As poor as the quality of play has been in the SEC this year, this week begins an exciting few weeks in which teams will either begin to propel themselves to the success of a warm bowl game, make preparations for another layer of clothing for a cold bowl game or meet the miserable failure of not making a bowl its fans began to fear in July. The two top teams in the league, Alabama and Florida, are steadily moving (although sometimes in really choppy steps) towards an Armageddon game in Atlanta on which the fate of the world will rest (or so CBS would want you to believe). For the rest of the teams, they’re all fighting whatever’s left. Most coveted are warm spots in Florida, the Georgia Dome or hope that it’s inexplicably 70 degrees in Dallas in January. The worst of the scraps include bone-chilling visits to Shreveport, Memphis and Nashville in December. While all bowl games are a nice trip (especially if you haven’t been in a few years), dressing like I’m going to spend the night in the Gobi Desert isn’t how I prefer to watch football games.
Made while welcoming back the rain that took a 72-hour break before getting cranked up again…
Last week: 5-1
Season: 47-8 (.855)
Arkansas at Ole Miss
In keeping with the theme of the opening paragraph, Arkansas currently sits at 3-3. They have non-conference games against Troy and Eastern Michigan, which should get them to 5-3, and they also have South Carolina and Mississippi State at home. If Arkansas were to beat Ole Miss this weekend and gain some momentum before the South Carolina game in two weeks and actually win that, they could easily be looking at 8-3 headed into the season-ending LSU game and a visit to one of those warm places. If they lose to Ole Miss, that final record could look much closer to 6-6 and a trip to Memphis or Shreveport would be in the works.
Ole Miss is 4-2 with five conference games (and Northern Arizona) left to play. And I have absolutely no idea what could happen. If they were to beat Arkansas, maybe that would send them on another scorched earth run to the end of the season, or it could simply mean that Arkansas has been playing over its head and Ole Miss could still finish 6-6. They could also lose and go on another run or finish 6-6. It’s like last year all over again, except last year they were 3-4 before laying waste to the rest of the schedule. The schedule is set up where it’s possible to finish 10-2, but this team has not shown that it’s capable of doing that. Perhaps like last year, the Arkansas game will be the start of such a run, but there’s also a great chance it will serve to show that Ole Miss still has too many holes on offense to do anything more than 7-5.
As for the game, Arkansas does one thing really well, which is passing. In fact, they average a little more than 70 yards than the number two team, Georgia, in passing offense. Although in the past three games, they’ve shown some life in the running game, going for 133, 221 and 163 (Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M, so one legitimate defense). Offensively, I expect Ryan Mallett to get some numbers. He’s too big and strong not to have a decent to good day. However, good defenses have the ability to make one-dimensional teams play very poorly and Ole Miss has a good defense. I expect Ole Miss to follow Alabama’s game plan and really get after Mallett. He’s not the fleetest of foot and when rattled tends to throw incompletions in large quantities. If the Hogs are going to win, they’ll have to have some of the ground game magic they’ve recently discovered.
For Ole Miss, they’re facing a defense that while not good, has shown flashes of being good, especially against the run. They were able to really give Florida problems because Florida is not very good at throwing. Even an average defense can make life difficult for one-dimensional offenses. So that means that if Jevan Snead hasn’t figured out what the hell he’s doing, the Rebels are going to have issues in advancing the ball forward. And the fact that this game is a pretty crucial point in the season, I’m willing to bet Snead has one half to show that he isn’t completely incompetent. If he struggles and stars throwing passes to the ground and Arkansas instead of his receivers, it could be the end of his 2009 season. The season is still salvageable for Ole Miss and Houston Nutt knows he can’t keep waiting on his quarterback to figure out where the 2008 version of himself went.
I still don’t think Arkansas is very good, especially on defense. I like Ole Miss in this one to put up just enough to get by, much like last year’s game. As long as the Rebels don’t turn it over and lean on their defense, they should come out of this one 5-2.
Tennessee at Alabama
Lane Kiffin was hired in November of 2008. Lane Kiffin just signed his contract in October of 2009. Now maybe that’s not that big of a deal, but the only other coach I can remember not signing his contract was former Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie, which ended well to quite well. And in even more crazy behavior, Kiffin allowed the Shrimp Boat Captain to convince him it would be a good idea to fly a helicopter onto the grounds of a high school game for recruiting purposes last Friday. I’ve said it before, but the sky really is the limit when it comes to absurd behavior in the Lane Kiffin era.
