Tuesday, June 27, 2017

NCAAF 2017: SEC WEST PREVIEW

It’s never too early to take a look at the upcoming college football season!  With that in mind here is our second conference & division analysis – today we examine the SEC West.

The SEC West division is typically among the best, if not right at the top, of divisions in college football.  Certainly having Alabama in it helps as the Tide always finds itself near the top of the rankings, but schools like LSU & Auburn typically reside in the Top 15ish, while the other four have all had their moments & posted a Top 20 team within the last five years.  There really is no annual weak link; combine that with Alabama & you have the makings of a difficult division.


2017
2016 OFF
2017
2016 DEF
2017
2016
SCHOOL
OFF RS
RATING
RANK
DEF RS
RATING
RANK
TOT RS
RATING
RANK
ALABAMA
6
143.7
2
5
163.7
1
11
307.4
1
LSU
6
109.5
31
5
146.1
5
11
255.6
7
AUBURN
8
114.5
23
7
115.6
14
15
230.1
13
ARKANSAS
7
110.0
29
6
76.3
51
13
186.3
39
TEXAS A&M
5
104.4
38
7
79.7
45
12
184.1
41
MISSISSIPPI
5
101.8
44
6
60.6
78
11
162.4
60
MISSISSIPPI STATE
7
104.5
37
6
47.5
97
13
152.0
70

Here is a summary in bullet form of some of the division wide trends that stand out:

·      Somewhat counterintuitive to what you would think the schools in this division are strong offensively – last season each of the seven ranked inside the Top 44 offenses in the country.
·      Five of the seven schools return their QB; however both Texas A&M and Ole Miss should be in decent shape with Jake Hubenak (Jr.) and Shea Patterson (So.) returning respectively after getting some action last year.
·      Defense is what separates these teams into their usual tiers; Alabama, LSU & Auburn are more times than not in the mix deep into the season – and it’s not a coincidence those three ranked inside the Top 14 defenses in the country last year while the other four schools ranked 45+.
·      Just ONE team (Auburn) returns more than the average 13.4 returning starters; they return 15 (8/7) including transfer Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham.
·      This division houses FIVE potentially “elite” units: Alabama offense and defense, LSU defense, Auburn offense and defense.
·      Three teams ranked in the SBPI Top 13 last season & I expect more of the same from Alabama, LSU & Auburn in 2017.
·      The West division has won the SEC Championship nine straight seasons.

Way too early projected order of finish (school, odds to win national championship, odds to win SEC):

