Earlier this summer I posted my thoughts on the SEC East. I stated I would give my analysis for the SEC West. Well, finally I have an SEC West prediction for the 2009 season, but this time things are a bit different. Instead of me breaking down the SEC West I let my dad spread his thoughts.
I need a fix. It has been seven months since I’ve watched a live LSU football game and my patience is waning. National recruiting day anticipation and the post signing euphoria carried me through February and into early March. March Madness was good until LSU drew North Carolina in the second round. College baseball season was great – hey, we won a National Championship, but that was over in late June. The final blow was discovering that someone (hopefully inadvertently) erased the Georgia Tech Game on the DVR. I am left with my imagination.
Lately, my only relief comes from listening to Bill King of Rivals Radio analyze who has the best three deep roster. Beside that bit of fascinating analysis, we get an hourly call from an Auburn or Tennessee hopeful asking Bill to confirm that they could really be better than all of the prognosticators are saying. “We had a great spring, our conditioning is going well and our coaches have great discipline – can we win 8 or 9 games?” Nope, sorry boys, you are in the darkness. Just about every fan base in the NCAA has experienced it at some point, certainly we have at LSU. You are going to be thrown into the pits, forced to grind and gnash your teeth.
Twenty-four days and a wake up and it will be over for me. LSU kicks off on the West Coast with Washington, Ty Willingham’s latest debacle. Meanwhile, I have decided to do a bit of prognosticating myself. Here is my shot at handicapping the SEC West. Being an engineer, I decided to take an analytical approach. Not that it will make my projections any more accurate as the one thing I have learned over the years is that predicting sporting outcomes is a crapshoot. You throw it down and walk away. Here it goes.
I have broken my analysis into five categories, each weighted relatively evenly. This includes the
1. athletic quality of the roster using historical recruiting as the benchmark,
2. quality of the coaching staff,
3. returning players in leadership positions,
4. key difference makers or star quality athletes,
5. and finally -non-measureables (things I just have a feel for).
Strength of Recruiting
There are always exceptions, but you can get a pretty good feel for the quality of school’s roster by simply analyzing their historical recruiting success. If you look at the top schools in the country, determined by ranking services such as ESPN/USA Today, you will find a fairly close correlation with the school’s success; and the recent recruiting success as determined by ranking services. It is that simple. Sure, the recruiting rankings often miss on perspective athletes and they often under or over estimate a team’s overall position, but they are generally very closely aligned to how a team performs and finishes. For purposes of this evaluation, I just picked one service and looked at the rankings over the past five years. This is what I found utilizing the Rivals website rankings from 2004 until 2009:
Rivals Recruiting Ranking by Year
2004: Alabama (15), LSU (2), Auburn (21), Ole Miss (30), Arkansas (22), Miss. State (62)
2005: Alabama (18), LSU (22), Auburn (13), Ole Miss (30), Arkansas (24), Miss. State (33)
2006: Alabama (11), LSU (7), Auburn (10), Ole Miss (16), Arkansas (26), Miss. State (44)
2007: Alabama (10), LSU (4), Auburn (7), Ole Miss (27), Arkansas (31), Miss. State (39)
2008: Alabama (1), LSU (11), Auburn (20), Ole Miss (29), Arkansas (36), Miss. State (44)
2009: Alabama (1), LSU (2), Auburn (19), Ole Miss (18), Arkansas (16), Miss. State (25)
Based upon this analysis, you would have to say that Alabama and LSU likely have the most athletic rosters. Auburn should be third followed by Ole Miss and Arkansas in a coin toss and Mississippi State bringing up the rear. I think this is fairly accurate, but I believe Ole Miss is understated in their positional rankings. Either last year was a total anomaly or they have recruited far better than Rivals predicted because they appeared to be as athletic as any team they faced in 2008, and then some.
