Thursday, October 08, 2009

SEC Picks of Week 6

Sorry for the second straight week without the call-in show, but technical difficulties prevented it from getting posted. And by technical difficulties, I mean I was too lazy to do it. Seriously, do you know how hard it is to come up with the questions and the answers? I can barely do one, much less two.

Anyway, these picks were made while hoping the Missouri/Nebraska weather doesn't find its way to Oxford.

Last week: 7-0
Season: 38-4 (.905)

Auburn at Arkansas
The first of some potentially really good games in the SEC this week. Here we have two offenses that are lighting it up (save for Arkansas’ showing against Alabama) and two defenses that are helping opposing offenses light up the yardage and points categories. Usually when a collision of this nature happens, we get a Georgia/Arkansas type game from earlier this year. But the one thing I notice about this matchup is that Arkansas actually has a decent run defense (7th in the SEC), and if you’ve watched Auburn, their offense is based on running the ball. Now, you can point out that Auburn has the second best passing offense in the SEC and Arkansas has the worst pass defense, but I would argue that Auburn’s passing game in a beneficiary of a great running game and a multitude of piss poor defenses (which Arkansas admittedly is).

So what does all that mean? I think Arkansas has the ability to load up and challenge Auburn’s ability to run the ball. It’s entirely possible that Arkansas’ run defense is actually rated higher than it is because everyone elects to pass on them, but their best chance of winning this game is to dare Chris Todd and his mediocre arm to beat them. Let’s all remember that Chris Todd stinks. I don’t care what his stats say, he stinks. The more times he has to throw, the better Arkansas’ chances are.

On the other side, Auburn’s defense does nothing well. They’re 9th against the run and 10th against the pass. And they’re about to run into a competent quarterback and a well-coached offense. Barring a West Virginia-esque six turnover game, the Arkansas offense is going to blow the Auburn defense apart (actually, West Virginia blew them apart as well, but the turnovers made it much less abusive). And that’s why I’m taking the Hogs in this one. I think they have a better shot at stopping the one thing Auburn has to do in order to have a successful offense. Arkansas can get away without having much by way of the run, but Auburn cannot.

Vanderbilt at Army
Remember about three paragraphs ago when I mentioned all of the potentially great games in the SEC? This is not one of them. I think this game ties the Vandy/Rice game as worst game of the year so far. Let’s go nuts, I’ll take Vandy here.

Georgia at Tennessee

Interesting note about this game, Tennessee is actually four spots higher in total offense than Georgia (6th to 10th). I think some of that may have to do with the Vols feasting on Western Kentucky and Ohio while Georgia took on Oklahoma State and Arizona State. Because no one in their right minds would believe Tennessee has more competent on offense than Georgia. No one. As pitiful as Joe Cox can be, Jonathan Crompton is virtually untouchable in his lack of quarterbacking skill. If only Wesley Carroll were still in the league, then we could have a debate.

Anyway, from everything I’ve read this week, the consensus seems to be that this is a game Tennessee should win. To that I say why? What has Tennessee shown that makes anyone think they can win this game? Let’s look at games against non-completely shitty teams, of which Tennessee has only played three (UCLA, Florida and Auburn). In these three games, the Vols have put up a whopping 16.7 points a game, which fits right in with the Ed Orgeron era at Ole Miss. Georgia, by contrast, has not played a shitty team and averages 27.2 points a game.

Yes, Georgia’s defense has been awful, but some of that goes to the quality of teams they’ve played and their offense leading the way to a -9 turnover margin (worst in the SEC). But the Bulldog defense is good enough to limit bad offenses like they did to LSU’s last week. Tennessee does offer a better defense (although nothing spectacular), but if they can’t score they can’t win. There’s no way I can pick a team with an offense this bad unless they have an outstanding defense, which they don’t. Georgia wins.

Kentucky at South Carolina
Steve Spurrier is 16-0 against Kentucky. Do you think he’s going to lose to Mike Hartline? Pretty easy pick here. Something I did want to talk about which was brought up in the comments section of the last post on here was the absurd celebration penalties called in the Georgia/LSU game last week.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said at a speaking event this week that he’s “just never felt that a public hanging in the square" will make better officials. This is true, Mike. But you know what will make better officials? Hiring ones that don’t suck.

Houston at Mississippi State

Houston can’t stop anything, nor can Mississippi State to a lesser degree. However, a few weeks ago, this game looked like Houston would embarrass yet another team outside of Conference USA. Now, not so much. If someone no one has ever heard of on a team barely recognizable slashes Houston for over 260 yards on the ground, what might a running team like Mississippi State do with allegedly better talent? If I'm Dan Mullen, I don't let the two-headed monster of Tyson Lee and Chris Relf throw more than 12 passes and I make sure each of my top three running backs each get 20 carries. This way, State can control the clock and keep Houston from throwing for Texas Tech-versus-the-Ole Miss-4-2-5-defense-in-2003 yardage (which was an NCAA record at the time) because State has the pass defense that could give up numbers like that. State may also get the benefit of some rain, which should make it harder for Houston to throw. I don't think it will be the flood-like rain currently happening in Columbia right now, but a little bit can always help.

