Midterm Grades – YPN SEC East, October 13, 2010
Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
HUGE pool to choose from this week! How about Les Miles and Gary Crowton (yes, AND Gary Crowton. Madness!)… ‘cept there was that baffling third quarter. Or how about MSU's Vick Ballard and his 14/134, 3 TD day against Houston… ‘cept it was Houston. Or we could go with LSU's Jarrett Lee, who's resurrection continued Saturday night in the swamp – 9/11 for 124 yards and 2 TDs, including a perfectly thrown TD to Terrance Toliver with just seconds left... ‘cept he didn't do it by himself. Or we could go with LSU's Drake Nevis, who was in the Florida backfield like they had his dog… ‘cept nothing – have you watched that man?! We don't want him anywhere near us. Or we could go with Cam Newton – again – who was just two yards shy of 200 passing/rushing… ‘cept it shouldn't have been that close at the end. Or what about the amazing freshman Marcus Lattimore?... ‘cept nothing really - 2 TDs and ran out the clock in the 2H. Or the afore mentioned Toliver? Or Alshon Jeffery - he's our runner up. But is there really any doubt – Carolina's Stephen Garcia finally stepped into the spotlight to shine! The oft troubled junior was 17/20, 201 yards, 3 TDs to 1 INT, for a 209 Passer Efficiency Rating. Minus a small brain fart where he mistakenly thought he was Faud Revez, Garcia was nearly perfect in leading his team to the biggest win in school history. Nicely done, Mr. Garcia.
The best (and coincidently the most surprising) performance of the weekend was the LSU tandem of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. The two Tiger QBs combined for 16 of 24 passing, 224 yards and two touchdowns. Jefferson rushed for two more touchdowns, and most importantly Lee did not throw any pick sixes (or INTs of any kind for that matter). Y'all remember his last trip to the Swamp? Lee and Jefferson actually looked comfortable and confident all night, on the road, against a quality defense… Raise your hand if you saw that coming. That's what I thought. On top of which it was the complete opposite of what we've seen from LSU's offense all year. For everyone outside of Gainesville, it was great to see Lee throw that winning TD pass after all the adversity he's weathered the past couple of years. The nickname Mr. Pick Six is starting to regress, which is one of the best things about CFB: a comeback story.
Special recognition is also deserved for my colleague Russ Mitchell, who somehow managed to ignore all of our bullying, insulting emails and abusive radio callers in trying to convince us that both South Carolina AND Louisiana State were going to win last weekend. This wasn't a toss at a dartboard either – go back and read his analysis last week and you'll see he was convinced those two were going to win; and short of the nod to Patrick Peterson he was spot on in how both would happen. And to the best of my knowledge, he was the only person breathing who made that call. Personally, I never bet on sports – particularly not on 18 year olds. But if there was ever a weekend I was tempted to do so, this was it. My stubbornness saved my shirt. Pretty impressive, Mr. Mitchell. (RM Note: Gracias. Waiting to hear back from Herbstreit.)
(ii) Is the SEC down this year, or is that just everyone else's wishful thinking?
Well the East is certainly struggling. Outside of SC and Florida, the East is in borderline shambles. Georgia is in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since the invention of bowl games. And Kentucky, Tennessee and Vandy are bringing up the rear of the entire conference. However, the Western division is not only the best in the SEC, it's the best division in America. Don't believe us, Nebraska? Think we're exaggerating, Oregon? The West has four teams ranked in the Top 12 (Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Arkansas), all of whom are also ranked in the Top 25 in either Total Offense or Defense (both for Arkansas and Bama). These four have beaten every ranked out of conference opponent they've faced, along with Clemson and Texas A&M. Then there's a vastly improved MSU team under second year head coach Dan Mullen, who will likely make a bowl game this year even having to play the four teams listed above. Add SC and Florida to the mix (Florida's only losses this year have been to the last two National Champs not named Florida), and there are six teams ranked in the Top 25, all of whom are very capable of beating any team in America on any field.
So, let's review: five teams in the Top 12, six in the Top 22, by far the nation's most dominant division, and if you believe that defense wins championships, nine of the nation's top 50 defenses come from the SEC… Hard to call that a down year, even by the SEC's recent high standards. It remains likely that whoever wins the SEC Championship will be in Glendale for the title game, and having been forged under fire, will likely win the SEC a fifth straight crown.
After listening to the talking heads pontificate on the demise of the SEC following Alabama's loss Saturday, you would have thought the Tide was the only conference team ranked in the Top 25. Is a conference hurt when the number one team in the country loses? In the short-term, yes; but it really doesn't change the rest of the league. The SEC is not down this year – not unless you consider six teams ranked in the Top 22 and five in the Top 12 a down year for a conference. It's hilarious that Alabama goes on the road and loses to a team that will likely finish in the Top 15, and we have to listen to this? Year after year we see how tough the SEC is, and year after year we see that toughness reflected in post-season play. Yes, the SEC might be more top heavy this season – past the top seven teams (we're including MSU), there's a bigger drop this year than most, as evident by those teams losing some shocking out of conference games (that's you, UGA).
