We turn this week to the hardest unit to rate: the offensive lines. About the only thing we all could agree on is the fact that returning experience is one of the biggest factors in having an effective unit. But heck, we can't even agree on who had an effective unit, so take that with a giant grain of salt.
Let's give the big guys their day in the spotlight.
I looked at three things: yards/carry, sacks/100 pass attempts, and returning starters. I wasn't bound by it, but I rated teams by run blocking, pass blocking, and then what is coming back.
1 Georgia: The Dawgs flipped the scale on yards/carry (6.44, more than 1.2 yards above the SEC average). They were also above average in sack percentage. Oh, and they return four starters. They were the best line last year, they will likely be the best line this year. An easy vote.
2 Arkansas: Just an awesome unit. As much as I love the Georgia unit, I won't argue with anyone who puts the Hogs first. They are big, mean, and nasty, and the very foundation of everything they try to do on offense.
3 Auburn: The false Tigers had the best balanced line last year. They ranked 2nd in run blocking and 3rd in pass blocking. They lose three starters, but somehow return six guys who have made starts for the team. Plenty of experience.
4 Alabama: Sigh. Cam Robinson is already a star, and they will restock with yet another batch of four and five star studs. I give up.
5 Missouri: They return four starters from a slightly above league average unit. Nothing remarkable, but getting starters back is the currency of offensive lines.
6 Texas A&M: The line was slightly above average in both run and pass blocking. They return slightly below the average number of starts. Pretty much the definition of mediocre.
7 Ole Miss: Speaking of experience, Ole Miss leads the SEC in number of starts returning (65). They return every lineman and their tight end. The flip side of experience is talent, and the Rebels line last season was not particularly good. I'm banking on improvement, but yeesh.
8 LSU: I'm sick of this. LSU has big names and tons of hype, and then every year, they trot out a unit that completely sucks in one phase of the game. Last year, it was pass blocking, as LSU was near the bottom of the SEC in sack rate. And honestly, a league average rush average looks less impressive when you see who was running the ball. Coasting on reputation instead of results.
9 South Carolina: A quietly average unit that does nothing particularly well. They won't stink, but there isn't a real high top end.
10 Tennessee: Hoping that a year of taking their lumps pays off, the Vols return all five starters from a truly hideous line last year. But that was the plan, so now it's time to deliver on that trial by fire.
11 Mississippi State: One of the better lines last year, but the cupboard is now pretty bare. State loses a starting guard and tackle, plus their top three centers. This team was gutted by graduation.
12 Vanderbilt: Believe it or not, they were slightly above average in pass blocking. They also were far and away the worst run blocking team, but hey... they return four starters.
13 Kentucky: Kind of the opposite of Vanderbilt, but their run blocking was below the average and the pass blocking wasn't quite the worst. However, they also return four starters.
14 Florida: Only four players, not starters, players, return from a below average unit last season. This could be an abortion. The cupboard isn't just bare, I think someone ran off with the cupboard.
1 Arkansas: I'm with Poseur on the top two, and I think there's a clear delineation on those two right now. I'll go with Arkansas on top because this unit is the rock upon which Bret Bielema has built his program. It's the unit he wants to define himself by, and it paved the way for two 1,000-yard backs last season.
2 Georgia: Four starters back off of a tremendously productive unit. The Bulldogs have QB questions in '15, but this line blocking for Nick Chubb should help set the pace for whomever they put in.
3 LSU: I'll go with the homer pick here. I absolutely love the unit LSU has back here, even with just three starters returning. Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander both had great springs and are poised to close out their careers with all-star honors and become high draft choices. To say nothing of Ethan Pocic, who spent the second half of last season making guys like Robert Nkemdiche a non-factor. This unit battled some early hiccups under a new coach and really closed out the season strong, consistently improving in multiple areas of the game. And it's stocked with young talent that I expect to hit the ground running this season.
4 Auburn: Only three starters back, but still some experience. The Other Tigers haven't hit the same heights they enjoyed in 2013, but they can still push the best of 'em around. I am curious to see how they adjust to a different style of quarterback play in '15.
5 Mizzou: Four starters back, so some improvement is expected. The Pledge Tigers have generally been a pass-first group, but they need to rediscover their mean streak a bit to help Maty Mauk out.
