The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 22, 2021

Southeastern Conference Preview

On July 21, 2021, the future of college football was forever changed.  In a year where the Name, Image, and Likeness ruling in favor of the players allowed college athletes to enter the highest tax bracket and changed the definition of, or ended, amateurism; in a year, where every player was allowed to return to his team with the same amount of remaining eligibility as last year; in a year where the Transfer Portal created college football free agency; and in a year where the NCAA basically threw up its hands and told the conferences that they were free to determine the future of football, what happened on July 21 was the equivalent of the firing on Fort Sumter.

On that date, news leaked out from a Houston sports reporter that Oklahoma and Texas were going to leave the Big 12 Conference and join the Southeastern Conference.  

Immediately, the remaining Big 12 teams had to declare states of emergency.  The two teams leaving the conference accounted for most of the revenue generation in the league.  A league of eight teams with Oklahoma State and Iowa State as the two top programs would not command the media contract, and the league teams would be choked out in revenue sharing.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey then stated that increasing the number of teams in the Playoffs from four to 12 did not need to be put on a fast-track.  Other media officials began to speculate that Sankey might not be finished with realignment at 16.  Rumors surfaced that Florida State, Clemson, Michigan, and Ohio State might be next.  Once thought of as a totally ridiculous type of rumor, it no longer seemed far-fetched to believe it could occur.

Sankey started the Civil Football War, and the teams not included in the exclusive SEC Country Club chose to combine forces.  The ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 commissioners realized that their futures were in serious doubt, and something needed to be done to counter the moves of the SEC.  And, voila, it appears that the three leagues are on the cusp of forming an alliance, where the three leagues will play all of their non-conference games against each other.  The other idea is that they will agree not to play any SEC teams.  The War is on.

The problem with this potential war is this:  if you added Oklahoma to the SEC this year, four of the top six teams would be SEC teams.  Having the other leagues not play any of these teams might mean that the SEC could hold a four-team tournament of its own and have a much better playoff than if the rest of the nation was involved.

We’ll have to wait at least a year until the Sooners and Longhorns make the move, but suffice it to say–the SEC begins the season for the 15th consecutive season as the strongest conference in college football.  Penn State football coach James Franklin summed it up best when he was the head coach at Vanderbilt a decade ago:  “The three strongest conferences in football are the NFC, the AFC, and the SEC.”

After the news broke in Hoover, AL, about the potential realignment, the media eventually voted in their preseason poll.  Mind you, that this league allows local fan sites from the schools to vote in these polls, and you will see some ridiculous outliers in the votes.  I have been a poll voter in the past, but since becoming a voting member of the National Football Foundation, I only vote on NFF issues.


SEC Media Preseason Poll
Eastern Division1st PlOverall
Georgia124923
Florida7784
Kentucky2624
Missouri555
Tennessee362
South Carolina1355
Vanderbilt149

Western Division1st PlOverall
Alabama130932
Texas A&M1760
LSU1633
Ole Miss1529
Auburn440
Arkansas1241
Mississippi St.217

Championship Game Winner
Alabama84
Georgia45
Ole Miss1
Texas A&M1
Florida1
Kentucky1
South Carolina1

The PiRate Ratings show little difference from the media poll.


Southeastern Conference
East Division
TeamPiRateMeanBiasAverage
Georgia124.8124.5126.3125.2
Florida117.0119.4118.1118.2
Kentucky106.7108.8106.8107.4
Missouri106.2106.9106.2106.4
Tennessee104.1103.1104.6104.0
South Carolina101.1101.0100.4100.8
Vanderbilt90.989.989.690.1

West Division
TeamPiRateMeanBiasAverage
Alabama130.4128.8131.3130.2
Texas A&M117.4118.3118.6118.1
Auburn116.4115.2116.6116.1
Ole Miss113.3113.3113.2113.3
L S U111.0112.4112.8112.1
Mississippi St.110.2110.4109.7110.1
Arkansas110.1109.9108.5109.5

SEC Averages111.4111.6111.6111.5

Eastern Division

Georgia

None of Nick Saban’s former assistant coaches have ever beaten him in a football game.  There was a time when the same was true for Bear Bryant, until future Alabama head coach Gene Stallings and his 1967-68 Texas A&M Aggies came from behind to beat Bama in the Cotton Bowl.

Kirby Smart has come the closest to beating Saban, and he almost did it in the National Championship Game.  If there is a year where Georgia might be the better team between the two behemoths, this could be the year.  However, in recent days, Georgia has seen a rash of injuries and a personal issue deplete what might have been the best receiving corps in the nation.  

The Bulldogs have seen the injury bug hit the top two tight ends, Darnell Washington and John FitzPatrick.  Third teamer Brock Bowers is a competent pass-catcher, but his blocking ability is considerably weaker than Washington.

Wide receiver Arik Gilbert was considered the final piece of the puzzle for the Bulldogs to have the best offense in the SEC when he came this Summer via the Transfer Portal, but Gilbert has been away with a personal matter and has not been practicing.    What hurts here is that Gilbert can play at tight end or wideout.  Expected starting wideouts Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson have missed practice, and UGA was already prepared to play the 2021 season without top receiver Geoge Pickens.

If most or all of these receivers are able to play in game one, then Georgia has a fighting chance to pull off the first upset of the season, when they face former annual rival Clemson in a game to be played in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Bulldogs are loaded at every position on both sides of the ball.

Quarterback J.T. Daniels went 4-0 as a Bulldog starter last year.  The former USC quarterback passed for more than 300 yards in two of those starts.  When a team that always has one of the top five running back units in the country can all of a sudden pass for 300 yards, you have a team that resembles LSU in 2019.

How is the Bulldog running brigade this year?  Zamir White can be a brigade by himself.  He was healthy for the entire season last year, and he produced 779 rushing yards at a 5.4 yard per carry clip.  He scored 11 touchdowns.  White has help.  Backup James Cook averaged 6.7 yards per attempt, and three other returnees combined to rush for 662 yards at 5.6 yards per attempt.

The Bulldog offensive line features one of the top blockers in the nation in guard-tackle Jamaree Salyer.

The 2021 UGA offense has the potential to be the best in the nation, not necessarily in points and yards, but in actual talent.  In the toughest league in college football, averaging 35-40 points per game and 425-450 total yards a game is better than 45-50 points and 550 yards in other leagues.

Defensively, Georgia can go head-to-head with Alabama in the front seven, but the defensive backfield may be a tad suspect if you can call maybe the 20th best secondary in the nation suspect.

Up front, nose tackle Jordan Davis should be playing on Sundays in 2022.  He can take on two offensive blockers, shed them, and clobber a running back, and he can rush the passer from the inside.  Jack End/Linebacker Adam Anderson is one of the best outside pass rushers in the league.

Star Linebacker/Safety Tykee Smith is another player with injury issues in Fall Practice.  His injury would hurt Georgia more than any of the injuries on offense.  The West Virginia transfer is considerably better than backup Latavious Brini.