1.     Alabama (+340, -230): of course the Tide check in at the top as they have won the division & SEC Championship Game in each of the last three seasons and four of the last five (they are one shy of tying Florida at 12 SEC Championship Game appearances).  Their running game will be very effective once again, and although they are replacing half of their defense that has NEVER been a problem since Saban has been in Tuscaloosa.  Bama does open in Atlanta vs. FSU – but as we have seen annually they typically face a good team in their opener and hammer them thoroughly – will this year be any different?  In conference play they have four road games – Vandy, TAMU, MSU, Auburn – which is very light outside the finale.  Look for Alabama to have a maximum of one loss heading onto the Plains on Saturday November 25th.
2.     Auburn (30/1, 7/1): they had a lot of trouble scoring points last year, especially when facing ranked teams as they posted an 8-5 record that included 2-4 vs. ranked teams.  In their five losses they scored 13, 16, 7, 12 and 19 points – clearly not getting the job done.  Due to that, and no blue chip QB on the roster, they made a move for former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham – who has the best arm & most talent Auburn has had since Cam Newton was on the Plains.  The biggest question there is can Stidham’s game fit into what Auburn is trying to do offensively?  If he performs as he did in their Spring game the answer is a resounding yes!  The Tigers travel to Clemson in Week 2 for a titanic battle – a win there and they certainly control their own destiny.  Even with a loss in Death Valley if they win out they also likely control their destiny.  Their four conference road games are at Missouri in late September then a streak of THREE STRAIGHT roadies in late October/early November (with one bye mixed in) against LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M.  At least the LSU game comes at the beginning of that stretch but that won’t be easy, even with the aforementioned bye coming before they travel to College Station.  Hosting Alabama in the finale will have an impact on the SEC West title & likely the CFB Playoff.
3.     LSU (20/1, 5.5/1): Ed Orgeron got the job – but was that the right move?  Time will tell but it certainly was a popular one in the locker room as Coach O is a player’s coach – but will that translate to championships, which LSU expects?  My opinion is no.  These Tigers have five road games in conference play – Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama & Tennessee which is decent in division but facing both UF & UT on the road in cross-over action is a tough draw.  Despite “returning” their starting QB there are still tons of questions at that spot – and no clear answer as to if anyone on the roster can play that position at a high enough level to challenge the best in college football – or the best in their own division which includes Hurt & Stidham.  LSU is clearly a step behind the two above them in my projection – and not sure when or if that changes with Orgeron on the sideline.
4.     Arkansas (250/1, 50/1): no team has consistently won fewer games than their SBPI would suggest than the Razorbacks – when will that change?  They have a couple of critical metrics seemingly pointing in a favorable direction heading into the 2017 campaign – but we have seen that before & it did not pan out.  Their clear issue is defense – in particular allowing far too many points versus what their statistics suggest they should allow.  In last year’s six losses they allowed 49, 45, 56, 38, 28 and 35 points – you just cannot win big games against good teams consistently with those points allowed.  Their slate has four road games (SCAR, BAMA, MISS, LSU), two neutral games (Florida A&M and Texas A&M) along with six home games.  Facing both Alabama and LSU on the road will be too much to overcome as far as winning the division – but a 3rd place finish is attainable and should be considered a strong season should they accomplish that.  A finish in the standings of 5th or worse has to start pushing Bielema towards that hot seat.
5.     Texas A&M (100/1, 42/1): the Aggies are one of only two SEC West teams (Ole Miss) who do not return their starting QB from last season – although both QBs taking the reigns played a decent amount last year.  A&M lost four of their last five & five of their last seven last season – a theme we have seen from Sumlin’s team too often over the years.  In a stacked SEC West they are clearly at least one cut, if not two (Alabama should be on it’s own tier shouldn’t it?) behind the elite of the division – nothing this year should change that as the Aggies are still stuck being a 7/8 win team.  They have a slightly easier slate than Miss State (and get the Bulldogs in College Station) and thus get the edge for 5th in the division.
6.     Mississippi State (300/1, 50/1): MSU returns a lot offensively with 7 starters back in the fold including exciting dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald who brings back memories of former MSU QB Dak Prescott – but can he bring the wins?  What is holding the Dogs back is their defense that ranked 97th in my SBPI last season & returns just 6 starters this year.  Even with a terrible defense their TOM was +7 which is solid – and even more cause for concern in 2017 as that figure is likely to take a step back towards even.  With road games at Georgia, Auburn, Arkansas and Texas A&M (the latter two being teams they will be battling for 4th in the West) it’s tough to see them bettering last year’s finish which was tied for 5th with Arkansas at 3-5.
7.     Ole Miss (100/1, 66/1): the Rebels lose star QB Chad Kelly (drafted by the Broncos) which makes it tough to see them escaping the West’s basement in 2017.  Along with Alabama & LSU they return just 11 starters (fewest in the SEC) which is well below the average of 13.4 across the country.  They also had a slightly favorable TOM in 2016 which is likely to take a turn for the worse as they break in a young QB seeing his first full season duty.  They open SEC play with back to back road games against Alabama & Auburn – brutal.  It’s a clear uphill battle for the Rebels to just escape last place in their division.


