10 things I learned from Top 25 Week
One of the great things about Top 25 Week was that it was a way for me to prep for 2019. Believe it or not, I don’t break down Group of 5 running backs every day. That’s like a once-a-week deal for me.
Doing research for my own Top 25 stories and reading other Top 25 stories from our great team here at SDS was a bit of a learning experience. I didn’t realize that there were only 2 running backs in the country who had 1,200 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns each of the past 2 seasons. I also didn’t realize that Ian Book put up such impressive numbers after taking over the starting job at Notre Dame last year.
(Insert “The More You Know” GIF here.)
As we put a bow on Top 25 Week and head into SEC Media Days, I thought it’d be fitting to share some of the things I learned from taking part in this series. And hey, maybe you’ll be learning these things, too.
1. I sort of forgot just how good Grant Delpit was last year
In my defense, I felt like the past few months, the conversation with the LSU secondary was all about Greedy Williams’ draft stock, Kristian Fulton’s decision to return and Derek Stingley’s arrival. Lost in that hoopla was the fact that the Tigers return an All-American who does everything well from the safety position. I knew I was going to have him as a top 5 guy in my SEC player rankings, but looking a little closer at what he did last year, I bumped him up to No. 2.
I will never forget about Delpit’s greatness again. You have my word.
2. Ranking the Top 25 SEC players was super difficult
It really was. I can admit that.
There were guys like Lamical Perine and Lynn Bowden who I thought were going to be locks to make the Top 25. Then I went through it and realized that they were just outside of my Top 25.
That says a lot about the talent the SEC has this year. Even after it sets a record for most NFL Draft picks, the amount of individual talent across the board is staggering. I had second-team All-Americans who I left off. That probably upset some people, but that’s a reminder that it ain’t easy finding the best of the best in the SEC.
3. But I bet coming up with the Top 25 moments that defined the decade was even tougher
Lucky for me, I didn’t have to do that! Les East, an SEC veteran, had to.
Based on the email chain that we had going, narrowing that list to 25 had to be extremely difficult. It’s easy to forget that Urban Meyer “retiring” from Florida and Cam Newton having essentially a perfect season were part of this decade. It’s been a wild, totally unpredictable decade in the SEC with some classic moments that we’ll be talking about 30-40 years from now (looking at you, 2nd-and-26).
So thank you Les for doing something that would have made me pull my hair out.
4. The non-SEC nonconference slate is woeful
It’s bad, y’all. Like, real bad. Outside of Notre Dame-Michigan, the non-SEC nonconference headliners are lacking in a major way. Part of it could be luck, but part of it could be based on my theory that with a lot of these games scheduled shortly after the switch the Playoff was announced, there was a bit of a feeling-out process. Teams like Ohio State and Washington with 9-game conference schedules changed their nonconference slates so that they wouldn’t have a headliner. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
5. The top 6 coaches are more obvious than ever
In some order, it seems like the consensus top 6 coaches in America are:
- Nick Saban
- Dabo Swinney
- Jimbo Fisher
- Kirby Smart
- Lincoln Riley
- Chris Petersen
Some would throw in a Brian Kelly or perhaps a Mike Leach, but to me, those coaches have put themselves in a different kind of position. All of them elevated their programs in significant ways (Jimbo at FSU), all of them have been to a Playoff and all enter 2019 with national title aspirations. Well, A&M and Washington might not be quite at that level, but both are expected to start in the top 15 and be in the Playoff hunt.
But still. If I had to start my program tomorrow, those are the 6 coaches who are at the top of my list.
6. But Kirby vs. Lincoln is a super interesting debate that isn’t going away
Besides Saban vs. Swinney, the coach rank debate I find most interesting is Smart vs. Riley.
I gave Smart the nod ahead of Riley just because of the 2017 Rose Bowl. That gave Smart a national championship berth, which Riley obviously doesn’t have yet. But man, that’s the only thing Riley doesn’t have. To be 35 with a pair of Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 overall picks after just 2 seasons on the job is unprecedented. He also has the 2 Playoff berths compared to 1 for Smart.
Because of where Riley and Smart are at in their careers, this discussion feels like it’s going to be relevant in college football for a long time. If either were to win a ring this year, that would clearly give one the edge over the other. In a perfect world, we’d get to watch these teams face off every year in the Playoff again instead of waiting until 2023 when Georgia travels to Norman.
7. There’s no right way to rank Justin Fields
I would have felt wrong ranking someone without a career start as a top 10 quarterback. I would have felt wrong ranking someone who I’ve argued has my favorite preseason Heisman odds (+1,100 had me intrigued) outside of the top 20 quarterbacks. So naturally, I hedged. I had Fields at No. 16 among my quarterbacks, which probably wasn’t as high as some expected.
But because of how he was used at Georgia, it is still a bit of an unknown how he’s going to pick up blitzes and read coverages. Then again, we’re talking about one of the highest-rated quarterback recruits ever who had experts like Trent Dilfer gushing about him. So yeah, no preseason ranking for Fields feels right.
8. The SEC’s best position group this year might actually be wide receiver
And I’m not just saying that because of Alabama’s wideouts, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. Jerry Jeudy is considered by many as the top returning wideout in America, and Henry Ruggs and Jaylen Waddle aren’t very far behind him.
But in doing the SEC Top 25 Players Rankings, I realized I had 4 receivers in my top 20, and I easily could have had the aforementioned Bowden, Ruggs and Bryan Edwards in that group. The sneaky depth is guys like Justin Jefferson and Kalija Lipscomb, who had extremely prolific breakout seasons as the go-to targets for their respective teams.
That doesn’t even include the wealth of Florida receivers who seem poised for big years, nor is that accounting for the promising former 5-star guys that Georgia has who are looking to become stars.
A prediction? The SEC sets a new decade record with 6 receivers hitting the 1,000-yard mark in 2019.
9. I beefed up the Larry Rountree ranking or lack thereof
I can admit when I’m wrong. Last year when I went on record saying I thought Mississippi State would win 10 games, I owned it when that didn’t happen. When Jalen Hurts didn’t quit Alabama in the middle of the season, I owned that, too.
So yes, I can admit that I messed up by not putting Rountree in my top 25 running backs nationally … as many of you told me. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have put a pair of true freshmen on that list over someone who rushed for 1,200 yards and was dominant down the stretch last year. That’s on me.
I do have questions about Rountree’s usage with Kelly Bryant dipping into some of those carries, but I’ll admit that a mistake was made. Forgive me, Mizzou fans.
10. Y’all really, really like rankings
The interaction across all of our social media platforms this week was tremendous. That’s a credit to you, person who consumes our content. Our goal was to entertain the diehard who finished reading their Phil Steele magazine 3 times and was in that awkward, pre-Media Days stretch. Hopefully this week kept you busy and interested.
And if not, well, football is coming in a hurry.