Antonio Allen and DeVonte Holloman will share the weak side (spur) spot.  Allen finished second on the team with 70 tackles, with 10 ½ going for losses.  Holloman started as safety last year and made 69 tackles. 

 

Secondary

This is the only suspect unit on defense.  All four starters return, but Holloman moved to linebacker.  Akeem Auguste has been sidelined with an injury to his left arch, and it is unsure when he will be able to return.

 

Stephon Gilmore returns at cornerback after leading the team with 79 tackles and three interceptions.  C. C. Whitlock will replace Auguste.  He recorded five passes defended last year.  D. J. Swearinger returns to the strong safety position after recording six passes defended, while Jimmy Legree will start at the vacant free safety spot.  As a whole, this group is somewhat below average for an SEC secondary, and the Gamecocks will give up close to 250 yards per game through the air.

 

OTHER

With the Gamecocks winning the Eastern Division title last year, it marked eight Eastern division titles for Spurrier. 

 

South Carolina has not had a losing season since 2003 and has been bowl eligible for seven consecutive seasons.  They did not go to a bowl in 2007 after the famous brawl with Clemson as season’s end.

 

SUMMARY

This team may be the fifth best team in the SEC, but we believe they are the best in the SEC East.  USC should go 4-0 out of the conference.  Their non-league opponents are East Carolina (played at Charlotte), Navy, The Citadel, and Clemson.  They get Auburn, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Florida at home and should win all four.  They face Tennessee on the road and should win that one.  We believe they must win one of the other three road games to win the East again (they won it at 5-3 last year).  They will have to beat Georgia, Mississippi State, or Arkansas, the latter two of which they will be underdogs.  It comes down to the Georgia game.  If USC wins in week two, then they should repeat as division champs.  If Georgia wins, then the Gamecocks could fall into a second place tie or even third place.

 

Florida

OFFENSE

Quarterback

John Brantley is nursing a sore back, but he should be okay to start the season.  Brantley was not well-equipped for the spread offense, and he struggled with it for most of the season last year.  Playing in a pro offense this year, he should easily top last year’s numbers of 2,061 passing yards and a TD/Int ratio of 9/10.  Coach Will Muschamp made a smart move by hiring Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator.  Brantley could pass for 3,000+ yards and challenge for the SEC East Lead.

 

Receivers

Florida saw its passing yardage drop by over 50 per game after Tim Tebow graduated.  Thus, the receivers took a hit in their totals.  Deonte Thompson returns after leading the Gators with just 38 receptions and 570 yards.  Frankie Hammond caught 22 passes for just 276 yards.  Thompson and Hammond combined for just three touchdown receptions.

 

Quinton Dunbar could be the missing link in the chain.  He has world-class sprinter’s speed, and he will put a strain on opposing defensive backs.

 

Tight end/H-back Jordan Reed was used more as a runner than as a receiver last year, but with Weis calling the plays, expect him to become more active as a passing target.

 

Running Backs

Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are the speedsters, while Trey Burton is the power back.  All three will see a lot of time in the backfield.  Demps rushed for a team-leading 551 yards, averaging six yards per carry.  Rainey, a back/receiver slash-type player, rushed for 366 yards at more than seven per attempt and caught 25 passes.  Burton rushed for 349 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.  While not the best running attack in the league, the Gators will get the job done on the ground against most defenses.

 

Offensive Line

UF has a major rebuilding job here, and if the four new starters cannot deliver the goods, then Brantley and the backs will not be able to reach the lofty heights they are capable of reaching.

 

The lone returning starter is tackle Xavier Nixon, and he is not going to earn a 1st or 2nd Team All-SEC award.  Redshirt freshman Chaz Green starts at the opposite tackle spot.  Sophomores Ian Silberman and Jon Halapio will be the new full-time starting guards, although they combined for 11 starts last year. Sophomore Jonotthan Harrison will start at center.  He started the Outback Bowl game against Penn State.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Tackle Dominique Easley almost left Gainesville last year as a true freshman.  He made just four tackles.  He stayed, and he may be the best player on the line and the reason the Gators hold opponents under 120 rushing yards per game this year.

