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 WEST QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with LSU's monster in the middle, Drake Nevis… ‘cept it was a team performance; hard to leave out Ryan Baker, or Patrick Peterson, or Kelvin Sheppard, or Jordan Jefferson... Or we could go with Auburn's Cam Newton and his 300+ yards passing and four TD performance in about the time it takes you to order a latte… ‘cept it was against the Chattanooga School for the Football Impaired. Or we could go with Arkansas' Ryan Mallett or Knile Davis… ‘cept Carolina mailed it in once Marcus Lattimore got banged up, saving its offense (said Lattimore) for the Florida game (as they should have - more on that below). But is there really any doubt – LSU's win over Alabama was a complete team effort, and so we give the nod to the LSU Tigers, plural. Your choice: The second half adjustments by the coaching staff. The willingness to take select chances, and making the correct calls when doing so. Having the team ready to play mentally after a particularly disappointing performance in Auburn. Nevis doing his best job of impersonating an Alabama running back. Allowing about 30 yards rushing in the 2H. Jordan Jefferson having a career game. No turnovers. Jarrett Lee coming off the bench late for yet another clutch throw with time running out. Knocking Bama out of the National Championship picture. Beating Saban. Staying alive for an SEC Championship (barely, but call it what it is). There's more, but that's enough.
If you love old school college football, than you love watching Drake Nevis play defensive tackle for LSU. Nick Fairley and Nevis have become my two favorite players this season; there is nothing better than a physical DT blowing up plays time after time. Defensive tackle is the ultimate effort position - players can quit when double teamed. They can take plays off because they are tired and have been getting beat up and knocked down… Who knows what happens under all those piles of players. But Fairley and Nevis don't quit/ They work hard; they are the blue collar workers of the defense. But instead of getting lost with great effort that doesn't show up on a stat sheet, they are putting up amazing numbers.
Nevis was simply fantastic against Alabama. His effort would make any coach, fan or teammate proud, and that effort is what the LSU defense feeds off. Nevis' numbers against Alabama (those that actually show up on the stat sheet) were awesome. He had 5 solo tackles, a sack, a pass defense and a forced fumble. But it was more - he was all over the Alabama backfield causing problems with the offense's timing and taking up blocks so the linebackers could make big plays. Alabama had no answer for him. The defense as a whole held Alabama to 325 yards of offense, and only 102 on the ground. Even with possibly the best cornerback in the country on the LSU defense (Patrick Peterson), Nevis still stands out.
(ii) Make the case for Boise State or TCU in the Championship Game?
I can't. If you can make a case for Boise and TCU, then you can make a case for Georgia. We wrote about this in greater detail earlier this week, but bottom line - against teams the caliber of which litter the TCU/BSU regular season schedule, Georgia is undefeated in spectacular fashion! UL Lafayette? 55-7. Vanderbilt? 43-0. Tennessee? 41-14. Idaho St.? 55-7. TOTAL: 194-28. In those games, UGA's QB Aaron Murray was fantastic: 68/102 (67%) for 941 yards, 10 TDs and only 1 INT. UGA's offense racked up 1,776 total yards, while holding its opponents to a measly 688 (only 30/game rushing). And everyone reading this knows Georgia is not that good.
No, we don't think the ‘Dawgs beat either TCU or BSU over four quarters, and yes, TCU and Boise are both very talented programs. But as we see with UGA, their records are inflated by their poor schedules. No one outside of Fort Worth or Idaho thinks either of these squads goes undefeated in the SEC, and that's all that matters. It doesn't matter if there's only one conference for which that's the case – that's enough. The argument that you can't punish a program for "just beating the teams on its schedule", no matter how weak that schedule might be, is simply ridiculous – without a playoff, what other method is there? (Btw, an undefeated Auburn team lost out for a shot at the National Championship this decade for that very reason (perceived weak OOC schedule)). Neither BSU nor TCU have been challenged like the rest of the Top 10 – they haven't even been challenged like Georgia. Beating Utah is not proving yourself - unless it's on the moon; that would be impressive. Again, we're not arguing that BSU and TCU haven't dominated their schedules, nor that they're bad teams – but their results are inflated, and absent a playoff, neither has earned the right to be simply given one of two precious shots at the national championship
Now, let me tell you why you've been hearing so much about TCU and BSU, particularly from ESPN. And like it or not, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network fellas drive much of our sport's mindshare. It's not rocket science - it's money. ESPN paid a lot of coin for the rights to broadcast the National Championship game, and as my Granddad said, always follow the money. It's been a good bet for a while that either BSU or TCU was going to run the table, meanwhile we've only had a handful of undefeated SEC teams in recent years – you certainly can't count on that. If y'all haven't been coached up on TCU & BSU heading into the bowl season, how compelling really is the thought of watching Texas Christian play for all the marbles? It's a novelty sure, and if you're reading this you're probably watching regardless. But for the casual fan – READ: most of America – you might tune in for Alabama, or Notre Dame, or Texas, or USC… But you're not tuning in for Boise State. Not unless it's been talked up. You gotta protect the product, brother. Again, for the final time, TCU and BSU are good teams, but no CFB fan in his right mind thinks they've really been challenged. (Lee, you still sending me my Corso Christmas card?)