The big intangible that could be the difference in a close game is special teams play.  The Bulldogs have the best punter in the league in Jake Camarda and one of the best kickers in Jack Podlesny.  Additionally, the Bulldog return games are both major weapons.

When we first released the ACC preview, our prediction was that Georgia would edge Clemson in an incredible game that would set the table for the Bulldogs to run the table to the SEC Championship Game, where #1 Alabama would face #2 Georgia.  However, since that preview, all the receiver issues as well as the potential loss of Smith makes the Clemson game look a little less likely for the Bulldogs.  The rest of the regular season should present Georgia with few problems as long as the team doesn’t suffer more injuries.  If the entire squad can be healthy in December, this might be the year the Bulldogs kick in the door and beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

 Florida

The Gators beat Georgia and were 8-1 after the first week of December last year.  A loss to LSU and then to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game sent the Gators to the Cotton Bowl, where future SEC foe Oklahoma dismantled the Gators’ defense in a 55-20 blowout.  At 8-4, the season was considered a disappointment.  2021 could be trouble for Florida, as Coach Dan Mullen has a rebuilding job to do on both sides of the ball.

The first question with the offense is how Emory Jones will replace Kyle Trask as quarterback.  Trask passed for 43 touchdowns last year and 4,283 yards.  He averaged close to 10 yards per pass attempt.  Jones is more of a dual threat quarterback.  He’d probably be an excellent single wing tailback, but will he be able to throw the ball 30-35 times a game and put up numbers anywhere close to what Trask accomplished last year?  We don’t think he will, but he might run for 750-800 yards.

Florida’s top three running backs from last year are back again, and combined with Jones, the Gators could rush for 175-200 yards per game and shave a few scrimmage plays off the defensive average as well.

Along with the loss of Trask, replacing Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts, and Trevon Grimes will be tough.  The trio accounted for 151 receptions and 31 touchdowns.  Florida’s receivers this year will rely on getting open because Jones uses the run-pass option with effectiveness, forcing defenders to play a cat and mouse game.

Three offensive line starters return, and this year’s line will be about as talented as last year’s.

The Gators averaged 40 points and 510 yards per game last year, but those numbers will not be approached in 2021.  30-35 points and 400-430 yards will still allow the Gators to win enough games to compete for a New Year’s Bowl.

Defensively, Florida broke down too many times last year.  With significant starters to replace, the defense may be no better this year.  The four returning starters, end Zachary Carter, linebackers Brenton Cox and Ventrell Miller, and cornerback Kaiir Elam all have All-SEC talent, but the other seven starters are average to above average only.  The defensive line has the potential to develop into a top flight unit if a couple of transfers play a little beyond expectations.

Florida’s non-conference schedule should allow the Gators to pick up four wins.  They must play both Alabama and Georgia in conference play, and their grudge match at LSU plus road games against Missouri and Kentucky present too many obstacles to compete for the Eastern Division title this year.  A nine-win regular season and New Year’s Day bowl would be a reasonable expectation.

Kentucky

Mark Stoops has a 49-50 career record at Kentucky in eight years.  It sounds mediocre, but he inherited a mess in Lexington, and he’s slowly turned this program into a fairly strong one, where a bowl game is now expected.  How the Wildcats went 23-14 the last three years with the weakest passing attack in the league is a testament to how well Stoops can squeeze points out of yards.  Kentucky’s 121.5 yards per game passing last year was actually less than some of Alabama’s averages in the 1970’s when they ran the Wishbone and passed the ball 10 times a game.

The passing woes may be a thing of the past, as former Penn State quarterback Will Levis has come to town.  Levis has a strong arm, and he can scramble and run the ball.  New offensive coordinator Liam Coen most recently tutored Jared Goff to an NFC Championship and playoff appearance in two years as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator.  He believes Levis is the man that can make his multiple offense run effectively.

Running back Chris Rodriguez, Jr., led the Wildcats with 785 rushing yards while scoring 11 touchdowns.  Kavosley Smoke looked impressive in his few carries.

Kentucky may sneak up on some defenses this year with the passing game, not just because of the arm of Levis.  The receiving corps has some hidden gems, and a true freshman son of an NFL Hall of Famer might sneak into the first unit.  Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson becomes the top target, even though last year’s top receiver Josh Ali returns.   Robinson caught 51 passes in eight games last year for the Cornhuskers.  That true freshman that may sneak onto the first team as the third receiver is Christian Lewis, the son of legendary Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis.

Kentucky has some questions to answer at the interior line.  Potential All-American Darian Kinnard might have been a second round draft pick had he chosen to enter the draft, and his return is a big plus, but the Cats lost their other tackle, Landon Young, who may have been the most talented offensive lineman Kentucky has had in 20 years.

Defensively, there are a lot of holes to fill, and this is the reason why we cannot call Kentucky a dark horse team to contend in the Eastern Division.  Similar to Florida, the four returning starters are all highly talented.  End Josh Paschal, linebacker DeAndre Square, and safeties Tyrell Ajian and Yusuf Corker will lead what will be an inexperienced defense at the other seven positions.  

Kentucky should win all four non-conference games, and then they are likely to split their conference games at 4-4.  An 8-4 season with a bowl game would continue the success of the Stoops era.

Missouri

Eliah Drinkwitz went 5-5 in his first season at Missouri after going 12-1 in his one year at Appalachian State.  The second year skipper has Tiger fans excited that Missouri is headed in the right direction.  Drinkwitz proved that he’s a coach capable of adjusting his style of play to the talent he has, as he went with wide-open passing attack in his first year in Columbia after being a run-first coach at Appy State.  Expect more of the same from the Tigers this year, as the Mizzou offense should post even better numbers in 2021 than in 2020.

Quarterback Connor Bazelak didn’t start the first two games last year, as Alabama and then Tennessee won in blowouts.  At 0-2, Bazelak assumed starting duties and guided the Tigers to a 5-3 finish and an average of 28.9 points per game.  Bazelak finished with a 67.3% completion percentage for 2,366 yards, averaging close to 300 passing yards per game in his starts.

Missouri’s pass receiving corps figured to be a team strength until it was robbed of two of its key reserves due to injuries in August practices.  Keke Chism and Jalen Knox figure to be the top two targets after combining for 66 receptions and 763 yards last year, but incoming Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper figured to be the missing ingredient that took the UM passing game from really good to great.  Cooper is out until mid-season with a leg injury.  

The running game loses its top weapon in Larry Rountree III, after he rushed for 972 yards and 14 touchdowns and became a member of the Los Angeles Chargers.  Tyler Badie might not run for 800 yards this year, but he’s more likely to be successful picking up three yards on 3rd and two and punching the ball into the end zone from the two than Rountree was able to do.  He’s also a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield.

An experienced and talented offensive line will open holes for the running game and provide enough pass protection for Bazelak to work his magic.  Drinkwitz’s Tigers will be flying in 2021.  Expect Mizzou to top 30 points and 425 yards per game.