 

Sharif Floyd will man the nose tackle position.  He made 23 tackles, but eight of those were behind the line of scrimmage.

 

Ronald Powell and William Green will be the new starters at the end positions.  They are a little better against the run than the pass, but the Gators only sacked enemy QBs 21 times last year.  This group can surpass that amount, especially with more blitzing from the unit behind them.

 

Linebackers

This has the potential to be the best unit in the SEC East.  Jonathan Bostic returns to his middle linebacker spot after finishing with 57 tackles and six passes defended.  Jelani Jenkins has cornerback speed on a linebacker frame.  He made 76 tackles last year.  Gerald Christian was a tight end before being sent to this side of the ball.  He has exceptional lateral quickness and will be a plus on this side of the ball. 

 

Secondary

There are no outstanding defensive backfields in the SEC East, so when we call this an average secondary for this league, it means that the quartet at UF is on par with the other contenders in the division.

 

Only one full-time starter returns to this unit—cornerback Jeremy Brown.  He has been nursing a sore knee the last few days but he should be okay for the opening game.  Brown successfully defended eight passes with three interceptions.  Cody Riggs gets the nod at the other corner after making 18 tackles and starting three games last year.  The two safeties have limited experience.  Matt Elam and Josh Evans registered a combined 36 tackles but just one interception.  Tim Clark will be the nickel back; he saw action in two games last year.

 

OTHER

Muschamp has loads of SEC experience.  He was the defensive coordinator at Auburn for two years, and the Tigers were stingy both years, giving up less than 300 total yards per game.  He was the DC at LSU for three years, and those three teams gave up 18, 11, and 17 points per game (the 2003 team won the national title and held 12 of 14 teams to 14 points or less).

 

Weis’s Notre Dame teams averaged 28 points per game.  Florida’s offenses have topped that mark every year since 2002 and only once since 1992.

 

SUMMARY

We have a split of opinion here at PiRate central.  Some of us believe the Gators will surprise and take back the East Division crown they have won so many times, while some of us believe they will have a hard time matching last year’s 8-5 record.

 

The non-conference slate includes home games with Florida Atlantic, UAB, Furman, and Florida State.  The Gators are looking at 3-1 in these games. 

 

UF gets Tennessee, Alabama, and Vanderbilt at home, with Georgia as usual at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.  They should go 2-2 in these games, but they could go 3-1.

 

The Gators face Kentucky, LSU, Auburn, and South Carolina on the road, and they should win two of those games, but could win three.

 

If our math is correct, it adds up to 7-5 at the least and 9-3 at the best.  The 9-3 record would more than likely earn the Gators a share or an outright division title.

 

Georgia

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Aaron Murray has the potential to be a major star in another year or two.  Until then, Georgia fans will have to settle for an inconsistent star who looks like Tom Brady against New Mexico State, Coastal Carolina, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, but looks merely above-average against Boise State, South Carolina, and Mississippi State.

 

As a freshman, Murray passed for 3,049 yards and 24 touchdowns, completing 61% of his passes.  He averaged an eye-popping 8.9 yards per attempt, and he topped 10 yards per attempt in back-to-back games with Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

 

Receivers

The Bulldogs lost their top two receivers from last year.  A. J. Green was a 1st Round NFL Draft choice, while Kris Durham went three rounds later.  They have some exceptional talent returning, but there will be a drop in the talent level here.

 

This year’s prime target will be Tavarres King, who caught 27 passes last year.  He averaged almost 19 yards per catch, so he will require combo coverage.  Marlon Brown has emerged as a starter for this season.  He saw limited action last year and caught 11 passes.

 

Tight end Orson Charles could move onto the Mackey watch list this year.  He averaged more than 16 yards per reception with his 26 catches.

 

Running Backs

Georgia is thin here due to the loss of several players plus injuries to others.  This unit will reach deep down the depth chart to come up with a player for the opener against Boise State.

