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After previewing every SEC team for 2018, here’s how I think the conference stacks up

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It’s time for Bill Connelly’s SEC power rankings.

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia
Kirby Smart and Nick Saban
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

At the end of each conference previews run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference’s balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. This is just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them. We have already completed the Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC, MWC, AAC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten, and ACC, meaning all of FBS is now complete. Catch up on everything here.

Bill C’s SEC power rankings

Here’s a link to every team’s data, and each team’s name below is linked to its preview.

Tier 1

1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Auburn

Alabama and Georgia went a combined 2-3 within this tier and 24-0 outside of it. Auburn lost a couple of games to outsiders but went 2-1 against the Crimson Tide and Dawgs. They were the clear class of the SEC last year, and based on returning production and all other factors, they begin 2018 clear from the rest of the field as well.

Tier 2

4. Mississippi State
5. LSU

If the teams in Tier 1 have CFP potential, we’ll say this tier has top-10 potential. It would surprise me if either of these teams won the SEC West, but they have the potential to beat anyone.

Tier 3

6. South Carolina
7. Texas A&M
8. Missouri
9. Ole Miss
10. Florida

We’ll say this tier maxes out at top-15 potential.

South Carolina gets human cheat code Deebo Samuel back, but the 2017 Gamecocks won a few too many games with smoke and mirrors for my taste. I don’t entirely trust them yet. And as I wrote in the preview, teams that play much better as underdogs than favorites sometimes struggle to transition to life as a favorite.

Tier 4

11. Arkansas
12. Kentucky
13. Tennessee
14. Vanderbilt

At least one of these teams will end up playing at a top-40 level — the Hogs perhaps being the most likely to me — but there is clearly more of a mountain to climb here.

How does S&P+ see things?

Here’s how my statistical system has the SEC laid out for 2018, with zero equating to an average FBS team. (You can find full 2018 S&P+ projections here.)

Since S&P+ projections incorporate statistically predictive recruiting rankings, it stands to reason that basically every SEC team is projected to improve. That’s doubly true when you take into account how much lower the top S&P+ ratings were last year than in most years. And it’s triply true when so many teams — Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida — underachieved and then changed coaches.

2018 projected standings (per S&P+)

Total projected wins are in parentheses.

West Division

  1. Alabama 6.5 (10.3)
  2. Auburn 5.4 (8.9)
  3. Mississippi State 4.6 (8.1)
  4. LSU 3.8 (7.0)
  5. Ole Miss 3.7 (7.3)
  6. Texas A&M 3.7 (6.7)
  7. Arkansas 2.5 (5.6)

Rounding up, every West team is projected to reach .500 or better, though it’s touch-and-go for a couple. What will be most interesting is if a third team can stand alongside Bama and Auburn. I’m really high on Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs have a mostly new coaching staff and some mental hurdles to clear.

East Division

  1. Georgia 6.2 (10.0)
  2. Missouri 4.2 (7.1)
  3. Florida 4.0 (7.2)
  4. South Carolina 4.0 (6.6)
  5. Kentucky 2.8 (5.6)
  6. Vanderbilt 2.6 (4.9)
  7. Tennessee 2.0 (5.0)

There are three pretty clear tiers here: Georgia alone, three battling for second, and three battling to reach six wins.

How these teams looked in 2017

It’s a damn shame Mizzou and Ole Miss didn’t play each other.

SEC offenses heading into 2018

About half the conference was quite efficient last year, but the big-play distribution among those teams was pretty stark. And, well, the less said about the 2017 Florida and Tennessee offenses, the better.

SEC defenses heading into 2018

The top three were obvious, South Carolina got away with a bend-don’t-break routine, and Tennessee bent far too much. MSU, Florida, and Mizzou mostly broke.

Best 2018 offensive players by team (best overall in bold):

  • Alabama: QB Tua Tagovailoa
  • Arkansas: LG Hjalte Froholdt
  • Auburn: QB Jarrett Stidham
  • Florida: LT Martez Ivey
  • Georgia: QB Jake Fromm
  • Kentucky: RB Benny Snell, Jr.
  • LSU: WR Jonathan Giles
  • Mississippi State: QB Nick Fitzgerald
  • Missouri: QB Drew Lock
  • Ole Miss: WR A.J. Brown
  • South Carolina: WR Deebo Samuel
  • Tennessee: LT Trey Smith
  • Texas A&M: RB Trayveon Williams
  • Vanderbilt: QB Kyle Shurmur

You know how, when offenses have two Heisman contenders — Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook in 2016 or Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Russell Wilson in 2011, for example — we talk about how they’ll steal votes from each other and give some other contender a boost? I’ll say that’s what happened here.

All the QBs started blending together for me and splitting the vote, and I couldn’t decide who I trusted the most. So I went with the guy who was on pace for about 1,300 receiving yards and like 10 game-changing return scores (though, uh, that pace would have been hard to maintain) when he went down last year.

Kentucky v South Carolina
Deebo Samuel
Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Best 2018 defensive players by team

  • Alabama: DE Raekwon Davis
  • Arkansas: DT McTelvin Agim
  • Auburn: DT Derrick Brown
  • Florida: NB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
  • Georgia: LB D’Andre Walker
  • Kentucky: LB Josh Allen
  • LSU: CB Andraez “Greedy” Williams
  • Mississippi State: DT Jeffery Simmons
  • Missouri: DT Terry Beckner Jr.
  • Ole Miss: DT Josiah Coatney
  • South Carolina: DE D.J. Wonnum
  • Tennessee: S Nigel Warrior
  • Texas A&M: LB Tyrel Dodson
  • Vanderbilt: CB Joejuan Williams

Davis is the most freakish defender in the conference — 315-pound pass-rushers don’t come along every day — but Greedy Williams was also incredible last year, and as a freshman, no less. And he goes by Greedy. Bonus points.

Troy v LSU
Greedy Williams
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

This is just about the end of the 2018 130-team preview series.

Catch up on your team here, and stay tuned for full, 130-team power rankings.

How do you rank the 2018 SEC?