It’s the defensive side of the ball that will determine whether Missouri will stay around .500 or win a couple more games.  He hired former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks as his new defensive coordinator, and Wilks will implement massive changes in the way this team plays defense.  Expect Missouri to play mostly a 4-2-5 defense with a lot more zone coverage after being mostly a man-to-man coverage team last year with three-linebacker sets.  The transformation may be rough at times, but it could lead to more takeaways, something Missouri needed last year, when they were -5 in turnover margin.

Missouri’s defensive strength is up front, where the defensive line returns three starters, featuring 1st team All-SEC end Trajan Jeffcoat, who led the team with six QB sacks last year.  Former starter Kobie Whiteside appears to be healthy once again after missing half of last year with a knee injury.

The now two-man linebacker crew must make do without its leading tackler from 2020, as Nick Bolton earned consecutive All-SEC selections his last two years and appears set to become a starter with the Kansas City Chiefs.  Devin Nicholson does return after finishing second to Bolton with 82 tackles.

The biggest concern with the defense is the secondary, where two starters return to a unit that struggled in coverage last year.  A revamped secondary will have to learn multiple zone coverages, and there could be growing pains.

The Missouri schedule is tougher than average, and the Tigers could sink in September if the defense cannot quickly grasp all the new concepts.  An opening game against Central Michigan should be a win, but the Chippewas are not a team to take lightly.  CMU has enough talent to make this game interesting.  A trip to Kentucky follows a week later, and the Wildcats’ new passing game will test out the Tigers’ new defense.  After a breather against SEMO, a game at Boston College to close out September could be a little more than Missouri bargained for.  A 3-1 non-conference mark after an easy win over North Texas would require three conference wins to gain bowl eligibility.  With a home game against South Carolina and a road game against a weak Vanderbilt team, the Tigers will need to find one more win to get to 6-6.

Tennessee

This once proud, perennial top 10 team has fallen on hard times in the 21st Century.  Five coaches have come and gone between the Volunteers’ last appearance in the SEC Championship Game.  The Vols also botched two coaching hires, one in which they apparently hired Mike Leach and then unhired him, and one where they apparently had agreed to a deal with Greg Schiano before protests forced them to cancel the agreement.

Tennessee turns to its latest hopeful guru in Josh Heupel.  What Paul Westhead was to college basketball at Loyola Marymount, Heupel was to college football at Central Florida, where the Knights typically ran 85 scrimmage plays and topped 40 points per game with a balanced run-pass attack.  The philosophy worked and was quite exciting to watch when Heupel had a star quarterback like McKenzie Milton.  It was still exciting and still scored points when Milton wasn’t there, but it wasn’t as consistent, and the other team discovered that they could score points almost as easily as UCF.  It ended in a 2020 season that brought a 6-4 record with an average game score of 42-33.

Tennessee suffered through a 3-7 season that included six consecutive losses by an average score of 35-16 before topping Vanderbilt in a blowout win and then concluding the former coach Jeremy Pruitt era with a blowout loss to Texas A&M.  Included in the turmoil was an endless quarterback battle that never worked its way to a successful conclusion.

After the season, the Vols lost more talent in the Transfer Portal than any other team, and that does not include three of the four quarterbacks.  It looks like a total makeover is coming to Knoxville, and makeovers like this rarely look pretty at the top level of college football.

There could be a bright spot with the quarterback position this year.  Two former starting quarterbacks with Power 5 conference teams have transferred to Knoxville.  Former Michigan quarterback Joe Milton appears to be the odds-on favorite to open the season as the starter, while former Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker should be #2.  This should be considered an upgrade over the revolving door on The Hill in 2020, and with the new offense, the Vols should be a bit more successful moving the ball and scoring points.

The ground game will need Milton or Hooker to take up some of the slack lost when Eric Gray transferred to Oklahoma.  Gray WAS the UT offense at times last year.  Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans will split most of the carries by running backs this year.  Both have the potential to be effective, and the Vols’ running game could be a surprise at times this year.

The receiving corps is a total remake this year.  However, with the QB problems in the rear view mirror, expect this unit to put up much better stats, even with all new starters.  With the extreme up-tempo run by Heupel, it requires at least two complete sets of receivers to play, and eventually, defensive backfields that cannot platoon with two separate units suffer fatigue breakdowns.  So, even if the receivers are mostly untested, they will put up some incredible statistics.  Keep an eye on Mississippi State transfer JaVonta Payton.  He should become the new go-to guy, but this unit has multiple players with sprinter’s speed.  If they can catch the ball, Tennessee could shock the league with passing numbers.

The offensive line has been an underperformer for multiple seasons.  It figures to be a work in progress this year, but Milton and Hooker could take a lot of the pressure off the interior blockers that was put there by the former quarterbacks.  Tackle Cade Mays can play guard as well, and he will be the foundation for this unit.

After averaging just 21.5 points and 346 yards per game last year, those numbers could be the halftime numbers of multiple games this year.  The Vols should move north of 30 points and 400 yards per game in 2021.

All is not so optimistic on the defensive side of the ball, and as quickly as the Big Orange score points, they may just as quickly give them up.  The Vols figure to finish #13 in scoring and total defense in the league this year thanks only to there being possibly the worst defense in modern SEC history just down the road.

The biggest issue with this defense is at the linebacker spot, where the roster was decimated by graduation and Transfer Portal defections.  Henry To’o To’o was one of the best linebackers the Vols have had in the last 25 years, and his loss is Alabama’s gain.  Look for Tennessee to rotate fresh linebackers into the rotation, hoping a couple can stand out and become key contributors.

Up front, the Vols look to have a somewhat decent pass rush with Matthew Butler returning at end.  Look out for USC transfer Caleb Tremblay on the inside, and we think that a healthy LaTrell Bumphus could be a key contributor here as well.

The secondary is the most experienced unit on the defense with three returning starters.  Cornerbacks Alontae Taylor and Kenneth George, Jr. combined for 10 passes defended last year, while safeties Trevon Flowers and Jaylen McCullough teamed for 105 tackles.

Heupel’s first Vols’ team has a chance at making a bowl thanks to an advantageous schedule.  If Tennessee can top Pittsburgh in week two in a home game, it should mean UT goes 4-0 in non-conference games.  Needing just two conference wins for bowl eligibility, one is a given against Vanderbilt, while games with Missouri, South Carolina, and Kentucky will give the Vols that chance to pick up the second conference win.

South Carolina

The Will Muschamp era is over in Columbia, and there’s renewed excitement in the hiring of Shane Beamer as the new head coach.  Beamer, a surprise long shot candidate for the job, hit the ground running when he took over, and he looks like he could be one of the best recruiters in the league, and he certainly has won over fans with his public outreach.  That bodes well for the Gamecocks down the road, but 2021 may be a season where the team looks too familiar to fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Coming off a 2-8 season that included wins over Vanderbilt and Auburn, it figures that 2021 should see something of a bounceback, especially for an offense that scored just 44 points in the final three games.  Six starters return on offense, and the most important one is running back Kevin Harris.  Harris finished second in the league in rushing with 1,138 yards, scoring 15 touchdowns.  He ran for more than 200 yards in two games and topped 100 yards in three others, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.  He added 21 receptions, which was third best on the team.  A recent back injury in practice may open the door for MarShawn Lloyd to reclaim the starting position he lost last year when he was lost for the season with a knee injury.  When both are healthy, this is the best tandem running back duo in the league.