But here we are… Bama travels to face a ranked SEC team coming off a bye week, and loses. The third consecutive ranked team the Tide faced, btw. Don't mind us, but we're not hitting the panic button just yet. However, the SEC should be used to this kind of treatment, as others try and marginalize the league every chance they get. It's tough at the top y'all, as it should be. There are two fan bases in this country: SEC fans and everyone who hates them. The SEC is the NY Yankees of College Football; no one likes them because they always win and spend the most money. Don't believe us? How does Charles Woodson have a Heisman trophy over Peyton Manning? What a joke. How are we talking about Les Miles and Mark Richt on the Hot Seat, who in the last five years are 106-36, with two conference titles, a National Championship, and a 3-1 record in BCS games, but Mark Stoops, Chip Kelly and Steve Sarkisian are Pac 10 legends? How stupid should the voters feel after leaving an undefeated Auburn squad out of the BCS Championship Game in 2004 because of "their OOC schedule", but Boise State is deserving with the trash they play in the WAC?! (RM Note: Get it all out, brother.)
Do you know who doesn't want a playoff (besides me)? The rest of college football. Most SEC fans scream for a playoff, because they know their conference doesn't lose games that matter; the SEC's record in BCS games is unmatched. It's not even close. So no, the SEC isn't down; the media is down on the SEC. The same thing over and over gets boring, right. But with all the money, recruits, stadium enhancements and the abundance of top coaching that the SEC currently enjoys, its dominance is unlikely to change anytime soon. Sometimes a fresh storyline trumps the truth; and as any writer will tell you, a good story needs a villain. But keep driving that Boise Bus – the "down" SEC would relish the opportunity to send its champion to Glendale, pour sugar in the gas tank, soak a rag in petrol and light it on fire. (RM Note: YPN, CFN & Scout.com neither endorse nor encourage the torching of any buses, Boise or otherwise. Yes that's you, West Virginia!)
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Six, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with Florida's woeful offense, what a genius Spurrier is, and what exactly Saban was thinking abandoning the rushing game so quickly… (i) GOD I LOVE OCTOBER!!!! (ii) Rebel Bears? Are you kidding us? While it's a step up on Rebel Landsharks (yes, that's legit), now the conference has two Tigers, two Bulldogs and two Bears. When I think "SEC" and "Bear", it's not ole miss that comes to mind. All the animals on the planet… (iii) And talk about taking the chickenpoop way out with "Rebel" Bear… So are you still the Rebs, or da Bears? (iv) No truth to the rumor that Rainey… Actually, it's tough to make jokes about this situation, (v) Don't look now, but Miss State is good, and Florida is reeling. State's only two losses have been Auburn (a game they should have won) and @ LSU. The Bulldogs' O is ranked 38th, Florida's is 96th. And in case you've forgotten, HC Dan Mullen knows a thing or two about this Florida program and the Swamp, (vi) Bama's Julio Jones "broke" his hand in the 1Q of the loss to SC and still had a season best day; kid should break his hand every game. How much you want to bet he's playing on Saturday against ole miss? (vii) Jones, Fluker and Upshaw are hurt, and there are still five more teams to play coming off a bye week, (viii) Don't look now, but after a convincing win against Tennessee, UGA's Total Defensive ranking has climbed back up to 28th, with Vandy's struggling passing game coming to town next, (ix) But even IF we give Georgia wins for Vandy and @ Kentucky, and the latter is by no means a sure thing, in order to go bowling the Bulldogs must still win one of the following: Florida (and the Gators have the all important bye week this year), @ Auburn or Georgia Tech. Wow. Down to the wire two years running. And (x) Listen up, Joker – SC can stop the run but it's Total Defense is ranked near the bottom of the conference (11th, and 68th in the nation), and is even worse in Passing Efficiency Defense (11th, and 98th in the nation). And you like to throw! (Though get it out quickly, Hartline – the Cocks are best in the conference in Sacks.)
This one should be clear, but it's shocking that no one is discussing The Curse of the 3rd Color Home Jersey. (RM Note: What is it with you and fashion, man?) Why do SEC teams fall into this trap year after year? The fans can do whatever they want in the stands: whiteouts, blackouts, true blue, all gold... Whatever – the list goes on. But don't wear different colored jerseys; besides being heretical, it almost always backfires. Think this is crazy? Well Florida decided to wear orange jerseys this weekend instead of its traditional home blues, and got royally "Mad Hat'ed". Don't even get me started on the disastrous blackouts that UGA has attempted the past two seasons. Sure it worked against Auburn in 2007, but after the 2008 Alabama debacle it should never have been brought back – not even the helmets.
