Monthly Archives: September 2007

Was it good for you, too?

Whatever Tom Lemming smokes after coitus, it’s evidently not tobacco:

“It is OK to look ahead,” CSTV recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “In 2009, with the two classes they have on the field, with the one they’re putting together, with the great start they have on juniors, they’re going to be the most talented team in America.”

You only get one guess as to who “they” are.

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Filed under Tom Lemming Is A Feminine Hygene Product

The SEC, at the first turn

The season’s a third of the way through and every school in the SEC has played at least one conference game at this point, so I thought I’d take a look at where every team stands right now and do a little projecting. I can’t be any more off than where I started with some of my preseason projections.

I’m breaking the conference down into three overall groups: the elite; the ranked, but not elite; and the unwashed. While there are differences between the teams in each classification, they aren’t as great as between the groupings themselves. This is a look at where each stands at present, with some thought as to where they’ll wind up at season’s end.

The elite.

  • LSU (4-0 overall, 2-0 SEC). Not just the best team in the conference, but the best in the country right now. The Tigers simply toyed with Spurrier and his Gamecocks on Saturday. Florida may be better offensively, although I’m not sure about that, but no one is close to this team on the defensive side of the ball. The only question I’ve got today is whether the inexplicable brain fart that’s affected LSU the last two seasons under Miles occurs.
  • Florida (4-0 overall, 2-0 SEC). Of all the schools in the SEC to provide the road map on exposing UF’s flaws, Team Orgeron is probably the last I’d pick. The Gator offense still impresses, though. As good a scheme as John Thompson – John Thompson! – came up with, let’s not forget that the Gators still racked up 500+ yards of offense. But Ole Miss (which was one of the lower ranked schools in offense going into the game) exposed the same issues on the Gator defense that Tennessee did the week before – questionable starters in the secondary besides Joiner and little pass rush outside of Harvey (and his pressure came largely from timing snap counts well). Is that enough to translate into more than one regular season loss? Probably not (although you can’t help but wonder if Tebow can continue to be the focus on offense as much as he’s been), but it’s enough to cost them two losses to LSU.

Ranked, but not elite.

  • Kentucky (4-0 overall, 2-0 SEC). I’m not ready to drink the Kool-Aid yet, but after the win at Arkansas, I’m at least willing to acknowledge that the glass is sitting on the table near my hand. The ‘Cats won a conference game on the road without going +2 in turnover margin and in fact did a pretty nice job limiting Arky’s offense in the second half when they came back to win. Still, this is a team that hasn’t played a school that has a winning record at this point. Nor is UK going to be confused with one of the conference powerhouses when it comes to playing defense. To be a player in the East this year, I still think Kentucky has to keep the magic on turnovers going. I will say that where I had UK projected at no more than seven iffy wins, it’s looking like a solid 7-8 win team right now. Confidence does matter, and Kentucky does seem to have that in spades right now.
  • Georgia and South Carolina (both 3-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). There really isn’t much of a gap between Georgia and South Carolina. I don’t think I’m being a homer here; it’s just that I see a difference between Georgia going into Tuscaloosa with doubts and coming out stronger with the win and Spurrier throwing in the towel at Baton Rouge and changing starting QBs after the loss. Either team could wind up winning as many as ten, but I think eight or nine is more likely. Georgia is just too young in too many key places and SC is too weak on offense to do much better.
  • Alabama (3-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). The four million dollar man can coach, but he can’t overcome the lack of depth – on defense especially. If Georgia had held on to a few more passes, last Saturday’s game wouldn’t have been that close. Eight wins still seems likely, which is a good start, ‘Bama fans.

The rest.