You win in college football in the 2020’s with a quarterback that can move the ball through the air down the field, and South Carolina is hurting in this department.  Expected starter Luke Doty has missed practice time with a foot injury.  After watching backup Jason Brown struggle to run plays in practice and giving a walk-on a try, Beamer made the decision to take graduate assistant Zeb Noland, who has one year of eligibility remaining, and place him on the active roster.  Noland began his playing career at Iowa State and transferred to North Dakota State, where he graduated after being the backup to the great Trey Lance.

The receiving corps must be rebuilt from the ground up, and tight end Nick Muse may have to be the primary target with all the turmoil surrounding the passing game.  Muse grabbed 30 passes and gained 425 yards last year.  

The good news is that the offensive line is experienced and a lot more talented than it looked to be last year.  Four of five starters return.

The front seven of the defense has experience and talent, but the secondary is inexperienced and not as talented.  USC will need to blitz a lot this year to put pressure on enemy quarterbacks, because if given too much time, they will pick the Gamecock secondary to shreds.

In the trenches, the entire starting four return, including edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare, who led the team with six QB sacks and seven TFL in eight games.    

Linebacker Damani Staley is the leading returning tackler (50), and former starter Sherrod Greene returns at LB after missing almost all of last year.  When healthy in 2019, Greene made 6 ½ tackles for loss, so he is a disrupter.

South Carolina will likely be forced to use nickel coverage on most plays this year.  There isn’t a lot of SEC-caliber talent in this unit, and going up against the offenses on this schedule, the Gamecocks are going to be outgunned more often than not.

The USC schedule includes the non-conference season finale against rival Clemson, so the Gamecocks start the season with a guaranteed non-conference loss.  They will need to win the other three against weak competition.  Once conference play starts, only the Vanderbilt game looks like a near sure thing.  Four wins may be all that can be expected out of this team, but that would double last year’s total.

Vanderbilt

The one private, academically prestigious school in the SEC is always behind the eight-ball when it comes to acquiring enough talent to compete against the best public institutions of higher football standards than any other in the nation.  2020 was a season that Vanderbilt fans would like to forget.  Thanks only to Kansas being a total trainwreck, or this would have been the worst power 5 team of the 21st Century.

In all the years of struggling to survive in the SEC, until last year, Vandy had never suffered through a winless season.  But, the 0-9 finish, where the Commodores opted out of the Georgia game twice ended with Earth-shattering news that many believed embarrassed the school more than it advanced gender equality.  Covid decimated the Commodore lineup to the point where former coach Derek Mason was forced to take the backup goalie on the women’s soccer team and make her the starting kicker on the team.  Sarah Fuller was a perfect two for two on extra points to make history, but 2020 was a year Vanderbilt would like to erase from the history books.

Enter Vanderbilt football alum Clark Lea to take the reins of the Commodore football program.  Lea was one of the best defensive coordinators in college football in recent years at Notre Dame.  Former coach Mason came to Vanderbilt with the same credentials.

Lea has the endorsement of the Wizard of Vanderbilt athletics.  Baseball coach Tim Corbin wanted him for this job, and Lea hopes that a Corbin-like approach to the job can turn the Commodores’ football fortunes around.  A several million dollar investment in new facilities should help recruiting down the road, but for now the Commodores must make do with the weakest offense and weakest defense in the SEC.

Oddly, Vanderbilt is in good shape at quarterback, where they have two talented players that bring different skill sets to the game.  Starting quarterback Ken Seals looked like a seasoned veteran as a true freshman last year.  With minimal pass protection, he completed almost 65% of his passes and 12 touchdowns.  His 10 interceptions can be explained somewhat with very poor pass protection, but a couple were blatant freshman mistakes, including a crucial red zone pick against Texas A&M in the opener that might have made a 17-12 loss a 19-17 win and set a totally different tone for the season.  Backup Mike Wright has quicker feet and a stronger arm, but he is not as accurate as Seals.  Still, expect to see Wright get a good number of series as a change of pace.

Considering this team ranked 11th in the league in passing yardage, the Commodores have a couple of talented receivers returning in Cam Johnson and Chris Pierce.  The two combined for 81 catches last year.  Amir Abdur-Rahim is the secret sauce of this unit.  He is the one truly deep threat receiver, and we expect new offensive coordinator David Raih will gamble with a few more deep throws this year than Vandy has attempted in recent years.

The running game has been a strength in recent years as two Commodore players made it to the NFL.  However, this will be a question mark this year after expected feature back Keyon Henry-Brooks transferred to Louisiana Tech.  Incoming Temple transfer Re’Mahn Davis will begin the year as the starter.  Davis averaged 4.2 yards per rush in two seasons at Temple, but against the only defense anywhere close to SEC caliber, he only gained 36 yards on 15 carries.  Walk-on Mitchell Pryor may be the most reliable inside threat on the team.  What he lacks in pure ability, he makes up for in effort.  In limited duty in two years, he has averaged five yards per rush, all on straight ahead power dive plays and scored a pair of touchdowns.

The offensive line returns three starters, and three more former starters return after opting out last year.  Still, this is the weakest offensive line in the SEC, and the #13 line is closer to #1 than Vanderbilt is to it.

Now, for the extreme gloom.  The Commodore defense is not up to SEC standards.  It may not be up to the standards of a good FCS team.  It might ranke dead last this year if the offense cannot sustain drives that keeps the defense off the field.  The 2020 defense was more talented than this one will be, and they finished ranked 121 of 127 in yards allowed at 487.4 per game.

Last year’s defense had very few positives, and all the positives have vacated the premises.  End Dayo Odeyingbo, now playing in the NFL, and Andre Mintze, now trying to hook on with the Broncos as a UFA, accounted for more than 65% of the QB sacks and 41% of the TFL.  Top defensive back Donovan Kaufman followed Mason to Auburn.

What’s left is the overwhelming last place defensive line, linebackers, and secondary.  In all the years of covering college football, we cannot remember any team having the last place unit on an entire defense.  Vanderbilt gave up 37.3 points per game in 2020.  That included giving up 41 points to a weak South Carolina team and 42 to a weak Tennessee team.  As bad as that was, the 2021 defense could give up more than 45 points and 500 yards per game.

There are two winnable non-conference games on this year’s schedule, which is the reason why this team won’t go winless for a second season in a row.  Vanderbilt should beat East Tennessee State in the season opener, and Connecticut coming to Nashville in early October should be another win.  However, the other 10 teams on the schedule look to be out of reach.  A non-conference game at Colorado State is the other potential win, but the last time Vandy played a Mountain West team, the weakest one in the league, UNLV, blew them off the field in Nashville.