Quality of Coaching Staff
From my standpoint, ranking the coaching staffs is really subjective. I don’t have access to anything other than my TV Set and the Internet. I don’t get to attend practices, talk to people who are in and around these campuses, so I am really going by what I read and personal observation. There are many that feel Saban is the best coach in the SEC West, and perhaps the country. Bobby Petrino is looked upon as an offensive guru. Neither one of them did too well when they ventured into the NFL so perhaps they are not what they are made up to be. Houston Nutt has a great reputation for doing more with less. Les Miles is not viewed positively by the press and the other two guys are not even on the radar yet.
So I am left with my own book of thoughts. In my opinion, I think Saban is a great program manager and perhaps excels above everyone else when it comes to transformational leadership. He is a Lee Iacocca type when it comes to building and changing culture, but he is prone to error like all humans. He pulled a few stinkers in Baton Rouge in his previous gig and I am guessing those same mishaps are in store for the Bama Nation. Houston Nutt has never been to the mountain. It seems to me he has not proven anything yet other than he is a smart guy that can motivate a team through stretches. Miles did a great job in his first three years in Baton Rouge, but last year was not his best effort, for whatever reason.
From my limited view, I just don’t see any differentiation here. Any one of these four coaches can do it given the right set of circumstances and players. I am calling this a wash.
Returning Players in Leadership Roles
Senior leadership is always a huge factor in success. No one wins without chemistry and chemistry usually starts with your seniors. No senior leadership inevitably leads to under performance and high quality leadership results in the opposite.
Last year’s LSU team, from the outside at least, seemed to be lacking in this area. We had some great players and good guys, but I don’t think they established the culture and mindset that was needed for success. This year’s seniors may be exceptional. Getting Ciron Black, Charles Scott and Brandon Lafell to postpone the NFL was obviously a boost. These are the guys that are going to keep the team together. Alabama lost a few great leaders, guys that made a difference last year. Who knows if they can be replaced? Ole Miss has most of their roster back, so I would have to assume they will be okay in that category.
My call here goes with LSU. I know I am a homer, but I think that guys like Ciron Black just don’t come along very often.
Difference Makers in Key Roles
As was reinforced to the LSU faithful last year – no quarterback, no team. It is that simple. You don’t have to be an all American, but you have to show up and make the plays when it counts. John Parker Wilson was seemingly nothing special athletically, but that guy made all of the plays throughout the year. Javon Snead is just flat out good. He made a couple of throws in the LSU game that were world class, and he showed up when the bell rang.
How important was Alabama’s nose tackle. Nobody could move that guy off his line and hence, nobody could consistently run on the Tide. Take away Cody and Alabama is a different team.
Both Cody and Snead are back, but new play makers will emerge in the SEC. Whatever team has the most playmakers will have an advantage. Based upon what I saw last year, I give this edge to Ole Miss and Snead (along with Hardy and the rest of that roster). Alabama and LSU should be okay and Arkansas is somewhat unknown. Ole Miss gets the edge mainly based on Snead’s success last year.
Non-Measurables (gut feel)
Now this is where I normally get into trouble. Non-measurables include emotions. Emotions lead to collective brain farts, like the Auburn guy on Rivals Radio that is trying to convince himself that by working hard and having better team discipline the Tigers/War Chickens/Plainsmen will just be good enough to win. Sorry – stay in your hole.
Here is the thumb nail summary:
Everything seemed to fall in place for Alabama last year. That doesn’t normally happen two years in a row. They will have to earn it this year.
LSU had the opposite type of year. Nothing seemed to go right, so you would think that we are due for a few breaks. Personally, I think we used them all up in 2007; we can’t count on the football Gods this year. Also, our schedule is brutal. If we didn’t have to play Bama, Ole Miss and Georgia on the road and host a Florida team that Alabama and Ole Miss dodge, we might have a chance. Alas, that is too much to overcome.
Arkansas is the team that might just sneak up and steal the whole thing. Mallet can throw the ball and they have a bunch of players coming back. But there is an old saying; everything back from nothing is still nothing.
So that leaves Ole Miss. Everyone, including myself, expects them to get caught reading their clippings and gag on themselves. But I got a feeling (emotions) that this is going to be Nutts year to show the world just how good of coach he is.
1. Ole Miss
6. Miss State