  • Auburn (2-2 overall, 0-1 SEC). The Tigers get the top slot here for two reasons: they have the only elite defense in this group (at least when they get everyone back from injuries) and you have to think that they a shot at fixing some of their problems on offense. They could be dangerous at year’s end, simply because it’s likely their season is going to come down to pride with games against Georgia and ‘Bama. Auburn won’t give up, but it’s hard to see more than seven or eight wins for this bunch right now.
  • Tennessee (2-2 overall, 0-1 SEC). Ugh. I don’t know why I’m putting the Vols here, other than inertia. In their defense (pun intended), they have played the toughest slate of games of any team in the conference, but they sure don’t have much to show for it. They can’t run the ball against good defenses, they can’t stop the run, they lack elite speed at WR and on defense and they still have lapses in punt coverage. But every time I’m ready to count Fulmer out, he seems to come up with a win that stabilizes the program (’05 excepted, obviously). Nevertheless, flaws are flaws and the Vols are going to have trouble with almost every SEC team left on the schedule. If UT doesn’t beat Georgia in Knoxville in a couple of weeks, it may be no better than a six win regular season. Could Fulmer survive that?
  • Arkansas (1-2 overall, 0-2 SEC). A season on the brink. One more conference loss and Nutt is a dead man walking. Yes, the Hogs have missed Monk, but there’s no excuse for how poor a job Herring has done as the DC so far. He doesn’t have the horses in the secondary to play the pressing defense he likes, but he won’t change – except, notably, in the second half of the ‘Bama game. The schedule is so weak that they’ll be bowl eligible, but that won’t be good enough.
  • Vanderbilt (2-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). Solid enough by their standards, but depth remains a bugaboo. While the Mississippi win was nice, I’m still having a hard time finding four more wins on the schedule – although a Vol collapse might come in handy for Vandy.
  • Mississippi State (3-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). The Auburn game told us that this isn’t a team that you can let hang around through sloppy/sub-par play. The LSU game told us that this isn’t a very good team. They do have a couple of opportunities for wins here and there, but if Croom does pull off a five win season, it’ll have been a helluva coaching job.
  • Mississippi (1-3 overall, 0-2 SEC). When it’s likely that your signature game will be a close loss to Florida, that doesn’t bode well for the season. There are two likely wins left on the schedule against cupcakes, and Georgia shapes up as a dangerous trap game, but if this team wins more than four games, it’ll be miraculous.

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Playoff proponents of the world, unite!

I keep saying it: the most irritating thing about the D-1 football playoff debate is the stupidity/disingenuousness of many of the arguments for a playoff.

Even though I disagree with their goal, I can at least respect the straightforward approach of those who just say they like playoffs and brackets over the current regular season-oriented format. It’s the folks like Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post that drive me up the wall when they argue that a

… simple nagging truth is undermining the BCS: It’s bad for the game. The system actually inhibits the dramatic and competitive possibilities…

which simply means, when you translate that into English, that she enjoys watching Cinderellas win games. Bully for her.

In fact, she seems to think that it’s not even necessary for Cinderella to win the prince’s heart at the ball in order to justify Jenkins’ attack on the BCS. It’s OK if Cindy has a good time and snarfs down a few hors d’œvures and a couple of glasses of Cold Duck before she goes home dateless:

… Each week, there is another bolt from the blue on the scoreboard: tiny Troy thumping Oklahoma State, Utah pounding UCLA, Fresno State taking Texas to triple overtime, UAB actually making a game of it with Florida State, Marshall leading West Virginia at halftime. [Emphasis added.]

Hey, don’t forget the number of times an underdog scored first last week! That ought to justify a sixty four team playoff all by itself, right?

Look, upsets happen every week of every college football season. So do games that come out much closer than the pundits expected. That doesn’t change the fact that after the completion of a twelve game regular season, the rational observer of the sport has a pretty good idea of who the top eight or so schools are in college football.

So, when Jenkins goes off with something like this…

There is simply no rationale left for a system that locks out certain schools or obstructs their upward mobility. Five years ago, BCS supporters could argue the differences between the bigs and littles were too great, and that some separation between them was necessary to prevent mismatches. Even third-place teams in the major conferences, it was said, were better than the top teams of small conferences…

it comes off as little more than hyperbolic prattling, rather than the bomb she so obviously wants to throw. Yeah, Utah embarrassed UCLA a couple of weeks ago, but guess what – the Utes were shut out last weekend by UNLV. Appy State, the Upsetter for the Ages, was itself upset. (Maybe Jenkins would argue that means Wofford should get a spot in a D-1 tourney.) As much as Jenkins wishes for it, neither case justifies channeling Karl Marx and arguing for a new world order.

Besides that, her main point about the have-nots never having a chance isn’t even particularly accurate. There are a number of cases in the last 20-25 years of lesser programs hiring the right coach to elevate them to national power status. Look at what’s going on in the Big East these days, for example. That’s why we see schools regularly throw obscene amounts of money at certain coaches these days – a practice that I suspect Jenkins heartily disapproves of, by the way.

But what we’re not going to see is some lesser light roll through an extended playoff. Hell, it doesn’t happen in March Madness. George Mason was a nice story, but in the end, it went down. That’s an even more unlikely possibility in college football, where because of team size, depth is so critical. Sorry, but the truth is that Troy, at least as it’s constituted now, could never survive a six round playoff.

