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Brian and I want to take a moment to wish all of you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving. We both have much to be thankful for this year.
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and his 102 yards on seven carries with three TDs… ‘cept it was against Troy. Or we could go with Florida's Chris "Time to Die Bitch" Rainey and his 87 yards on six carries with one TD… ‘cept is was against Appalachian State. Or we could go with LSU's Jordan Jefferson and his very crisp outing – 13/17 for 254 yards and one TD (plus two receptions tackled at the one yard line)… ‘cept it was against ole miss. Or MSU's Vic Ballardand his 150 yards on a hefty 30 carries with three TDs… ‘cept for the two fumbles. But is there really any doubt – Arkansas's Knile Davis is turning heads in the SEC West. 187 yards on 30 carries and two TDs, in helping his Razorbacks stay in the hunt for a possible BCS bowl. Yes, he had a couple fumbles of his own, but since turning it on at the halfway point, Davis has been the difference in making this team a championship contender. Had the sophomore been playing at this caliber vs. Alabama and Auburn, the Hogs are likely undefeated and in the hunt for a national championship.
Arkansas has always had great running backs. Houston Nutt ran the ball extremely well with a big, physical offensive line, and when Bobby Petrino came in everyone thought he only knew how to throw the ball. People forgot that at Auburn in 2002, Bobby had Ronnie Brown run for 1,000 yards after sitting behind Cadillac Williams for the first six games. They forget how Michael Bush was a lock for a top ten pick at Louisville, and how dominant he was indeed before breaking his leg early in the 2006 season. Petrino hasn't had that physical back at Arkansas the last two years, with scat back Michael Smith the primary runner for the Razorbacks. But after witnessing Knile Davis run all over MSU this weekend, Petrino finally has his favorite type of running back in Fayetteville.
Davis ran for 187 yards on 30 carries against the Bulldogs, and found the end-zone three times, two rushing and one receiving. He was fast and physical behind an underrated Arkansas offensive line, and he adds another dimension to an offense that everyone sees as "Ryan Mallett and the Receivers". Davis has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, and is averaging 7.0 yards a carry. Earlier this year, Petrino stated that he wanted to be able to run the ball in the fourth quarter but was not able to do it. That's no longer the case with Davis' development. Arkansas has taken a good step forward this season, and a win over LSU will make it a great leap forward. Though just as importantly, with (i) the emergence of Davis, (ii) Tyler Wilson looking more than capable throwing the ball, and (iii) a couple good recruiting classes under the belt, and Arkansas can reasonably expect even bigger things in 2011.
(ii) Who is the second best team in the SEC?
Great question. Second best team on record is easy – that's LSU. But I don't think that's the point of the question. We still go by the axiom that defense wins championships (even if Auburn's trying to break that truism this year), and in that regard you'd have to go with the Bayou Bengals. As we've written previously, these Tigers have difficulty stopping a good spread quarterback, which was plainly evident last Saturday against a sub-par ole miss team. But overall, it's one of the better defenses we've seen in years – certainly the best in the conference this season. But LSU is simply too inconsistent on offense to be considered the second best team in the conference.
At this point in the season, Arkansas is playing the best football in the conference outside of Auburn. It's partly due to the improvement of an aggressive defense that has been consistent for the most part. Ok, consistently B- maybe, but there's a lot to be said for consistency. However, the catalyst in the Razorbacks' second half ascension has been the emergence of sophomore tailback Knile Davis. With Davis now putting up 100 yards plus every Saturday (except Vandy), Arkansas' offense becomes exponentially more dangerous. Already ranked high passing (3rd nationally in Passing Offense and 4th in Passing Efficiency), the Hogs rushing has improved from 96th in the nation following the Auburn game, to 66th – a significant improvement given the weight of those first six games. We mentioned it above, but had Davis been playing at this level since Tennessee Tech, the folks in Fayetteville would be making reservations for Glendale right now.
Color me old fashioned, but the second highest ranked team going into the last week of the season in the conference is usually the second best team in the league. Today, LSU is that team, and while you can argue it, you would be wrong. First, knock off the "close win" BS and look at the actual wins and losses. It doesn't matter how LSU beat Tennessee, it doesn't matter how they lost to Auburn… What matters is the record against a very good schedule. LSU has wins over Alabama, Florida, MSU, North Carolina and West Virginia. If they beat Arkansas this weekend, that would be wins over at least seven bowl teams, and all anyone want to focus on is the end of the Tennessee game. Les Miles has two phases of the game that are arguably the best in the country. LSU's Defense and Special teams are better than 119 other teams. John Chavis has done a masterful job replacing some great talent, and has a very well coached crew. Meanwhile, the Special Teams have the best kicker, punter and return man combo in college football.
