Alabama is carrying the SEC’s load.

Bill Connelly:

But your eyes have not deceived you: despite returning a ton of last year’s production, the SEC isn’t really any better than it was last year.

The other conference with a particularly high level of returning production, the Big 12, has improved as expected. The SEC has not.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

The SEC West hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory. Alabama is Alabama, Auburn has shown some sustained flashes, and Mississippi State and Arkansas have played at basically the expected level (though MSU has done so in a hilariously volatile way). However, Texas A&M has underachieved a bit, LSU has obviously disappointed, and Ole Miss — the hardest team to project besides UAB — is on the verge of collapse.

Still, the primary blame here lies in the East. Again.

SEC teams’ current S&P+ rankings vs. 2017 projections

  • Georgia: +11 (projected 21st, currently 10th)
  • Mississippi State: +3 (projected 33rd, currently 30th)
  • Alabama: 0 (projected first, currently first)
  • Vanderbilt: -1 (projected 58th, currently 59th)
  • Auburn: -4 (projected eighth, currently 12th)
  • Arkansas: -4 (projected 29th, currently 33rd)
  • Florida: -10 (projected 15th, currently 25th)
  • Texas A&M: -13 (projected 22nd, currently 35th)
  • Ole Miss: -13 (projected 23rd, currently 36th)
  • LSU: -15 (projected fourth, currently 19th)
  • Kentucky: -24 (projected 45th, currently 69th)
  • South Carolina: -26 (projected 39th, currently 65th)
  • Tennessee: -27 (projected 25th, currently 52nd)
  • Missouri: -31 (projected 47th, currently 78th)

Georgia is doing great, and Vanderbilt has performed as expected (again, in rather volatile fashion). But Florida has underachieved by 10 spots, and the other four teams have all underachieved by at least 24. Guh.

I don’t think much of that comes as a surprise if you’ve watched any amount of conference football this season.  The question is why the division (and the league, for that matter) is underperforming again.  Bill thinks it’s more a case of the Xs and Os than… well, you know.

Kentucky and South Carolina both projected to improve primarily because of returning production, more than recruiting. They each ranked in the top 10 on that list. But while other teams atop the list — TCU, Oregon, Wake Forest — have taken steps forward as projected, the Wildcats and Gamecocks have not.

Injury has played a major role. UK lost No. 2 returning receiver Dorian Baker to a preseason ankle injury and starting left tackle Cole Mosier to an ACL injury, while South Carolina star Deebo Samuel was playing at an All-American level before suffering a Week 3 leg injury.

Consequently, both offenses have collapsed. South Carolina ranks 87th in offensive success rate, and Kentucky ranks 102nd. Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr., so incredible as a freshman in 2016, is averaging 3.8 yards per carry, while the Cocks’ Rico Dowdle is averaging 2.8. That’s putting a lot of pressure on QBs to play beyond their capabilities, each with a banged up receiving corps.

Missouri was in a similar preseason position. The Tigers ranked 31st in returning production, 10th on offense, and looked to keep advancing offensively and rebound from a 2016 defensive collapse. Instead, the offense has stagnated (the Tigers are 61st in success rate, powered by a great performance against Missouri State) and have somehow managed to get worse defensively. They are 118th in defensive success rate and 119th in explosiveness.

Head coach Barry Odom made a point of moving toward a base nickel defense. The nickel has been by far Missouri’s worst set. Whoops.

And then there’s Tennessee. The Vols have a pretty good pass defense, and running back John Kelly is one of the conference’s most fun players to watch. He is pulling off a poor-man’s-Saquon act, leading the team in both rushing and receiving. UT’s return game is strong, too.

I just listed all of Tennessee’s strengths. The run defense is miserable, place-kicking is unreliable, and after Quinten Dormady’s overwhelmed performance against Georgia, let’s just say the Vols aren’t any further along with their QB situation than when the season began.