The most logical argument I can see in support of a D-1 football tournament is that it would help clean up a dispute at the end of the season when there are more teams deserving a shot at the MNC than there are slots in the BCS title game. That’s what the fans get upset about – not some historical diatribe about the Gilded Age (puh-leeze) and how The Man is holding down The People (she actually capitalizes that in her article – twice) by not allowing Fresno State to have a shot at a post season playoff game.  In the end, if all you’re trying to do is clean up the clutter at the top, you don’t need an extended playoff to do that.

Once Jenkins puts her raised fist down, she gets to a rather familiar place in her conclusion – familiar, that is, to those of us who think that an extended playoff would sound the death knell to what we love about D-1 football right now:

A college season ought to be a test of stamina to see who can survive the delirium, not a predetermined check-cutting ceremony. It may well be that 2007 will end with a predictable No.1 vs. No.2 confrontation between the super powers of Southern Cal and LSU. But it’s the switchbacks on the way there that are meaningful. The best seasons are those that keep us guessing until the end.

Yes, that BCS title meeting between USC and Texas left a lot to be desired.

The college football regular season already is a test of stamina. Beating Middle Tennessee State in the first round of a sixty four team tourney won’t change that.

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Reason #23456286 why ESPN is beyond pathetic.

Can someone explain to me exactly what goes on in Mike Patrick’s head at moments like this?

Ron Franklin, come home. All is forgiven.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil

142 Z takeoff and a 26-23 landing

(photo courtesy Trevor Frey / Athens Banner-Herald Staff)

 

“That’s Georgia, we never give up, we will never give up.” Ray Gant said that tearfully after his last game as a Bulldog, but the sentiment remains true. Say what you will about Georgia under Mark Richt – the Dawgs may not win ’em all and even when they do win they may not be pretty in doing so – but one thing’s for sure. They don’t quit.

And there were several opportunities to do so last night. Georgia managed to overcome losing the turnover battle, Tripp Chandler’s hands, blowing not one but two ten point leads and Coutu missing what for him was a money shot to win the game in regulation to pull out a game against a coach already being anointed as the best in the conference three games into his ‘Bama career in front of an energized crowd.

I’ll save the detailed analysis for later. On a bigger scale, while I’m sure many will compare this game to the last one Georgia played in Tuscaloosa, I’m reminded more of what happened in Knoxville in 2001. Stafford has his signature win. It may not be his best game from a statistical standpoint, but in terms of proving to himself and his teammates that he has what it takes to be a winner in the SEC, it’s his most important one.

And the coaching staff once again proves its relevancy – to a young team still trying to find its way, to the media, to the conference and maybe even a little to its own fan base. I know it’s standard in the coaching profession not to celebrate the last win too long, but I hope these guys will savor what they did last night a little while. They deserve it.

Especially Stacy Searels.  For the offensive line in that loud, hostile setting to hold up against a defense that was throwing every look known to man at it is remarkable. Georgia had 377 yards of offense and buried Alabama in time of possession. The guy can coach a little.

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Filed under Georgia Football

Paranoia strikes deep… into your heart it will creep.

Belichick to Saban to Richt – it may not be Tinkers to Evans to Chance, but that trio sure has the attention of the Tahd Nayshun this week.

Groo has an excellent post on the subject of Richt’s decision to close practice this week. The controversy really is nothing more than a tempest in a teacup.

Unless, of course, you have a crimson, stylized “A” tattooed on your heart, in which case it looks like Mark Richt has replaced Phil Fulmer as Public Enemy #1. You think I’m kidding? Check out this post:

As for Richt, I’m not impressed with his cowardly and disingenuous reasons for closing practice the week of the Alabama game. I’ve said it before, it is a cynical attempt to manipulate the media’s hatred of Saban and provides a ready-made excuse for his loss to South Carolina and a potential loss to Alabama. Richt has a great reputation as a man of principal, but this is the most calculating and cynical move since Caligula made his horse a consul.

Obviously, Richt is more worried about Nick Saban than he should be. Richt may win the game, but letting Saban get into his head isn’t the way to accomplish a victory. In fact, spending time disrupting routine and creating controversy is a good way to lose a game.

Hey, I’ve got it on good authority that Caligula really loved that horse! Seriously, what is it about Nick Saban today that Mark Richt should be more worried about than when Saban was the coach at LSU? And how is closing practice to outsiders “disrupting routine”?

Let’s see – media hatred, head games, excuses, cowardice. All we’re missing here is a Logan Young reference, and we can close the circle.

You want more? Feel free to read the angry rant from this blogger.

The funny thing about all this Sturm und Drang is that Richt hasn’t named Saban as a target – that’s all been inferred by the media. (Gosh, didn’t Saban, like, um, work for Bill Belichick at one time? That’s what Richt must be thinking about!) But note that this more direct shot from Bob Stoops about possible spying by Saban has either been passed over or mildly addressed by ‘Bama bloggers.