Not an easy question at all, and after thinking about both teams it became obvious that it is impossible for me to make a case for both Boise State and TCU. It is possible to make a case for one of these two schools, and that school is Texas Christian University. These two are linked at the hip in our College Football world and to argue one as deserving of a championship game you have to eliminate the other. Both have terrible schedules in weak conferences, so by default the better team has to get the edge over the weaker - eliminating the latter from the discussion. TCU is the stronger of the two non-AQ teams, and deserving of a championship bid if they are unbeaten and if there not two undefeated BCS teams.
The stats just don't matter. It doesn't matter how good the defense is, how efficient a passer TCU QB Andy Dalton is, how good a coach Gary Patterson is, or how the little guy deserves a chance. It is about the schedule; frankly it is only about the schedule. Every Top 20 team can win a National Championship if they are given the opportunity to do so. Heck, South Carolina beat Alabama with a week to prepare… How could anyone be so blind to say that TCU couldn't win over Auburn or Oregon with a month to prepare? (RM Note: It's not if they can win one game - it's about proving it over a season to justify the privilege of being "granted" a spot in the final two). The question is does TCU's schedule allow us to at least argue in their favor over Boise State?
TCU has convincing wins over Oregon State, Baylor, Utah and play in a superior conference to Boise State… (RM Note: Did you even read my article Sunday? You can read, right? Do you know Utah's best win? 5-4 Pitt. 4-4 OSU??? You are scrambling.) That's all I got. Russ is the stat guy, and he will have a better argument than me on this one, but this is nearly impossible. Looking at the schedules of these two teams in totality is a joke. Neither team truly deserves a spot in the Championship game; we do not hate on the little guy, we just hate the little guy's opponents.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Ten, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with the genius that is Les Miles, who doesn't like a blade of grass every now and again, and just how much Saban will earn as the Cowboys' next head coach (relax, Bama fan)… (i) "…scientists really have discovered the exact distance between genius and madness. It's one Miles. Les Miles." - Kevin Scarbinsky, Birmingham News, (ii) In the last seven years, the team leading at the half of the Bama/LSU game has only won once, (iii) Cam Newton copied off my homework in kindergarten, (iv) Yes, but I was held back, (v) No truth to the rumor Cam was on the Grassy Knoll, we think, (vi) No truth to the rumor that Cam ratted out Valerie Plame; however, he did say she was a hot CIA Counter-Nuclear Proliferation director – for a mom, (vii) No truth to the rumor it was Cam who shot John Lennon, though he does look a bit like Mark Chapman… If you're blindfolded, (vii) No truth to the rumor that Cam jaywalks, (viii) Actually, I saw Cam jaywalk once with my own eyes, (ix) Wait – sorry... That was just the LSU defensive line, (x) There's a lot of stink around this story, absolutely. But this "he says", "she says" is already getting old. If we're going to keep slamming this kid in the papers and there's real proof, I'd like to see it. Or do we just keep slamming him? Where is Commissioner Slive in all of this? (xi) But at this point, Auburn's in for a penny, in for a pound; minus a smoking gun, Cam's going to see this season through to the end. We're not suggesting its right, but if AU did change its mind at his point and benched him, it would be tantamount to folding before seeing the river card when "All In" at Texas Hold ‘em. It took the NCAA five years to pass judgment on USC, which was after depositions and TV shows clearly showed wrong doing. We'd be shocked if Auburn does something in the next two weeks, which means it's likely Cam is under center for the Iron Bowl, and (xii) Auburn being ruled ineligible is LSU's only chance to play in the SEC Championship Game – Auburn's not losing to UGA.