And their success in those two phases is happening despite one of the worst offenses in the SEC. If LSU had anyone threatening to be a SEC quarterback, we would probably be arguing who is the second best team behind the Fighting Tigers. But the offense has killed them this year, and that is the reason for all the close games. So how does LSU win games? Defense and Special teams… When your offense plays the way Miles' group does, there is no other option. But why should we penalize a team for playing to their strengths, and winning? Until someone other than the best team in the SEC (nation?) beats LSU, they will continue to be second in our ranking. Don't let your personal feelings towards Miles cloud your judgment of the team… LSU is darn good this year.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Twelve, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with the Iron Bowl, how close the last five games have been between Arkansas and LSU (13 points), and anything on Cam Newton's father… (i) Les Miles is the only coach in LSU history to beat ole miss, Alabama, and Florida in the same season… and he's done it twice. He's also the only coach in LSU history to beat Alabama, Florida and Auburn in the same season… and yes, he's done that twice too, (ii) While we're on the Mad Hatter, to the folks at the Denver Post who won't let the Miles-to-the-University-of-Colorado rumor die, please stop. You're long past beginning to look sad. Forgetting that small "twice-as-much-money" issue, he's got another top ten recruiting class lined up AND returns a big chunk of this year's starters, (iii) And this just in – Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops aren't available either. Nor is any other Top 25 coach outside of perhaps Boise, ID and Fort Worth, TX. Seriously – go look at the BCS Top 25 and tell us which of those coaches is bolting to Boulder? (Remember, Utah moves to the Pac 10 next year too.) Good luck, Buffs, (iv) Seen on a bumper sticker this week in Alabama: "Scam Newton". American ingenuity meets Bama hate, (v) Congratulations to Alabama senior quarterback Greg McElroy, named on Tuesday as the ESPN Academic All-American of Year. Good luck with the Rhodes Scholar shot – did I spell that correctly?, (vi) Quoting my colleague Pete Fiutak, "If you have to look up Rhodes Scholar to (spell) it right, you had better nail the interview cold", (vii) Lattimore has more receiving yards than any other SEC RB (18 for 287 yards, two TDs; 33rd overall in the conference), (viii) How was LSU's K Josh Jasper not included in the final three for the Groza Award? Without his offense the Tigers are .500, (ix) While we're playing the indignation card, not including Kentucky's Danny Trevathan in the final 15 for the Butkus Award might be an even greater oversight. I mean, the final 15?? On both stats and impact to his team, Trevathan is likely the best LB in the SEC, if not the nation, (x) However, there's a good case to be made that MSU's Chris White is actually the best all around LB in the SEC. Have you really looked at his numbers? Fourth best in tackles (only Trevathan, Dent & Sheppard are better), fifth best in tackles for loss (Fairley, Houston, Trevathan & Cornell), eighth best in sacks, and 20th best in INTs (there are only 2 LBs ahead of him on that list). He might not have the best PR effort in Starkville and we already knew he was good… but those are some "damn strong" numbers, as Lester himself would say, (xi) Speaking of LBs, Bama's Dont'a Hightower is overrated this year. Don't email us before you check out the stats, or we'll roast you, and (xii) As part of working on our 1st through 3rd Team All SEC voting, we've become even more impressed with LSU's true freshman DB Tyrann Mathieu – kid's not even a full time starter and he's everywhere. For example, there are only two DBs in the SEC that have more sacks than Mathieu, he's 42nd overall in TFL (10th in DBs, none of the other nine are freshmen), 9th best in passes defended (remember – he plays behind Pat Peterson and Mo Claiborne), 3rd best in forced fumbles (a true freshman DB?? Ahead of names like Nevis, Fairley, Sheppard and everyone else), and 67th overall in tackles. Goodbye Mr. Peterson. Helllllllllo Mr. Mathieu.