Meanwhile, with College Gameday whiling away the hours in Tuscaloosa until the 7:45 PM game time, expect to hear a great deal more blather about this from our dear friends at the WWL. The way I see it, this whole thing is crying out for a drinking game to be created in its honor.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil, Georgia Football, Nick Saban Rules, The Blogosphere

Stewart Mandel outdoes himself.

I’d actually stopped reading Stewart Mandel’s column because he was doing nothing but writing irritating drivel. And it was a good move.

But today, I got sucked in by his “Open Letter to Notre Dame and the Big Ten”. I should have known better. It’s his proposal that the conference extend an invite for Notre Dame to join and that the Irish should accept. In Stew’s world, that’s a “win-win”.

In the real world, that’s a fantasy. Does Mandel really, truly think that the Big Ten hasn’t put feelers out to Notre Dame on a recurring basis to join the conference? Of course Jim Delany would grab Notre Dame for the Big Ten in a New York second – as long as it didn’t cost him any money.

And therein lies the rub.

Even Mandel admits that the Irish have a sweet deal:

I realize you’ve got your NBC money ($9 million a year through 2010), your BCS money ($4.5 million for each appearance, plus $1 million annually), even your own provision for BCS qualification (guaranteed with a top-eight finish), so obviously the independent thing’s not hurting your bank ledger.

But since their schedule sucks, ’cause the Irish play too many tough teams at the beginning of the season, they ought to throw all of those benefits away so they can have the chance to match the likes of Purdue’s starting schedule of Toledo, Eastern Illinois and Central Michigan. No kidding – he really thinks that’s an advantageous tradeoff for Notre Dame. And let’s face it: that’s all Notre Dame would get from the Big Ten, as the sweet TV contract and BCS deal would both go by the wayside five minutes after admission.

Mandel, they’re having a bad year. They may have another one next year. But take it in context – this is a school that’s lost nine bowl games in a row, yet still made back to back BCS appearances without a signature win over a top five team (and, of course, without a conference championship). Do you really think that could ever happen if Notre Dame became a proud member of the Big Ten? Of course not.

With reasoning like that, it’s a good thing that Mandel writes for a living. If he ran a business thinking like that… well, he wouldn’t be doing it for very long.

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Filed under Media Punditry/Foibles

Georgia, Alabama and a Jewish holiday

Allow me to wander aimlessly for a moment.

If you grew up Jewish and a sports fan, as I did, every once in a while in the fall, you remember something that happened in the sixties with this guy:

Sandy Koufax – the subject of the longest chapter in the shortest book, “Jewish Sports Legends of the 20th Century”…

On October 6, 1965, Koufax refused to pitch in the first game of the World Series because it fell on the holiest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur.

The only reason I bring this up is because this Saturday is Yom Kippur. God only knows what the media furor would be like if a key Georgia player were Jewish (don’t chuckle, Georgia fans, remember Buzy Rosenberg?) and elected not to play – it might have even outweighed the “cheating” story this week. Even better, since the holiday ends at sundown, with the game starting at 6:45 PM Tuscaloosa time, we’d be looking at a situation where the player might only miss some of the first half and then enter the game. Now there’s some drama!

But enough with the hypothetical, there’s plenty of reality to worry about with this game as it is. ‘Bama comes in 3-0, with an enormous amount of momentum from a thrilling last second (OK, eight seconds, if you want to get technical about it) win over Arkansas. The Tide has played a similar schedule to the Dawgs, with one common opponent in Western Carolina that both schools dominated, so the record is as credible as Georgia’s.

Alabama is scoring nine points per game more than Georgia, but giving up almost three points more per game. The difference can be explained to some extent by the key game that each has played. Arkansas is a very good offensive team, but near the bottom of the SEC in defense. South Carolina is middle of the pack in offense, but is one of the top teams in defense.

Alabama won its key game; Georgia lost its key game. ‘Bama may lack Georgia’s depth, but seems to be playing as a more cohesive unit so far this year.

On offense, Alabama has thrown the ball a good deal (5th in the conference in passing offense), but it also has a fine RB in Terry Grant (2nd in the SEC in rushing). I expect it to emphasize the run early, in order to exploit some mismatches on the lines – Andre Smith, for example, outweighs Marcus Howard by about 100 pounds – and to set up the passing game. Both its QB and top WR are underrated players. Alabama is also starting to utilize its TE more than in the past.

