Look, I get it. I really do. Florida should be favored over Georgia to win the SEC East because the Gators appear to have an easier path to get there. Jimmy Hyams over at MrSEC.com provides a good summary of the differences the schools face:
… The schedule is a big reason why I’m taking Florida to win the East over Georgia and be in the hunt for the BCS national championship game.
It’s not that the Gators’ schedule is easy. It’s just easier.
Georgia faces six coaches who have won a national championship and another who went 13-0.
Florida faces four coaches who won a national championship and catches two football powers – Miami and Florida State – on a downhill slide. The Hurricanes and Seminoles combined to win 12 games last year. When is the last time that happened?
Georgia plays Alabama, LSU and Auburn from the West Division.
Florida plays Ole Miss, Arkansas and LSU from the West division.
Georgia plays nine teams that had a winning record and one of two teams – South Carolina – that beat the Dawgs last year.
Florida plays seven teams that had a winning record but Arkansas (10-4), Hawaii (12-1) and Kentucky (8-5) don’t figure to be as good as last year.
Georgia plays at South Carolina, at Arizona State and hosts Alabama in consecutive games, then plays on the road against LSU, Florida, Kentucky and Auburn in consecutive weeks before closing the campaign against Georgia Tech.
Florida plays teams with a winning record just twice in back-to-back weeks and two of those teams (Arkansas and Kentucky) will be fortunate to go .500 this season.
The spacing of Florida’s opponents gives the Gators a huge advantage over Georgia. And Florida’s three toughest SEC games are preceded by an open date (before Tennessee), Arkansas (before LSU) and Kentucky (before Georgia).
Georgia plays at South Carolina before going to Arizona State, at ASU before hosting Alabama, at LSU before facing Florida, Florida before a trip to Kentucky and at Kentucky before going to Auburn.
Like I said, fine. I get it.
There are a few bones I’d like to pick, though, with some of what Hyams has to say. The biggest quibble I’ve got with his schedule analysis is that he seems to want to have things both ways with regard to Florida playing Miami and FSU. In contrast to the quote above, here’s what he writes later in the post with regard to Florida’s OOC schedule, which he ranks as the toughest in the SEC:
Florida: Gators face a BCS bowl team in Hawaii and while Miami and FSU are down, they are still dangerous, in-stat (sic) rivals.
Stop chuckling over the Hawaii comment for a moment. How can a school be down and dangerous? Especially when the two combined for twelve losses last year, and one didn’t even go to a bowl?
The other part of his post that I question is the non-schedule case he makes for the Gators winning the East.
… Here are two other reasons to favor Florida.
One, the Gators have the best offense in the SEC, if not the nation. They led the SEC in scoring (42.5 points) and were fourth in the nation. They averaged 457 total yards per game. They scored at least 30 points in 11 games, at least 40 in eight. And running backs Emmanuel Moody (a Southern Cal transfer) and Chris Rainey should provide more balance in the run game to keep Tim Tebow under 200 carries.
Secondly, Florida’s Achilles’ Heel last year – pass defense – is easier to overcome than a bad run defense or a bad run offense. Last year, Florida and Tennessee had the worst pass defense in the SEC, yet won nine and 10 games, respectively. And of the seven SEC teams that gave up at least 200 passing yards per game, six had a winning record and four won at least eight games.
By contrast, the two teams with the worst rushing defense in the SEC won a combined nine games. Florida, somewhat surprisingly, led the SEC in run defense, giving up 103.3 yards per game, and an SEC-best 3.0 yards per carry. And the top six rushing teams in the SEC last year each won at least nine games. Florida was third in rushing.
So favor Florida to win the SEC.
Now I give him points for not indulging in the reflexive “Florida’s pass defense will be better this year” mindset that has been at the base of many pundits’ belief that UF is destined for greatness this season. And I agree that on paper, the Gators look to have the best offense in the conference in ’08.
But he overstates the case on good teams with bad pass defenses. Yes, Florida and Tennessee finished at the bottom of the conference standings in pass defense last year. But that was an anomaly. If you check the SEC stats going back to 2002, that’s the only time something like that’s happened.
Here’s the list of the bottom dwellers in pass defense in the SEC during that period:
- 2002: Kentucky, Arkansas
- 2003: Mississippi, Mississippi State
- 2004: Arkansas, Tennessee
- 2005: Vanderbilt, Kentucky
- 2006: Mississippi State, Kentucky
I don’t see any SEC champions in that bunch.
And on his point about rushing defense, he’s right, Florida led the conference last year. The thing is, the Gators did so in ’06, as well, with even more impressive numbers (72.5 ypg, 2.7 ypc). Their sack numbers declined from one year to the next, which explains some of the drop. But here’s the thing: their best defensive lineman (Harvey) from last season is gone and they’re counting on a true freshman coming in and making an impact at defensive tackle. Maybe it all works out, but there’s something of a leap of faith in there, too.
Honestly, I don’t see UF losing four games this year, at least not if Tebow avoids serious injury. I don’t think the Gators’ overall talent has declined and the schedule, Miami and FSU included, is easier than what they faced last year.
But one thing to consider here is that there’s an ebb and flow to handling the offensive trends that drive college football. Yes, the spread in all its variations is the current hot scheme. But defenses adapt. That’s the job of a competent defensive coordinator. And coaches figure things out. If you’re skeptical about this as it relates to Superman and the head pointer, note that the top three teams in the SEC last year in scoring defense were Auburn, LSU and Georgia. Perhaps you’ll recall how the Gators fared against each of them.