To summarize, as I sit in my office in mid June, I see the SEC West as still one of the best divisions in the Power 5 conferences – at least amongst top 3 teams with Alabama, Auburn and LSU.  I see four tiers here because, after all, Alabama probably does deserve their own tier:

Leader of the Pack: Alabama
Contender: Auburn (worthy of a wager on winning the national championship & SEC)
Middle of Pack: LSU, Arkansas & Texas A&M
Bottom: Mississippi State & Ole Miss

Alabama is a clear choice to return to the CFB Playoff and challenge for the national championship (what else is new?) while neighbor Auburn is a strong “sleeper” as they do host the Tide this year in the Iron Bowl finale; how well Stidham plays on the Plains will determine the Tigers’ fate.  LSU is always dangerous because of their pure talent – but they still need some help offensively to become a serious threat for the CFBP this season.  The bottom four teams should rank between 40-60 in the SBPI by season’s end.

Be back soon with a Big Ten preview!


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COPYRIGHT: THE SPORTSBOSS, 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017

NCAAF 2017: SEC EAST PREVIEW

It’s never too early to take a look at the upcoming college football season!  With that in mind we are starting our early season conference previews looking at the SEC East.

The SEC East division has been one of the weaker Power 5 conference divisions for a couple years; in 2016 it ranked 7th in division strength according to SBPI, only besting the Big 10 West by 0.07 SBPI ratings points in Power 5 division strength – not good.  Will this be the year schools like Florida, Georgia & Tennessee return to national relevance?  Not likely despite what some early season polls show.  They are still playing catch-up to Alabama, LSU and likely Auburn – three West division teams – in the SEC.


2017
2016 OFF
2017
2016 DEF
2017
2016
SCHOOL
OFF RS
RATING
RANK
DEF RS
RATING
RANK
TOT RS
RATING
RANK
FLORIDA
9
64.7
93
5
141.5
7
14
206.2
22
GEORGIA
7
91.7
59
10
109.8
21
17
201.5
26
TENNESSEE
7
114.0
25
7
76.0
52
14
190.0
32
MISSOURI
10
116.5
20
5
67.1
69
15
183.6
42
KENTUCKY
8
91.8
58
9
56.6
86
17
148.4
72
SOUTH CAROLINA
10
61.0
99
6
67.4
68
16
128.5
90
VANDERBILT
9
59.2
101
7
64.7
72
16
124.0
94

Here is a summary in bullet form of some of the division wide trends that stand out:

·      Six of the seven teams return their starting QB – the only team that doesn’t?  Tennessee, who loses Josh Dobbs – which is unfortunate for them as although frustrating at times he was likely their best offensive player.
·      All seven teams return more than the average 13.4 returning starters.
·      The only potentially “elite” unit in the entire division last year was the Florida defense – and that unit only returns 5 starters.
·      Just one team ranked in the SBPI Top 25 – Florida – who will likely need more in 2017 from an anemic offense to raise their standing.  Gator fans are hoping blue chip Sophomore QB Luke Del Rio can stay on the field this year and show his playmaking ability.
·      The SEC Championship has not been won by an East division team since 2008

Way too early projected order of finish (school, odds to win national championship, odds to win SEC):

