Category Archives: SEC Football

SEC Power Poll ballot, Week 1

It’s back again.  It’s a power poll with the season’s smallest sample size, so realize there are many changes to come.  But right now there’s a huge gap between fifth and sixth.  Needless to say, the East ain’t looking too hot after week one.

  1. Texas A&M.  The Aggies had the most impressive win of the opening week, beating a top ten opponent on the road.  The defense still looks shaky, but with an offense that good, how much will that matter?
  2. Georgia.  If I were grading on the fourth quarter alone, Georgia would rank first.  (If I were grading Todd Gurley alone, I might do the same.)
  3. Alabama.  538 yards, but only 33 points against last season’s 99th-ranked scoring defense, and Nick Saban tells us we need to “fess up” about Junior’s greatness.
  4. Auburn.  Looks like the Tigers haven’t missed a beat on offense.
  5. LSU.  One day, America will realize that Les Miles is screwing with it.
  6. Mississippi State.  Stomped a mid-major, so the Bulldogs get a leg up on Ole Miss by virtue of style points.
  7. Ole Miss.  Took more than three quarters to put away an overmatched opponent.
  8. Missouri.  Toyed with a FCS opponent.  Meh.
  9. South Carolina.  Looked awful in the loss to TAMU, but I have a hard time believing the ‘Cocks are that bad.
  10. Tennessee.  Owners of the most soft bigotry of low expectations win of the opening week.
  11. Florida.  If the Gators choose to punt the “terminated” game against Idaho and there’s a God, they’ll finish 5-6 this season.
  12. Kentucky.  Okay, it was an impressive win against a lousy FCS team, but it’s not like the ‘Cats won’t take those when they happen.
  13. Arkansas.  Hung in there for a half, so progress of a sorts.  Not to mention Brandon Allen completed over half his pass attempts.
  14. Vanderbilt.  Gee, this looks familiar.
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Last night in the SEC

In descending order of interest…

Texas A&M 52  South Carolina 28

That’s what they pay him the big bucks for, folks.

Many of us were dazzled by the preseason confident Spurrier (“he’s like that when he knows his team is good”).  Kevin Sumlin looked at a green secondary and a defensive line that lost its two best players, one of whom was the number one pick in the NFL draft, and decided he wanted some of that.  Sixty (!) passes and 511 passing yards later, the rest was history.  What’s remarkable is that Sumlin had his own share of first round draft losses on offense to overcome.  And he overcame with a vengeance.

The game somewhat reminded me of South Carolina’s epic 2007 loss to Arkansas, when Spurrier’s team moved the ball and scored on offense, but had no clue on how to stop Darren McFadden, who blew up the SC defense for an SEC record 324 yards.  Last night was more lopsided, but the feeling of defensive helplessness was equally palpable.

The question at this point is whether TAMU is that good on offense, or South Carolina is that overrated on defense.  It’s probably a little of both, but we’ve got too small a sample size to know for sure yet.  One thing is for sure, though:  if the ‘Cocks can’t find a pass rush in a hurry, it’s going to be a long year for their defensive backs, who were sliced and diced repeatedly by precisely run routes and throws.

There’s also got to be some concern on the other side of the ball, where the run game was anemic.  Sure, Davis’ injury didn’t help and Spurrier was forced to abandon the run to try to keep pace, but that offensive line was supposed to blast TAMU’s defense and that didn’t really happen.  Nor did Thompson really look any better than he did last season; he’s still hit and miss (although he throws a beautiful deep ball when he has the time).  The Aggies’ pass defense was as questionable as Carolina’s, so you wonder what will happen when SC faces a team with a legit pass defense.

For Georgia partisans, it’s hard to see the result as anything but good news on a number of levels.  No, it doesn’t translate into a guaranteed win in Columbia in a couple of weeks, but a defense doesn’t absorb a body blow to its psyche like that and shake it off overnight.  And the ‘Cocks face another Air Raid attack this week in East Carolina’s.  It’s hard to see how Lorenzo Ward is going to have time to game plan for Georgia while he’s trying to devise a way to stop the bleeding in the secondary.  The other thing that’s big, of course, is the loss itself.  If – and note I did say “if” – Georgia goes in to Columbia in a couple of weeks and steals the win, South Carolina’s divisional hopes may not be dead, but they’ll certainly be on life support.

By the way, Spurdog, 52 points and 611 yards are career marks in Columbia.  Now you know a little bit about how we felt after the 1995 Florida game in Athens.

Ole Miss 35  Boise State 13

Mississippi is the scariest team in the Southeastern Conference.

I don’t mean scary in the sense of dominant.  I mean scary in the sense of unpredictable.  Freeze’s team has talent, especially on defense, and plays with a mean streak, again, particularly on defense.  But it’s got depth issues and the talent isn’t spread out across the board.  It’s also got a quarterback who often plays with the attention and focus of a pregnant gerbil.