The Iron Bowl is going to overshadow the rest of the games this weekend, but this Saturday should be one of the most exciting weekends of SEC football in years. Of course rivalry games always matter, but what team doesn't have something on the line besides Vanderbilt? Arkansas and LSU are fighting over a chance at a BCS at Large bid, and frankly so is Alabama. The old South Carolina team would have walked into Death Valley and gone out a loser because they are favored to win against Clemson… This one we think might be different. Georgia and Tennessee are playing for their post season lives. Kentucky is trying to snap one of the worst losing streaks in college football, on the road, in a game that looks a lot tougher than it did a month ago. MSU and Ole Miss have completely reversed position from a year ago, and can you really count out The Reverend when he has nothing to lose? What game don't you want to watch? Every single one is Must See TV; this is about to be an SEC fan's dream Saturday. Enjoy.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Mark Ingram, Alabama RB – The best way to stop Cam Newton and this dynamic Auburn offense is to keep it off the field, and to do that Ingram must have a big game. He struggled against the Tigers in Auburn last season, so we imagine this game has been circled on his calendar all year long. However, by his high standards, Ingram has had a journeyman's performance in 2010. He's rushed for more than 100 yards in just one SEC game – the first against Arkansas. After that, it's been a steady decline into mediocrity for the talented junior. This spotlight is really as much on the Bama offensive line as it is Mr. Ingram – it's not like he suddenly forgot how to run over the summer. Alabama's not getting it done in the trenches this year (truthfully, on either side of the line), and that makes the road tougher for Ingram. But no excuses – certainly none for a Heisman winner. Ingram needs to grind up the clock and post a 100+ yard performance, regardless of any potential contribution from Trent Richardson. Ingram is Bama's horse, and without him grinding up the yards/clock, Alabama will lose to Auburn.
Mark Ingram, Alabama RB – A year ago it looked like the Auburn defense may have cost Ingram a Heisman trophy as he rushed for 30 yards on 16 carries. This year Alabama can't win without him. There is one way to beat this year's Auburn and that is to keep Cameron Newton off the field with long, sustained drives. The Alabama defense isn't going to stop Newton… don't bring it up, don't tell us that is the key to the game, don't even think about it. No one has and no one will. But what can happen is a team can limit his touches by holding onto the ball. Two teams did it this year for a half: Clemson and Kentucky, and they did it by running the ball outside the tackles. If Ingram can get 20-25 carries with more than half of them going off tackle, Alabama can control the clock and limit Newton. Auburn is very strong up the middle against the run, the weakness is with the linebackers taking bad angles on the outside, and that is where Ingram can put up great numbers. Another 30 yard performance will result in a loss for the Crimson Tide; Ingram needs to have the game everyone expected a year ago this Friday.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Auburn – A week off to rest and avoid the papers
