It's that time of year when "talkin' season" transforms into "prediction season" as media members across the country make their predictions during the various conference media days.
The SEC kicks things off at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta starting on Monday, during which time all of us in attendance will etch our final predictions in stone. Spoiler alert: We are going to be wrong. But which teams will we overrate and which teams typically fly under the radar?
We looked back at the past six preseason predictions (since expansion in 2012) and compared them to how division races actually turned out. Teams are ranked based on their final standing within the division relative to where they were picked in the preseason media poll. Head-to-head results and standard SEC tiebreaker procedures were used to prevent ties being factored into the final standings.
|Team||Performance vs. hype (division standing)||Average (division standing)|
|(-6) The Volunteers rarely lived up to expectations under former coach Butch Jones, which is probably why he's interning for Alabama coach Nick Saban rather than working for Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer in 2018. The Volunteers have only exceeded their expectation once since expansion -- the 2014 season when they finished fourth in the SEC East. Every other year, they have either met the expectation or fallen short -- punctuated by 2017, when they were expected to finish third but wound up in the cellar of the SEC East.|
|(-5) You don't think of the Razorbacks as a traditional SEC West power, but living up to moderate hype has been difficult in Fayetteville. The Hogs have met the expectation three times since expansion, surprised (by one spot) only once and finished three places below the expectation twice (2012, 2017). There's only one place to go for new coach Chad Morris -- up.|
|(-5) The Tigers seemingly always disappoint and haven't produced a better season than their preseason hype since Texas A&M and Missouri were added to the conference prior to the 2012 season. The media pegged LSU correctly in as the third-best team in the SEC West twice (2013, 2017). Every other season since 2012, the Tigers have failed to live up to the preseason division prediction.|
|(-4) Don't be fooled by the Gamecocks' overall performance since expansion. The hype figure is drastically skewed by 2014, when they were the preseason favorite in the SEC East, and 2015, when former coach Steve Spurrier bailed midseason. In both of Will Muschamp's seasons in charge, the Gamecocks have exceeded the preseason expectation by two places in the standings.|
|(-4) The Bulldogs used to be known as the king (or, at least co-king) of preseason hype. However, in four of the six years since expansion, the media has been spot-on. The only two swings and misses were 2013 and 2015, when they were the preseason favorite in the division and finished third.|
|(-1) The end of the Gene Chizik era and the beginning of the Gus Malzahn era on the Plains have been a rollercoaster of disappointing seasons (2012, 2015) and unexpectedly successful ones (2013, 2016). Last season, the media picked Auburn second and it won the SEC West by virtue of the head-to-head win over Alabama. Interestingly, the Tigers haven't hit their predicted finish on the mark in the 14-team era.|
|(-1) It hasn't been too difficult to peg the Crimson Tide since 2012, so it should come as no surprise that they hover around the break-even mark. The only reason they are minus-1 this year is because they finished second in the SEC West last year. Something tells me that College Football Playoff National Championship trophy makes the recovery from that disappointment a little easier to digest. |
|(+1) Aside from the two-year Johnny Manziel era, the Aggies have been pretty steady. Of course, the level of that consistency isn't what the administration wanted, which is why Kevin Sumlin is working in Tucson rather than College Station. Outside of the Manziel surprise in 2012 and marginal disappointment in 2013, the Aggies have only missed the mark once when they finished fifth instead of sixth (2015). |
|(+1) The Rebels haven't matched their preseason hype since expansion. The ultimate low was in 2016, when the Rebels finished seventh instead of third. The ultimate high was 2015, when they finished second after being picked fifth before the season. After a 6-6 campaign under bizarre circumstances last year with first-time coach Matt Luke, it will be interesting to see how the outside world views the coming into 2018.|
|(+1) The Gators were relatively steady up until 2015, when they won the East despite being picked fifth before the season. They went in the opposite direction last year, when the Jim McElwain era ended abruptly in the middle of the season and the Gators sputtered to a fifth-place finish. Maybe new coach Dan Mullen can stabilize things once again. |
|(+10) If you're looking for the most underrated team in the SEC, it's the Bulldogs ... and it isn't even close. Under former coach Dan Mullen, they finished better than expected every year since expansion. The biggest boom was made in 2014, when they finished second in the SEC West, held the No. 1 spot in the first-ever CFP Rankings and former quarterback Dak Prescott become a household name despite being picked fifth at media days. Can new coach Joe Moorhead have the same success? We'll see. Judging from the bullish preseason buzz building not just around Starkville but the entire SEC, they'll have their work cut out for them to keep the streak going. |
|(+6) The Tigers relied heavily on the 2013 and 2014 seasons to boost their overall hype value, when they won the division despite being picked sixth and fourth, respectively. But 2017 was a sneaky-good year for Drew Lock and Co. Despite being picked last in July, they got hot down the stretch. The Tigers won their final six regular season games and secured a fourth place finish (after the head-to-head loss to Kentucky broke the third-place tie) in the SEC East. |
|(+4) The media have been spot-on with the Wildcats three times since expansion and slightly undervalued them three more. The most surprising year was 2017, when Mark Stoops and Co. improved upon their preseason expectation by two spots and finished third in the SEC East. That coincided with their second straight seven-win season and another bowl game -- the second straight under Stoops. |
|(+3) When you're viewed as the doormat of the SEC East, there really is only one place to go. Surprisingly, the biggest surprise for the Commodores didn't occur during the James Franklin era (2011-13). In 2015 -- Derek Mason's second year in Nashville -- they finished fourth by virtue of a head-to-head win over Kentucky despite being picked last before the season. The downside? Vanderbilt still finished 2-6 in the SEC, 4-8 overall and missed a bowl game. Yes, the SEC East really was that bad in 2015. |