Alabama, Georgia lead projected SEC standings for 2015
Who will win the SEC in 2015? We dug into our PFF college football data — which includes grades for every player on every play of every game involving at least one FBS opponent last season — to help produce projected standings for this season.
Here’s how we expect things to turn out, based on the strength of each team’s rosters, and the quality of talent they saw leave after the 2014 season.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (projected champions)
Offensive snaps lost: 6,966 (59.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 4,096 (38.0 percent)
The roster is loaded, but quarterback is a question mark for the second year in a row. Jake Coker is projected to start, but a camp injury has started some buzz around true freshman and Elite 11 champion Blake Barnett. Alabama is young at wide receiver, and they lose three offensive lineman, so it could be on the defense to carry them early on. Leading the way is a stout defensive line of A’Shawn Robinson (84.3), Jonathan Allen (82.9), and Jarran Reed (80.1), while they have their usually bulk at outside linebacker in Ryan Anderson (79.4) and Denzel Devall (71.9) with perhaps a couple secret weapons at pass rusher on the roster. The NFL is keeping a close eye on LB Reggie Ragland (78.0), but he has to improve on his team-high 16 missed tackles and 73.8 coverage grade to live up to that hype.
2. Auburn Tigers
Offensive snaps lost: 6,080 (56.6 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,858 (36.2 percent)
There’s a lot of turnover at Auburn on offense, but a lot of reasons for optimism. QB Nick Marshall moves on after an 87.9 overall performance and an underrated season as a passer that saw him drop in some beautiful deep passes. Jeremy Johnson takes over after a promising small sample last year that saw him complete all but four of his 16 passes thrown at least 10 yards in the air. Head coach Gus Malzahn has been able to plug and play quarterbacks in the past and there’s a good chance Johnson picks up where Marshall left off, especially with D’haquille Williams (85.4) at wide receiver. The Tigers get high upside defensive end Carl Lawson back after he missed all of 2014, while defensive tackle Montravius Adams was third among interior defensive players as a pass rusher at 88.7. With Kris Frost (82.2) at linebacker and Jonathan Jones at cornerback (78.9), Auburn has playmakers at every level of the defense.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
Offensive snaps lost: 1,668 (15.4 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,966 (39.2 percent)
A loaded 2013 recruiting class has Ole Miss with one of their most talented teams in years. Former top recruit, DE Robert Nkemdiche, has to get better against the run (66.4) but he was a disruptive pass rusher at 83.5, despite registering only one sack. True sophomore Marquis Haynes was the third-best pass rushing freshman off the edge a year ago (82.7), while Tony Conner (79.0) brings a versatile presence to the secondary. That 2013 recruiting class also netted studs on offense as well, namely LT Laremy Tunsil (84.9), WR Laquon Treadwell (81.9), and TE Evan Engram (80.3). It all comes down to the quarterback positon after the inconsistent Bo Wallace (71.2) moves on. Look for former Clemson recruit, Chad Kelly, to win the job and lead an offense that loses only 15.4 percent of their snaps and is loaded with talent.
4. LSU Tigers
Offensive snaps lost: 3,204 (31.0 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3.440 (35.7 percent)
Yet another question at quarterback, LSU is deciding between true sophomore Brandon Harris and junior Anthony Jennings. Harris may have the slight edge, but no matter who wins the job, LSU won’t top their eight wins from last year without a big improvement at the positon. As usual, the Tigers will rely heavily on the running game, particularly Leonard Fournette who graded at 81.0 as a true freshman. On defense, LSU has to replenish on the defensive line where no returning player rates higher than 70. They do have two emerging talents in the secondary in CB Tre’davious White (80.5) — who looked like the best cornerback on the team at times last year — and Jamal Adams who graded at 79.5 as a true freshman on his 518 snaps.