Defensively, this isn’t the LSU defense that we Dawg fans came to know and love under Saban (I bet Greene and Shockley still have nightmares about that ’03 game in Baton Rouge). ‘Bama runs a 3-4 set up primarily now, although it will vary the looks fairly regularly. It’s a solid scheme, which you’d expect from Saban, and there are some talented players, but there’s a definite problem with depth. Against Arky, ‘Bama sold out to stop the run and really wasn’t that successful (Arky had 301 yards rushing). The defense tired noticeably in the second half, although they sucked it up in the end and gave the offense a chance to pull the game out (unlike Georgia’s against South Carolina).

I suspect that Alabama will try to replicate what South Carolina did and commit heavily to press coverage on the WRs while trying to overwhelm the line of scrimmage. The lesson so far this year is that Georgia suffers on offense if Stafford isn’t comfortable throwing the ball. The game is likely to turn on who wins this battle, as I think Georgia will do a much better job holding ‘Bama’s offense in check than Arkansas did. The good thing for Georgia’s offensive line is that, to date, Alabama hasn’t had much success rushing the passer. The Tide only has four sacks in three games.

So what does Georgia need to do to win Saturday?

  1. Score first. Believe it or not, so far in 2007, SEC teams are 21-0 when they get on the scoreboard first. Plus, scoring first helps establish a tone for the game when a school is on the road.
  2. Stick with the running game. 47-24; 31-45; 34-26. That’s the run-pass ratio in each of Georgia’s first three games. Can you guess which one is the loss?
  3. Be patient. Georgia has more depth. Play a tough, physical game and wear ‘Bama down. It would have worked for Arkansas (which came back from 21 down) if Nutt had been a little smarter on Arky’s last offensive series in the game.
  4. Get kickoff coverage under control. Special teams haven’t been that bad for Georgia (4th in punt return average, 4th in kickoff return average and 1st in net punt yardage in the conference), except for kickoffs. Even Western Carolina had decent success returning kicks. In a grind-it-out type game, which favors Georgia, field position is huge, especially on the road.

What makes this game hard to pick are the intangibles. Alabama’s had a crazy week. It seems like most of the in state media already has the Tide at 8-0 and Tuberville looking for a new job at season’s end. With all of the hoopla, you have to wonder how the team reacts. Saban’s a great coach, but there’s only so much you can do with the psychology of a nineteen or twenty year old.

But Georgia’s week has been a little strange, too, with the closing of practice in the wake of the Belichick cheating scandal. I don’t think that Richt was worried about Saban spying on Georgia practices, but I do think Richt has been looking for a means to focus the staff and the players on the game and grabbed this as an excuse to do so. Let’s hope it works.

In the end, I think the intangibles favor Georgia. The Dawgs have a lot more to lose with this game and the staff knows it. And I have a hard time picking against a Mark Richt coached team in an SEC opponent’s stadium. Most folks see about 44-51 points being scored Saturday night. I believe Georgia will get the majority of ’em.

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What happened to “three yards and a cloud of dust”?

There’s a very good article in The Birmingham News about the significant increase in offensive production in the SEC this season. (h/t cfbstats.com)

Scoring in the SEC is up 43 percent from this time last year – 33.7 points per game compared to 23.5 at this point in 2006. The Sun Belt is the only conference that has increased its scoring by a higher rate (44 percent), according to cfbstats.com.

Sure, some of that is due to the change in the clock rules and the kickoff rule, but, as the article notes, while scoring is up in general in college football this year, it’s up a whole lot more in the SEC.

But that alone can’t explain the SEC’s outburst. They play by the same rules elsewhere, and scoring is up only 18 percent in the Big East, 17 percent in the Big 12, 16 percent in the Pac-10, 12 percent in the WAC, 9 percent in the ACC, 8 percent in the Big Ten and 1 percent in Conference USA.

The article points to the large number of returning offensive starters as a key factor to the offensive resurgence…

There was a significant gap in the number of offensive starters (89) and defensive starters (71) who returned to the SEC in 2007. Eight of the league’s 12 teams returned more offensive starters than defensive, and 10 teams are now scoring more.

… but I would be interested to see a comparison as to this with other conferences.  One isn’t provided in the article, unfortunately.

In any event, at least through the first quarter of the season, scoring is on a record pace:

At this rate, SEC offenses would set single-season records for scoring average and total yards since the conference expanded in 1992. The previous scoring high, 27.7 in 2001, could be shattered.

All of which makes this even more impressive.

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Filed under SEC Football, Stats Geek!

If I could turn back the hands of time

The Wizard of Odds raises an intriguing point:  would this year’s Arkansas-Alabama game have had a different result if the NCAA had retained last year’s clock rules?

Timing is everything in this life.

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Filed under SEC Football, The NCAA