Ranking the SEC offenses from worst to first
Last year, the SEC didn’t exactly light up the world offensively.
Alabama was the top-ranked SEC scoring offense at No. 16 in FBS. Throw in Tennessee and the SEC only had two teams rank in the top 30 nationally.
This year, that should be a different story. Why? Well it’s the preseason and everyone is undefeated. In all seriousness, young quarterbacks are expected to develop and lead more high-powered attacks than what we saw in 2016.
Here are the SEC offenses ranked worst to first:
At least the Commodores have Ralph Webb. One of the more underrated players nationally is the main source of Vanderbilt’s lackluster offense, which was a disaster until those final two regular season games. UConn and Army were the only FBS teams that threw fewer touchdown passes than Vanderbilt (9). It’s easy to say that the Commodores figured it out, but the competition certainly had something to do with that. I still question if they can keep pace with their defense in SEC play.
Sorry, but I’m not all in on Florida’s starting quarterback, whoever that is. I’m also not all in on that group of pass-catchers, especially if it’s without Antonio Callaway for any length of time. The Gators’ one-dimensional offense finished 107th in scoring last year, and struggled mightily against above-average defenses. Will it be another year of that for Jim McElwain’s offense?
With Benny Snell Jr., the Wildcats might wind up with one of the SEC’s top three or four rushers. The promising sophomore could be the backbone of the Kentucky offense, which isn’t the worst thing. But will Kentucky have offensive balance? The Dorian Baker injury hurt a passing game that already lacked serious upside. It can’t be all Snell all the time.
The Vols got an offensive makeover this offseason. Maybe makeover isn’t the right word. That’s usually meant to describe an improvement, which I don’t think Tennessee will get on that side of the ball.
We still don’t know what exactly the plan at quarterback will be. And for an offense that struggled to run the ball too often last year, they don’t have the talent there that they did last year. Will the Vols really fall from No. 2 to No. 11 in the SEC offensive rankings? Perhaps not, but there are some big questions that need to get answered early on.
10. Texas A&M
For what it’s worth, an offense with Christian Kirk and Trayveon Williams should be able to do some work. Both could end up leading the SEC in their respective yardage department and it wouldn’t be a huge shock. But the Aggies are this far down on the list because of their quarterback and offensive line. There’s uncertainty about what this unit will even look like and whether it can win the battle at the line of scrimmage. A sub-par offense certainly wouldn’t make things any easier for Kevin Sumlin’s future in College Station.
Before you get on me for slighting this promising offense, consider this. The Bulldogs finished 102nd in scoring offense last year with Jacob Eason as the full-time starter. Georgia’s ground game will continue to see loaded fronts until Eason can consistently execute throws all over the field. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel can’t do what they do best without at least some sort of balance. We need to see that. Having said that, the Bulldogs could easily wind up in the top three of this list if the passing game improves.
8. Ole Miss
Oddly enough, the Rebels might not finish higher in scoring offense than they did last year. But at the same time, they could be more promising. They were ranked No. 42 in scoring offense thanks mostly to the fact that they averaged 39.7 points per game in the first half of 2016. Shea Patterson could easily surpass that if his deep group of wideouts stay healthy. But against better defenses, I think we’ll still see him go through some ups and downs in his first full season as a starter.
Most teams with a Heisman Trophy candidate at tailback are better than middle-of-the-pack on offense. LSU could be better than that, especially with the arrival of Matt Canada. He transformed Pitt’s offense with lesser talent than what’s in Baton Rouge.
The questions are at quarterback and on the offensive line. It’s hard to predict an offense can make that next step when it was so one-dimensional with the same quarterback the year before.
6. South Carolina
Ah, the SEC’s worst offense from 2016. Putting them into the top half of the conference’s offenses might seem like a stretch for some, but the Gamecocks have a lot in their favor. They have big-time playmakers in Deebo Samuel, Hayden Hurst, as well as two talented sophomore tailbacks. Most important, they have a stable quarterback situation. Jake Bentley should take a big step in Year 2 after being thrust into the starting role. The game should slow down. If it does, the Gamecocks will be the SEC’s most improved offensive team.
5. Mississippi State
We all know about the ability of Nick Fitzgerald (there’s a lot of it). The question is how much help he’ll have around him. What kind of production will the Bulldogs get out of Donald Gray without Fred Ross? Can Aeris Williams develop into a 15-20 carry guy and take some pressure off Fitzgerald in the running game? And can the line pass protect as well as it did last year? There are questions, but with Fitzgerald under center, I like Mississippi State’s odds of rolling on offense.
As long as the Razorbacks can keep Austin Allen upright, they’ll have a chance to surprise some teams. That, of course, is a big “if.” Preseason reports have been positive, and the line has been relatively healthy. This unit could’ve looked that much better with Rawleigh Williams III back, but there’s still enough backfield talent to take advantage of what should be some favorable fronts.
Say what you want about the Tigers’ season outlook, but they’re likely going to be a part of some fun football games this year. That’s because with Drew Lock, J’Mon Moore and Damarea Crockett back, they’ve got playmakers all around.
Does that translate to more wins than 2016? It will if the passing game improves in SEC play. Still, it’s hard to picture a scenario in which the Tigers don’t rack up a ton of points in 2017.
This might seem a bit high for Auburn. After all, I was the one who said to halt the breaks on the Jarrett Stidham hype train. But consider this: The Tigers were five points per game from having the SEC’s No. 2 offense last year. That was with a virtually non-existent passing game. With that backfield, Stidham doesn’t have to have a Heisman Trophy candidate for the Tigers to possess one of the SEC’s top offenses.
Last time I checked, the Tide had one of the scariest rushing attacks in America. Sprinkle in a little Calvin Ridley and add a second-year starter in Jalen Hurts and that offense is still loaded. This offense might not be quite as creative without Lane Kiffin, but it might not need to be. The Tide are still loaded on the offensive line, and they have four backs who can contribute in a big way. It’s still all Alabama on offense.