We wrap up our look at the SEC units by tying it all together in one final poll. Now, when I asked for everyone's rankings, I made it clear that they could rank teams based on any criteria: power poll, straight talent, prediction, whatever. Everyone was left to rank teams in the best way they saw fit.
However, I wanted to compare our impressions of teams versus how we actually voted. So after each team, I've put their rank and the cumulative total of the votes earned by each unit in parenthesis. Dan was on vacation for the DL voting, so he just gets the average vote for that position group. So, here's how we voted:
1 Georgia (4th, 43). They know what they are and they excel at it. Yes, they break in a new QB, but they are sort of the anti-LSU on that front: they get the benefit of the doubt.
2 LSU (1st, 37): Outside of QB, they lack a below average unit, and honestly, almost everyone is breaking in a new QB. In a wide open division, a lack of flaws is almost as important as what you excel at.
3 Bama (2nd, 40). Man, they lose almost their entire offense and their defense only strikes me as "pretty good" (for Bama). They also have an insane schedule. If this was anyone else, I'd rank them closer to the middle of the pack. But they are the safe pick for a reason.
4 Tennessee (2nd, 40). The more I look at them, the more I like them. It's a real young team, but it's also really, really talented. Honestly, they are like a poor man's LSU this year, playing with a bunch of "experienced youngsters" for lack of a better term. Also, their biggest weakness, o-line, was due to extreme personnel losses last year and I think last year was a bite the bullet sort of season.
5 Auburn (5th, 48). Their defense should not be as bad as it has been. While Muschamp will help out, I think their non-performance has to be a function of the HUNH offense. I'm not quite as sold on their offense, which is replacing quite a bit, but still gets the Malzahn pass.
6 Arkansas (6th, 54). I'm concerned about what their actual high end is, but this is a team that has an identity and builds everything around that. In a wide open division full of the unexpected, they feel like a sure thing. I don't think they have quite the high end or low end as other West teams. I feel they are going to win 8-9 games, and all of them will be exceedingly ugly.
7 Mizzou (7th, 60). They have kind of been doing it with mirrors, as they have truly benefited from the vagaries of scheduling and then not losing to bad teams, but that has been enough. As the East improves, they will settle towards the middle of the division.
8 Ole Miss (7th, 60). This could be the LSU fan in me, but I don't see it. They replace their QB this season, their o-line and RB corps are both pretty terrible (outside of Tunsil, who is great but can only block one guy), and one of their really great units, the secondary, was gutted by graduation and was riding some unsustainable turnover luck anyway.
9 Florida (9th, 62). Sure, the offense is going to suck, but man, that defense is pretty great. The D should keep them in almost every game, and then you just need a bounce to win.
10 Texas A&M (10th, 63). The defense will not suddenly become awesome just because Chavis showed up. Their issues are a lack of talent and the usual problems with playing D with a HUNH offense. Chavis' general philosophy seems ill-suited to be paired with Sumlin's offense, but it should at least be fun.
11 South Carolina (13th, 85). This is probably the beginning of the end of the Spurrier Era, which makes me sad. But this team isn't good.
12 Mississippi State (11th, 67). Yes, Dak Prescott. But this team was absolutely gutted by graduation, and I still think Josh Robinson was their best offensive player. One guy cannot do it by himself.
13 Kentucky (12th, 80). Honestly, they are fairly competent at pretty much everything, but they excel at nothing. That's a bad recipe. You'd rather have Florida's extremes or the one great player of Dak. They will upset someone, though.
14 Vanderbilt (14th, 101). Boy, it did not take long for them to go back to being Vandy. Franklin is a fabulous coach.
You know it's funny; nobody wants to really acknowledge it but the SEC East and West divisions are a little alike this year, albeit in totally opposite ways. The West is ridiculously top heavy, with four teams that could all conceivably win it and finish in the top 10. The East, on the other hand, is kind of a big cluster of mediocrity where nobody really stands out. But it's still fairly wide open, and I'd bet that in both cases, the difference between first and third/fourth in the division standings may be all of a game or so.
1. Georgia (2nd, 36). This is kind of a default pick, but ultimately they have the most talent, despite all their question mark. It's the first time in a while that Mark Richt hasn't had a third- or fourth-year guy ready to step in as a new starter at QB. But the good news is that they have Nick Chubb and a great offensive line. And everybody else behind them has as many, if not more, questions.
2. Missouri (6th, 54). I'm giving them some benefit of the doubt here. Maty Mauk is better than he showed last year, and there's a lot to like about the defense, although the loss of Harold Brantley really hurts. Still, the games will be tight, so I give the nod to the team with a QB.
3. Tennessee (3rd, 41). I think people are talking themselves into the Vols a year early. There are a lot of exciting young playmakers, but I don't know that there is enough depth on either side of the ball to hold up to the grind of the season.
