Athlon ranks 2016 SEC football rosters
You can probably guess which SEC team Athlon thinks has the best roster heading into 2016. It is easy to look at Alabama’s roster, chock full of former Parade All-Americans and five-star recruits, and reach that conclusion.
Sometimes, life isn’t complicated. The complete list is below, followed by a few other interesting nuggets from the story:
ATHLON’S SEC ROSTER RANKINGS
- Texas A&M
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Mississippi State
From Athlon: “Nick Saban did it again. Last year, his class was basically wrapped up on National Signing Day. This year, he landed half-a-dozen names on the final day of the cycle. Either way, Alabama once again landed the best class in the nation. For the sixth season in a row. What Saban is doing on the recruiting trail right now is virtually unprecedented.”
The Crimson Tide certainly left it late on National Signing Day, but a furious finish — including landing two of the nation’s best linebackers in Ben Davis and Lyndell “Mack” Wilson — pushed them to the top of the 247Sports rankings for the sixth consecutive year.
While legitimate questions can be asked about the experience of the 2016 squad at a few positions (particularly at QB, RB and LB), it’s tough to argue with the notion that Saban’s collection of talent is the SEC’s best.
WANTING MORE FROM LES
After tabbing LSU as the league’s next-best roster, Athlon had this to say about the Tigers, and their coach:
“Les Miles used an unusually deep collection of in-state talent to land yet another elite class. And it’s not an indication that things are all gravy in Baton Rouge. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Miles has landed four consecutive top-six classes and has the fourth-most talented roster in the nation in 2016 — which is the exact reason why big boosters have increased pressure on their head coach.”
Stocking up top-notch recruits is great, but eventually the results on the field need to match the hype generated in February. The defense will be much better than it was last season for the Tigers, and Leonard Fournette is already a Heisman Trophy contender. Getting more from the quarterback position is an absolute must in 2016 if Miles is to satisfy his critics.
BETWEEN THE HEDGES
Georgia’s roster checks in at No. 3, and Athlon had this to say about the Bulldogs:
“Georgia’s 30-10 SEC record over the last five years is second only to Alabama but the Dawgs haven’t claimed a conference title since 2005. Mark Richt is in Miami now and Kirby Smart just inherited the fifth-most talented roster in the nation. There are four top-10 classes sitting in Athens now and the pressure to win immediately is very real.”
Some Georgia fans are tired of hearing about strong recruiting classes and are ready to compete for championships. That’s the trick for Smart — finding a way to turn all of that elite talent into more victories.
TWO ROADS DIVERGED?
Auburn and Florida round out the top five, though the magazine thinks one of those programs is heading in the wrong direction:
“Gus Malzahn surged through NSD and landed a fourth straight top-10 class for Auburn. Jim McElwain showed improvement on the recruiting trail in his first full cycle, landing the 13th-ranked class this cycle. But on the field, the two may be trending in opposite directions. Auburn, picked by many to win the West, fell to last place and 17-23 over the last five years while Florida won 10 games and claimed the East Division title. They have the seventh- and eighth-best rosters in the nation in 2016. The nation will learn a lot more about both this fall.”
Quarterback play was a big part of Auburn’s woes in 2015, and Malzahn set out to address that in this recruiting cycle. JUCO transfer John Franklin III may be the answer, and if he is, the Tigers should bounce back in a big way.
Florida has its own quarterback problems with last season’s starters, Will Grier (suspension/transfer) and Treon Harris (position change), no longer available. A host of candidates — led by freshman Feleipe Franks and transfers Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby — will try to seize the job and help McElwain and the Gators build on their SEC East title run in 2015.
VOLS, REBS ON THE RISE?
Looking for big things out of Tennessee in 2016 will be a common theme for the next seven months, and Athlon is getting started early. The magazine also has a little love for Ole Miss, too:
“Both Ole Miss and Tennessee are recruiting at an elite level since hiring Hugh Freeze and Butch Jones, respectively. Both teams have top-20 rosters nationally and have been in the top 10 a combined four times in the last four years. With great quarterbacks returning and talent starting to stack up, the Rebels and Volunteers have as good a shot as anyone in the SEC to knock off Bama in 2016.”
Tennessee is in the news for the wrong reasons of late, but its on-field prospects for 2016 do appear bright. The Rebels are also making the wrong sort of headlines these days, but if their coach is talking SEC titles, it’s worth keeping an eye on them.
Athlon points out that Missouri has a new coach, and a little ground to make up talent-wise:
“Barry Odom feels like a great fit in Columbia, Mo. He’s a sharp defensive mind and is a passionate alum, but the fans need to be patient with the young headman. Mizzou landed its second-worst recruiting class (53rd) since 2002 (57th in 2011) and was well behind the 25th-ranked haul from last year and the current 38.2 national average. Stability and identity were a huge part of Gary Pinkel’s success and Odom will need to time to grow into his new digs.”
It’s tough to argue with that assessment. Odom will need to emulate the Pinkel approach of seeking recruits that fit the program’s blue-collar identity and not worrying much about recruiting rankings.