I'd like to take State here, but their turnover problems in the past few games (they're also 10th in the SEC in penalties) and the overwhelming fact that Tyson Lee and/or Chris Relf will be prominently involved in this game are forcing me into Houston. I don't think State will be able to stop Houston at all and State should rack up some points as well, but those two guys will do something that will lead to the loss. But take heart State fans, it's almost unbelievable how much better coached this team is than those under the Sylvester Croom era. If this year's team played last year's, they'd win by three touchdowns. While both coaches and players still make plenty of mistakes and I don't know if Mullen (or any coach) will break the mold of inexperienced coaches having no success in bad situations, but at least you have a chance now.

Alabama at Ole Miss
The game that was set up to be an Armageddon game between two top five teams until Ole Miss lost to another SEC team on the road on a Thursday night by six points and was declared one of the most overrated teams in the country. Now, it's just a top three team taking on a top 20 team. Yawn. Seriously, Ole Miss should just give up. The same people who told them how great they were have now told them that they are actually terrible, and we all know those people are really, really smart and well-informed.

Here's what's at stake in this game: If Alabama wins, they essentially eliminate Ole Miss from contention in the West and prove they can beat a team with a good defense, which they have not done this season (I refuse to acknowledge Virginia Tech as a good defense because they aren't. They're 47th in the country in total defense). If Ole Miss wins, they're in real contention in the West (not that they aren't now) even though they've been left for dead and it proves to them and to everyone else that they can beat everyone in the West. If Alabama loses, they're still in the race. Yeah, one loss hurts, but I think they'd still be one of the favorites to win. If Ole Miss loses, they're done in the West with two conference losses and there's a chance the season could start to spiral out of control.

What all my inane gibberish means is that this game means much, much more to Ole Miss than it does to Alabama. That doesn't mean Alabama isn't going to play hard and be really average, but Ole Miss knows a successful season is on the line. Never count out what a sense of urgency can do for a team. And then there's the "nobody believes in us" factor, which is right in Houston Nutt's wheelhouse. You think he's going to milk that for all it's worth? A sense of urgency and an "us against the world" attitude can go a long way when a game of this magnitude comes along.

Leaving the mental game, let's move to the actual playing of the game. Alabama's offense has pretty much dominated everyone they've faced this year. But, as I mentioned earlier, that's come against some pretty bad defenses (although Kentucky does bring the pain at number 61). Ole Miss is currently ranked 16th in total defense and will make things much harder on them. I doubt they'll be able to run very well and will be forced to throw much more than they want, which, as well as Greg McElroy has played, benefits Ole Miss. An inexperienced quarterback on the road, facing a legitimate defense, carrying the offense because of a lack of a run game, is a definite positive for Ole Miss. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, that's where the good news sort of ends. Alabama's defense is really good. They've dominated everything that's come their way and a mistake-prone quarterback is just what they'd want.

Jevan Snead has to, I mean HAS TO, tap his end of 2008 self or there's no chance for Ole Miss. All of these dumb passes he's so fond of making need to go away. And in order to aid him in his decision making, the offensive line must pass block with a high degree of success. If not, we'll see something like the South Carolina game again, except much worse. However, I believe Ole Miss will have a little more success on offense than everyone is probably anticipating. This may be the first game in which Alabama's defense really feels the loss of Dont'a Hightower. The guy was a freak with his size and speed and could play linebacker or be used as a rush end. I'm sure Cory Reamer is a nice player but a freak he is not. When Hightower is in there, an offense has to worry about him and Rolando McClain, not that the other Crimson Tide defenders are slouches, but those two guys are destructive machines. It's much easier to worry about one than two.

So after plowing through all that you already knew, who's the pick here? Call it a hunch, call it putting way too much stock in the "season is on the line" and the "nobody believes in us" attitude, I'm taking Ole Miss. I think the defense will keep them in the game with their ability to limit Alabama's offense, which I'm not totally buying, and I think they'll get just enough on offense and ride the emotional wave I spent something like 250 words talking about. This may be a moronic homer pick, but I think they've got enough to pull it off.

Florida at LSU
Tebow-watch sort of reminds me of panda-watch in Anchorman. Everyone's eagerly waiting the news and throwing out their uninformed opinions, but no one knows anything. On Friday night, I fully expect a reporter giving a live report to turn around and yell to no one in particular that Tebow needs to show his face and call him a Tebow-jerk (I looked for the video so all the people who have no idea what I'm talking about wouldn't think I'm crazy. But if you don't know what I'm talking about, it means you haven't seen Anchorman and are therefore an idiot. So I have no problem with you assuming I'm crazy.).

Anyway, I don't think it really matters if Tebow plays or not because I think Florida will win either way. LSU's offense and defense are way too suspect to even consider an upset here. LSU's only chance will come if Florida turns the ball over four or five times. That many turnovers will be necessary because a Jordan Jefferson-lead offense will need as many chances as possible. Florida's defense should dominate and whatever they get on offense will be enough to win this one.

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