Thursday, December 10, 2009
Who improved and who regressed in the SEC?
By Chris Low ESPN.com
Who was the most improved team in the SEC this season? Who went the other way?
Let’s make it easier and break it up into categories.
We’ll start with Most Improved. Who says we don’t accentuate the positive around here?
Total offense: Auburn.
The Tigers under first-year coordinator Gus Malzahn were third in the league with an average of 432.3 yards per game, which was 129.4 yards better than a year ago when they were eighth at 302.9 yards per game.
Tennessee was close behind with a jump of 126.6 yards per game. Interestingly enough, the only three schools who didn’t improve their total offense numbers from a year ago were Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss.
Anthony Dixon helped the Bulldogs improve their ground game by 127 yards over last year.
Rushing offense: Mississippi State
The Bulldogs were first in the league this season, riding Anthony Dixon and averaging 227.6 yards per game. That’s after finishing 11th last season with an average of 100.6 yards, a difference of 127 yards.
In one of those odd stats, the perception was that Georgia’s running game had dropped off dramatically this season with Knowshon Moreno gone. In actuality, the Bulldogs averaged more rushing yards per game than a year ago. They were ninth in the league, averaging 157.1 yards per game and were fifth a year ago, averaging 148.3 yards per game. So they were up 8.8 yards per game.
Passing offense: Tennessee
The Vols were a runaway winner thanks in large part to Jonathan Crompton’s transformation.
They were third in the league with an average of 225.6 yards per game and finished 11th last season with an average of 145.8 yards per game, an improvement of 79.8 yards per game.
Total defense: Florida
Despite their struggles in the SEC championship game, the Gators were second in the league with an average of 253.8 yards per game after giving up 285.3 yards last season, a difference of 31.5 yards.
Alabama was the only other team in the league that improved its total defense numbers. The Crimson Tide finished first in the SEC, allowing an average of 241.7 yards per game. They gave up an average of 263.5 yards last season, a difference of 21.8 yards.
Rushing defense: Arkansas
That’s right, Arkansas. The Hogs were ninth in the league, giving up an average of 150.1 yards per game. That’s after giving up an average of 170.8 yards per game a year ago, an improvement of 20.7 yards.
Only three teams in the league improved their rush defense numbers from a year ago -- Arkansas, Mississippi State and Florida.
Passing defense: Ole Miss
Ole Miss was sixth in the league with an average of 179 yards per game. That’s after finishing last a year ago with an average of 221.7 yards, a difference of 42.7 yards.
Turnover margin: Arkansas
The Hogs were second in the league at plus-13 and led the league with 27 forced turnovers. They were 11th last season at minus-9, a difference of plus-22.
Now we turn our attention to who regressed the most.
Total offense: Georgia
The Bulldogs had a record-setting season a year ago on offense and were second in the league at 426 yards per game, but they dipped to eighth this season at 361.8 yards per game, a difference of 64.2 yards.
LSU also had a noticeable drop-off. The Tigers were 11th in the league this season at 309.7 yards per game. That’s after averaging 368.1 yards a year ago, a difference of 58.4 yards.
Rushing offense: LSU
It won’t be a season to remember on the offensive side of the ball for the Tigers. They were 11th in the league at 129.6 yards per game. They were fourth a year ago, averaging 166.8 yards on the ground, a difference of 37.2 yards.
Total defense: Tennessee
Monte Kiffin’s defense was very good this season and outstanding at times, but the Vols didn’t put up the same numbers that John Chavis’ last unit at Tennessee did.
Tennessee was fourth in the league with an average of 308.8 yards per game, but the Vols tied for first last season (also tying for third nationally) with an average of 263.5 yards, a difference of 45.3 yards.
Rushing defense: Ole Miss
The Rebels were sixth in the league, giving up an average of 140.3 yards per game. That’s after finishing second in the league and fourth nationally last season with an average of 85.5 yards, a difference of 54.8 yards.
Vanderbilt was a close second, declining 53.1 yards per game.
Passing defense: Arkansas
The Hogs struggled all season to stop the pass. They were last in the league with an average of 251.8 yards per game. They were 10th last season, giving up an average of 204.4 yards per game. That’s a difference of 47.4 yards.
Mississippi State also saw its pass defense decline. The Bulldogs were 11th in the league this season with an average of 220 yards per game. They wound up fourth last season, giving up an average of 176.6 yards per game, a difference of 43.4 yards per game.
Turnover margin: Florida
The Gators were fourth in the league this season at plus-7, which is more than respectable. But they were first in the SEC and second nationally a year ago at plus-22. So that’s a difference of minus-15.
Mississippi State had the most turnovers in the league this season with 30.