We now come to the last (but certainly not least) BCS conference--the SEC. What can we expect in the deep south this fall?
This first paragraph will explain how SDPI is calculated. So if you want the meat of this article skip on down. In the 2009 SEC regular season, conference play only, championship games excluded, the average SEC team gained and allowed 2757.583 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 362.41 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 421.56 yards. Georgia gained 2867 yards and allowed 3035 yards. Their offensive SDPI was 0.30 = [(2867-2757.583)/362.41]. Their defensive SDPI was -0.66 = [(2757.583-3035)/421.56]. Their total SDPI was -0.36. This number ranked 7th in the SEC.
To refresh your memory, here are the 2009 SEC standings.
Now here are the 2009 SEC SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by division by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 12 teams) in parentheses.The 2 teams that combined to go 16-0 in conference play in the regular season rate out statistically as the 2 best teams in the league. The biggest disconnect between the actual and SDPI standings comes down on the bayou in the form of LSU. The Tigers finished all alone in second place in the SEC West despite being outgained by about 33 yards per game in league play. The Tigers' biggest deficiency was their anemic offense, which if not for Vanderbilt, would have been the worst in the SEC. However, the defense was solid and allowed the Tigers to hang around and pull out close victories (3-1 in one-score conference games). In 2 of those wins (Mississippi State and Arkansas), which the Tigers won by a combined 7 points, their special teams and defense contributed a combined 3 touchdowns. Those 3 individual plays were likely the biggest difference between a 5-3 and 3-5 conference record.
Best Offense: Ole Miss 0.96
In a league dominated by defense, the Rebels moved the ball well against everyone save South Carolina and Alabama. The Gamecocks and Tide held the Rebels to 460 combined yards. In their other 6 conference games, the Rebels averaged 441 yards per game.
Worst Offense: Vanderbilt -2.42
The Commodore defense was not very good, but if you're looking for a culprit for their winless league season, its clearly the offense. The Commodores averaged 235 yards per game in SEC play. They never once eclipsed 300 yards (topped out at 297) and scored only 5 offensive touchdowns in their 8 conference games!
Best Defense: Florida 2.09
This was the area of the Gators team that really allowed them to contend for the SEC and national title. Prior to the SEC Championship Game, during which Alabama gashed the Gators for 490 yards, only a single conference foe topped 300 yards against the Gator defense (Arkansas had 357 in their near upset). Besides their yardage totals, one of the most amazing aspects of the Tide's performance against the Gators were their 3 rushing touchdowns. In the regular season, the Gators allowed exactly 3 rushing touchdowns to their other 8 SEC foes.
Worst Defense: Arkansas -1.42
Every SEC team gained at least 300 yards against the Hogs (best performance came when they allowed 326 versus LSU). If the defense had been just a little better, Arkansas could have had a special season. They lost 2 games when they scored 41 and 30 points respectively.
What's in Store for Next Year?
If there is going to be a time for the Gators' strangle-hold on the East to be broken, this will be the year. The Gators have won 3 of the last 5 SEC East pennants since Urban Meyer took over prior to the 2005 season (and 3 out of the last 4). Meyer will be breaking in a new quarterback as John Brantley takes over for the departed Tim Tebow. The Gators also lose a pair of standout pass catchers in Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez. The defense, the real strength of last season's team, also loses some playmakers, particularly linebackers Ryan Stamper and Brandon Spikes. The window is open for other teams to sneak in, but who is most likely to do it? Georgia is coming off their worst season (statistically) of the Mark Richt era and will be playing with an inexperienced quarterback as well. Tennessee was the second best team in the division last season, but their polished quarterback and coaching staff have flown the coop and headed west. What about South Carolina? Can they end the triumvirate that has dominated the East since the divisional format began (Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are the only schools to win the East)? One would think this is their best chance with an improving junior quarterback in Stephen Garcia and an emerging sophomore receiver in Alshon Jeffery. The Gamecocks also have a more favorable schedule this season, with Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas all making the trek to Columbia, while half of their SEC road games come against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Speaking of the 'Cats and 'Dores, Kentucky will begin a new era under Joker Phillips in 2010. It will probably look very similar to the end of the Rick Brooks era. 3 non-conference body bag games (Western Kentucky, Akron, and Charleston Southern) will have them half way to bowl eligibility, so they will just need to find 3 other wins somewhere in the SEC schedule and in their in-state battle with Louisville. For Vanderbilt, the offense can't possibly be as bad as it was last season, so the 'Dores should once again be a competitive SEC lightweight that notches a few wins. However, they did themselves no favors with a non-conference slate that actually includes living, breathing, foes in Northwestern, Connecticut, and Wake Forest, so a bowl bid is unlikely.
In the West, it looks like a repeat, at least for the division title (and in this case a 3-peat), is probable for the Tide. The quarterback, Heisman Trophy running back, and top-2 receivers all return to a solid, if unspectacular offense. The defense loses some talent at each level with monstrous tackle Terrence Cody, athletic linebackers Rolando McClain, and playmaking defensive back Javier Arenas all departing. Still, by season's end, Nick Saban should have the defense playing if not at an elite, then at a very high level. So who is their biggest threat? Arkansas has the offensive punch to hang with the Tide, but their defense was last in the conference last season. Ole Miss was statistically the division's second best team last year, but their quarterback and do-it-all running back are gone along with a pair of talented defensive linemen in Emmanuel Stephens and Greg Hardy. The Auburn offense improved by leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Gus Malzahn in 2009, but now the Tigers must also replace their starting quarterback and running back (sense a pattern here?). The other Tigers from Baton Rouge do bring back their starting quarterback, but lose his top-receiver and the team's top-2 rushers from an offense that was not exceptional to begin with. And finally we have Mississippi State, which for the first time in a long time had an average offense under first year coach Dan Mullen. Can it get even better in year 2? Unfortunately, the Bulldogs also lose their starting quarterback and running back, and just as anyone who has ever started an exercise regimen will inform you, its a lot easier to go from out of shape to average fitness than it is to take the next step and go from average to proficient.