Western Division

Alabama

Nick Saban may have put his best ever team on the field last year.  The Crimson Tide beat 11 consecutive conference opponents, including Georgia, Florida, and Texas A&M, on their way to a perfect 13-0 record and national championship, where they toyed with both of their playoff opponents.

The talent lost from that team could form the basis of an NFL expansion franchise.  So much talent has been lost, that in our ratings, the Crimson Tide begin the season more than 11 points weaker than they ended the season.  So where does this drop Alabama in the national rankings to start the year?  It doesn’t.  They are still number one and still expected to win another national championship.

At this point in his wizardry in Tuscaloosa, Saban has become the John Wooden of college football.  When Wooden lost Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after the 1969 season, his next two years before Bill Walton debuted with the varsity, he relied on Sydney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, and Steve Patterson and won the next two national championships without the dominant big man.  Saban loses Mac Jones, who could very well become the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback sometime this season.  He loses Najee Harris, who was more dominant at ‘Bama than Derrick Henry.  Harris scored 26 rushing touchdowns and four more on passes for 180 points and 1,891 total yards.  Saban also loses Devonta Smith at wide receiver.  All he did was catch 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns.  At the end of the year, he picked up the big piece of hardware naming him the best player in college football.  Ha, he may not have even been the best player on his team!

The roster is still chock full of 4-star and 5-star athletes waiting for their turns to become all-stars.  Foremost among them may be one of the leading candidates to pick up that big piece of hardware in New York City this December.

Bryce Young was the most heralded quarterback recruit to sign at Alabama in decades, but he has had to wait his turn in line.  In very limited action last year, he completed 13 of 22 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown.  Passing is just half of his game.  Young possesses an ability to make defenders miss when he runs the ball.  Think of him as a better version of Russell Wilson in college.  New offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will make Young a better passer, but O’Brien’s history is one of a pro-style offense.  He might be forced to add more designed runs for Young.

The next star running back for the Crimson Tide should actually be a three-headed monster.  The trio of Brian Robinson, Jr., Jase McClellan, and Trey Sanders will team up to approach Harris’s 2020 numbers.  If Sanders stays healthy, he may eventually become the feature back capable of topping 1,000 yards.

John Metchie, III, and Slade Bolden are all that’s left of last year’s tops in the nation receiving corps, but Saban has hoarded 5-star talent in this unit and has two true freshmen (Ja’Corey Brooks and Christian Leary) that could quickly see the field this year.  Alabama can go three-deep in this position and still get the job done.

Normally, losing three star offensive linemen would be a big issue, but not here at the offensive line factory of Tuscaloosa.  The new OL may still be the best in the nation, but it may not be the best at Bryant-Denny Stadium.  Saban signed what may be the best offensive line recruiting group in the history of college football.  This group may be the college equivalent of the 1962 Green Bay Packers’ offensive line, the best in football history!  And, it is likely that the entire group will be redshirted, so watch out future SEC teams; pancakes may be served up at all future Tide games!

If an offense that lost eight starters still figures to be one of the best in the nation, what can you say about a defense that returns eight starters?  All three units on this team rank in the PiRate Ratings preseason adjustment process as top five units, and arguably, if the defensive line lives up to its potential, this Tide team could be number one in the SEC in all three categories.  Perhaps the last time this could be said was back in the 1930’s, when General Robert Neyland’s Tennessee team shut out every regular season opponent!  No, Alabama isn’t going to record 13 shutouts, not in these days, but holding opponents to less than 17 points and 350 yards per game in 2021 when the schedule is chock full of teams with future NFL talent is just as complimentary.

The defensive line has underperformed somewhat in recent years, but with all the star talent Alabama has had at linebacker, finding big beefy guys that could protect the linebackers was more important than finding the next Eric Curry and John Copeland.

All-American candidate Chris Allen  made 6 QB sacks and 13 tackles for loss, and yet he may be overshadowed by the other linebackers.  Will Anderson, Jr., is an All-American candidate after recording seven sacks and 10 ½ TFL.   Christian Harris led the Tide with 79 tackles with seven TFL and 4 ½ sacks.  As if that isn’t enough, the Tide picked up our top-rated Transfer Portal player in former Tennessee linebacker Henry To’o To’o.  To’o To’o has quickly picked up the new defense and will be the defensive quarterback from his middle linebacker position.  This quartet should conjure up memories of the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers linebacking unit of Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Andy Russell.

As good as the linebacking unit is, the secondary is better.  There could be two 1st team All-Americans patrolling the defensive backfield.  We keep comparing the Tide units with famous pro football units of the past.  Safeties Jordan Battle and Malachi Moore, combined with cornerbacks Josh Jobe and Marcus Banks (and don’t forget 5th DB Daniel Wright) are the college equivalent of the 1960’s Detroit Lions quartet of Nighttrain Lane, Dick LeBeau, Yale Lary, and Gary Lowe.  Unlike that great quartet, Alabama’s offense won’t put the great secondary’s accomplishments to waste.

Alabama’s schedule features an opening week game against Miami in Atlanta, a road game against Florida  two weeks later, a home game against Ole Miss two weeks after that, a road trip to Texas A&M a week later, and November games against rivals LSU and Auburn.  Still, we can predict nothing else but a 12-0 regular season.  A potential #1 vs. #2 Game of the Century against Georgia could be the perfect way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the last Game of the Century played on Thanksgiving Day between Nebraska and Oklahoma.  If Georgia can upset Clemson, it could happen.  

Texas A&M

What a difference a couple months made in College Station, Texas, last year!  Texas A&M began the 2020 football season getting outplayed by a Vanderbilt team that would go 0-9.  Only a couple of crucial Commodore mistakes allowed the Aggies to escape with a 17-12 win.

The following week, Alabama easily topped A&M by four touchdowns, and there was a tiny undercurrent in Aggieland that Coach Jimbo Fishers’ seat was starting to get a bit warm.  A hard-fought upset win over Florida took the heat off and woke up the team.  Texas A&M proceeded to beat everybody else on the schedule and then trounced North Carolina in the Orange Bowl to finish 9-1 and fourth in the final polls.

If only the Aggies had an experienced quarterback returning, this might have been “The Year!”  A&M has exceptional talent everywhere else, and the big game against Alabama will be played at Kyle Field in October.  Alas, we cannot pull the trigger and call for an Aggie upset.  Another one-loss season is possible.

Replacing Kellen Mond at quarterback may force the Aggies to use two untested quarterbacks this year.  Last year’s number two man Hayned King is still a freshman.  He is the better runner, but lesser passer of the two contenders.  2019 backup Zach Calzada has the better passing arm but isn’t as mobile as King.  Calzada is more of a drop-back vertical passer.

While the Aggies suffered heavy losses to the offensive line, it does welcome Tennessee transfer Jahmir Johnson to bookend the outside spots with lone returning starter Kenyon Green.  There will be a slight drop in blocking ability, and it could be a main reason why King might have the advantage to start at QB, as his mobility can make up for the blocking liability.