That’s how you wind up farting around for three quarters with a Boise State team that is several notches below the seasoned group that beat Georgia in the Dome a few seasons ago.

In other news, Bo Wallace is still Bo Wallace.

Freeze was baffled by a couple of Wallace’s interceptions, saying the senior threw toward receivers who weren’t even supposed to be part of the play.

Yet he still wound up throwing for 387 yards and four touchdowns.

There’s going to be a game this year where Ole Miss shows up for its entirety and beats a powerhouse in the West.  And there’s going to be a game this year where Wallace never shows up and Ole Miss gets smoked.  Enjoy the ride.

Temple 37  Vanderbilt 7

How does a team lose by thirty at home to a team coming off a 2-10 season?  Seven – seven – turnovers and a minus-five turnover margin will do that for you.  We knew Vandy’s offense would be anemic coming into the season; it lived up to the expectation and then some by failing to score.  But we didn’t know it would take an active hand in sabotaging the rest of the team like that.

Derek Mason played three quarterbacks.  Nothing worked.  It’s looking a like a long season may be shaping up in Nashville.

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A fine line

Just curious about something, based on a debate some of y’all had in the comments this week.  Take a look at this:

Of the 12 winningest coaches in SEC history, as judged by winning percentage, are active in the conference. Nick Saban‘s .804 on-the-field winning percentage at LSU and Alabama ranks fourth in conference history behind Urban Meyer (.813), Gene Stallings (.810) and Frank Thomas (.805). LSU’s Les Miles is fifth at .798, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier is ninth at .750 and Georgia’s Mark Richt is 12th at .739.

Where do you draw the line between good and great there?  Fifth?  Ninth?  Eleventh?

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Not your regular SEC preseason predictions, 2014 edition

Once more into the breach, dear friends.  As I’ve done for several seasons now, I’m sticking with this format as follows:

Rather than give you my predicted records, I’ll list the schools in the order they finished in the conference last year, look at areas of potential improvement and decline and assess in what direction I expect each to go by comparison to 2010.

In other words, pure seat of the pants BS.

So starting with last season as the baseline (teams are listed in their 2013 conference order of finish), here goes nothing.

SEC WEST

AUBURN (12-2, 7-1)

  • Pros:  Coaching stability; great offensive system with good personnel; Nick Marshall; excellent recruiting
  • Cons:  Defense not dominant; reset on special teams; challenging schedule; can the good fortune continue?
  • Outlook:  Historically, Auburn doesn’t do well when it’s a preseason front-runner, but I don’t foresee a huge drop off from last season.  On the other hand, there’s got to be some regression to the mean, luckwise.  No worse than two, maybe three conference losses.

ALABAMA (11-2, 7-1)

  • Pros:  Skill position talent; team depth; Nick Saban; unparalleled program stability; dream schedule
  • Cons:  Less experience on defense; losses on the offensive line; inexperience at quarterback
  • Outlook:  Weirdly, I didn’t change a single word in the pros or cons from what I wrote last year, except to note the quarterback situation (and I’m not sure how much that’s gonna matter, to be honest).  If anything, Alabama’s schedule is even more favorable in 2014.  Let’s say the Tide will slip up and lose a regular season game, but there’s a reason everyone is putting them in Atlanta and the new CFP.  If they don’t make it, I’m blaming Junior.

LSU (10-3, 5-3)

  • Pros:  Solid personnel; coaching stability; Alabama at home
  • Cons:  Losses on defense; incredibly green at the offensive skill positions
  • Outlook:  My default position on Les Miles – pencil in two regular season losses – feels right.  This is a very talented team, but the Tigers have a lot of experience to replace, especially at the offensive skill spots.

TEXAS A & M (9-4, 4-4)

  • Pros:  Great recruiting; coaching stability; weak non-conference schedule
  • Cons:  Huge losses on offense; Auburn and Alabama on the road; shakiest defensive team in the SEC
  • Outlook:  I guess the question to ask is if TAMU is at the point where it reloads.  They’ll likely be okay on offense, but I’m still not thrilled with that defense.  I’m seeing a similar number of regular season losses in 2014.

MISSISSIPPI (8-5, 3-5)

  • Pros:  Rising talent level; lots of returning starters; coaching stability; defense; favorable cross-division games
  • Cons:  Still lack depth in comparison to top teams in West; special teams
  • Outlook: Defense should be excellent; offense, not so much.  With that schedule, I think Ole Miss is probably looking at a four-loss regular season.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-6, 3-5)

  • Pros:  Coaching stability; quarterback stability; one of the most experienced teams in the conference; favorable cross-division schedule; defense
  • Cons:  Mediocre special teams; Prescott needs to prove himself against top teams
  • Outlook:  I still think this is the hardest team to handicap in the SEC.  I can’t help but be impressed with what MSU brings on the defensive side of the ball, but the offense makes me nervous, mainly because of the quarterback situation.  If Mullen can coach Prescott up to the next level, the Bulldogs could be the surprise team of the West.  But I’m seeing four losses in the regular season at present.

