It’s not end-of-season projecting.

I get why it could be confused as that, but a preseason all-conference ballot isn’t projecting who you think will have the best season. It’s almost entirely based on past performance with perhaps a slight nod to their upcoming surroundings.

Nothing gets me more fired up than seeing preseason all-conference teams or preseason polls wherein it’s all about projecting. Preseason polls that list “strength of schedule” to justify a ranking should go immediately to jail, and are not worthy of passing “Go.”

Too harsh? Eh, it’s a Monopoly reference, guy. Chill.

When the preseason All-SEC teams came out late last week, naturally, I had some disagreements based on that premise, along with a couple others. Do I believe that we in the media will often default to Georgia, Alabama and LSU for the non-skill positions? Absolutely. Sorry, but as great as those 3 teams are, you can’t tell me that they deserved to make up the entire first-team defense.

Let’s get to the rest of my gripes with the preseason poll:

1. Joe Milton as a third-team All-SEC selection

Where he should’ve been — Not listed

Why — I get it. Milton is in the Josh Heupel offense. He’s got an arm that could dunk on Uncle Rico. He looked phenomenal against Clemson.

Here’s the issue, though. The dude lost his job twice at 2 different schools and has yet to show that he can be a week-to-week starter at the Power 5 level. There’s an expectation that’ll change this year with Heupel, who has had nothing but top-8 offenses the last 5 years, ANY argument for Milton as a preseason All-SEC guy is end-of-season projecting.

If the argument based on Milton’s past performance points to the Clemson game, what about Spencer Rattler? It was Rattler who looked just as good against a healthier Clemson team, and he handed the Tigers their first home loss since 2016. Rattler also won a New Year’s 6 Bowl in 2020 at Oklahoma, and he did so against an SEC team (Florida).

If we’re projecting with Milton — which we shouldn’t — why isn’t the better choice Carson Beck? Sure, the expected Stetson Bennett IV replacement hasn’t started a game yet, but if that’s the (flawed) logic to determine this, is anyone really of the belief that Milton has a better shot of getting to New York than Beck? The Milton sample size of 4 SEC starts shouldn’t have been the dealbreaker there. Milton has 54 passing attempts vs. SEC competition compared to 20 for Beck.

And what about Devin Leary? I get that we’ve never had a preseason All-SEC quarterback who was an incoming transfer, but most incoming transfers weren’t their previous Power 5 conference’s preseason player of the year. Leary was that guy. So because Milton has been on an SEC roster the last 2 years and he was decent once against an SEC team (Vandy), he gets the benefit of the doubt?

Milton transferred after he failed at Michigan. Leary transferred after he broke Philip Rivers’ NC State passing touchdowns record. Here’s the side-by-side of Milton and Leary against Power 5 competition:

Career vs. P5
Passing yards
Multi-TD pass games
Beat Clemson?

I included that last note because if your entire argument with Milton’s past performance is based on what he did against Clemson, I’d argue that Leary’s 2021 showing against the Tigers, wherein he threw for 4 touchdown passes and didn’t turn the ball over in an overtime win, was equally impressive.

Milton is an intriguing of an SEC player as there is in 2023, but he wasn’t worthy of sharing third-team All-SEC honors with Will Rogers.

2. Ray Davis not listed for 1 of the 6 RB slots

Where he should’ve been — Second-team

Why — What if I told you that a 1,000-yard rusher in this conference didn’t even get a measly third-team All-SEC nod? They wouldn’t make a “30 for 30” about it, but that would be the story of Davis. All Davis did last year was finish 4th in the SEC in rushing … and he did so at Vandy. Come on. His transfer to Kentucky isn’t being talked about nearly enough. This slight is proof of that.

For all the questions about UK’s offensive line, ask yourself this. Do we really think that Davis will be at a bigger disadvantage this year compared to last year behind the Vandy offensive line? No way. If Davis had been at Alabama instead of Vandy, there’s no doubt that he’d be a second-team guy. Instead, Kendall Milton got that honor, despite the fact that Milton was third in the pecking order at Georgia, and he averaged 6.5 carries per game last year. I say that as a Milton believer.

But if we’re just going to ignore 1,000-yard seasons by SEC backs and instead default to the Georgia depth chart having an automatic spot, what are we doing? You can’t tell me that the SEC’s third-leading returning rusher wasn’t worthy of an All-SEC nod heading into 2023, especially after finishing the season with an average of 127.5 scrimmage yards in his final 4 games.