One area where the Aggies will have more talent this year than last is the receiving unit.  Everybody that mattered last year returns this year, led by Ainias Smith and Chase Lane at wideouts and Jalen Wydermyer at tight end.  There three stars teamed for 118 receptions good for 1,479 yards and 14 touchdowns.  There is ample depth here.

The running game is in capable hands with the return of 1,000-yard rusher Isaiah Spiller and top backup Devon Achane.  Spiller is also a pass-catching threat to take a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage and make something happen.

The Aggie defense improved as the season progressed last year, and at the end of the year, it led the league in yards allowed and finished third in points allowed.  Nine starters return from this side of the ball, including multiple seniors who chose to return for a free year.

The best unit on the defense is the interior line.  End DeMarvin Leal and tackle Jayden Peavy have All-SEC potential.  

While linebacker is the question of the defense, it does return Aaron Hansford.  Losing Buddy Johnson will be a tough spot to replace, but Andre White, Jr., played well as a backup last year.

The secondary returns all five starters from last year, and this group proved to be quite good by November.  There is exceptional depth as well.  

The out-of-conference schedule is a cinch for A&M to pick up four wins.  Early conference games against Arkansas in a game to be played at Cowboys Stadium, and Mississippi State in a home game should allow the Aggies to be 5-0 when Alabama comes to Kyle Field on October 9.  It would take a minor miracle for the Aggies to win that game, but that game may be the one obstacle preventing A&M from running the table in the regular season.  Fisher is one of three SEC head coaches to own a national championship.  There are only five total (Dabo Swinney and Mack Brown).

The next three spots in the Western Division pecking order are up for grabs.  It is hard to differentiate between the three, so we will present them in order of their preseason PiRate Rating.

Auburn

Auburn fans grew tired of former coach Gus Malzahn.  His on-the-field coaching remained exceptional, but recruiting was beginning to fall behind the other leaders of the SEC.  After a 6-5 season last year, the administration felt that $21,500,000 was an acceptable price to part ways with Malzahn and hire a hot name.

Bryan Harsin may not have been the hot name Auburn fans wanted, but that’s who they got.  Harsin probably underachieved a little at Boise State, as the Broncos were expected to win the Mountain West Conference every year.  Every one of his teams from 2014 to 2020 were ranked in the top 25 at some point in the season, and every one lost games they should not have lost.  If he couldn’t win the conference championship with the best overall talent in the league, how will he make Auburn a big winner in the SEC, when they do not have the best talent in the Western Division?  It will be interesting to see what happens.  Harsin did pull off a coup in hiring Mike Bobo as his offensive coordinator and Derek Mason as his defensive coordinator, two guys with SEC head coaching experience.

Auburn returns 16 starters, and they add a key transfer that could make things interesting at quarterback.  Bo Nix is the returning starting QB, but he hasn’t totally solidified his spot for 2021.  Former LSU quarterback T.J. Finley started multiple games down the stretch for the Tigers, and if Nix continues to throw to the wrong receiver by not properly reading the coverage, Finley could eventually supplant him under center.  Bobo uses a pro-style offense where reading coverages and throwing to the right receiver is a much more involved process.  We have heard through the grapevine thay Nix disappointed with numerous interceptions in a recent closed scrimmage.  This is something to monitor as the season is less than two weeks from starting, but we believe Nix will be the starter for the opener with Akron.

The receiving corps took a major hit with the departures of Seth Williams and speedster Anthony Schwartz.  The duo made 101 catches with 1,396 yards and seven touchdowns last year.  The Tigers have some decent talent taking over, but they are inexperienced.  Ze’Vian Capers suffered through injuries that limited his availability until August, but he’s begun to look like a number one option in recent days.  Elijah Canion has deep play potential, and Harsin’s Bronco teams had a propensity to throw deeper routes than Malzahn’s offense used.

The running game returns its top two backs in Tank Bigsby and Shaun Shivers.  Bigsby was the top running back recruit in the nation two years ago, and he lived up to his credentials by taking the SEC Freshman of the Year Award after running for 834 yards and five touchdowns.  He topped 100 yards in four games, including three games in a row in October.

All five starting offensive linemen return from last year, but the Tigers had issues protecting Nix.  Of course, Nix held onto the ball a bit too long with trouble reading defensive coverage, which led to his throwing under pressure too many times.

Expect the defense to show marked improvement under Mason’s tutelage.  His defenses looked terrible against some SEC teams while he was at Vanderbilt, but he developed a lot of 3-star players into NFL talents.  Mason has more talent to work with in his first year at Auburn than he had in his entire tenure at Vandy.

Up front in the 2-gap 3-4 defense, end Colby Wooden has all-star potential.  Nine of his 41 tackles last year were behind the line of scrimmage.

The linebacker unit is going to be as productive as any Auburn linebacker unit in recent history.  Zakoby McClain led the SEC with 113 tackles (more than 10 per game).  Expect to see him top the three sacks he made last year.  Owen Pappoe added 93 tackles with four sacks and an interception.

A strong defensive backfield got stronger when Donovan Kaufman followed Mason from Vandy to the Plains.  He will plug the vacant safety spot and team with potential All-American Smoke Monday to give Auburn one of the top five defensive backfields in the nation.

Auburn has one of the three stud placekickers in this league in Anders Carlson.  Carlson connected on 20 of 22 field goal attempts last year.

The Tigers may have the toughest non-conference road game in the SEC this year, as they face Penn State in Happy Valley in week three.  They will definitely be 2-0 when they go to Beaver Stadium, and this will be a big test.  If they can beat a Big Ten contender on the road, Auburn will gain important confidence that could propel the Tigers into a 7-1 record when they play Texas A&M in a battle that could decide second place in the West.  Alas, we believe asking this team to beat Penn State is a bit too much, and the Tigers will more likely go 4-4 or 3-5 in the league.  The Tigers’ offense may sputter a bit this year, and the defense will not be able to bail them out every week.

Ole Miss

Now for the team that may be the most exciting to watch in the SEC and one of the most exciting in college football.  The Ole Miss Rebels are coming off a 5-5 season that included an Outback Bowl win over Indiana to make it to .500.  Ole Miss finished first in the league and third in the nation in total offense, while they finished last in the league and second to last overall in total defense.  Their average game score was 39-38.

Second year head coach Lane Kiffin may not have the best quarterback in the nation, but by the end of the year, the rest of college football might be looking up at him in passing yardage.  Matt Corral averaged 334 passing yards per game and three touchdowns per game last year and ran for another 506 yards and six scores in his first season running Jeff Lebby’s wide open spread offense. Lebby can claim lineage in the Bob Stoops, Art Briles, and Josh Heupel coaching trees.  If he were a racehorse in the Kentucky Derby, it would be like he carried the lineage of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed in his bloodline.  

The best option any quarterback can have is a receiver that can get open deep and catch the long bomb.  Any team would love to have a Cliff Branch type of deep threat, and Ole Miss has that in Braylon Sanders.  Expect a stellar year from Sanders where he more than doubles his 15 catches from last year.  He averaged more than 25 yards per reception and scored touchdowns on 27% of his receptions.  While Ole Miss will miss Elijah Moore and his eye-popping 86 catches, 1,193 yards, and eight scores, the Rebels will make up for a lot of that lost yardage by spreading the wealth around to three or four others.