 

Washaun Ealey and Caleb King figured to be the two primary ball carriers this year, but Ealey left the team and King failed to stay academically eligible.  Carlton Thomas is suspended for the opener and maybe more than that.  Richard Samuel, a former linebacker, moved back to offense and was elevated to first team; he promptly suffered a thigh injury that places his status for the beginning of the season in jeopardy.  True freshman Isaiah Crowell appeared to be up to the challenge of starting, and then he suffered a groin injury and became a non-contact participant in practice.  That leaves redshirt freshman Ken Malcome as the starter of the week. 

 

Fullback Bruce Figgins was a tight end, and he has a good pair of hands to catch passes out of the backfield.    

 

Offensive Line

Only two starters return to this unit, and even though both were named to an all-conference team, this unit is only average.  Ben Jones starts at center after earning 2nd team all-conference honors.  Tackle Cordy Glenn made the 3rd team.  Former starter Justin Anderson will start at the opposite tackle after switching back and forth from the defense.  The new guards will be sophomores Chris Burnette and Kenarious Gates.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Georgia’s defense squashed the weaker teams on their schedule (Louisiana, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Idaho State, and Central Florida), giving up just 48.8 rushing yards per game in those contests, while the other eight opponents averaged 208.8 rushing yards per game.

 

The Bulldogs’ 3-4 defense return two starters on this side of the ball.  Ends Abry Jones and DeAngelo Tyson, last year’s nose tackle, combined for 70 tackles and 10 ½ tackles for loss.  Unfortunately, they only made 1 ½ sacks.  Nose tackle Kwame Geathers has the size (6-06/344) to plug the A-gaps on both sides of the ball.

 

Linebackers

The Bulldogs suffered heavy losses at this position.  Justin Houston made over 40% of the team’s sacks, finishing second in the league in tackles for loss.  Akeem Dent was the ‘Dogs leading tackler and number two in the league.

 

Christian Robinson made 46 tackles with six for loss.  He is the most experienced returnee.  Alex Ogletree will start opposite Robinson on the inside.  He made 34 tackles while playing as a backup safety last year.

 

Cornelius Washington and Jarvis Jones man the outside spots.  Washington was a former defensive lineman and will be an excellent run stopper.  Jones will be a better pass defender.

 

Secondary

Georgia has four experienced starters returning to this unit, and their secondary is the best in this division.  Cornerbacks Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith both had six passes defended.  Safety Sanders Commings intercepted three passes last year.  Bacarri Rambo finished second last year with 82 tackles and intercepted three passes, but his starting strong safety job is not secure.  Shawn Williams has been getting the first team reps in practice.

 

OTHER

Coach Mark Richt is the one SEC coach on a hot seat.  His career record is 96-34 or about 74% winning percentage.  Legendary coach Vince Dooley won 72% of his games as Georgia’s coach.  Legendary coach Wally Butts won 62% of his games at Georgia.

 

SUMMARY

The non-conference schedule features two pushovers, a preseason top five team, and the Bulldogs’ arch-rival.  Georgia’s opening game with Boise State in Atlanta will show the Bulldogs if they are going to return to glory, be a good but not great team, or remain an average to below average team.  Coastal Carolina and New Mexico State should be 40 to 50-point wins.  The season finale at Georgia Tech is always tough, but the red and black have dominated the series in recent years.

 

UGA hosts South Carolina on September 10, and the SEC East race could be decided that day.  If the Bulldogs lose and start 0-2, the fanatics will be calling for his head.

 

Georgia also hosts Mississippi State, Auburn, and Kentucky, while facing Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt on the road and Florida in Jacksonville.  It is a tough conference schedule that could find the Bulldogs finishing anywhere from 3-5 to 6-2.  We believe they will go 5-3 or maybe 4-4, and they will be bowl eligible again.  Whether or not that will save Richt’s job, we do not know.  However, we advise Georgia fans to look at New Mexico to see what can happen when you fire a coach with a good record.

 

Tennessee

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Tyler Bray started the final five games last year and passed for 1,849 yards with 18 touchdowns for the season.  He completed just under 56% of his passes, but he tended to throw deep a lot more than a normal quarterback.  He averaged 8.3 yards per attempt.  He could be called “the mad bomber,” as he may have the strongest arm in the league.

 

Matt Simms started the first eight games and completed 58% of his passes for 1,460 yards with a TD/Int ratio of 8/5. 