Unfortunately, the sky is also the limit for Jonathan Crompton’s suckiness in this game. Alabama’s defense destroys quarterbacks, even the ones that can be labeled as marginally good. As you know, Crompton isn’t very good and his performance on Saturday will be made even worse than his normal 40% completions and two to three interceptions performance. In order to keep the damage to a minimum, I expect we’ll see much of the same gameplan the Vols used at Florida. Lots of runs, a few more runs after that and some basic screen and rollout plays in which Crompton will be given his chance to show of his inaccuracy.
Tennessee’s defense will keep this one fairly close in terms of score, but there won’t be any doubt about who will win the game. Alabama dominates.
Vanderbilt at South Carolina
Much like Ole Miss, South Carolina has managed to lose its last two games against Vandy before this season. And much like Ole Miss this season, I look for South Carolina to pound Vandy further into the misery that is their 2009 season, and Vanderbilt football in general. Interestingly enough, the Commodores are currently ranked ahead of LSU in total offense. Not that it means anything in this game, but a note worth noting. Vanderbilt trudges on towards a 2007 Ed Orgeron SEC record.
Former Directional School at Kentucky
Florida at Mississippi State
In order for Mississippi State to keep the curse of Starkville going against Florida, Tyson Lee and Chris Relf will need to have the best day of football they’ve ever played in their lives. And even if they achieve that, they’ll still need more if you consider that their best days ever are probably nothing more than an average quarterback performance. I think we’ll see a second straight game where the Florida offense struggles at times to move the ball, but I would be surprised if State is fortunate enough to have the Gators fumble four times like they did last week.
Even if the State defense stops being one of the worst in the conference (9th), they just don’t have enough on offense, mainly at quarterback. But that should be good news to State fans, who, after being trapped in the dark ages of the Sylvester Croom era, have legitimate hope that their team could eventually called frisky if they find a relatively skilled and competent quarterback.
Auburn at LSU
LSU’s chance to surpass Vanderbilt as the worst offense in the SEC takes a giant leap this week as the Auburn defense comes rolling into town. And even better for LSU, the Auburn rush defense is ranked 11th, which means LSU coaches will have even less incentive to allow Jordan Jefferson to throw the ball. Of course, this is Les Miles we’re talking about so I’d look for close to 45 passes from Jefferson. Hell, the backup quarterback might come in and throw 15.
LSU’s defense has shown an ability as of late to not suck as much as they were sucking. And given that Arkansas and Kentucky, who have much less talent than LSU, have shown how to stop (or in Arkansas’ case, slow down) the Auburn offense, I wouldn’t expect much out of Auburn in this game. Chris Todd stinks, their defense stinks and LSU is decent enough against the run that they’ll keep Auburn under control. So look for none of the above to happen. Except an LSU win.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
A segment in which I take a question about college football that may or may not be from a real person.
Every reader of the Belly of the Beast writes:
“What takes longer, a Major League Baseball playoff game, Ed Orgeron winning an SEC game or you getting your two damn posts a week up?”
A fantastic question. I did about four seconds of research and have decided that all MLB playoff games average roughly eight hours and seventeen minutes to complete. I used to think baseball was not a physically taxing sport, but I have to say, standing around for eight hours would literally kill me. And listening to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver for that long would kill my soul.
Ed Orgeron last won an SEC game as a head coach on November 25th, 2006. His next time to experience an SEC victory as a coach (not head coach) was October 10th, 2009, almost three years. And in that time span, only 2008 saw him not involved in the SEC.
As for me, it’s a miracle that I even get up two posts a week. I can’t accurately describe just how much I love to procrastinate and be lazy. Somehow, as I’ve gotten older, my attention span has gotten even smaller. If I can focus on anything for more than 11 seconds, I’m impressed with myself. What’s that shiny object over there? A piece of tin? How interesting! Oh, look, a nickel!
So to answer your question, Ed Orgeron winning an SEC game takes the longest of the three. But another couple of years and I might take the lead.