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Fremeau: Weaknesses for top 5 teams

2/14/2012

Just because a team is projected to have a top-five finish doesn't mean it's perfect. No matter how good you think your team is, we're here to bring it down a notch.

And that's exactly where Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders/ESPN.com comes into play. He has taken a look at ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach's 2012 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 and broken down the weaknesses of Schlabach's top 5.

It just so happens that three of them are SEC teams (imagine that!). Here's what Fremeau had to say about them:

2. Alabama

"Alabama's defense will take a step back with the roster turnover, but the question is how big a step -- (Nick) Saban's past four teams at Alabama have ranked in the top 10 in opponent points per drive.

"The learning curve will be steep. The Crimson Tide will open the year against the Michigan Wolverines in Dallas, an offense led by Denard Robinson that was more efficient than any opponent Alabama faced a year ago. Special teams needs to be a point of emphasis, as well -- Alabama was below average on field goals, punts, kickoffs and kickoff return efficiency a year ago."

3. LSU

"The big question is whether LSU can take a step forward on offense. The offense was completely smothered by Alabama in the title game, but generating first downs plagued the Tigers at times throughout the year. LSU earned at least one first down on only 69 percent of its drives (49th-best rate nationally) and ranked 101st in producing 'methodical drives' (possessions of at least 10 plays). All eyes will be on transfer quarterback Zach Mettenberger in spring practice."

5. Georgia

"The focal point for next season has to be about finishing games and drives. On methodical drives of ten or more plays, Georgia scored a pathetic 1.5 points per possession (119th nationally and 2.3 points fewer than the national average). Late drives stalled in the bowl game loss to Michigan State due to conservative play calling and execution breakdowns. Georgia also needs to win the field position battle next year -- the Bulldogs were 63rd in field position advantage on the season, and all four losses a year ago were due in part to field position mismanagement."

My thoughts:

  • Alabama will lose some key pieces to its defense in 2012, but I don't think you'll see the same team we all saw in 2010. That defense was susceptible to the big play, and the Tide isn't exactly returning a group of youngsters. Alabama's defense will be made up mostly of juniors and seniors next season, but there's no denying the talent gone. I am also interested to see who steps up in the leadership department now that guys like Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Josh Chapman are gone.

  • At LSU, all eyes will be on Mettenberger, but it should be interesting to see what those young receivers do during the offseason, too. Russell Shepard is the lone senior returning to the starting lineup at receiver, and if his post-championship Twitter escapade was any indication, he still has some maturing to do before next season. A lot more will be expected from rising sophomores Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Beckham was LSU's No. 2 receiver last season, so he could move to No. 1 before the season starts. People think Landry can be a real playmaker in LSU's offense.

  • Obviously, a lot of the focus in Athens, Ga., this offseason will be on running back Isaiah Crowell. His nagging injury issues became a problem for the Bulldogs, and the running game was inconsistent because of it. Georgia has pretty good depth at the running back position, but Crowell is the headliner and if he's going to be the guy again, he has to become more reliable for the Bulldogs to repeat as SEC Eastern Division champs.