Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Scouting the SEC for Fantasy Purposes

My college fantasy draft is this weekend (I play in a league with people from my high school and from the "we're way ahead of Kansas in not teaching evolution" rival high school) and as always, my partner and I are scrambling to put together rankings for the season. One of our usual rules is that we stay away from SEC players because 1) they tend to get drafted very high in the South, 2) everyone knows about them, whereas we have an advantage in that I'm probably the only one in the room with good knowledge of the Big Ten and its panoply of statistically productive running backs, and, most importantly, 3) SEC players haven't put up big numbers in recent years because the defenses have been ahead of the offenses. (Cue HeismanPundit telling us that SEC offenses are coached by Farmer Fran, the assistant in The Waterboy.) SEC teams produce a bevy of good NFL runners, but those runners are typically a surprise to everyone on the next level because they didn't have big stats in college. (See: Davis, Terrell or Davis, Domanick.) The league hasn't produced a great fantasy QB since Rex Grossman won the league for one team (not mine) in 2001. We, of course, foolishly drafted him the next year during the Ron Zook malaise. In 2001, we sought to reproduce our league-winning team of 2000, which was led by Chris Weinke, and went with Chris Rix early. Nice work.

Anyway, I think that that drafting rule against taking SEC players doesn't apply anymore. The league was very defensive last year. Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU all had very good defenses and, with the exception of Auburn, did not have offenses to match. Tennessee and Florida were the only major teams in the league with better offenses than defenses. This year, the league looks like it's about to take a serious turn. Look at the major coaching changes:

LSU replaces a defensive coach with an offensive one. Specifically, Les Miles did a great job coaching the running game at Oklahoma State and ought to transfer that skill to LSU.

Florida replaces a defensive coach (albeit one who didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground in terms of defensive scheming) with an offensive one and is expected to put up huge numbers this year.

Georgia loses its defensive coordinator, but retains its offensive brain trust.

Auburn loses its defensive coordinator, but retains its offensive brain trust.

South Carolina replaces Lou Holtz (an offensive coach whose teams at USC were better on defense) with Steve Spurrier, the gold standard of SEC offensive coaches.

The only teams in the conference that made changes that should make them better defensively this year were Arkansas, who hired Reggie Herring to fix their leaking defense, and Ole Miss, which hired Ed Orgeron, a defensive coach, to replace David Cutcliffe, an offensive coach.

Offense and defense tend to ebb and flow. The SEC was in a defensive stage until Steve Spurrier came into the league and forced opponents to evolve or die. (There's another nasty evolution reference, although I suppose the Luddites can always come back with "But it was Spurrier's intelligent design that forced the change!") Within years, everyone in the league was running three-and four-wide sets and throwing the ball around. Then, defenses caught up and the league went back into a defense-first posture for the past several years, mainly after 2001, which is the last year in which the best teams in the league were all offense-heavy. Now, the pendulum looks like it's about to swing back.

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