Absolutely the players love it, but instead of focusing on the game and preparing for the opponent, they're thinking at least in some part about clothing. And if you don't believe me, you're old. "That black jersey's gonna look Chuck!" "I hope we're going True Blue: pants, jerseys AND helmets." "Orange will look pretty sweet Saturday night in the Swamp." FOCUS! Look, there is nothing wrong with fan participation, and I'm sure it probably sells more shirts; but no one's buying them WHEN YOU LOSE. Just leave the players out of it. The best part of college football is the tradition; there's a home jersey and a road jersey. The fact that LSU wears white for home SEC games is awesome. The fact Georgia wears silver pants is classic. Keep those traditions. Stop messing around and focus on coaching.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas – People talk about the Auburn Tigers needing to string four quarters together – the same could apply to the Hogs, and most notably Mr. Mallett. After upchucking on most of the 2H between the hedges, Mallett was given a mulligan thanks to a shank from the usually sure-footed Drew Butler. Against Bama, we saw a fourth quarter filled with head scratching plays. And last Saturday in Dallas the overall offense left much to be desired. Hello! This is Arkansas, home of Bobby Ball. You're supposed to win with offense, not defense. While it's nice to see the D coming around, can we get a solid 60 minutes from you please, Mallett? This is it – everyone knows you're not coming back. Lose this one and you're 0-fer against the state, and with it, any realistic chance that you'll ever play in Atlanta. Other than against the Falcons (we're guessing Black's not drafting any kids from Arkansas; just a guess). While Bama didn't have many sacks, they got in your face and rattled you – knocking you to the ground many times. Well, Auburn's 5th in sacks and 3rd in TFLs, so they can bring the heat. However, the Tigers' secondary is a question mark, just off a fresh torching by Mike Hartline. Yes, Hartline. QB at Kentucky. Doesn't matter, listen... If Mallett has an A game, Arkansas will win on the Plains, even if the hog's defense has just an average game.
T'Sharvan Bell, Neiko Thorpe and Demond Washignton, Cornerbacks, Auburn – We have seen the Auburn secondary struggle against Arkansas State, South Carolina, Louisiana Monroe and Kentucky. The only reason they didn't play terrible against MSU was because the Bulldog receivers kept dropping passes, and Chris Relf/Tyler Russell were wildly inaccurate. And Clemson's receivers had a similar case of alligator arms (plus Kyle Parker became considerably less accurate after getting banged up). Don't expect that to happen with Arkansas, who have a stable of very talented receivers, and a big, experienced QB. The soft coverage Auburn has been playing will not work against the Arkansas receivers, who will take a short crossing route and take it the distance. If the Auburn coaches aren't confident their DB's can play bump and run or press coverage, there isn't much of a chance for Auburn to stop the Arkansas passing game.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
2 LSU (up from 5) – It's been nearly 6 year; I'm not calling it luck anymore
3 South Carolina (up from 5) – Come out nasty, hungry and nasty
3 Auburn – Don't look over your shoulder, Auburn; just keep running
3 Arkansas (up from 5) – Chuck it up early and often
3 Alabama (down from 1) – If you're looking for commitment, commit to the run
6 Mississippi State (up from 7) – Believe!
7 Florida (down from 5) – "It's time to die, bitch."
9 ole miss – Stop the run, and it won't matter what McElroy does. Good luck with that
