Brian and I have much to be thankful for this year, and together, we wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) What was the best performance from last weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with Ryan Mallett, who burned Miss State for 313 yards and five touchdowns on 18/34 passing; ‘cept it was Miss State. That and the two INTs. Or we could go with the Rebels' Dexter McCluster and his 148 rushing yards on 21 carries; ‘cept if not for the SEC Coaching Brain Fart of the Season, Ole Miss likely loses that game in Oxford. But is there really any doubt – Kentucky's Derrick Locke did everything but play defense in the big road win over UGA. He led his team in rushing with 80 yards on 16 carries (5 per), led them in receiving with 80 yards and two TDs, and he led them with 85 yards on three kickoff returns. Even WITH the woes that Georgia's defense has had this season, Locke's performance is noteworthy. All the more so as it (i) was Kentucky's first W between the hedges in 32 years, (ii) guaranteed the ‘Cats a winning record and a bowl game, and (iii) likely saddled the ‘Dawgs with a pedestrian .500 season.
One word: Kentucky. Rich Brooks and his Kentucky Wildcats have been road warriors this year, winning three three SEC road games (Auburn, Georgia and Vanderbilt). Most have chosen to focus on the Georgia's mistakes, but that drives me crazy - Kentucky had to force those mistakes, and then actually capitalize on them. IF Shane McCord drops that Joe Cox screen pass, Kentucky doesn't get the ball in the Georgia red zone... IF Kentucky fails to recover that fumble with UGA ready to punch it in for the tying score, maybe the Bulldogs go for it on 4th down... IF Sam Maxwell doesn't read Joe Cox perfectly to pick off that throw to Caleb King, who knows how the game ends... You get the picture.
The bottom line is that Georgia made mistakes, but Kentucky forced and took advantage of them. How often do we see interceptions dropped or fumbles kicked out of bounds instead of picked up? Kentucky did the same thing to Auburn, capitalizing on mistakes, and won in a hostile environment. They are a good team this year, and as a result will probably be rewarded with one of the best bowl trips they have had in years. A win over Tennessee would put them in the Outback Bowl, and perhaps make Rich Brooks the SEC Coach of the year.
(ii) What SEC Team most likely pulls the upset this Rivalry Weekend?
None. However, since that's not your question, we'll go with Mississippi State. But that's not going to happen. The argument for the upset is that (i) Mississippi State's defense has been improving against the run (it held Arkansas to 83 yards last week), (ii) Ole Miss has been one dimensional in the 2H of 2009 (Dexter McCluster), (iii) there could be a letdown after the dramatic win against LSU, and (iv) the game is being played in Starkville. First, if you're in Mississippi and can't get up for this game, you're dead. Second, as to the condition of Miss State's rushing defense, it has been ranked at or near 75th in the nation since week two. If McCluster can rush for nearly 150 yards against LSU, and 282 against Tennessee, he should be able to handle the Bulldogs. Finally, it's unlikely MSU's rush D would stop McCluster if this game were played on the moon, so the Starkville dateline will be superfluous.
Some are going to point to Auburn… Folks will say it's a road trip for Alabama, and a rivalry game (so records can be thrown out). They'll suggest that Auburn's ability to spread Alabama's defense will be key, as it plays against Alabama's team speed and takes pressure off Chris Todd. Whatever. This is an Auburn defense that has surrendered 31 points to Georgia, LSU and Furman this past month. Furman. It's a safe bet to think ‘bama will hang at least that many, particularly since the Tide lives on the ground and Auburn's defense has struggled mightily against the run. With that as a backstop, outside of anyone wearing blue and orange, who thinks the Tide defense is going to allow 32+? That's what we thought.
We would pick Kentucky over Tennessee, but that's not a "rivalry" game. Arkansas v. LSU isn't a rivalry game either, no matter how much the conference elders want to force that on us. Besides, Arkansas should beat LSU, so that's not an upset. South Carolina is in its seasonal full-on swoon; the only thing that could help the Gamecocks with the upset is the overall weakness that is the ACC... However, weaker Clemson teams have beaten SC recently. FSU will play Florida well for a half if for no other reason than adrenaline, but which of you thinks the Seminoles have the offense to match Florida's terrific D? Finally, there's only one snowball's chance in hell that UGA's defense stops the Yellow Jackets in Bobby Dodd Stadium. And those are bad odds.
