Rating the units
By Jess Nicholas
August 12, 2009
Any ratings system – save perhaps for the mysterious computers used in the BCS statistical conglomerate – is subjective. But anything that can be done to lessen the impact of personal opinion or bias is generally regarded as a good thing.
Via a process that first went to press five years ago, TideFans/NARCAS expanded its rating system beyond the simple six-class system employed in the past. In all 12 SEC previews, you’ll notice eight unit divisions – quarterbacks (QB), running backs (RB), wide receivers and tight ends (WR), offensive line (OL), defensive line (DL), linebackers (LB), defensive backs (DB) and kickers, punters, return men and coverage units (ST, for special teams).
Prior to 2004, ratings were doled out to each team during the individual previews. The only way to compare teams was for the reader to manually swap back and forth between two separate reports. In the individual reports, ratings are assigned as follows: Excellent (Ex), Very Good (Vg), Average (Av), Fair (Fr) and Poor (Pr). It also bears mentioning that teams can have a great starter at a particular position, but if depth is poor behind that starter, the ranking for the unit as a whole can be affected. These are unit rankings, not rankings of individuals.
In this first comparison box, you’ll see the teams compared against each other within their respective divisions. The team with the highest score is ranked first. At the end of the report, we’ll summarize.
In this first graphic, a numerical value is assigned – six points for first place in the division, five for second and so forth. Here’s each team’s point total after the first comparison:
In the SEC East, Florida set what we believe to be a record. A perfect score in the intra-division comparison is a 48, and Florida scored a 47. It’s no wonder the Gators are picked to repeat as national champions. As far as the rest of the division goes, Tennessee continues to score better in unit rankings than it has tended to do on the field (more on this point later). The biggest surprise in the East was probably South Carolina, which we have picked to finish third but who came in a distant fifth.
In the SEC West, there were no surprises. Aside from Auburn and Arkansas trading places compared to where we picked them to finish, the point spreads and placements pretty much back up what 90-plus percent of college football analysts are seeing this year.
Moving on to the second graph, we compare all 12 SEC teams against one another. It’s not as simple as shuffling two sets of six figures. Compared against the entire league, a team could be both fourth-best in its division and also fourth-best across the entire league when taken as a whole. Again, a summary follows this report.
Here’s the point breakdown:
Again, few people would be surprised by this breakdown, save possibly for Kentucky’s strong showing and South Carolina’s poor showing. Once again, Tennessee scores higher than many think the Vols are capable of backing up on the field.
The biggest items of note begin with Florida’s score of 89 out of a possible 96. That’s a new record here, and if the Gators don’t win at least the conference title, it will be evidence of one of the biggest busts in modern college football history.
Some anomalies also bear mentioning. Arkansas finished third in the quarterback rankings and got a fat 10 points for it – even though the Razorback QB unit rated “Fr” for “fair.” This is the weakest quarterback group in the SEC in perhaps 20 years or more. Only two teams rated above “fair,” Ole Miss at “Very Good” and Florida at “Excellent.” No teams ranked “Average.”
On the flip side, Georgia finished second from the bottom in the linebacker category and got only 2 points – even thought the Bulldogs’ unit rated “Average” and even though Georgia has a couple of starters who could very well end up in next April’s NFL Draft. In other words, while the SEC’s crop of quarterbacks looks like something out of the Dust Bowl, the league’s linebackers are second to none. That’s just the way it works out sometimes.
Prior to 2009, our numerical ranking system had correctly picked the SEC Championship Game matchup two out three years. Not last year. Tennessee and Auburn finished 1-2 in the numerical poll and neither team made the postseason. Florida was tied for fourth with LSU behind Georgia in third. Perhaps Tennessee’s and Auburn’s 1-2 finish was supposed to happen, and the fact that it didn’t was what cost Phil Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville their respective jobs. We’ll never know.
As always, take this research for what it is: entertainment.