We wrap up our Unit Rankings series just in time for the regular season by putting all of the rankings together and coming up with a de facto ranking of the SEC teams.
To be fair, teams are more than the sum of their parts (or less than it). It is folly to simply add up the unit rankings and then declare the lowest score the winner. That said, it does give us a pretty good idea of how teams relate to one another. So, caveats duly issued, let’s get to this. First, the chart of all the rankings…
SEC Unit Ranks
1. Alabama (25 points total, 12 Offense+Defense)
Holy God. I think there’s an unspoken belief around college football fans that Alabama is about to take a step back. Clemson punctured the balloon of Bama’s Perceived Invulnerability, and while it’s not all going to collapse overnight, that is the kind of game that marks the beginning of the end. Well, I’m here to disabuse you of that notion. Bama ranked first or second in EVERY category save special teams, which Bama decides to stink at just to keep things interesting and give you false hope. You could make a case for them to be the top-ranked unit in every category. The Tide are absolutely loaded, coached by a maniacal super genius, and come into the season ticked off and motivated. Be afraid.
2. Georgia (32 points, 31 O+D)
The Dawgs start off pretty well before tailing off a bit. I dinged them for graduating nearly every receiver on the roster, but they might be fine based on recruiting. Their defense projects to be good, just not great like Alabama or LSU’s. They expect to compete by having the second best quarterback and the best running back corps in the league. And let’s be honest, being in the East helps.
3. LSU (36 points, 31 O+D)
Sort of the inverse of Georgia. A stupendous defense holds up a good not great offense. Now, it could be pure homerism, but I have LSU’s defense ahead of Bama by a nose. On the flip side, I’m giving LSU no credit for its deep, young rushing corps until they actually do something. There’s a big gap between Bama and LSU, but LSU seems to have put some distance between themselves and the other contenders this year. There is no excuse this season.
4. Auburn (49 points, 45 O+D)
Outside of a truly elite defensive line, Auburn’s strength isn’t so much what they excel at, but the fact they don’t seem to have any real weaknesses. They will do everything well, and the team’s biggest hole is due to an all-time great linebacking group graduating. A good Auburn team not getting preseason hype is the formula for a huge Auburn year.
5. Missouri (51 points, 40 O+D)
The team truly being held back by its special teams isn’t Bama, but Mizzou. Looking at their offense and defense ranking, they are right there with LSU and Georgia, but that special teams is a millstone. The defense is right about league average, but Mizzou has the potential to have an elite level offense. Kelly Bryant walks into a program with all of the parts.
6. Florida (51 points, 48 O+D)
Florida is a lesser version of what LSU (and well, Florida) usually is. A terrific defense backed up by a challenged offense. Week Zero did nothing to disabuse me of the notion this is a team that will rely on its defense to succeed, and they need the offense to stay the heck out of the way. I just don’t trust the Gators offense to make plays when they need to.
7. Mississippi State (58 points, 48 O+D)
Yeah, a historically great defense sees a lot of attrition, but it’s not like the cupboard is entirely bare. And that was a historically great defense. And I liked Fitzgerald, but he could be addition by subtraction for Moorhead’s offense, as he can put in a QB more suited to his style. So the defense will step back, though it has a lot of room to decline and still be good, while the offense should improve. I don’t see the calamity that seems to be the unspoken assumption for State this season.
8. South Carolina (59 points, 53 O+D)
A really good roster cursed with a brutal schedule. For as much ink A&M is getting for how they could be the best eight-win team in the nation, South Carolina will give them a stiff test for that distinction. The Gamecocks averaged virtually the same yards per play as the Aggies last season, but unlike A&M, they actually return almost all of their offensive weapons.
9. Texas A&M (63 points, 61 O+D)
I didn’t intend for A&M to end up this low in the ratings, as I do each unit completely independently, but this does get to my feelings on the Aggies this year. I kept saying I was gonna write a column on them, but I never got around to it, so let this entry serve as the warning for the hype on the A&M season.
So much of their offense was based on Trayveon Williams, and his 1760 rushing yards are out the door. I do think their low receiver rank is more a function of how many good receiver units there are in the SEC rather than any deficiency. They’ll be fine there. But the big issue is the defense has been gutted by graduation. A&M had six players with seven or more tackles for loss, which is a massive amount. Only one returns. Justin Madubuike is a hell of a player, but he looks a lot different when not surrounded by six other guys who get in the backfield. The secondary was terrible last season, and that was with an elite pass rush.
A&M essentially needs everything to go right this year just to avoid regression. They went 4-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, which is disturbing just for how many close games they played. The Aggies successfully walked the razor’s edge last year, but that is not a recipe for future success, especially now that they face the toughest schedule in the nation. I can see getting a repeat of good fortune to avoid regression, but I simply don’t see how they improve on last year’s results unless Kellen Mond becomes the best quarterback in the NCAA. Good luck with that.
10. Tennessee (74 points, 67 O+D)
There’s a pretty big gap between the Vols and A&M, so it’s safe to say this is where the basement of the conference begins. Now, it’s possible the Vols improve and finally bust out of the league’s bottom division because really, what the hell are they doing down here? They have a good quarterback and a nice receiving corps, but other than that, what can Tennessee hang their hat on? How did they let things get this bad?
11. Vanderbilt (77 points, 68 O+D)
Because let’s be honest, the gap between Tennessee and Vanderbilt is almost nil. Vanderbilt even returns some nice playmakers at the glamor positions on offense. The gaping hole at quarterback probably allows Tennessee to finally get a leg up on this rivalry again, but it’s no sure thing. Vanderbilt is outskilled at most positions, but they manage to find ways to compete. They are the ultimate Better Than the Sum of Their Parts team.
12. Kentucky (81 points, 73 O+D)
Due for some serious regression. The Wildcats lose one of their all-time best players on each side of the football, and they don’t have a single unit that ranks comfortably in the upper division of the conference. They also won some tight games last year, and are at real risk of the bottom dropping out if things start poorly.
13. Ole Miss (90 points, 78 O+D)
There’s a perception the East is the weaker division in the SEC, and there’s a lot of truth to that, but the real dregs of the conference reside in the West. Ole Miss will now bear the full brunt of their sanctions, and it is hard to point to one thing the team does all that well. It could be a very long year, as this is the classic worse before it gets better season.
14. Arkansas (94 points, 80 O+D)
The Hogs are hoping last year was rock bottom. That remains to be seen, as we are still into another year of selling Hope for the Future. The good news is, that sales pitch doesn’t seem quite as empty as it did last year. They shouldn’t be absolutely wretched this season, but it is going to be hard for them to win multiple SEC games.