I think every underdog has a chance to win this weekend. Come on - it wouldn't be a rivalry if the underdog just rolled over like Auburn did last season. However, there is one team that stands out as not only the most likely to upset their favored rival, but I can guarantee they will actually do it. South Carolina is going to beat Clemson this weekend if for no other reason than they absolutely must. (RM Note: Wow. And the guarantee. Lol.) Russ and I had a little back and forth on this one earlier in the week, because he is taking Clemson and I am going with Carolina. But I can't imagine South Carolina losing their fourth straight game to end the season, their third straight end of season collapse. Looking at Clemson and Carolina, there really isn't a lot of difference between the two programs in terms of talent or depth or (I can't believe I am about to write this) coaching.
There are three reasons Carolina is perfect to pull off this upset, and the first is because Clemson is favored. Can anyone tell me the last big game Clemson actually won when they were favored? (RM Note: Good point.) That's right, never. Second is because the game is in Columbia. Those Gamecock fans are not going to allow this team to get complacent or unfocused. Expect one of the best crowds that Williams Brice has ever seen, and they will keep South Carolina in the game. The final reason is Eric Norwood (more on him below). A four year starter and senior leader, Norwood will be the game changer the Gamecocks need to upset their in state rival.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Twelve, but isn't?
Well, that leaves out anything to do with Les Miles, clocks, or the nature of time, (i) We can understand how it happened – if you just pulled out your checkbook earlier this year and upped your "contribution" to the SEC, and were sitting on the de facto National Championship game, you'd be plugging it just like CBS. But come on, man - we'd at least hold off pushing the "undefeated" label until after the rivalry games this weekend, no matter how much Florida and Alabama are likely to win, (ii) You think Bobby Bowden and Gene Chizik noticed those CBS promos? What are the chances copies of those are posted on bulletin boards this week in Tallahassee and Auburn? (iii) Just how bad has South Carolina been lately in the 2H under the stewardship of the OBC? Glad you asked. The Gamecocks are odds on favorites to end this season on a four game slide. They lost three straight at the end of last season (2008), including their bowl game. And they lost FIVE straight the year before that (2007), after starting that season 6-1. Considering teams usually feast on easier opponents in the 1H of seasons, that's a bad trend, coach. I suppose it really is easier being a legend with all that Florida talent, isn't it, and (iv) Memo to Urban Meyer: Yes, the SEC is a bitch. But read (iii) again, and think about your recruiting classes at Notre Dame. There – glad we're done with that. Now go enjoy another frosty pina colada.
Florida and Alabama could end up playing each other in the National Championship game, and it isn't as impossible as you think. Ok, all BCS-haters and fans from other conferences just calm down for a minute and read what I am about to write before you fire off an email calling me a moron. There are three things that must happen for a Gators v. Tide redo, and none of them are out of the question. The first is for Cincinnati to lose to either Illinois or Pitt, the latter of which is a definite possibility, particularly given the two "at's": the musical chairs Cincy is playing at the QB position, and that the game is at Pitt.
The second thing is a Texas upset to Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game; again not likely, but not impossible. The Big 12 Championship has been full of upsets with teams like Colorado and Kansas State winning titles as heavy underdogs, and many Big 12 analysts think Nebraska has the defense best suited in the conference to beat Texas. The third and final piece is for Alabama and Florida to play a close fought SEC Championship game, and this is likely. An "Instant Classic" will force voters to think about whether that one-loss SEC team is a better challenger than an undefeated TCU. Because in the above scenario, as long as the Horned Frogs beat 1-10 New Mexico, TCU is your choice for the big BCS Rodeo.