The inflated Newton story has overtaken College Football, the SEC, and this weekend's most intriguing match-up between Florida and South Carolina. The Head Ball Coach returns to the Swamp for a chance at South Carolina's first Division Championship, and all we want to talk about is phone calls, pay for play and who writer X has for the Heisman. Excuse us for a second while we talk about some football in Y'all Play Nice. A number of writers who cover South Carolina have commented on how relaxed Spurrier seems this week, and that can't be good news for Florida. But after the way the Gamecocks played against Arkansas, it might be a smoke screen. Spurrier is one of smartest coaches in the country, and while the wins may not be what he had hoped for in Columbia, he knows what he's doing.
He tried to motivate Stephen Garcia earlier this summer by challenging him to work harder. Maybe it worked, though he's looked the same for the most part. He told Garcia before the Alabama game that it was his to win, two weeks after benching him in the final 10 minutes of the loss at Auburn. Garcia responded with a great performance, and never sniffs the bench - even after pretending to be a kicker. Now with the Gators on deck the OBC is acting relaxed; is it because he feels confident in the game? Probably not, but his players need to see him relaxed and he knows that. Spurrier knows they can beat Florida, and he needs to convey cool, calm and collected. It will be tough, it will be exciting, it will be the Swamp... But the attitude Spurrier has is the right one. Looking forward to seeing if it works.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, RB – Let's get one thing clear – Auburn's going to beat Georgia like a drum. There's no spotlight in that game, regardless what the hype machine may try to generate. (While we're on it, those of you picking Tennessee to beat ole miss, Bray is a true frosh, rookie QB, facing his first SEC start. Yes, ole miss is still in the SEC. And it's not like he has an NFL team playing defense for him. Memphis is 1-8, y'all.) The spotlight this week is easy – Spurrier has been running Marcus Lattimore like a rented, red-headed step mule, in large part because it's clear to everyone he's the secret sauce that makes Carolina a contender. But he's also a freshman, and ~30 carries a game is starting to show. With Marcus starting at TB, SC can beat anyone. Take him (virtually) out of a game tied after eight carries (Arkansas!), and his team makes Ugly Betty look hot. Heck, take him out of a game up 28-10 and his team can't find a first down with a flashlight and a map. Florida's rushing defense has struggled against, well, teams that run. And at home no less (MSU, LSU, USF). Spurrier clearly decided not to push Lattimore last week, and it was the right decision; all that truly matters for Carolina is winning the Florida game. Had the Gamecocks beaten Arkansas (which was far from a given) but lost Lattimore for Gainesville, you'd be killing Spurrier right now – and you likely don't even really care. In SEC games where Lattimore gets 16+ carries, SC is undefeated. In SEC games where he plays and gets 15 or fewer carries, they have yet to win. If Marcus gets 20+ carries Saturday in the Swamp, SC beats Florida. If he doesn't, SC loses. Simple as that.
Cameron Newton, Auburn, QB – Georgia can beat Auburn, rivalry games are tricky and the history of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has had plenty of upsets. If the distractions of the past week cause Newton to be off this weekend, Auburn will lose. Auburn needs a great game from their offense and their quarterback to keep up with the points Georgia is going to put up. This is the toughest match up for Auburn since the Arkansas game…not the toughest game but if you can throw the ball well, you can score on Auburn. Aaron Murray will be looking at Orson Charles and AJ Green early and often. Turnovers could end up being the difference and Newton has limited those all season long…will he be focused or distracted Saturday afternoon?
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Auburn – Stink sells… And this is getting "stinkier" by the day
2 LSU (up from 3) – Nick who? Take two
4 Arkansas – Two more wins away from another step forward
4 Mississippi State – Run. Focus. Believe
4 Alabama (down from 2) – Not tough enough; hit somebody in the mouth
6 South Carolina (down from 5) – Saved Lattimore for this game; let's see it
6 Florida (up from 7) – Can UF pass on this weak SC secondary?
8 Georgia – Not even a snowball's chance
9 Kentucky – Maybe Cobb can play center for Calipari
10 ole miss – Wait for the true freshman to make mistakes
11 Tennessee – How much does Bray weigh? Y'all saw what happened to Jacory Harris, right? Put some meat on that kid, and quickly