 

Receivers

Tennessee has a long history of excellent receivers with numerous Volunteers going on to play for pay (Carl Pickens, Peerless Price, Joey Kent, Marcus Nash, Dante Stallworth, and many others).  The next person in that line might be Justin Hunter.   Hunter caught only 16 passes last year; he scored touchdowns on seven of those 16 passes, averaging 26 yards per catch!

 

Da’Rick Rogers was a highly sought after high school recruit, and he will get a chance to showcase his skills this year after catching 11 passes.  He averaged more than 15 yards per reception.

 

Zach Rogers will be the third wide receiver once he heels from an arm injury.  Until then, freshmen DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas could see action early.  Mychal Rivera should surpass his totals of last year (11 receptions/112 yards). 

 

Look for the Volunteers to top 250 passing yards again this season.

 

Running Backs

Coach Derek Dooley welcomes the return of his top two backs from 2010, but backup Rajion Neal will miss the start of the season with a knee injury.  Tauren Poole rushed for 1,034 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging more than five yards per carry.  With the big play receivers stretching the field, Poole should find a lot of holes to run through this year.

 

Channing Fugate will see more action at fullback this year.  He could even see a few carries.  Freshman Marlin Lane will see some action behind Poole.

 

Offensive Line

The Vols have a decent but not great offensive line, led by center James Stone.  He was a Freshman All-American last year.  Guards Zach Fulton and Alex Bullard are big and mobile, but neither is a seasoned veteran.  Bullard played at Notre Dame as a freshman.  Dallas Thomas and Ja’Wuan James return at tackle.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is talent in this unit, but there is not enough depth for the SEC.  Daniel Hood and Malik Jackson are set at tackle.  Hood played on the other side of the ball last year.  Jackson, a former Southern Cal lineman, starred in his first year in the SEC, picking up 48 tackles with five sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and five passes defended.  He saw about one third of his time at end.

 

Ben Martin and Jacques Smith will be the new starting ends.  Martin missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, and if he can return to his 2009 form, he has a chance to make the all-conference team and become an NFL Draft choice.

 

Linebackers

A school that once produced as many great linebackers as Penn State finds this unit the biggest weakness on the team this year.  The only returning starter to this unit, Herman Lathers, fractured his ankle over the summer, and he will miss a good part of the season. 

 

The three new starters will be Austin Johnson in the middle and true freshmen Curt Maggitt and A. J. Johnson on the outside.  This is the weakest linebacker trio in the SEC East. 

 

Secondary

This secondary would have been the best in the division, but it just lost its best player.  Janzen Jackson was booted from the team with less than two weeks to go until the season opener.

 

Brent Brewer will replace Jackson at safety.  He saw considerable action in 2010 as a freshman reserve, making 30 tackles and knocking the ball loose from a receiver three times.  However, he is not Janzen Jackson.  Prentiss Waggner successfully defended nine passes and made 57 tackles.

 

Eric Gordon and Marsalis Teague are decent cornerbacks, but neither will make an all-conference team.  The duo teamed for 11 passes defended but only two interceptions.  True Freshman Justin Coleman is coming on strong in August practices, and there is a chance he could replace Gordon in the starting lineup.

 

OTHER

Tennessee has finished with losing records two of the last three seasons.  That had not happened since 1962 and 1964.  How long has it been since they endured three losing seasons in four years?  Try 1909-1910-1911.

 

This is a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores.  In another year or so, the Volunteers could be competing for a division championship.

 

SUMMARY

The Vols have a good chance of going 4-0 outside the conference.  Their four non-league games are against Montana, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Middle Tennessee.    Since they have beaten Kentucky 30 straight times and Vanderbilt 41 times out of the last 45 (with one tie).  So, another bowl eligible season is virtually assured.  They host Georgia, LSU, and South Carolina, and it will be tough to win any of these games.  However, the Gamecocks never seem to play well at Neyland Stadium, so don’t rule out a possible upset here.  Florida, Alabama, and Arkansas are road contests, and we expect three losses here.