9 Georgia (up from 12) – It was Tennessee; don't get too excited
10 Kentucky – It's @ the Swamp and Auburn; oh yeah… ole miss
11 Tennessee – That might have been more embarrassing than Oregon
12 Vanderbilt – (crickets)
1 Auburn (up from 3) – For now AU will work outta this spot; not sure they will last
2 LSU (up from 5) – What do you think they'll say after 7-0, Coach?
3 Alabama (down from 1) – It ain't easy to win on the road in the SEC
4 Arkansas (down from 2) – Huge statement game at Auburn, for team and Mallett
5 South Carolina (up from 6) – Yeah… Didn't see that coming. SC running game's hot
6 Florida (down from 4) – Desperation is setting in for Meyer; here comes Chris Rainey
7 Mississippi State – Mullen vs. Meyer, Part II; would you believe MSU's offense is better?
8 Kentucky – Must win game v. Carolina; 3 straight wins followed by 3 straight losses
9 Georgia (up from 12) – Wishing every game could be against UT
10 Vanderbilt (down from 9) – UGA with no C. King; will Vandy win another road game?
11 Ole Miss (down from 10) – 2 weeks to prepare for Bama (in case Alabama loses)
12 Tennessee (down from 11) – All the good will from the last month destroyed in 15 min.
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Arkansas vs. Auburn; Saturday, October 16th | 3:30 PM EST | CBS. Bottom Line here is easy – Auburn's pass defense is crap. It's worse than it looks, and it looks bad. Meanwhile, Arkansas' passing attack is actually better than the stats suggest, and those already look good. Auburn must keep Mallett off the field, and when he's on, he better be on his back. Hit him early, often and late. I'm not saying take a cheap shot – but every shot you get, take it. With extreme malice. Because if there's one thing we've learned about Ryan, you can get into his melon. If you don't, Auburn, you're going to lose. If Cam and Co. can't run and keep Mallett and his talented quintet of receivers off the field, you're going to lose. You're going to lose…
Pick Arkansas 35, Auburn 31
2) Mississippi State vs. Florida; Saturday, October 16th | 7 PM EST | ESPNU. So now the question becomes how much of Florida's legendary offense is Meyer, and how much was Mullen? It's very hard to win on the road in conference play, and even harder in the Swamp. Unless, that is, your offense is better, your defense is good enough, your coach is intimately aware of the other program, and it happens to be in complete disarray. And how is this Rainey circus not going to be a further distraction, Urban? Don't look now Gator nation, but the game last year was far tighter than the final score hints, and they're better now - with a chip on their shoulder. They should have beaten Auburn. They just annihilated a Houston team, in Texas, that even after the loss is still 23rd in the nation in Total Offense and 10th in Scoring. You're 98th in Total Offense. 21 of your points against LSU came of short drives from turnovers (17 & 16), and a KOR for a TD. IF Miss State can avoid turnovers and play just respectable Special Teams, we'll witness a second big "program defining" win in as many weeks. And we will…
Pick MSU 24, Florida 21
3) South Carolina vs. Kentucky; Saturday, October 16th | 6 PM EST | ESPN2. Yes, there's likely to be a bit of a hangover, but not more than a quarter's worth. Were this game anyone other than Kentucky, we might be more concerned. But the Wildcats just aren't special enough, and with three consecutive losses, they have distractions of their own. Hartline is a serviceable QB, but he makes too many mistakes for a senior (he throws for a ton of yards, but in their three SEC games he's 4 TDs/3 INTs). It's a tenacious bunch in Lexington, but tenacity alone won't be enough to beat a superior Carolina team. Not even tenacity AND Cobb. SC has two weaknesses heading into this game – overconfidence/distraction and a weak pass defense. Word out of Columbia says Spurrier has the boys steady/focused, though on the second matter, Kentucky actually sports a decent passing attack – in large part because its Offensive Line ranks first in the conference at protecting the QB. Interestingly, the Gamecocks rank best at sacking the QB. Something's gotta give. We think it'll be Hartline's facemask. Also, Kentucky's rushing defense is just terrible – enter stage left one M. Lattimore, fresh from running up and down, and then back up Bama. The Gamecocks' defense wins this one in the first three quarters, Lattimore in the fourth. Watch the Kentucky O-line closely…
Pick South Carolina 20, Kentucky 14
1) Arkansas vs. Auburn; Saturday, October 16th | 3:30 PM EST | CBS. This game should be very similar to what we saw from Arkansas vs. Georgia earlier this year. It'll be a back and forth affair, where the team with the ball last likely wins. Ryan Mallett and Cameron Newton should have big games to keep both players in the Heisman hunt; if Denard Robinson can throw three picks at home and still be on top of some people's list, this game won't hurt either quarterback. But the winner will move to the top for Southern voters. Mallett will have a drive just like the winner against UGA; it won't be as fast, but the result will be the same…
Pick Arkansas 38, Auburn 35
2) Mississippi State vs. Florida; Saturday, October 16th | 7 PM EST | ESPNU. This Saturday, MSU has an opportunity to take a step forward into the New Year's Day bowl picture. No, we're not high. More than likely, MSU will be bowl bound by Halloween - but a struggling Florida offense that has lost two straight to the SEC West is ripe for the trifecta! The Gators are banged up physically and mentally after losing in a bad way to LSU. See how Tennessee reacted last weekend in Athens for an example of a hangover from a last minute loss to the Fighting Tigers. But while two straight losses for Urban Meyer is rare, three is unheard off. Therefore... (RM Note: After all that?! You female kitty.)
Pick Florida 27, MSU 17
3) South Carolina vs. Kentucky; Saturday, October 16th | 6 PM EST | ESPN2. If South Carolina wants to prove they're for real, they'll come out and crush Kentucky. This is the trap game Carolina fans fear and know all too well; coming off huge wins, the team has historically been flat and disinterested. Meanwhile, Kentucky is desperate after losing three straight SEC games. South Carolina should win this game, but I'm not picking them to do so until they actually do it once...
Pick Kentucky 24, South Carolina 21
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Preview every Wednesday.
Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
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