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2019 SEC Unit Ranks: Offensive Line

Experience matters

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Georgia
Plowing the road
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, I leaned heavily on Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards stat, and then they went and changed the formula, making it harder to work with. It used to be on a scale in which 100 was perfectly average, so I could compare their rush and pass stats against one another on the same scale.

And now I can’t. So I’m back to using my own half-baked OLINE formula. I take the yards per average rush and compare their standard deviation from the SEC average. I do the same for sacks allowed per 100 pass attempts. This makes 0 perfectly average, though I multiply the score by 100 to make it easier to read. 100 is one standard deviations from SEC average.

2018 O Lines

Name YPA RUSH Sacks/100 PASS OLINE OL Starts
Name YPA RUSH Sacks/100 PASS OLINE OL Starts
Georgia 6.335 149.93 5.618 44.989 194.918 83
Alabama 5.584 31.14 3.653 142.026 173.163 49
Missouri 5.054 -52.74 2.882 180.075 127.338 77
Florida 5.693 48.40 4.945 78.220 126.624 24
Vanderbilt 5.694 48.60 5.288 61.261 109.865 54
Mississippi State 6.309 145.85 7.740 -59.799 86.054 71
Texas A&M 6.103 113.35 7.919 -68.620 44.731 69
South Carolina 5.102 -45.07 5.192 66.031 20.958 51
Mississippi 5.594 32.80 7.256 -35.913 -3.110 36
Auburn 4.796 -93.59 6.021 25.089 -68.502 104
Kentucky 5.447 9.47 9.459 -144.714 -135.244 57
Arkansas 4.772 -97.30 8.649 -104.674 -201.975 41
Tennessee 4.303 -171.51 7.744 -60.005 -231.520 69
LSU 4.634 -119.07 9.044 -124.194 -243.265 76

On top of our now de rigueur stat chart, in which I helpfully include the number of career starts returning according to Phil Steele, I also like to take a gander at the preseason All-SEC team for general reputation. For this, I use Athlon, as their teams go four deep, and it has a long history. It’s my stand-in for popular opinion.

And because y’all asked for it, last year’s predicted rank is in parenthesis for purposes of mockery.

1. Georgia (3). There’s not much this unit couldn’t do. Georgia had the best rushing average in the conference, though some of that might have been the pair of backs they had. The Dawgs also allowed a low number of sacks, and they return a bulk of their experience. They place a player on each of the top three All-SEC teams with Andrew Thomas receiving top honors. They are pretty loaded up front.

2. Alabama (4). A trend you’ll see this year is most of the top lines last year lost a ton of talent while the bottom half of the SEC is bringing back a lot of experience, as if they were all spending last year building the lines. Bama brings back just 49 games of experience from one of the country’s best lines, but they get the Bama pass. They’ve proven they can plug and play, and Athlon placed Jedrick Wills on the first team and Alex Leatherwood on the second.

3. Missouri (1). The last of our clear top tier. They were top three in production last year and they return 77 career starts. The run blocking fell off out of nowhere, but they allowed just 2.9 sacks per 100 attempts, which is fantastic. Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms gets the first team as a reward for the line’s efforts.

4. Mississippi State (2). I’ll quote last year’s preview: “No one knows a thing about linemen.” That is still true. We are half blind, fumbling for our keys here. We don’t have great tools to evaluate them, and we don’t really know what’s a good predictive tool, other than career starts, though we don’t know to what extent. It’s more detrimental to have no experience than it is beneficial to have experience if that makes sense. Career starts is no guarantee of success, but a lack of them is a virtual certainty you will struggle. State also ran into another big problem with evaluating lines: running quarterbacks get sacked more. It seems counterintuitive, but runners lose yards fairly often, and it dings the line. So what I’m saying is, I think State might be better than their numbers show.

5. Texas A&M (7). They’ve been middle of the pack for so long, but I think the lack of returning starts at some of the schools ahead of them last season give them the chance to finally step up.

6. Auburn (11). No, their line wasn’t very good last year, but teams with 100+ career starts usually finish in the top half of the conference. It worked for Florida last year, who made a sudden improvement as well as Vanderbilt. They also have a legit stud in Prince Tega Wanogho, which is also the single best name in the conference. If he wasn’t an Aubie, I’d probably root for him.

7. Vanderbilt (8). They continue to produce in Nashville. They do a plus job of protecting the quarterback and somehow had a rushing average over the league average despite a talent disparity. They of course have no one up for league honors, as this is an anonymous unit that has done really well the past few seasons.

8. South Carolina (8). Permanently middle management, right? Solid at everything and they return a good amount of starts. They should be fine. Yes, I am damning them with faint praise.

9. LSU (10). I said this a few years ago and I’ll stand by it: I will believe it when I see it in regards to the LSU line. They were the worst line in the SEC last season though they had some excuse due to injury (for the second season in a row… seriously, what is in the water?). Their career start number will get even better if Ingram officially returns. The tackles are a huge question, but the interior is rock solid, so expect the run numbers to improve.

10. Kentucky (13). OK, what is the deal with Kentucky? They had the worst pass blocking in the conference, allowing an execrable 9.5 sacks per 100 attempts and while they had a positive rushing number, that’s more due to the once in a generation running back who has since graduated. Despite this, UK has three players on the All-SEC teams, including first teamer Drake Jackson. I don’t get it. Or I do… no one knows anything about lines.

11. Tennessee (14). The Vols mostly lived up to last year’s low expectations, but that’s what you get when you throw the freshmen to the wolves. It should start to pay dividends, but it won’t fully flower until next 2020.

12. Florida (12). OK, I whiffed on them last year. They went from terrible to one of the best lines in the SEC thanks to returning 100+ career starts, a mistake I’m rectifying by promoting Auburn this season, this year’s closest comp to last year’s Gators. But they are back down to 24 career starts, less than last year’s SEC low mark of 35 for LSU, and we see what happened to the Tigers. Experience matters on the line, and Florida has almost none.

13. Ole Miss (5). Last year was a missed opportunity. They returned a ton of talent including Greg Little, and they delivered about a league average line. Now, most of the experience and top end talent is gone and things could get ugly.

14. Arkansas (9). For a few seasons, the talent of Hjalte Froholdt hid the glaring weaknesses of the rest of the Hogs line. Well, he’s not there anymore and there’s no one to step up. The worst run blocking in the conference paired with a line allowing 7.7 sacks per 100 attempts losing its best player? What could go wrong?