Posted: 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013
We all talk a lot about which teams have a lot of talent and who has more than who, but it's rare that we actually quantify it. Often times when there is a number put on talent, it'll be an average recruiting ranking for the entire roster.
I wanted to do a little better by looking at teams' two-deeps instead of the full roster. It makes the most sense to me to try to base talent ratings on who actually will be seeing the field. I went through the best depth charts I could find/cobble together to see where teams are heading into fall camp. A few extenuating circumstances kept me from completing this work before fall camps opened, but this is what I came up with.
A few caveats obviously apply. Going by recruiting stars is limited, as some guys' actual play doesn't correlate with their recruiting rankings (though in aggregate, the rankings are pretty good). Depth charts are fluid right now, as players compete and some get injured. True freshmen who didn't enroll early won't show up either.
Anyway, this is a rough representation of the raw talent available. I made an average recruiting ranking for the offensive and defensive two-deep using the Rivals rankings (mostly, as available), and I weighted the backups to count 75% of what starters do. We're starting on offense today.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Alabama is at the top. It might surprise some folks, however, that Auburn and Florida are at Nos. 2 and 3. Didn't they have dreadful offenses last year? What gives?
In Auburn's case, last year's disaster probably had a lot to do with meddling from Gene Chizik, possibly malpractice from an offensive coordinator in his second year ever having that role, and players generally quitting on the coaching staff. Eight of the 11 players in the starting lineup graded four stars, with only QB Nick Marshall (a guess, only because he's older), TE C.J. Uzomah and OG Chad Slade having three-star ratings. The front line average is 3.73 stars each; the backups average out to 3.73 stars apiece. What went on last year was awful, but there still is talent on the Plains. It's up to Gus Malzahn to coax some good play out of it.
Florida's average is a bit up hard to pin down, mainly because the team uses so many formations. This is based off of a base set of a running back, three receivers, and a tight end. However, the team will regularly employ a fullback for runs, and it famously wore down LSU in the second half last year by running Power behind seven O-linemen. Anyway, the source of the high number seems backwards in its computation. Five of the six receivers are four-star guys, despite that being the team's greatest weakness, while the likely excellent line has a pair of three-stars as starters. The athletic talent has always been there; the question is, as always, whether those athletes are good football players. Perhaps having a real receivers coach will make a difference this year after grad assistant Bush Hamdan (yes, that Bush Hamdan) filled in last year. For the record, five-star Andre Debose is not included as he's gone for the year with a torn ACL.
Let's also talk about Georgia. The Bulldogs had one of the nation's best offenses last year, and it should have another great one this year. So what's the deal with the lower rating? For one, two members of the two-deep did not get star ratings as high schoolers: starting FB Merritt Hall and backup TE Rhett McGowan. They got one star apiece from me for these purposes. Second, UGA just has a few three-star guys in their starting lineup: WR Michael Bennett, TE Kenarious Gates, C David Andrews, and OT Xzavier Ward. The second line only has one five-star and three four-stars as well. Bennett plays better than a three-star, obviously, and Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley at the least are four-star guys who play like five-stars. The consistency of scheme, quality coaching, and experience on that side of the ball means that the performance will be well above what the recruiting stars would suggest.
Texas A&M; is in a similar boat to Georgia. Some of the guys there play much better than their ratings would suggest, such as three-star Johnny Manziel and three-star Mike Evans. Jake Matthews is a four-star who plays like a five-star. Still, there are a lot of three-star guys all over the offensive depth chart, plus two-star OG Germain Ifedi is in line to start, and the four-wide receiver set this is based on has one-star Gaston Lamascus on it as a backup. They'll be just fine, just like Georgia will be.
I would like to note here that South Carolina's rating jumps to 3.25 if you give Bruce Ellington a three-star grade and 3.30 if you give him a four-star grade. Either would put the Gamecocks closer to or right in range with Georgia and A&M.; As it stands, he only gets one star because he was only rated as a basketball prospect (four stars, if you're curious), not a football prospect. Ellington led South Carolina in receiving yards last year.
I will also note that Ole Miss is not looking all that great for a potential sleeper program. Part of it is due to four one-star guys in the two-deep, and the rest comes thanks to it mostly consisting of three-star guys. From purely a talent standpoint, it's hard to predict a significant leap for the Rebels on offense. We'll see.
Defense comes tomorrow.