As I mentioned last week, we’re in the middle of a stretch where teams begin to make their moves towards good bowl games, bad bowl games or waiting for spring practice to start. So in order to give you an idea of where each team is headed as of this week (after this weekend I’m sure this will be totally worthless), I give you the SEC bowl hierarchy.
TEAMS HEADED TO BOWLS THAT WILL MAKE THE CONFERENCE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS
TEAMS HEADED TO BOWLS THAT WILL BE GUARANTEED TO BE WARM
TEAMS STUCK BETWEEN THE PREVIOUS CATEGORY AND THE NEXT ONE
TEAMS HEADED TO BOWLS WITH A DECENT CHANCE OF FREEZING TO DEATH
TEAMS FLIRTING WITH BOWL ELIGIBILITY
TEAMS NEEDING A MIRACLE TO MAKE A BOWL
PLEASE, JUST SHUT IT DOWN
So there you have it. As always, those rankings will be under constant change. On to the picks.
Made while applauding Major League Baseball for completing a World Series game in under six hours and eighteen minutes...
Last week: 6-0
Season: 53-8 (.869)
Ole Miss at Auburn
A second straight week for Ole Miss in the JP Memorial 11:30 AM Time Slot (technically, the game starts at 11:21, but if it’s before noon all times run together). Back in the height of David Cutcliffe’s mediocrity, the Rebels were a constant feature at 11:30, usually bumbling their way through a spirited contest against Vanderbilt or playing the biggest home game of the season while the crowd is mostly still asleep (Note: This is slightly different from the usual Ole Miss crowd. During most games scheduled at a normal time, only like 25% of the crowd is asleep.). Regardless, what a treat it will be to wake up at the same time I normally get up for work in order to be at this game. Good times. And not that I’ll be able to experience it, but from what I heard about last week’s telecast, allegedly Andre Ware, the color analyst for those watching on TV, was actually sharp and on point with his comments. This, of course, is a disgrace to the legacy left behind by Dave Rowe. Everyone associated with an 11:30 AM broadcast is expected to and should perform at the lowest possible level humanly possible. And wear short sleeve dress shirts with a tie. Ware should be removed immediately and given the chance to work with a professional crew.
Moving on to the game, Auburn currently finds itself in a freefall. They can’t pass, can’t run now that teams know they can’t pass and can’t play defense. Even the legendary Dave Rowe knows that’s not a good combination (“BIG MAN ON BIG MAN…BAM!!!” Sorry, it’s just that I miss him so damn much.). And even worse for the Tigers, Ole Miss comes into this game seemingly on the rise. They rolled up 550 yards of offense on a defense one spot behind Auburn’s in total defense and shut down a one-dimensional offense, which Auburn has. I think this game has the makings of another thrashing received by Auburn.
Barring a multitude of turnovers, Ole Miss should be able move the ball freely and score probably in the same neighborhood of points as they did against Arkansas. If your run defense stinks, and Auburns does (11th in the conference), it’s almost impossible to keep the opposing offense from doing whatever they want to do. Mediocre defenses have the ability to keep their teams in games they have no business being in because they can take away the running game from the opposing team. Auburn can’t do that. And, in fact, their passing defense isn’t much better (9th in the league). Anytime Jordan Jefferson could be described as sharp and the phrase “career night” is used after playing your defense, you stink.
The only scenario I see in which Auburn pulling this off is if they take a page from the Lane Kiffin playbook. Run as much as they possibly can, slow their offense down (meaning get rid of the no-huddle) and hope Jevan Snead turns back into Alabama Jevan Snead. That’s a tall order because I know that while offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will go run heavy, he won’t slow down his offense. He’s going to want to show Houston Nutt what a bad idea it was to ignore him at Arkansas. Even if he puts that beef aside, I still don’t think it’s enough. Ole Miss wins.
Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
The hometown of Lynyrd Skynyrd will be more than thrilled to see the flood of jorts that will be arriving in their fair city when all the Gator fans show up on Saturday. Normally, there would be a solid contingent of Georgia fans to combat this fashion atrocity, but with the way their season is going (and the fear that Urban Meyer will find away to continue to punish their team for the team celebration in the endzone two years ago), I expect they’ll be scarce. And with good reason. I wouldn’t want to watch Joe Cox throw three more interceptions either.
I would think Georgia will take the Tennessee approach to this game and run the ball, playing ball control, time-consuming football. Unfortunately, there’s a small problem with that strategy. Georgia can’t run. At all. They’re dead last in the conference and Florida happens to be second in the league against the run. So if they can’t run, where does that leave them? If you guessed hanging on the not-so-golden arm of Joe Cox, you are correct. And if you have surmised that’s a bad thing, nice job by you. I’m sure Cox will manage to hit A.J. Green for a few nice gains, but if he’s throwing the ball 30+ times the chance for multiple mistakes goes up something like 4000%.
It’s not all bad news for Georgia though. Florida’s offense is still stumbling around seven games into this season. The lack of a passing game is what will ultimately undo this team, and Georgia has a decent defense against the run (5th in the SEC). If Georgia can force Florida into throwing much more than they want to, the Bulldogs might have a chance. That of course assumes Joe Cox won’t spend the better part of his afternoon throwing to the wrong team. The bad part of forcing Florida into throwing is that the Georgia pass defense is awful (11th), but if I’m playing Florida, I’d rather take my chances with them throwing than running.