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Offensive snaps lost: 5,508 (47.9 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 4,644 (41.9 percent)
Perhaps the most stable quarterback position in the SEC West is paired with a roster featuring a lot of turnover, but QB Dak Prescott’s (77.7) dual-threat ability should keep Mississippi State in most games. He has one of the conference’s best targets in De’Runnya Wilson (84.4), but it might take a committee approach to replace bowling-ball running back Josh Robinson (82.5). The defense lost a lot of talent as well, particularly DE Preston Smith (89.1) and LB Matthew Wells (87.0), but the Bulldogs rotated a lot of players on that side of the ball with 25 players seeing at least 100 snaps of action. That experience should do them well as players like DT Chris Jones (81.0, four sacks, eight hits, 20 hurries on 280 rushes) takes the next step and DE Ryan Brown (77.9 overall, 80.2 against the run) looks to take on more of the workload.
6. Texas A&M Aggies
Offensive snaps lost: 3,587 (35.1 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,671 (30.6 percent)
It’s all about the Texas A&M defense playing up to SEC standards, and it could be another rough year for the Aggies as only two defensive players rate over 75 heading into 2015.The do have one of the nation’s best pass rushers in true sophomore DE Myles Garrett (11 sacks, nine hits, 45 hurries on 345 rushes) and he should take his run defense (72.5) to a new level under defensive coordinator John Chavis. It will be on the offense where former top recruit Kyle Allen will start after a bumpy true freshman season, despite a respectable stat line. He’ll be protected by four returning starters on the offensive line, including OT German Ifedi (84.0) and guard Joseph Cheek (83.7) while wide receivers Speedy Noil (81.9) and Josh Reynolds (16.2 yards/reception, 13 touchdowns) will be the top options in the passing game.
Offensive snaps lost: 2,169 (20.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,797 (39.9 percent)
Expectations are high as head coach Brett Bielema heads into his third year at Arkansas, but the Razorbacks have a lot of talent to replace, particularly DE Trey Flowers (91.4) and Darius Philon (85.6) on the defensive line. Factor in the tough blow of running back Jonathan Williams (82.2) out for the season with an injury, and Arkansas is missing some top players from 2014. The good news is RB Alex Collins (78.0) will take on more of the workload and QB Brandon Allen returns after a serviceable second year as starter at 73.1. The defense will be led by CB D.J. Dean (82.7) and DT Taiwan Johnson (78.4), with JUCO transfer Jeremiah Ledbetter looking to fill the big shoes vacated by Flowers.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Offensive snaps lost: 4,164 (41.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 4,015 (38.3 percent)
If it weren’t for inexperience at quarterback, Georgia would be the easy favorite to win the East based on roster strength alone. They feature one of the nation’s best running backs in Nick Chubb (89.0), one of the best edge rushing duos in Jordan Jenkins (85.0) and Leonard Floyd (76.6), and four-fifths of their offensive line is returning. But it’s the quarterback play that will decide their fate as sophomore Brice Ramsey, junior Faton Bauta, and Virginia graduate transfer Greyson Lambert battle it out during fall camp. Neither Ramsey nor Bauta had much time to impress last season with 131 and 25 snaps respectively, while Lambert posted a 71.9 PFF rating in nine starts with Virginia.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Offensive snaps lost: 1,601 (14.4 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,137 (20.8 percent)
The youth movement is in full swing in Knoxville as back-to-back monster recruiting classes have replenished the talent pool for the Vols. While it does feel like a “one-year-away” type of team, an SEC East with no clear front runner could put Tennessee’s rebuilding project a year ahead of schedule. The defense features one of the nation’s best cornerbacks in Cameron Sutton (86.7 rating) as well as one of the best defensive end pairs in true sophomore Derek Barnett (83.2) and senior Curt Maggitt (82.2). If quarterback Josh Dobbs can improve as a passer (65.9) to pair with his running ability (87.5), the Vols may just become the favorite in a wide open East.