Tennessee had to deal with more turnover than any East team not named Florida, and the Volunteers’ projections were propped up by recruiting rankings. LSU’s, too. But the league’s primary issue appears to be more on the developmental side. Key players at Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, and Arkansas have either regressed or failed to improve.  [Emphasis added.]

I’m beginning to think a comparison of the preseason and postseason All-SEC teams might be somewhat revealing in that regard.  In any event, it’s hard to fault Bill’s conclusion — one that he’s hardly alone in having made — that the conference suffers from recent subpar head coaching hires.  While some think that’s because ADs have been too focused on hiring great recruiters regardless of their other skills, I think he hits the nail on the head with this overall perspective:

The SEC has been Sabanized; Nick Saban’s almost unfathomable level of sustained success at Alabama has driven every other school crazy, and quite a few have attempted to find their own Sabans.

Typically that means either finding a former Saban assistant, finding an elite recruiter, or both. (It also often means finding a defense-first guy more than happy to play big, conservative, rocks-bashing-together football.) But Saban’s success has come not only because of elite recruiting but also because those elite recruits learn, develop, and grow throughout their three to five years in Tuscaloosa.

Either a lack of development, tactical miscues, or both have dragged down Saban imitators. (And in Florida’s case, an incredible run of non-success at quarterback has held the Gators back.) We’ll see if this ever changes.

Something will have to happen first for that.  In the meantime, a rising Tide lifts all boats… er, programs.




Filed under SEC Football

22 responses to “Alabama is carrying the SEC’s load.

  1. Hogbody Spradlin

    Not to mention the fact that because of coaching failures, the LSU Teneessee, and Ole Miss football teams are coming apart at the seams.


  2. zamalou

    Stats are ok, but the analysis falls well short…

    Tennessee hired a proven mid-major coach and has given him considerable time to make it work. Doesn’t look like he’s up to the task of making TN a champion, but he’s also not a Saban clone or guilty of smashing rocks together.
    FL hired a proven offensive-minded coach from CSU. Also not a Saban clone or, necessarily, a bad hire. He’s doing fair job considering he lost about a 10th of the team before the season started.
    Vandy made a pretty good hire to follow on from one of their best-ever coaches. He’s also had good experience working at both a high-standard university in Stanford, that also has had a solid football program, known for toughness. Not a Saban clone. But, of course it’s vandy
    Kentucky has made considerable investment in it’s program, and it’s payed off — sort of. Stoops is not a Saban clone.
    Arguably, the only two coaches that you can connect to the Saban tree are Boom and Smart. Both have done a respectable job, considering their starting point. I don’t know what the long term success for Muschamp may be, but it’s not a reach to say that he started with a s*** sandwich and has improved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • FL hired a proven offensive-minded coach from CSU. Also not a Saban clone…

      Maybe it’s semantics, but McElwain is a former Saban assistant.


      • Cojones

        Don’t look now, but FU’s injury list is at 16 counting the 8 suspended players. One of those suspended has been listed as questionable to start this week vs LSU while the remainder remain on suspension. Want to venture a guess as to the name of the player?.


      • zamalou

        Thought about that, but the point is that McElwain’s made his reputation and his philosophy is on the other side of the ball, not really a Saban clone – Kiffin worked for him, but obviously not two peas in the same pod.

        The larger issue is that there are a bunch of different guys with lots of different backgrounds and lots of innovative approaches. It just seems shallow to me to say, it’s Alabama — then everyone else. Add in that there’s lots of recent history that says Bama will not make it through the SEC schedule without a loss.

        All that said, SEC in general is looking pretty weak to start the year.


        • I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue of whether McElwain’s an offensive coach. The Process is about running a program, not just a defense.

          And let’s not forget his hire came on the heels of Boom, another Saban disciple.


    • 69Dawg

      Florida’s coach was a Saban OC so there are 3 all in the East so there is that.


    • mdcgtp

      I just posted something similar in response. Bill literally just makes crap up to fill a word quota at time. You are correct. Mcelwain’s ties to Saban probably played a role, but the largest factor in him being hired by UF was doing a good job at CSU. Proof of such is that if his Saban pedigree was so strong, why wasn’t he considered for any SEC job prior to CSU?