As strong as the Rebels were through the air, their running game was potent.  Corral proved to be an excellent threat on the ground, and Jerrion Ealy forced defenses to stay honest with men in the box.  Ealy led the Rebels with 745 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.  Ole Miss can go three deep with talented runners.

The Ole Miss offensive line is not overly strong, but they are more than adequate in this offense.  Tackles Nick Broeker and Jeremy Jones get the job done.

This has the makings of an offense that will top 225 yards rushing and 375 yards passing.  600 total yards per game is reachable.  Kent State did it last year, and a Baylor team that Lebby was part of in 2015 averaged 617 yards per game.  The all-time record belongs to Houston in 1989 at 625 total yards per game.  If Kiffin decides to run up the score against the four really weak defenses his team will face, that number is within reach.

Ole Miss may need to gain 600 yards a game to compete for the number two or three spot in the SEC West.  Their defense will be improved in 2021, but then it is impossible to be worse than last year.  How bad was this side of the ball in 2020?  Remove the game against a Vanderbilt team that was as weak as a mediocre FCS team last year, and in the other eight SEC games, the Rebels gifted their opponents 42.8 points and 550 yards per game!

Thanks to an even weaker Vanderbilt defense this year, Ole Miss will have no units that rank dead last in the conference.  The defensive line is still weak enough that in a normal season, it would be the worst in the league.  There isn’t enough muscle up front, and this year, there won’t be as much experience as last year (which may not be such a bad thing).

The middle of the defense will be its strength and the only unit that ranks up there with other SEC defenses.  Four talented linebackers (counting buck defender Sam Williams, who is more linebacker than end) with starting experience return, including the leading tackler in Jaquez Jones and leading quarterback sacker Williams.

A full season from Star defensive hybrid safety/linebacker Otis Reese will improve the secondary coverage in 2021.  Once he was declared eligible, he averaged eight tackles per game.

If Ole Miss can reduce their gifts to opposing offenses to less than 35 points per game this year, nine wins are not out of the realm of possibility.  Their non-conference schedule should give them a 4-0 record, and one of those wins would come against former Rebel coach Hugh Freeze, who will most likely bring a 9-0 Liberty team to Oxford in November.  

LSU

Every year, there are a few teams that the PiRate Ratings predict to greatly outdo what other predictors predict.  Some of the time, our ratings are correct, and they are wrong.  Sometimes, we have egg on our face.

Likewise, there are teams that other services predict to have great years, when the PiRate Ratings show the same teams to be ranked lower than the other services.  Again, sometimes, we are correct, and sometimes, we have more egg on our face, maybe pie in the face.

LSU falls into the category of teams the PiRate Ratings expect to be weaker than what the consensus is for this team.  Others are picking the Bayou Bengals to contend with Texas A&M for second place and possibly to sneak up on Alabama in November.  We see a 4-4 SEC team; at least, we see a 4-4-level team to start the 2021 season.

Coach Ed Orgeron brought in new offensive and defensive coordinators, loses his expected starting quarterback before the season begins, and lost his best receiver over the Summer into the Transfer Portal.  The Tigers’ offense is less than average compared to the powerful scoring machines in the league.

Max Johnson went 2-3 in his five game audition with the team in 2020.  He limited mistakes, throwing just one interception in 150 attempts, but overall, he’s no better than 10th or 11th best starting QB in this league.  Backup Garrett Nussmeier may eventually be a much better option for the Tigers, but he won’t see a lot of action unless Johnson proves he cannot move the offense.

LSU has a stable full of horses at running back, but new offensive coordinator Jake Peetz wants to go with an aerial circus like the 2019 national champions used with Joe Burrow.  The four backs may see their total opportunities decrease this year.  John Emery, Jr., proved to be a quality pass receiver out of the backfield last year, so he will most likely see his playing time increase this year.

The receiving corps loses its best guy in Terrace Marshall, who led the Tigers with 48 receptions and 10 touchdowns before opting out in late November.  Returning deep threats Kayshon Boutte and Jaray Jenkins combined for 16.6 yards per catch.

The offensive line is the true strength of the offense.  The starting five all come back after four took advantage of a free second senior season.

The Tigers had issues on defense last year, giving up 35 points and 492 yards per game.  That number includes a game against 0-9 Vanderbilt that LSU will not play this year.  Remove the outlier stats from that 41-7 game, and LSU gave up 517 yards per game.  Orgeron replaced defensive coordinator Bo Pelini for former Minnesota Vikings’ defensive backs coach Daronte Jones.  The defensive backfield figures to be the strong point of the defense, with four of five starters returning, including cornerbacks Derel Stingley, Jr., and Eli Ricks, who make up one of the top outside tandems in the nation and second best in the SEC.

There is a ton of returning starting experience up front, but the LSU interior line was exploited too many times last year.  Jones promises to get more physical play out of a roster than can go two-deep across the line with talent.  End Ali Gaye recorded 9 ½ tackles for loss.

The middle of the defense is still a work in progress,  as there are no SEC star-quality linebackers.  Walk-on Jared Small is likely to win a spot in the lineup.

We are confident that Jones will make LSU a more physical, punishing defensive team this year, but how much will the actual numbers improve?  The offense may have some growing pains adjusting to the new offense, especially if there are issues with the quarterbacks.  The schedule does not present any gifts to this team.  LSU must open on the road at the Rose Bowl against a UCLA team that will be playing their second game of the year.  That game is a perfect trap game, and the PiRate Ratings show the Bruins to be the favorite.  This has the making of a 4-4 team in league play with a second consecutive five-loss season and a minor bowl invitation.

Mississippi State

The PiRates could write a book on Coach Mike Leach, “The Pirate,” that might be as long or longer than Leach’s Swing Your Sword.  Leach is the most interesting head coach in American sports, and he’s always good for making headlines with out of the box statements.

He would have stolen the show at SEC Media Days this year with the statements he made, but he had the misfortune of speaking on the day the “Big Reveal” rumor came out from Houston concerning Oklahoma and Texas.

Leach’s number one soundbite involved his plan for making the FBS Playoffs a 64-team event.

What about the 2021 season in Starkville?  2020 started off with a bang when the Bulldogs outscored 2019 National Champion LSU 44-34.  That was the high point of the season until mid-December.  State lost to Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Alabama, scoring just 30 points in those four games.  After a poorly played game that allowed Vanderbilt to keep the score close and ended with a small 24-17 victory, three more losses followed to Georgia, Ole Miss, and Auburn.  The Bulldogs scored just 58 points in those three losses, but the games were close.  Then, to close out the season, MSU slaughtered Missouri 51-32 and then as a 3-7 team in a bowl game, they topped Tulsa 28-26 in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Will 2021 be more consistent in year two of the Pirate in Starkville?  We believe that the Air Raid offense will be a bit more consistent this year, and the defense will be as good or a little better than last year, and the Bulldogs should find themselves back in a bowl game, this time with a winning record.