3. Florida Gators
Offensive snaps lost: 4,744 (50.1 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,904 (28.2 percent)
Who plays quarterback? That’s the first and most pressing issue for Florida with sophomore Treon Harris battling redshirt freshman Will Grier for the job. Harris had some impressive moments as a true freshman (66.9), but certainly not enough to come into camp as the front runner. The other big question is up front, where the Gators lose 3,386 snaps (!) of offensive line play, most of which is moving to the NFL. A front five littered with inexperience should lead to plenty of growing pains. On defense — even with first-round pick Dante Fowler moving on — Florida has plenty of talent, including the best cornerback in the country in Vernon Hargreaves III (96.7).
4. Missouri Tigers
Offensive snaps lost: 4,070 (36.3 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 4,263 (36.4 percent)
With Missouri losing their four top pass catchers from a year ago, who catches passes from Maty Mauk? Mauk finished at 73.8 as a passer, but he holds the ball too long at times (3.03 seconds/dropback, third-highest in nation) and he completed only 27 percent of his passes when pressured. The Tigers will rely heavily on Mauk’s running ability (82.7) and running back Russell Hansbrough (79.0), who ran for 1084 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. On defense, DE Charles Harris was one of the best freshman pass rushers in the nation a year ago (77.7) and linebacker Michael Scherer one of the best coverage linebackers (79.9). Unfortunately, the best defensive player on the team, DT Harold Brantley (80.1, 34 pressures on 374 rushes), is out for the season and Missouri now has to replace their entire starting defensive line including top draft picks Shane Ray (89.2) and Marcus Golden (88.9)
5. South Carolina Gamecocks
Offensive snaps lost: 5,230 (48.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,058 (19.5 percent)
After three straight 11-win seasons, last year was a disappointment for South Carolina as they finished 7-6 after beating Miami in the Independence Bowl. Their abysmal defense was the story as they allowed over 200 yards/game and only one player in the front seven managed to post a run defense rating over 80 (DE Gerald Dixon, 82.7). The pass rush wasn’t much better, as only DE Mason Harris managed a pass rush rating over 70 among the defensive linemen with at least 200 snaps. With only 19.5 percent of the defensive snaps moving on, the Gamecocks are counting on experience improving last year’s disaster. Offensively, they feature one of the best wide receivers in the FBS in Pharoh Cooper (84.5), though sophomore QB Connor Mitch is the favorite to be throwing him the ball, and he has only 19 career snaps under his belt.
6. Kentucky Wildcats
Offensive snaps lost: 2,655 (26.8 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,067 (30.7 percent)
The big story at Kentucky is replacing their pass rush with first-round defensive end Bud Dupree (86.9 pass rush) and fourth rounder Za’Darius Smith (89.9 pass rush) off to the NFL. Former top recruit Jason Hatcher is first in line to replace their production but he’s coming off a rough sophomore season that saw him grade at 50.4 on 355 snaps. Offensively, four out of five offensive linemen return, including guard Zach West (82.0) and center Jon Toth (81.8), but Kentucky’s ability to take the next step will coincide with quarterback Patrick Towles’ improvement in his second year as starter. The stats weren’t terrible, but we had Towles at 55.8 as a passer, so there’s plenty of improvement to be had with regard to accuracy and decision making though his 74.2 run grade brings an added dimension to the offense.
7. Vanderbilt Commodores
Offensive snaps lost: 1,879 (21.6 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 1,323 (13.5 percent)
After back-to-back nine-win seasons, Vanderbilt fell back to three a year ago and this year might be more of the same. Last year’s QB carousel appears to be pointing toward Johnny McCrary as the starter for 2015 after he posted the “best” PFF rating of the four Vanderbilt QBs at 60.8 on his 337 snaps last season. He’ll be throwing to emerging playmakers WR C.J. Duncan (77.7) and TE Steven Scheu (87.4). On the other side, defensive tackle Adam Butler is one of the most underrated players in the nation at 84.7 overall — 87.7 as a pass rusher — while sophomore safety Oren Burks has a chance to take a big step forward in his second year as starter (74.7).