2 LSU – We think the Tigers fall a notch in this poll next week, but for now, here they are
3 Arkansas – Beating LSU this year is a program defining win, as it brings some Sugar
4 Alabama – You won't be able to do it without 150 on the ground
5 South Carolina – Spurrier rests Lattimore, thus losing to Clemson. But the prize is next week
6 Mississippi State (down from 5) – So close they can taste it
7 Florida – Please don't embarrass the conference
8 Georgia – See above
9 Kentucky – Boy it really drops off there after MSU, doesn't it
10 Tennessee – Bray keeps rolling, keeps eating
11 ole miss – Would have appreciated seeing that effort all season, y'all
12 Vanderbilt – No way you fire Caldwell after just one year; he's good for Vandy
1 Auburn – Does being the underdog in Tuscaloosa relieve some of the pressure?
2 LSU – If close call against Ole Miss surprises you, you haven't been paying attention
3 Alabama – The Tide relegated to a spoiler role; but against Auburn, they'll take it
4 Arkansas – So lucky to win that game; but like LSU, good teams get "lucky"
5 South Carolina – The new Cocks destroy Clemson; old ones lose to ACC rival
6 Mississippi State – Right on the doorstep; making progress. Be like Arkansas.
7 Florida – Buck up against FSU, fellas
8 Georgia – 5-6 UGA vs. 6-5 Tech… Yuck
9 Kentucky – Stop complaining about your bowl; force a better game by beating Vols
10 Tennessee – A W over UK puts Vols in a bowl game; who saw that coming?
11 Vanderbilt – Wake Forest to close out the year; chance for a third win
12 Ole Miss – Nutt needs a pretty big effort to win the Egg Bowl against MSU
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Auburn vs. Alabama; Friday, November 26th | 2:30 PM | CBS. Really, even with two losses, how many of you think this is the de facto national championship game? It's certainly got that gravitas, even if it's not on a neutral field. And that little nugget is what keeps this game close. It's the fashionable pick right now to take the Tide – even if folks are forgetting that Bama's rushing this year has been one step north of pedestrian. And Bama will need to establish and maintain the run to beat Auburn. One week out of the spotlight, and everyone's already forgotten just how good this Auburn offense is. Sure, the Tiger defense is spotty against the pass, and that combined with the aforementioned home field keeps this game close. But Bama hasn't been able to get any pressure on the QB whatsoever this year, and they can't simply focus on stopping the run since Cam's the second best QB in the nation in Passing Efficiency. If they try putting 8-9 in the box, he's going to light them up. We read one national pundit actually claim that Alabama's inability to get pressure on the QB this season (last in SEC Sacks and TFL) will actually work in its favor this Saturday, as their "weakness" means there will be more bodies that Cam has to navigate. Really?? What are we calling that, the Inept Gridlock Defense? It's not that they're not rushing folks - they're just not getting to the QB. As we've noted, this Auburn offense has improved with each game, so comparing it's earlier road contests to today is apples to oranges. Cam rolls on Bama for 200+, like he has against everyone else… Pick Auburn 31, Alabama 28
2) LSU vs. Arkansas; Saturday, November 27th | 3:30 PM | CBS. Again, how really does one handicap an LSU game this season with a straight face? Like the Tigers themselves, we're 10-1 picking LSU games this season, and we're the first to tell you it's next to impossible to predict what's going to happen - absent the fact that LSU will do almost anything on offense, and its defense is fantastic against anything but a spread offense. Everyone's picking Arkansas on this – and we did earlier. But I have to catch Brian, and as we're both likely to choose Auburn next week, I'm taking the Tigers against my better judgment. The Hogs should win this tight game. Davis won't get much of a running game going against LSU, but it'll be enough to force the Tigers' excellent secondary to stay up in support. Which should be just enough for Mallett to post a good showing against LSU, making up for his career high in incomplete passes last year (22). But in order to catch Harbach, we're going to hope the Mad Hatter has some magic left in said hat, that Jefferson puts up another performance like he did last week against ole miss, that Davis struggles, and that the vaunted Tiger secondary is as good as it's been all season. Sigh. Well, if all that comes together, that should be enough for the Tigers to squeak by on the road...Pick LSU 34, Arkansas 31
3) Florida vs. Florida State; Saturday, November 27th | 3:30 PM | ABC. Get out the DVR, ‘cause everyone outside of Florida will be watching the LSU/Arkansas game. Really, given how bad it's been down in Gainesville, it's hard to get up for this one. Please don't embarrass the conference. I think FSU wins unless Ponder pulls a "Ponder", but I have to catch up to Brian, so deep breath… C'mon Florida Defense! Score some points!... Pick Florida 21, FSU 20
1) Auburn vs. Alabama; Friday, November 26th | 2:30 PM | CBS. It doesn't get any bigger than the Iron Bowl, and last year we had a similar situation… one team playing to stay in the hunt for the BCS Championship and the other trying to play spoiler. Auburn played Alabama tough, but the better team won in the end… and the same thing will happen this year. Auburn's offense has not been stopped by anyone this year; LSU kept it close with great special teams play and put Auburn in bad field position all game, and still lost. Alabama is the most complete team Auburn will face this year, but the Auburn offense is just too good right now. With a bye week to rest and prepare, the Tigers will be able to put more pressure on Alabama to score each drive and that will lead to some mistakes. Auburn gets the road win the same way the Tide did a year ago, on the final drive… Pick Auburn 38, Alabama 31
2) LSU vs. Arkansas; Saturday, November 27th | 3:30 PM | CBS. Earlier this year we were treated to great defense vs. great offense with Auburn vs. LSU, and this game is essentially part two of that story. LSU finds ways to win games and Arkansas finds ways to put points on the board. If there is one game on Saturday not to miss, this is the one. Knile Davis is starting to come into his own behind a very good Razorback offensive line, and LSU's Jordan Jefferson may have found some confidence throwing the ball against Bama and Ole Miss. The Battle for the Boot always seem to come down to the final drive, and while it is hard to pick against Les Miles in close games, Arkansas at home might be too much… Pick Arkansas 34, LSU 31
3) Florida vs. Florida State; Saturday, November 27th | 3:30 PM | ABC. Urban Meyer has yet to lose to Florida State, but this game is a must win for the Gators and thus the pressure is intense. After starting in the top five, Florida losing five games would be shocking. Talent wise, Florida is miles ahead of Florida State today, but the way Jimbo Fisher is recruiting you won't be able to say that for very long. This game is more about what Florida "can and can't do" than it is what Florida State does. Can Florida move the ball against a quality defense, can they sustain drives without confusing the quarterbacks? We haven't seen them do that against any decent team this year and that isn't going to change this week. Does Florida State have enough juice to banish the Gators to Tennessee for the Bowl season… Pick Florida State 24, Florida 16
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Preview every Wednesday.
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Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Twelve, November 18, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Eleven, November 11, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Ten, November 4, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Nine, October 28, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Eight, October 21, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Seven, October 14, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Six, October 7, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Five, September 30, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Four, September 23, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Three, September 16, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two, September 9, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One, September 2, 2010