So, you still think it's impossible we get UF/UA II? If yes, we have four numbers for you: 2007. Should the pieces actually land this way, what would you rather watch in early January: Florida/Alabama v. Texas Christian University, or the SECCG x2?
The question boils down to what voters will ultimately think about TCU – not in the abstract – not when it's an "if", but when the vote will ACTUALLY cast who plays in the CFB Championship game. What then? Will voters place the Horned Frogs in the number two spot simply because everyone else lost, or will they think about who really is the second best team in the country? TCU is a great team this year, but without a playoff, are they better than Florida? Are they better than Alabama? Heck, are they even better than a 1 loss Texas team? I don't know the answer to that and I think the voters will be split as well. So the SEC Championship loser could end up ranked second by many voters, which might be enough to get them a rematch in Pasadena. This could end up with the state of Texas joining forces with Utah in suing the BCS for being unfair, but I can easily envision the final poll ranking SEC Champion #1, SEC Championship Runner Up #2 and TCU #3. Sure, you may not like it, and a lot of dominos would need to fall for it to happen, but to think it is out of the question just means you haven't been paying attention to college football the past 11 years.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB. All eyes should be on Ryan Mallett for a number of reasons. First, Arkansas will need to win with its passing game. After only getting 83 yards last week against Miss State, at home, it's hard to expect a big day from Mike Smith in Tiger Stadium. LSU's secondary has been at equal times excellent and disjointed, but it has steadily improved with each week this season. Currently, it's ranked 23rd in the nation. Mallett will have to be the Pass Efficiency leader he is for Arkansas to pull out this road W – currently, he's ranked 3rd best in the nation. If he succeeds, Arkansas wins. It's as simple as that. If that happens, it will spell doom for at least one LSU coach: likely OC Gary Crowton. For right or wrong, checks with contacts around LSU say the folks in Baton Rouge are gathering pitchforks. It's worse than many outside of Red Stick realize. Closing 2009 like 2008 will not be accepted. Yes, it's foolish for Tiger fans to expect to win in the SEC with a rookie QB – which we explained ad nauseam back in August. But the conservative play calling on offense this season has frustrated many Tiger observers, and the disorganization (in terms of clock management and player personnel assignments/packages) has this coaching staff perched on a precarious cliff. As Mallett goes, so go some LSU coaches.
Eric Norwood, South Carolina . Continuing the theme around why I think Carolina is the most likely team to pull an upset this weekend, Eric Norwood will be the reason. A senior, a senior leader, a senior leader who came back for one final chance to play in that Garnett and Black will not allow South Carolina to lose his final home game. Expect Norwood to have one of his best games of the year, and that is saying quite a bit based on the season he has had. Norwood will be the emotional leader of the team, the crowd will be behind him, and so will the offense. For a player that has given so much to South Carolina, expect this South Carolina team to give something special to him.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – WTF was Tebow doing playing so much against FIU?