3. Nick Emmanwori not listed for 1 of the 12 (!) DB slots

Where he should’ve been — First-team

Why — Yep. I think Emmanwori is already that good. I’d argue he’s the best defensive player returning from an 8-win team. No, I don’t care that he’s a second-year guy. I would’ve given him a first-team spot instead of Kamari Lassiter, and I absolutely would take him over anyone on that second-team.

Emmanwori is already an elite downhill tackler. The guy is absolutely fearless, and at 6-4, 220 pounds, that’s terrifying. As a true freshman, he ranked No. 2 in the SEC and he was tied for No. 12 in Power 5 with 62 solo stops, 14 of which came against Georgia (that long Brock Bowers touchdown came immediately after Emmanwori went to the sideline with an injury). No FBS freshman had more solo tackles than Emmanwori. He also had that game-sealing fumble recovery to knock off Clemson.

South Carolina once again led the SEC in forced turnovers, and while Emmanwori was technically was only directly responsible for 1 of those, don’t underestimate his impact he’ll have in that area. Even if he doesn’t improve in coverage, his value will be second to none among SEC safeties.

4. Evan Stewart not listed for 1 of the 7 WR slots

Where he should’ve been — Second-team

Why — It’s funny because I went into last year saying that the Stewart buzz needed to be quieted, and a year later, I’ve done a full 180. In my defense, the history of true freshmen receivers in the Jimbo Fisher offense wasn’t ideal. During Fisher’s time at A&M, Ainias Smith had the best season of a true freshman wide receiver, and that was just 291 receiving yards.

Then Stewart happened. All he did was finish No. 8 in the SEC in receiving yards/game (64.9) and No. 10 in catches (53) and No. 16 in total receiving yards (649). And no, he didn’t just stat pad against weak competition. As flawed as the logic was with the game on the line, there’s a reason why Jimbo Fisher drew up that slim-chance fade route on the goal line against Alabama. Stewart had already roasted the Tide for 8 catches and 106 yards.

I don’t think the average person realizes how difficult it is to step into the SEC as a 6-foot receiver (he might not even be that tall) and get separation. He played 88% of his snaps on the outside, and did so with a disastrous quarterback situation for a team who lost the aforementioned Smith to a season-ending injury. For my money, that’s darn impressive.

Yet Ja’Corey Brooks, who played in 3 more games than Stewart and racked up 25 more yards with Bryce Young as his quarterback, got second-team love? Nope. I’ll take Stewart over him, as well as his Alabama teammate Jermaine Burton, who essentially had the same numbers as Brooks and with a far better offensive situation. I’d even take Stewart’s receiving abilities over his teammate Smith, who brings a ton to the table because of his leadership and return abilities, but the sophomore is a better target and was snubbed.

5. Beaux Limmer not listed for 1 of the 15 OL/C spots

Where he should’ve been — First-team

Why — So I’m gonna be honest here. I actually missed this my first time through when I put my list of gripes together. I had Limmer as a first-teamer on my ballot, and I actually included him with Javon Foster and Sed Van Pran as a “no-brainer.” I’m stunned that Limmer was left off the 3 preseason All-SEC squads entirely.

Maybe he slipped through the cracks because he’s transitioning to center, but still. We know he was a force for the No. 4 non-service academy rushing attack in the country. Say what you will about PFF grades, but no returning SEC offensive lineman graded out better than him in 2022, and he was 1 of 3 Power 5 offensive linemen who graded out north of 80.0 both in pass protection and as a run-blocker. The 1 game he started at center last year was the Liberty Bowl, wherein he didn’t allow a single pressure for an Arkansas team who racked up 681 yards of offense, 394 of which came via the ground game.

I mean, the guy was a second-team All-SEC selection by the AP last year, and PFF had him as a third-team All-American. This is where it feels like too many voters default to the Alabama, Georgia or LSU logic. They had 8 of the 10 spots on the first- and second-teams. Tyler Booker and Amarius Mims are tremendously talented players, but they’re still first-time starters (both of their first career starts came in the 2022 postseason). I’d rather go with someone like Limmer who has already shown they can push people around as an SEC starter.

This was as egregious of a preseason All-SEC snub as you’ll find.