 

Kentucky

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Morgan Newton came to Lexington with a lot of hype, and the fans clamored for him to play more the last two seasons.  He could not beat out Mike Hartline last year, and he completed just 25 passes for 265 yards with no touchdowns; 21 of those completions came in a losing effort in the BVAA Compass Bowl against Pitt.  Now, the job is his.  Newton’s backup will be one of two true freshmen.  This unit is not up to the standards of an SEC bowl team—yet.

 

Receivers

Randall Cobb cannot be replaced.  The do-it-all star topped 1,000 yards receiving and caught 84 passes.  He averaged almost eight yards per carry running the ball and threw three touchdown passes in just 10 attempts.  Chris Matthews is gone as well, and he finished second on the squad with 61 receptions and 925 yards.

 

La’Rod King is the leading returnee after catching 36 passes with five touchdowns.  Matt Roark nabbed just a dozen balls for 170 yards.  Tight end Jordan Aumiller caught 18 passes. 

 

The Wildcats recruited exceptionally well at this position, but it will not bare fruit this season.  Daryl Collins was working his way into becoming a key contributor, but he dislocated a kneecap and is lost for the season. 

 

Aaron Boyd and E. J. Fields will have to step up for this unit to come close to matching last season’s efforts.  We believe UK will see a dramatic drop in pass yardage this year, maybe by more than 50 yards per game.

 

Running Backs

The Wildcats lose their top rusher as well.  Derrick Locke was not his usual self last year in an injury-filled season, but he rushed for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Backup Donald Russell transferred.

 

Projected starter Raymond Sanders underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee and may not be 100% at the start of the season.  CoShik Williams is the only other back on the roster with playing experience.  Sophomore Jonathan George saw very limited action, while true freshman Josh Clemons will get some carries as well.  This unit will take a considerable drop back as well.

 

Offensive Line

This is the only unit with a lot of returning experience, and it may be a little less experienced at the start of the season.  Guard Stuart Hines, with two years’ starting experience, may miss the opening game or two due to a sprained knee.  Sophomore Kevin Mitchell played in nine games as a reserve last year and will replace Hines.  Larry Warford returns to the other side after earning a spot on the 2nd team all-conference squad.

 

Matt Smith has a year and a half of starting experience at center, while tackle Chandler Burden begins his second season as a starter on the offensive line after beginning his career on the other side of the ball.  Billy Joe Murphy will start at the other tackle spot.

 

This unit will give the newcomers at the skill positions a chance to develop and emerge as effective gainers.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Coach Joker Phillips is all smiles on this side of the line, as Kentucky will be much improved this season.  Every position has an experienced player with multiple starts in his past.

 

End Collins Ukwu doesn’t begin the season on anybody’s all-conference watch list, but the media may have to reevaluate their selections by November.  Ukwu teams with Taylor Wyndham, and we expect this duo to team for 10 sacks or more this year.  The ‘Cats got to enemy quarterbacks just 21 times last year, and co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter will send more rushers this year with an experienced secondary able to cover when the quick passes.

 

Donte Rumph and Luke McDermott will start at tackle after seeing part-time starting duties last year.  UK gave up 177 rushing yards per game last year, including more than 300 to Cam Newton and Auburn.  We expect that number to drop under 150 for two reasons:  first, the line is going to be better, and second Cam Newton and Auburn are no longer on the schedule.

 

Linebackers

This should be the best unit on the defense.  Former end Ridge Wilson has been moved here, and he will be able to better take advantage of his quickness.  Wilson made just 30 tackles at end, but he should top 75 at linebacker.  Danny Trevathan and Ronnie Sneed finished first and third in tackles with 144 and 61 respectively.  Trevathan was a member of the 1st Team All-SEC squad after he registered 16 tackles for losses.

 

Secondary

This unit returns four starters from last year, but one of them will be demoted to the 5th back.  The reason Mychal Bailey moves from safety to nickel is the moving of linebacker Winston Guy to the secondary.  He will delve out some punishment to any receivers coming into his zone.  Guy made 106 tackles last year with three interceptions and five passes defended.

 

Joining Guy in the secondary are cornerbacks Randall Burden and Anthony Mosely and safety Martavius Neloms.  Burden and Mosely teamed for 13 passed defended. 