2 Alabama – Don't expect anything fancy from ‘bama this week; just the W
3 Ole Miss – So that's where that one second went
5 Arkansas – Great chance for a great bowl (x2)
5 LSU – We'll put them behind the Hogs to save time next week
8 Tennessee– This game is more important than most realize…
8 Auburn – How much does the bye week help? Not much
8 Kentucky – W/ humble apologies to UK, you're still under .500 in conference
9 South Carolina – Please don't embarrass the conference
10 Georgia – Wow. 6-6
11 MSU – Put 11 men on the line; make Snead beat you
12 Vanderbilt – Thanks for playing
1 Alabama – Fear the Middle Finger II, Auburn
2 Florida – Want to bet Meyer won't make the UK mistake again?
3 Ole Miss (up from 4) – Sure Houston, you were worried about wearing out Run DMC back in Sep.
4 LSU (down from 3) – If you haven't read Russ' column from the game, you need to
5 Arkansas – "Mallett for Heisman 2010" starts right here
6 Tennessee – Janzen Jackson's back, but the over/under is 1.5 years
7 Kentucky (up from 11) – Raise your hand if you had the Cats in a FL bowl
8 Auburn – I bet Saban watched tapes of Iowa State special teams this week; expect the kitchen sink
9 South Carolina – 3rd straight season ending collapse avoided with a victory Sat.
10 Georgia (down from 7) –This is the worst coached team in the SEC right now; very fortunate to be bowl eligible – they need the practice
11 MSU (down from 10) – Rebs have struggled away from Oxford; can the Dogs take advantage?
12 Vanderbilt –Tickets available for the December 2nd basketball game vs. Mizzou; contact the Vandy athletic department at 1-877-44-VANDY
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Clemson at South Carolina, November 28th. The ACC is more overrated than the Big 12, and there's still not a chance here. Clemson has turned its season around, winning 6 straight, and riding high. SC? Not so much. Clemson has a Heisman hopeful and first round draft choice in CJ Spiller. SC? It has Spurrier's Florida Championship ring...
Clemson 34, South Carolina 14
2) Alabama at Auburn, November 27th. A repeat from earlier in this column, and this is all you need to know… In 3 of its past four games, Auburn has allowed 31 points (Georgia, LSU and Furman). Alabama should score at least 31 points. What are the chances Auburn scores 31 points on Alabama's defense when it's only allowed two teams to score into the 20s all season...
Alabama 31, Auburn 13
3) Arkansas at LSU, November 28th. We'd like to see LSU win this game, if only for The Hat, who is taking too much grief from the Tiger faithful right now. Newsflash Tiger fans: you don't win in the SEC with rookie 19 year old quarterbacks. It radically changes your playbook. On top of that, they make mistakes – like dropping out of the pocket and taking the sack when the play called is a two yard slant pass. Regardless, they'll be no redemption this week for Les Miles. Arkansas's Pass Defense is woeful – ranked 108th in the nation. But LSU's offense is just as bad, and continues to be handcuffed by an inexperienced QB. In a tight contest, we'll say LSU is simply not firing on enough cylinders to win, particularly with a backfield now full of sophomores, and cornerbacks who freelance as much as they read their own press clippings (yes, that's you Patrick Peterson)...
Arkansas 21, LSU 17
1) Clemson at South Carolina, November 28th. Let me preface this upset pick with the fact that I have picked every single Gamecock game correctly this season (RM Note: uh oh), and I have proof that I picked those games back in August (shout out to my boy David, the avid Gamecock emailer). But I am not being stubborn in picking Carolina this week just because I did so back in August; they are going to win this game. I like Carolina being at home, I like that Clemson is ranked and fans are drinking that rancid Dabo-Aid; it's the perfect time for a Tiger meltdown. Garcia has a huge game at home and the defense ends CJ Spiller's "Heisman" run.
South Carolina 34, Clemson 24
2) Alabama at Auburn, November 27th. Russ can attest to the fact that I made the dumbest pick in the history of college football last year by picking Auburn to upset the Tide. It was part me looking for an upset, part the fact I was trailing Russ in our pick 'em, and part because of stupidity. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… Well not this time. Alabama is just too good on both lines to let Auburn run the ball, or let Auburn stop them from running. This game might be 2 hours because Alabama won't need more than 12 passes to beat Auburn. Auburn will bring out the kitchen sink to keep it close, but it won't be enough.
Alabama 24, Auburn 14
3) Arkansas at LSU, November 28th. Is redemption coming this weekend for Les Miles and is a win in the Battle for the Boot enough to calm down the furious LSU crowd? Expect LSU to come up with a win this weekend, but redemption will not be coming Les Miles' way until next season. There isn't a game left on the LSU slate that can make up for last Saturday's colossal failure in Oxford, but in true dramatic form, LSU wins with a last second field goal .
LSU 31, Arkansas 28
Yell at Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell at Russ: Russ Mitchell
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Twelve, November 19, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Eleven, November 12, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Ten, November 5, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Nine, October 29, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Eight, October 22, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Seven, October 15, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Six, October 8, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Five, October 1, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Four, September 24, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Three, September 17, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two, September 10, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One, September 3, 2009