The Air Raid offense needs a quarterback that can quickly read a defense and throw accurately with a quick release to the right receiver.  It needs receivers that can understand when to alter their route assignments based on what the defense does.  It also requires tractors disguised as offensive linemen that can take maximum line splits and force edge rushers wider than normal to make them one step farther away from the quarterback.  Every requirement cannot be totally found in this year’s offense, but State will be closer to having all the parts this year than they did last year.

Will Rogers was 3-3 as the Bulldog starting quarterback, and he put up monster numbers once he took over as the number one QB.  Rogers completed 45 passes against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.  Only Tim Couch, a former Leach student, completed more passes in an SEC game.  Rogers only averaged 5.7 yards per pass attempt, but in the Leach offense, passing the ball 60 times means that 20 of those passes are really glorified quick-pitch plays with the ball tossed forward instead of backward.  Those plays should almost count as running plays.

Rogers’ top receiver was running back Jo’Quavious Marks, who caught 60 passes for just 268 yards, but as mentioned in the previous paragraph, a lot of the receptions were safety valve passes behind the line of scrimmage.  The actual top three returning wideouts, Jaden Walley, Austin Williams, and Malik Heath teamed up for 132 receptions and 1,397 yards.

Marks ran for just a little more than he gained in receptions, totaling just 312 rushing yards.  Backup Dillon Johnson averaged 4.4 yards per carry on limited touches, but he added 36 receptions, also for 4.4 yards per catch.

The offensive line is still the one liability hindering the Air Raid from taking off.  The offensive line returns several players that saw action last year.  While the blocking improved during the season, the offensive line has a long way to go until it is ready to replicate what Leach’s offensive lines at Washington State and Texas Tech did.  It will be much more experienced this year.

Leach’s best Cougar team in Pullman was the 2018 team that went 11-2 and finished in the top 10 in the final polls.  While he had Gardner Minshew running the offense, the real secret to why that team set the WSU record for wins was a defense that bent but did not break.  The 2021 MSU defense figures to be a little better than the 2020 edition, and the 2020 edition was better than expected, finishing fifth in the league in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed.  Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett comes from the Rocky Long coaching tree.  He’s a proponent of Long’s 3-3-5 defense.  He has a decent starting lineup set to begin the season, but the reserves will mostly be untested unknowns.

The strength of this year’s defense is the secondary.  Cornerbacks Martin Emerson and Emmanuel Forbes teamed for 117 tackles, and an impressive 17 passes defended.  Forbes led the SEC with five interceptions, returning three to the house.  

The best defender on the team can be found at outside linebacker.  Aaron Brule.  He can play the run, rush the passer, and drop into pass coverage equally well.  Tyrus Wheat isn’t far behind in talent and potential production.  

The defensive line is the weakest part of the defense, and if any of the starters miss time, the backups are not ready to control the lines in an SEC game.

Mississippi State should win all four of their non-conference games, but there are three teams that have the talent to challenge the Maroons.  In conference play, the Bulldogs get a home game with Kentucky and a road game with Vanderbilt from the Eastern Division.  That is their path to six wins and bowl eligibility, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up an upset win along the way.

Arkansas

A 3-7 record at Arkansas never looks satisfactory to fans, but the three wins came against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Tennessee.  The last time Arkansas beat more than three SEC teams in one year was 2015.  The Razorbacks had lost 20 consecutive SEC games before topping Mississippi State in October of last year.  

In Sam Pittman’s first year at Arkansas, the Razorbacks lost three games by a field goal or less.  The Razorbacks return the most starters in the league, and last year’s starters were considerably improved from 2019.

The offense must replace the quarterback, but this might work in Arkansas’s favor in a unique way.  Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles would prefer to use the Veer and Shoot offense that made his dad famous at Baylor.  Last year’s QB, Feleipe Franks was a drop back passer and not equipped to be a dual threat in the offense.  Arkansas has a clear-cut #1 QB this year, but they also have a highly-talented #2.  K.J. Jefferson is a remarkable dual threat, and he should be a better fit in what Briles wants to run.  Backup Malik Hornsby is elusive and quick, and he can throw darts.  He isn’t as developed at reading defenses as Jefferson, but he can make the offense work if called upon to do so.

Jefferson and Hornsby have a prize receiver in Treylon Burks.   He led the Hogs with 51 catches, good for 820 yards.  He has first round draft pick written all over him, as he combines size, speed, and exceptional hands.  Tight end Blake Kern gives Jefferson another big body to locate in the middle.

Arkansas has quantity and quality in its backfield.  Trelon Smith led the team with 710 rushing yards with five touchdowns, which included an 83-yard touchdown run against Florida.  T.J. Hammonds will be playing his sixth season in a Razorback uniform.  He carries a career 6.9 yard rushing average.

The entire starting offensive line returns with three seniors coming back for an extra season.  The players have put on some muscle since last year, and this should start to resemble a legitimate SEC interior line.

The defense was still well behind SEC standards last year, as Arkansas gave up 35 points and 450+ yards per game playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation.  Nine starters return to run defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s unique defense.  Arkansas uses a Dime Defense as its base package, and the 3-2-6 alignment relies on defensive backs that can cover the run like linebackers.  

It all starts up front, where the three-man line aligns wide to get the best potential routes to the quarterback.  Arkansas added size and depth, including three players from the Transfer Portal.

The two-man linebacker tandem finished one-two in tackles last year.  Grant Morgan led with 111 tackles, 7 ½ for loss, along with five passes defended.  Bumper Pool recorded 101 tackles with 6 ½ for loss and five passes defended.

The secondary requires players that can quickly recognize the run and contain the play.  Frequently one or more of the players will blitz.  The good news here is that five of last year’s six starters are back and will be more comfortable running this system.  Middle safety Jalen Catalon was a beast last year with 99 tackles, three interceptions, four passes defended, and two forced fumbles.  Montaric Brown was the co-leader in passes defended with five.  The rest of the secondary has quick defenders.

The Razorbacks will soon be playing their old former Southwest Conference rival Texas as an SEC game, but they get to renew the rivalry this year with a home game against the Longhorns on September 11.  Texas will be the favorite, but Arkansas should compete in this game.  They will win their other three non-conference games and then they have a chance to win three more in the conference to become bowl eligible.

The PiRate Ratings are not designed to predict seasonal won-loss ratings.  Their nature makes them good for just the next game on the schedule.  However, we like to have fun predicting won-loss records.

Southeastern Conference
East DivisionConf.Overall
Georgia8-012-1
Florida5-39-3
Kentucky4-48-4
Missouri3-56-6
Tennessee2-66-6
South Carolina1-74-8
Vanderbilt0-82-10

West DivisionConf.Overall
Alabama8-013-0*
Texas A&M7-111-1
Ole Miss5-39-3
LSU4-47-5
Mississippi St.3-56-5
Auburn3-56-6
Arkansas3-56-6
* Alabama picked to win SEC Championship Game

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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