 

This unit will be better, but how much better will determine how much Kentucky will move forward in total defense.

 

OTHER

Kentucky finished 6-6 in the regular season, but they could have been 10-2 if they had been able to do a lot of the little things that win games.  The Wildcats outgained Ole Miss by more than 100 yards, Georgia by more than 130 yards, and Mississippi State by 22 yards and lost all three games.  They had numerous opportunities to stop Auburn on a final touchdown drive, and each time the ball literally did not bounce their way.  A fumble that was headed to multiple Kentucky players took a weird roll and went out of bounds.  Kentucky lost by three.  Kentucky did upset division champ South Carolina.  If the ‘Cats had won the other four games, they would have been East Division champs.

 

SUMMARY

In the recent five year string of bowl games, Kentucky mostly relied on outscoring opponents to win six or seven regular season games.  This year, their defense will have to dominate six or seven opponents in order to make it six years in a row.

 

On the surface, it looks like UK can win at least three of their four out-of-conference games with a chance to go 4-0 for the fifth year in a row.  However, three of the four teams can be considered trap games.  The Wildcats open with in-state rival Western Kentucky in a game that will be played at LP Field in Nashville and count as a home game for WKU.  After facing Central Michigan at Commonwealth Stadium, the get a visit from rival Louisville.  Their homecoming game in October comes against Jacksonville State, the team that defeated Ole Miss last year.

 

In conference play, UK hosts Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Tennessee.  They could win all four, and they could lose all four.  They go on the road to face LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Georgia.  Only the Vanderbilt game is winnable.  They must defeat at least two of their SEC opponents at Commonwealth Stadium to have any chance of earning a winning season.  If the offense bogs down and scores less than 24 points per game, then they could come up a game short of bowl eligibility.

 

Vanderbilt

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Since Jay Cutler left in 2005, the Commodores have been suffering at this position.  They are the only FBS team that has completed less than 50% of their passes for three consecutive years.  Larry Smith returns for his senior season, but he averaged barely more than five yards per pass attempt last year and threw just six touchdown passes.

 

Backing Smith up are two untested players.  Jordan Rodgers, brother of Packer great Aaron, has dealt with shoulder and back injuries and has not gotten into a groove.  True freshman Josh Grady may eventually inherit the job this season if Smith cannot get the offense going.  Of course, he has had to run for his life the last two years as a lack of quality receivers and poor pass protection has made his job impossible.  Vandy quarterbacks were dropped 36 times last year.

 

This is the weakest QB unit in the SEC.  After averaging just 159 yards through the air (less than 140 when sack yardage is figured), the passing game has nowhere to go but up, but don’t expect it to approach 200 yards per game.  Actually, the 159 passing yards represented a three-year high, and the trend is pointing upward—just not upward enough to make it an asset.

 

Receivers

It is hard to tell if this unit has underperformed with a lack of quality players or if poor quarterback play has kept the players from becoming stars.  It is a little bit of both.  The Commodores were the only SEC team without a 500-yard receiver.

 

Tight end Branden Barden led the team in receptions last year, many times catching passes as a safety valve.  He finished with 34 receptions for 425 yards.  Wideouts John Cole, Jonathan Krause, and Udom Umoh teamed for 61 receptions and 754 yards (only three touchdowns).  Sophomore Jordan Matthews will probably supplant one of those three, probably Umoh.  He cracked the starting lineup at the end of last season.  He caught 15 passes as a freshman last year, and at 6-03, he provides a big target.  Former back Wesley Tate moves to this unit this year.  His brother Golden was an All-American receiver at Notre Dame.  Redshirt freshman Chris Boyd will get playing time this year.

 

There is enough talent here to improve the yardage gained if the quarterbacks can get the ball to them.  New Coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan are West Coast Offense gurus, and we see the passing game picking up a little steam this year.  We look for an increase from 159 to more than 175 yards per game.

 

Running Backs

The Commodores have a lot of depth here, but they averaged just 139 rushing yards last year (but more than 150 with sacks factored out).  For a few days last year when the coaching search was ongoing, it was reported that either Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo or offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper was about to be hired and institute the tripl