6 Alabama: Two starters back. Yeah, Cameron Robinson is every bit the stud he was supposed to be, but...aside from him? When Nick Saban talks about this program getting its mojo back, I think this is the unit he means. Alabama hasn't been the same kind of team up front since Barrett Jones left town.
7 South Carolina: "Quietly average" more or less describes this unit, and it's probably the area that South Carolina needs to improve the most in on offense, despite their questions at quarterback.
8 Tennessee: Giving the Vols a bump here for having so many starters back, and improving down the stretch last season.
9 Texas A&M: Last year's group didn't meet it's reputation, in my opinion. Tackles-for-loss allowed went up, and average yards per carry and rushing touchdowns were at their lowest levels since the Aggies joined the conference. This is an offense that has really lived on getting the ball out quickly, so it's rarely going to give up a lot of sacks, but it needs to get more physical.
10 Ole Miss: Laremy Tunsil may be a big-time prospect, but despite having him Ole Miss was one of the worst offensive lines in the SEC in giving up negative plays and gaining push in the run game. I'm not sure what changes without a senior quarterback pulling the strings.
11 Kentucky: A little better than Vanderbilt, and returns four starters.
12 Mississippi State: This could be one of the areas where attrition/graduation really hurts the Bulldogs. Last year's team wasn't just senior-heavy, it was loaded with fifth-year guys. And I don't think they've recruited well enough to just roll in new players without some issues.
13 Vanderbilt: A little worse than Kentucky, and returns four starters.
14 Florida: As much as we talk about the quarterback position, this is the area that has to scare you to death as a Florida fan. They're struggling to fill out a full two-deep, with just seven scholarship linemen this spring and only ONE player with actual in-game experience. Graduate transfers and true freshmen are going to play here, which means this offense is going to be slow going for a while.
Ok, so I went cheap and easy here. I took Football Outsiders great OL stats, averaged the ranks of every team and then took into consideration returning starters:
1 Auburn: Rated as the conference's second best unit, they return three starters and since when have they ever truly struggled? It's like plug and play for Gus.
2 Texas A&M: They rated 3rd overall, and return their entire interior OL. Despite knocks on their use of the running game, they boasted the second best power success in the entire conference and one of the lower stuff rates as well.
3 Alabama: Rated out as the best unit in the conference last season, but return just two starters, while ushering in a boatload of new skill talent that won't be there to bail them out.
4 Georgia: I'm not as high on the Bulldogs as the two of you. Still a very good unit, lead by Greg Pyke Jr. Despite their gaudy YPC, they really struggled in power success, posting one of the lowest rates in the conference. That could be a misnomer, as their stuff rate was low.
5 Arkansas: I diverge here as well. But they do return 4 starters and while they have a reputation for being a mashing run team, their run stats aren't so impressive that I'm blown away.
6 LSU: A bland performance last year wasn't aided by abysmal QB play. I think having some more substantive at QB, while returning three starters and infusing arguably more talented players could rocket this group up near the top.
7 Missouri: They were average or below last season, but return 4 starters, which should give them a leg up in 2015.
8 South Carolina: They were middle of the pack last season and return three starters. Nothing stands out. A bland performance last year wasn't aided by abysmal QB play.
9 MSU: They return only two starters and lose their best players. This is the perfect storm for a huge step backward for a unit that was dominant, at times, in 2014. They still have Dak, but lose Josh Robinson.
10 Ole Miss: Tunsil is a stud. They weren't good last season. At all. By any measure. But they return everyone, so things should shape up, no?
11 Tennessee: Basically the same as above without a single dynamic talent in Tunsil.
12 Florida, 13 Kentucky, 14 Vanderbilt: Just close your eyes and pray.
What I find most interesting is not that our ballots are all over the place, but that we all had entirely different methods for evaluating what is notoriously the most difficult unit to evaluate. I went with traditional stats, Billy went with a holistic approach, and Paul used advanced stats. It just shows there's more than one way to approach a puzzle.
However, when the dust settles, the consensus essentially agrees with me again. Boom. Not quite as freaky as the QB ballot, but I was only off by more than one place with one team (LSU) because of my low near-protest against our lack of production balanced against our talent and hype.
Still, there's general consensus on the top four lines and the bottom four, with a mess in between (though Billy and Paul both would replace one of those top four teams with another: LSU and A&M, respectively). The final ratings:
6 Texas A&M
8 South Carolina
9 Ole Miss
11 Mississippi St.