The SEC isn’t getting as much love as they normally do during the preseason, at least not from Phil Steele. His initial college football top 25 rankings for 2021 came out a few days ago, and his skepticism about the conference quickly became clear.
Five or six SEC teams in the preseason top 25 rankings is fairly typical. The AP and Coaches Poll had six SEC teams ranked in the top 25 in 2020 and 2019, while they both had five back in 2018.
Here is how Steele’s top 25 for 2021 breaks down, by conference:
- Big Ten: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana, Iowa (5)
- Pac-12: Washington, USC, Utah, Oregon, Arizona State (5)
- Big 12: Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas, TCU (4)
- SEC: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU (4)
- ACC: Clemson, North Carolina, Miami (3)
- Independent: Notre Dame (1)
- AAC: Cincinnati (1)
- Sun Belt: Louisiana (1)
- C-USA: Coastal Carolina (1)
Granted, three of those SEC teams are rated in Steele’s top 6, so that’s par for the course. But it was still surprising to see the Pac-12 have more teams included in that initial top 25 than the SEC. Of course, the highest-ranked Pac-12 team, Washington, sits down there at No. 9, far below several SEC teams.
To be fair, Steele got burned in his 2020 rankings. He placed eight SEC teams in his preseason rankings for 2020, and four of those teams — LSU (No. 7, 5-5 final record), Auburn (No. 19, 6-5), Tennessee (No. 20, 3-7) and Kentucky (No. 21, 4-6) — had mediocre or poor seasons.
That’ll make anyone think twice.
Steele also notably left two SEC programs that normally crack the preseason top 25, Florida and Auburn, off of his list, and he may have good reason for doing so.
The Gators are losing a ton of offensive firepower, including their star quarterback, top three pass catchers and two offensive linemen. Even with Dan Mullen as the head coach, those losses could lead to some obvious concerns. Granted, I still have them in my top 25, but I could understand where they could fall short.
Auburn isn’t overly difficult to figure out either.
The Tigers are now starting over after eight years of Gus Malzahn. We think Bryan Harsin could end up doing a pretty good job on The Plains, especially with the coaching staff he’s put together. But there are too many unknowns on that roster right now.
Either way, seeing two other Power Five conferences have more preseason top 25 teams than the SEC looks a little strange. But if Florida and Auburn really do take a step back, don’t be surprised to see another SEC team such as Ole Miss or Kentucky step up and claim a spot before they get too deep into their SEC schedules.
Note: According to the FanDuel Sportsbook, the Gators at +4000 are tied with Texas A&M for the seventh-lowest odds to win the national championship this season.
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Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.