12 Vanderbilt – Keep it close
1 Auburn – Enough with the Cam Newton talk
2 LSU (up from 3) – Battle for the Boot now Battle for the Sugar Bowl
3 Alabama (down from 2) – Defensive problems starting to rear their ugly head for the Tide
4 Arkansas – No Greg Childs, no problem for the Razorbacks; great win in Columbia
5 Mississippi State – Enough with the Cam Newton talk
6 Florida – "We swear we didn't talk about Cam Newton. Is that our nose?"
7 South Carolina – Safe to say this is the biggest game in Carolina's SEC history
8 Georgia – AJ Green is confident they can beat AU; we're confident he tears up the AU secondary
9 Kentucky – Home finale against Vanderbilt with bowl eligibility on the line
10 Vanderbilt – Can Robbie Caldwell get his second SEC win in Lexington this weekend?
11 Ole Miss – Battle for last place in the SEC rankings occurring in Knoxville
12 Tennessee – see Ole Miss
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) South Carolina vs. Florida; Saturday, November 13th | 7:15 PM | ESPN. Just stop it. Florida's offense looked good against the UGA and Vandy defenses. Repeat that to yourself – silently, so people don't think you're any dimmer than you already are. Two games against two average-to-poor defenses. Yes, UGA's defense is average. Maybe worse. Subtract out the stats from the creampuffs (that includes UT/Vandy), and there's not a lot there, sunshine. And remember, the Gators needed OT to beat that D. SC has lost to two dynamic offenses (Arkie and Auburn), and Kentucky once Lattimore went down. But all three are passing offenses. Florida's offense is nowhere close to Auburn or Arkansas. The Gators are 77th in the nation in passing, and SC is best in the SEC against the rush. Don't kid yourself, SC will be fired up for this, just like they were for Bama. It means more for Carolina. If Lattimore gets 20+ carries, SC is playing in Atlanta this December. For better or worse, Spurrier is going to run this young man into Mother Earth…Pick South Carolina 28, Florida 24
2) Mississippi State vs. Alabama; Saturday, November 13th | 7:15 PM | ESPN2. It's a rushing thing again… Bama hasn't really done a good job stopping rushing offenses – not those that commit to the run and have the talent to do so. The Tide are only 33rd in the nation against the run – 7th in the SEC. Not up to recent standards. With three games to play, the Bulldogs are ranked 14th in the nation running the ball. There are almost as many questions in the state of Alabama about Saban's ability to get his team focused as there are about Cam. Saban appears a bit disgusted on top of that. With an extra week to prepare/rest, and Bama recovering from being physically beaten up in Baton Rouge, look for MSU to get a late turnover and its second big road W… Pick MSU 24, Alabama 21
3) Georgia vs. Auburn; Saturday, November 13th | 3:30 PM | CBS. Please… What on earth about Georgia's play against quality teams – even average teams – makes you think this is going to be anything but a Tiger cake walk? You think Chizik and crew are distracted? Good for you. We think they're going to use this as an "Us Against The World", and turn what should by all reasonable sanity be an undefeated favorite looking ahead to the Iron Bowl into a focused, angry "underdog". Georgia's defense hasn't stopped anyone with a pulse – let alone something of this caliber. This is Auburn's Offense, folks – playing at home. Have you lost your collective minds? This is going to be ugly, Georgia fans – for you own sake, please measure your expectations. Right, like that's going to happen… Pick Auburn 54, Georgia 31
1) Mississippi State vs. Alabama; Saturday, November 13th | 7:15 PM | ESPN2. Obviously Alabama didn't look great last week, but they are at home against a good MSU team, but the Tide is better. MSU likely has some confidence that their QBs can move the ball given what LSU did, but it is hard to believe Relf can throw to keep the Bulldogs in the game. Expect a lot of Mark Ingram this weekend, and a very aggressive game plan from the Alabama defense. For MSU to win Relf must throw the ball at some point... That isn't Relf's strong suit. Just because Jordan Jefferson did a week ago does not mean that Relf will do it this week… Pick Alabama 24, Mississippi State 14
2) South Carolina vs. Florida; Saturday, November 13th | 7:15 PM | ESPN. A couple weeks ago I picked Kentucky to beat South Carolina… Not because of a matchup or because Kentucky was the better team, but because that was the type of game that South Carolina loses. And Carolina lost. Here we are again in a situation where I believe South Carolina has the better team, but find it impossible to pick them to win. Fans want to believe that this Gamecock team is different, but we can't see it yet. Carolina on the road has lost 7 of 8 games, the only win being over Vanderbilt. On the road, in the Swamp, with everything on the line for the both teams… Pick Florida 38, South Carolina 31
3) Georgia vs. Auburn; Saturday, November 13th | 3:30 PM | CBS. Are you ready for 100 points part deux in Jordan Hare stadium this weekend? Illinois and Michigan ain't got nothing on what might happen Saturday if the defenses fall asleep at the wheel. Georgia is going to score on Auburn and Auburn is going to move the ball at will against Georgia. Turnovers will be the difference in this game, and Georgia has been notorious turning the ball over in key spots. It will be close all the way through the fourth quarter, but Auburn will once again find a way to pull it out at home… Pick Auburn 49, Georgia 42
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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