    • Jared S.

      Boom is destined to be nothing but a dumpster fire wherever he goes. Period.

      Still thanking God he isn’t our DC.


      • Otto

        As a HC he is a dumpster fire maybe he will learn he is a career DC. You can still make a fortune from that, not he shouldn’t have a healthy retirement fund thanks to the last buyout.


  3. 69Dawg

    While most of the other conferences are heavy into offensive minded HC’s the SEC remains firmly stuck in the smash mouth football days. Mullens and Sumerland are the exceptions now that Freeze is gone. Auburn uses tricks to run the ball but other than those 3 formerly 4 they are all playing Nick’s game without Nick’s guys. If we are going to out Bama we are going to have to do something that hasn’t been done in what 8 years, out recruit Bama. Truly the SEC is Alabama and the 13 dwarves. We might be the tallest dwarf but we still are a dwarf.


  4. AusDawg85

    Mr. CFB Tony tweets: “TL;DR…Alabama continues to be the class of the SEC. Can anyone catch up?”


  5. kfoge

    I can’t remember if it was on GTP, but there was a post or story about HS football now pretty much all running spread etc, I just think the schemes/players aren’t that great. How many teams do you see run a shotgun from the opponents 1 yd line? Do a freaking QB sneak for God’s sake. Watch a Big12 game, even though its 42-28 at the half, its a boring game. No tackling on D, bad fundamentals and it takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to play the first half. Look at UGA against Tenn, they ran the same shotgun/pistol run play like 5 times in a row. Yeah the first 2 worked, but at least run it to the other side or take it off tackle. I did a mini rant, probably got off topic, but I feel better 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Greg

    Just a few years ago, the SEC head coaching lineup included national championship head coaches in Saban, Spurrier, Meyer and Miles along with other highly successful coaches like Richt and Pinkel. Now, there’s only Saban and a bunch of newer guys who haven’t yet proven themselves, others who aren’t getting it done (like Butch and Bielema) and another guy who got fired at one SEC school but was still hired by another (Muschamp). You
    know the coaches aren’t what they
    used to be when Dan Mullen gets
    some press as possibly being the 2nd
    best coach in the conference. Orgeron and Odom hires were awful and it will take Mizzou and LSU years to recover.


    • burt hole

      “another guy who got fired at one SEC school but was still hired by another (Muschamp)…”

      I think you meant:
      “two guys who got fired at one SEC school but was still hired by another (Muschamp and O)”


    • 1smartdude

      You are correct Greg. All of that and not to mention our own experiment, replacing Richt with a first time HC. While I’m a Kirby fan, and believe this looks more like a legitimate team than I’ve seen in a few years, it’ll still take one heck of a performance to top the Richt era, especially the early years. I think that is more than possible, but at the same time, Richt’s early success was against a monster SEC conference as a whole. This obviously isn’t apples to apples right now but Richt’s success against a watered down East wasn’t the best towards the end either. While I’m rambling, an SEC title and trip to the playoffs would probably make you smile, no matter the circumstances. Anything short of that and we’ve been there, done that, for years.


      • Biggus Rickus

        The SEC from 2002 to 2005 was not a monster conference, especially the East. Tennessee was pretty good, but Florida was coached by Ron Zook, South Carolina had the last few bad years of Holtz, and Kentucky and Vandy were awful. The West was good most of those years, though not in 2002.


    • dawgtired

      It’s really starting to look like our coaches don’t have to be geniuses to compete in the SEC right now. Recruiting may be enough to keep us in the top two programs. I’m not sure it will change anytime too soon either. Will successful coaches from other conferences want to come to the SEC now?


  7. zamalou

    maybe it’s being picky, but i’d reserve the dumpster fire monicker for situations like Missouri or Ole Miss.


  8. Mayor

    Shorter version: We were stupid enough to pick these teams to have higher numbers than they have so the teams suck. Not we suck for being stupid.