With spring practice well in the rear view mirror and the bulk of transfer decisions done, it’s about time to check in on how SEC football rosters are taking shape.
Today, I’m going to compare Florida’s talent levels at each position to those of division rivals Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The Gamecocks aren’t a rival in the same way the Bulldogs and Vols are, but the early offseason consensus thinks they’ll be roughly around the same quality level of the Gators this year.
I went through each roster and totaled up the talent ratings of the scholarship players at each of them from the 247 Sports Composite. I believe I’ve accounted for all transfers, up to and including UF’s recent JUCO transfer tight end Lucas Krull. Krull doesn’t have a Composite rating as not enough sites issued a rating for him, so I just used 247’s figure for him. All players who signed this offseason but who haven’t enrolled and haven’t announced a decision to go to a JUCO are included too. For those who want to go this granular, I also included Auburn transfer Stephen Davis with South Carolina’s linebackers even though he’s a walk-on since he had a 3-star rating and originally signed with an SEC program.
Now, I know that recruiting ratings can be wrong for individual players. Malik Davis showed himself to be a lot better than a 3-star last year, for instance. However in the aggregate, which is what I’m covering here, they are fairly accurate. The only teams that challenge for or win national titles that aren’t full of highly-rated players either have a generational talent, like Cam Newton on 2010 Auburn or Marcus Mariota on 2014 Oregon, or are significantly ahead of the curve strategically, like 2010 Oregon.
Here are the average Composite ratings for each position for the top four SEC East teams. The leader in each spot highlighted.
|Position||UF Avg.||UGA Avg.||SC Avg.||UT Avg.|
I almost didn’t have to do the highlights because Georgia is tops at every position except wide receiver, which is the one place where Florida grades out on top. This was the case last year, too.
Florida’s quarterbacks and wide receivers are among the four spots along with quarterback and linebacker at Tennessee that have a positional average above .9000, which shows you how strong it is for all of UGA’s groupings to be above that level. Even so, those quarterback ratings are a little suspect as they’re being heavily buoyed by Feleipe Franks, who struggled to look like a 3-star last year, and Keller Chryst, a former high 4-star recruit at Stanford who graduate-transferred to Knoxville. Had he fulfilled his rating, he’d be starting in Palo Alto instead of starting over at UT. Here, again, are the limitations of individual recruiting rankings.
In any event, Georgia has an enormous talent lead on the rest of its division. It pulled ahead in that respect thanks to its blockbuster 2018 signing class, so it’s an advantage that should prove durable for a few years.
It’s even more stark if we just look at the number of players with each given star rating on the rosters.
Florida and Tennessee combined only have ten more blue chip 4-star and 5-star players (71) than Georgia has by itself (61). That 2018 class again figures large here, as nearly half (14) of the top 30 players on UGA’s roster by the Composite are freshmen.
One thing that both of these show is that South Carolina is noticeably behind on total team talent. The optimism about that team has a lot to do with a few of the blue chip players that they did end up with panning out — QB Jake Bentley, WRs Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith, OL Zack Bailey — combined with the return of playmaker Deebo Samuel (a former 3-star the recruiting sites whiffed on) and an upperclassman-heavy defense. As I’ve noted before, the times when teams that aren’t elite recruiters do their best is when they are stocked with veterans.
With all that said, talent levels don’t always account for everything. By these measures Florida and Tennessee are about even in overall team talent, which was the case last year. Then, it actually ended up a solid indicator. Both teams flamed out in 2017 under decaying coaching regimes and weren’t all that good before the malaise really set in midseason. Yet, this year Florida is solidly projected towards the top of the division while Tennessee is fighting with Kentucky and Vandy to stay out of the cellar.
For one thing, Dan Mullen has a history of getting a lot out of talent while Jeremy Pruitt has no history at all as a head coach. For another, UF will benefit from a young defense getting a year older and nearly everyone coming back on offense while Tennessee lost about half its production on both sides of the ball. Plus, there’s a lot of reason to think that UF should get a boost from a newly functional and competent strength and conditioning regime, a factor that isn’t present with Tennessee’s situation that I’m aware.
In all, though, Georgia is and should be the heavy favorite in the division because it’s way out in front in the talent department and showed itself to be well-coached enough on its trip to the national title game a year ago. Mullen just signed Florida’s best class by average recruit rank since 2013, but it’s going to take multiple years of doing even better than that to catch up.
Also, South Carolina will have to outperform its talent rankings to come through on the dark horse predictions it’s been getting. I’ll let the reader decide if a Will Muschamp team is likely to outperform its talent level or not.
Florida will not be at a talent disadvantage in five of its six division games this year. If it can overcome the gap in the one remaining one, it’ll set the team up for very good things.