Ultimately though, Georgia isn’t very good. Their defense is bad, the offense is one-dimensional and that one-dimensionalness rests on Joe Cox. I think this is a game that Florida dominates and wins, but never really blows it open because of their lack of wide receivers. And I can see Meyer doing something stupid like, say, throwing from his three-yard line with three minutes left while dominating a team on the ground.
Directional School at Arkansas
Nothing cures a two game skid like an 0-7 team coming to town.
Mississippi State at Kentucky
This may be the most interesting game of the weekend while also being one the least watched of the weekend. Both teams are not particularly enjoyable to watch (by that I mean, they don’t have very good offenses or one standout player I would want to see) and amazingly, both are next to each other in almost every major statistical category. Take a look at this:
The only category in which one team has a real advantage over the other is in rushing defense. State is a respectable 7th in the league while Kentucky is last. And therein lies the key to this game. State should be able to run against the Wildcats, and in doing so remove Tyson Lee from the game. However, if the Wildcats can limit that ability, they have a pretty good chance to win.
That may not make any sense, but look at the only teams that have beaten Kentucky: Alabama, Florida and South Carolina, which are all top 25 teams. They’ve beaten all the mediocre and bad teams they’ve played (State falls in the mediocre to bad category), which means I don’t think Kentucky is as bad as I once thought they were. Throw in a home game, a Mississippi State team that is coming off an emotional and physical game against Florida and the whole replay debacle, which became somewhat of a distraction all the way until Tuesday, and I think Kentucky has a pretty good chance to win this game.
Kentucky knows that the best way to win is to force Tyson Lee into throwing as many times as possible. That’s why I think we’ll see them unveil the rarely used and often only seen in video games 10-1 defense. I don’t think they’re good enough to completely shut down the State running game, but if they can hold them in the neighborhood of 150 yards I like their chances. My only concern for Kentucky is their offense, which is missing a quarterback and relies heavily on Randall Cobb, who will be a marked man by the State defense. If the State defense emotionally and physically recovers from last weekend, then State will have a great chance to win. However, I say last week’s game takes its toll on the Bulldogs and going on the road makes it worse and Kentucky wins.
Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt
The Yellow Jackets should destroy Vandy on Saturday, but my one hope for the Commodores in the next few weeks is that they get at least one SEC win just so the Shrimp Boat Captain will still be the last SEC head coach to not win a single conference game. What a spectacular year 2007 was for Ole Miss.
South Carolina at Tennessee
The glorious Lane Kiffin era took itself to yet another level earlier this week as Kiffin continued to rattle on about the incompetence of SEC officials. He even had the Shrimp Boat Captain at some event on Monday night complaining about the calls in the Alabama game. As I’ve said before, I agree with Kiffin’s premise that the officiating in the SEC is incompetent, but the last person who will cause a reform movement to gain any legs is Lane Kiffin. His off-season of repeatedly firing off unfiltered comments helped him lose any credibility he hoped to have. Well, that and his 5-15 record with the Raiders. It seems that logic and trying to get his team bowl eligible (which is dangerously close to not happening) would cause him keep his pie hole shut, but this is the guy who commented that a recruit who signed with South Carolina would spend the rest of his life pumping gas since he turned his back on the crazy house in Knoxville.
Which brings us to this game. A report came out this week that some South Carolina players, most notably captain Moe Brown, were still upset over words that came out of the shit cannon that is Lane Kiffin’s mouth. Brown went as far to say, “I’m taking it very personally. I’m taking it personally to the point where I’m going to show him how we do pump gas at South Carolina.” I find that quote inspiring and confusing at the same time. Sure it indicates revenge is on his mind and that he’s motivated, but is there a secret way to pump gas that I don’t know about? Because I hate pumping gas. If there’s a better way to pump gas and be more aggressive towards the gas pump, then let me know. It could totally change my life (By the way, this is what happens to you when you realize you’re going to spend the next 30 to 40 years working. Any possibility at improving the mundane things in life suddenly becomes exciting.).
Anyway, I’m not really sure where I was going with all of that. Both teams come into this game with pretty good defenses, with the edge going to Tennessee (ranked 3rd in total defense to South Carolina’s 4th). Statistically, Tennessee’s offense is ranked higher than South Carolina’s, but anyone who has watched the Vols knows that can’t be true. Amazingly though, it is. The Vols have sort of a sneakily mediocre offense. They have a strong enough running game that they can use against good defenses to keep the burdens on Jonathan Crompton as few as possible, and a good enough offense that can move the ball fairly well on bad defenses (see: Georgia, Auburn and Western Kentucky). Since South Carolina has a good defense, expect the Alabama/Florida game plan from Tennessee. I would think even though he had a solid game against Alabama, Kiffin will remember that Crompton was playing way out of his element and another performance like that isn’t very likely, and will rely heavily on the run.
South Carolina has a typical South Carolina offense. They look really good in spurts and really awful for long stretches. Stephen Garcia must continue to play like whoever this person is that he has become because I don’t think the Gamecocks will be able to run with much success (9th ranked against Tennessee’s 3rd-ranked run defense). If he starts doing what used to be typical Stephen Garcia things, Tennessee will win. But as much suspicion as I have of him, I think Garcia might be past the old Garcia, which as I have said before shakes me at my core. Death, taxes and Stephen Garcia’s recklessness once were all sure things.
This game will probably come down to Crompton’s ability to make enough plays to win the game. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure he used all of his good plays last week (not that there were very many). I like South Carolina here because, much like bad teams, bad quarterbacks cannot play well for extended periods of time. So let me be the first to welcome the real Jonathan Crompton back to Earth.
Tulane at LSU