4. South Carolina (12th, 75). I think this is the potential surprise team and the biggest trap game on LSU's schedule right now. Cacky should be able to at least throw and run the ball efficiently, and I don't think the talent level has dropped off that much yet.
5. Kentucky (12th, 75). They have a little bit of talent and a solid QB in Patrick Towles. At least good enough to spoil some parties.
6. Florida (11th, 74). I think Jim McElwain is a solid coach with some potential, but year one is going to be difficult here. It's not just that they have arguably the league's worst quarterback situation; it's that they also have its thinnest offensive line. Florida is going to start a true freshman and a graduate transfer from Fordham up front, and it's not like there's an abundance of great playmakers for them to block for.
7. Vanderbilt (14th, 106). Man that fell off quick. I'm waiting to see if Derek Mason is just a bad fit here or if James Franklin had already left something of a rebuild.
1. Alabama (4th, 48). After this many consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes, there's no reason to have a deficit of talent at any position. Granted, this is the least experienced quarterback situation any Nick Saban team has faced since he was still at Michigan State, but they should still be able to out-talent everybody on their schedule.
2. LSU (1st, 33). Rumors of the program's demise have been exaggerated. Basically, the offseason narrative is that somehow every other team in the West will improve at multiple positions, while LSU will somehow stay the same at the one that everybody agrees is the key. The Tigers will have a chance to win every game they play. Just a question of the breaks.
3. Arkansas (6th, 54). We know exactly what we're going to get on offense for the Pigs, even without Jonathan Williams. My question is whether the defense will be able to handle the offseason attrition to set up the offense.
4. Auburn (5th, 51). The offense will be fine, but when you return so many new starters, fine has a wide range of variance. As for the defense -- look, Will Muschamp is a great coordinator, and he will make that unit better. Eventually. But right now, they just don't have the talent, particularly in the secondary, to fit his style.
5. Ole Miss (9th, 64). Here's the line of demarcation for me among the contenders. Yes, Ole Miss has a handful of very talented players that will have a chance to be drafted high. But that's kind of it. Even with Laremy Tunsil, their offensive line is bad. Even with Robert Nkemdiche and Tony Connor on defense, they're replacing a group of seniors that made a lot of big plays in carrying them to last season's top-five ranking. And even with the talent at receiver, they have a really iffy quarterback situation. And after watching Bo Wallace build his reputation off of failing with style for a couple of seasons, I'm not buying into the blind faith in Hugh Freeze's development. And they don't really have the running game to protect that passing game, either.
6. Mississippi State (10th, 68). This is such a weird choice, because Dak Prescott is easily the best returning quarterback in this division. And truth to be known, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he can find a way to carry this team into contention for the division. But State was such a senior-heavy team last year, and I don't think they've recruited well enough to replace that many veterans right away.
7. Texas A&M (8th, 61). Now here's a hype train I don't understand at all. Yes, Kyle Allen looked really good last season. Kenny Hill did or the first couple of games too. Yes, the receiving corps is loaded. But the offensive line was mediocre and best, and the running game was nonexistent. And if Kevin Sumlin is dead-set on sitting Allen to play with his new five-star toy in Kyler Murray, well...that's certainly a thing you can do. As for the defense, yes John Chavis is a really good coordinator. But aside from a few bright spots, he's going to be working with a lot of player that he didn't want to recruit when he was at LSU. If the talent improves there, the Aggies will play good defense. But they have to fix that problem first.
1 Bama (5th, 44). I actually Bama regresses this year... but regression in Tuscaloosa is like steroid era Barry Bonds coming off the juice for a season. He's still gonna hit .330 and bash 35 HRs and be one of the best players in the league. Their lack of standout anything on Offense and inability to find a QB, as of yet, wants me to pick them lower. That said, talent, talent, talent, talent. Unless there's some sort of mental meltdown, they are going to be near the top of the conference late into the season, yet again.
2 Auburn (1st, 35). In Gus we trust. My tombstone will likely say, "Here lies a man who loved Gus Malzahn." I have irrational faith in the man who I think is the best coach in the conference. Biggest reason for my confidence? He has a defensive coordinator now that can coach to the level he coaches on offense. Auburn could be a runaway train if they get rolling, like they were that one year with Newton.
3 Tennessee (1st, 35). What?! Look, I think Josh Dobbs could be the best QB in the conference by season's end. They need to solve the run defense, but you look across that depth chart and see talent at every position and a lot of it is proven, achieved talent. I think they also benefit from an easier schedule.
4 Georgia (4th, 40). The team that presents the biggest challenge to Tennessee running an otherwise weak East. Replacing a QB, but they've done fine there.
5 Arkansas (7th, 57). Could they be trending up and LSU down? This is a team with an identity. Their biggest hurdle will be solving defensive issues. Their September schedule should allow their defense to grow into itself a bit, at least.