1.     Georgia (40/1, 7/1): the Bulldogs return the most starters in the division, most starters in the conference and are tied for 3rd most in the country (only behind Syracuse’s 20 and Florida Atlantic’s 19).  They are led by blue chip 2nd year QB Jacob Eason who has all the tools and will look to leverage his experience as a freshman to put the Dawgs in the mix for an SEC Championship.  They play just three conference road games (Tennessee, Vanderbilt & Auburn) and their other crossover game is hosting Mississippi State.  In Kirby Smart’s second season UGA is clearly the team to beat in the East.
2.     Florida (55/1, 10/1): like Georgia the Gators have just three true road games (Kentucky, Missouri & South Carolina), getting both crossover games vs. LSU & Texas A&M in The Swamp (not an easy duo even at home).  UF will take a step back defensively after losing so much talent although they won’t fall off a cliff as the cupboard is far from bare; the offense on the other hand really struggled last year & is not close to being a consistent threat.  If they beat UGA in Jacksonville they will have a shot; a loss there will make it a real uphill battle with their schedule.
3.     Kentucky (500/1, 80/1): the Cats finished last year 4-4 in conference – and were “in the mix” for a hot October second.  However a closer examination of their season shows they beat the teams closer to their talent level while losing to all the bigger name, better players type programs.  This year with 17 starters back they could be primed to challenge and play some meaningful November football.  Their road schedule is certainly manageable facing South Carolina early in the season, Miss State in middle and late back-to-back roadies against Vandy & UGA (they will certainly have revenge on their minds when they visit Athens).  Their home crossover is versus Ole Miss – not easy but it’s not Alabama or LSU, or even Auburn.  It would not shock me if that SEC finale in Athens has something on the line for both teams.
4.     South Carolina (300/1, 80/1): the Cocks have not been relevant since 2013 & 2017 will not bring national relevance – but could SC be a sneaky pick to win the division?  They return 16 starters in Head Coach Will Muschamp’s 2nd season in Columbia & 2016 was not a complete disaster as they were only clearly out-classed in one game – at Clemson – no shame there.  This year they need more offense against better teams – and with 10 starters returning that is likely to occur.  The schedule features road games at Mizzou, TAMU, Tennessee & Georgia – which is not brutal.  Their home crossover is against Arkansas – again kind of of manageable.  Although they have a long way to go I think they can sneak up on some people this year and finish in the top middle of the division – but making jump to the champion is unlikely.
5.     Missouri (500/1, 160/1): the Tigers were better statistically last season than their record indicated, which should help some in 2017.  Defense was a major issue as they allowed 28+ in every SEC game besides the home win over Vanderbilt – how much will that unit improve in 2017?  My early guess is their offense will be solid & cover-up for an average defense – but a schedule that features four conference road games (UK, UGA, Vandy & Arkansas) & a home crossover with Auburn will keep them towards the bottom of the division.
6.     Tennessee (66/1, 14/1): Butch Jones is clearly on the hot seat as the Vols want to get back into the national title conversation – and they haven’t really been in their own division’s race under his leadership come mid November, losing at least three conference games in each of his four seasons, melting down to a 4-4 mark in 2016.  This year not only must they overcome the loss of their QB (which as a reminder is the only QB not returning in this division) they face a tough schedule in conference with four road games (Florida, Alabama, Kentucky & Mizzou) along with a late season crossover hosting LSU.  All these factors make it too tough for the Volunteers to contend in 2017. 
7.     Vanderbilt (600/1, 160/1): the Commodores finished a game ahead of Missouri to avoid the basement last year, but they finished worst in the division according to SBPI and are likely headed there this season.  Vandy faces a very tough schedule this year with road contests at Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee along with a home crossover game vs. Alabama – brutal.  I see the ‘Dores as the clear bottom dwellers this year in the conference.


To summarize, as I sit in my office in late May, I see the SEC East as still one of the worst divisions in the Power 5 conferences.  The division, at best, probably has the 4th best team in the conference making it once again unlikely they break the EIGHT game losing streak in the SEC Championship Game – although in a one game “winner take all” scenario nothing can be removed as a possibility.  I see three tiers:

Contenders: Georgia & Florida
Middle of Pack: Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri & Tennessee
Bottom: Vanderbilt

Georgia or Florida is likely to win the division but will not be of national relevance; any of the four middle pack teams, who are all very close to each other in my mind at this point in time, could challenge the contenders as neither UGA nor UF is a juggernaut but it’s likely they all finish between 3rd and 6th; Vanderbilt is very likely to finish last.

Be back soon with a preview of the SEC West!


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COPYRIGHT: THE SPORTSBOSS, 2017