ARKANSAS (3-9, 0-8)

  • Pros:  Offensive line; running backs
  • Cons:  Defense; special teams; schedule
  • Outlook:  Can it get better in Bielema’s second year?  It can’t get worse.  But I’m having a hard time figuring out where the Hogs grab that fourth win.

SEC EAST

MISSOURI (12-2, 7-1)

  • Pros:  Coaching stability; offensive line; schedule
  • Cons:  Losses at receiver and defensive end; questions in the defensive back seven
  • Outlook: The schedule shapes up to be Missouri’s biggest friend, with only three preseason ranked opponents.  Pinkel knows what he’s doing and Mauk is a promising quarterback.  But depth is a concern in several areas.  Four regular season losses wouldn’t surprise me, although I think three is a more likely result.

SOUTH CAROLINA (11-2, 6-2)

  • Pros:  Steve Spurrier; linebacking; offensive line; Mike Davis; Georgia at home
  • Cons:  Replacing Shaw and Clowney; cornerback; special teams
  • Outlook:  Hard to see the ‘Cocks doing worse from a win/loss standpoint than they did last season.  But will another two-loss regular season be enough to win the division?

GEORGIA (8-5, 5-3)

  • Pros:  Offense; skill position depth; renewed health; defensive front seven; Marshall Morgan; Todd Gurley
  • Cons: Secondary; offensive line; special teams; early season schedule; loss of Aaron Murray
  • Outlook:  The record will be improved because the Dawgs will be healthier, but the season will come down to competence in the secondary, on special teams and turnover margin improvement.  I expect this team to improve over the course of the season, but there will be two or three regular season losses, depending on how they get out of the gate.

VANDERBILT (9-4, 4-4)

  • Pros:  Respectable defense by SEC standards; improved depth; schedule
  • Cons:  Offense; loss of Jordan Matthews
  • Outlook:  People don’t realize it, but Franklin did Mason a big favor by redshirting a ton of kids from a very good recruiting class.  That’s going to help, although not as much as the softest schedule in the SEC will.  Vandy’s biggest problem is that the offense won’t be very good.  I can’t see anything close to another nine-win season, but bowl eligibility is certainly a realistic goal.

FLORIDA (4-8, 3-5)

  • Pros:  Defense; improved health; soft early season schedule
  • Cons:  Passing game; third offensive coordinator in four seasons; brutal cross-division schedule
  • Outlook:  Yes, the Gators will improve from last season’s record.  But with six preseason ranked opponents on the schedule, I’m looking at something in the neighborhood of 8-4.  And that’s only if Driskel stays on his feet.

TENNESSEE (5-7, 2-6)

  • Pros:  Receiver; improving talent base
  • Cons:  Quarterback; complete replacement of offensive and defensive lines; schedule
  • Outlook:  I’m having a hard time finding a sixth win on this team’s schedule.  But they upset South Carolina last year, so who knows?

KENTUCKY (2-10, 0-8)

  • Pros:  Improving talent base after a solid recruiting class; coaching stability; pass rush; early schedule isn’t too daunting
  • Cons:  Secondary; overall depth
  • Outlook:  As the Beatles once sang, I have to admit it’s getting better.  But not that quickly.  Overall win total can improve a little from 2013’s, but without Arkansas on the schedule, the ‘Cats are going to have to steal a win from the likes of Vandy or Tennessee to get off the conference schneid.

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Monday morning buffet

It’s game week.  You know you’ve got an appetite.

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The year of the quarterback, or the year of the secondary?

David Ching grades the SEC quarterbacks on how he thinks they’ll do this season.  Here are the grades for those the Georgia defense will see:

  • Nick Marshall, A
  • Maty Mauk, A-
  • Dylan Thompson, B
  • Jeff Driskel, C+
  • Patton Robinette, C
  • Patrick Towles, C-
  • Justin Worley, C-
  • Brandon Allen, D

Certainly there are plenty of names there worthy of respect.  But concern on the level that Shaw and Mettenberger generated last season?  Marshall, yes, but even he is far from a polished passer.  I like Mauk a lot, but as Ching asks, who will catch those passes?  Thompson has a good supporting cast around him, but he hasn’t done anything yet to really distinguish himself.

I’m not saying that translates into a dominating year for Georgia’s defensive backfield.  But I think I can argue it looks like it might be a fair fight most weeks.

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Taking the good with the bad, SEC Network-style

ESPN adds Gene Chizik and David Greene to the roster.

I’m happy about Greene’s gig, because he’s hosting the one SEC Network studio show that sounds promising.  I’m betting on a lot more substance from him than we’ll get from Tebow.

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