6 LSU (1st, 35). I'm frankly far more terrified of Kevin Steele than seemingly anyone else. I'm more terrified of Kevin Steele than I am of LSU's QB situation, even. The party line is, "you can't mess this much talent up." I'm just a little more skeptical... and hoping to be wrong.
7 Ole Miss (9th, 69). Enough pieces here for me to think this is a team that can upset one of the top 2 or 3 teams in the conference, but still wind up with a .500 type record.
8 Missouri (8th, 68). Don't like Mauk. Defense will have to carry this team and they lost some big time contributors there AND their DC. Just not seeing a repeat trip to Atlanta.
9 South Carolina (13th, 83). Who ever even knows anymore. They don't recruit that well for me to buy into talent. But they could surprise some folks.
10 Mississippi State (9th, 69). It's hard to square all their personnel losses. Not to mention losing their DC. They have Dak, but they lost their stud RB who really made the offense go more than he was credited for last season.
11 Texas A&M (6th, 53). Chavis won't solve their problems in a year and their defensive personnel here still isn't great. Allen should be great, and they should be able to score almost at will, but I just don't see them ascending up the conference.
12 Kentucky (12th, 80). Sure, I guess this is a compliment. Kentucky has some pieces that people like, but this isn't a team that will compete.
13 Florida (10th, 74). There's a long road ahead here and I'm not sure McElwain is the one to pave it.
14 Vanderbilt (14th, 100). There's really not much to say about them. They will probably be looking for a new coach, maybe even this offseason.
Now, here is how we actually voted by unit as we went along. I'll list their cumulative votes in parenthesis for y'all.
1 LSU (105). The Tigers actually got their worst overall score from Mr. Delusional Optimism himself, me. The craziest part of the ballot is that LSU tied for third among SEC offenses, so we must be drunk. LSU's real strength is the lack of bad scores, finishing top half at every position except QB.
2 Tennessee (116). Yeah, I was shocked, too. The Vols never polled higher than 3rd at a position, but lower than 6th just once (offensive line at 9th). Paul REALLY liked the Vols, tying them in points at the top of the SEC with LSU and Auburn. Lack of weaknesses is a real virtue.
3 Georgia (119). Jeckyl and Hyde in the voting. We love their dominant groups (OL, RB, LB, DB) and hate their weaker units (QB, WR). Despite me voting them #1 on my ballot, I had given the Dawgs their lowest score through the voting. Oops.
4 Alabama (132). I gave them the best ratings throughout. I'm so ashamed. They did poll as our best overall defense (31 votes, if we add DL, LB, and DB), but they finished 8th among offenses, which makes sense due to their heavy personnel losses. They only won one position group (d-line), though it was unanimous.
5 Auburn (134). Billy and I each had them 5th overall, but Paul loves the Tigers, tying them for 1st. Only once did he vote them below the consensus (WR). According to our voting, they have a lot of good but not great units.
6 Arkansas (165). The great divide. We clearly rate the top five well ahead, though we did give the Hogs the best offensive rankings. Their defense... we did not rate so kindly.
7 Texas A&M (177). Right down there with the worst defenses, but would have had the top offense with ease had it not been for their 12th ranked running back corps.
8 Mizzou (180). How do they do it? Every year, we ding their personnel, and then they go out there and win the East. I don't think we're that far off, it's just a team that gets the most out of its talent and has benefited from scheduling quirks. Still, they keep making everyone look dumb.
9 Ole Miss (193). Again, I gave them the highest rankings overall. I'm even more ashamed. Their great ratings at WR and DL sort of carry their double digit ranks at four of the eight position groups we ranked.
10 Mississippi St (204). We've reached the two hundreds! State has the #1 QB and the #3 special teams, and then a giant wasteland. Their third best unit was their 8th ranked WR corps. Ugh.
11 Florida (210). What are the Gators doing down here? My rankings, again, are the most out of step with everyone else's, as I have Florida much higher than the other two guys. I voted them in the top half of the SEC in a whopping FOUR categories.
12 Kentucky (235). Another clear tier starts here. This is the first of three teams which routinely finished in the double digits. The highest unit ranking was 7th. That's horrible.
13 South Carolina (243). Yikes. I mean, yikes. None of us seem to believe it, as we each voted subjectively South Carolina ahead of Kentucky. But when we looked at them unit by unit, Kentucky won fairly easily.
14 Vanderbilt (307). They finished dead last in five of eight categories, and never higher than tenth. They are off-the-charts horrible.
So... putting it all together, and giving the consensus ballot and equal vote as the rest of us, here is your final rankings of the SEC teams. Our balloting overwhelmed the consensus voting on Alabama and LSU, essentially flipping their positions on how we voted on granular basis. We also can't bring ourselves to believe South Carolina is as bad as their unit rankings suggest. Such is the power of the reputation:
8 Ole Miss
9 Texas A&M
10 South Carolina
11 Mississippi St