Thursday, December 03, 2009

SEC Regular Season in Review

I suppose I should be writing something about the most important game of our lifetimes that is nearly 48 hours away (dammit, CBS, where is my countdown clock!), but reading my version of a breakdown of the Florida/Alabama game is about as interesting and insightful as a David Cutcliffe postgame interview ("He was a real warrior today."). So instead, I'd like to take a look back at each team's season using some of the moronic things (and the rare correct statements) I wrote in September when I was making my predictions.

First, for the record, I managed to finish the season 79-17 (.822) in my weekly picks, achieving my goal of breaking .800 even thought I tried to blow it with a last week collapse of 4-3 (My thanks to Ole Miss for not deciding to show up and to Georgia for deciding that they were actually going to show up). Now, on to what happened this year.


My predictions (actual)

1. Florida (Florida
2. Georgia (Tennessee)
3. South Carolina (Georgia)
4. Tennessee (South Carolina)
5. Kentucky (Kentucky)
6. Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt)

"According to everything I’ve read, Florida will sort of be like Ivan Drago, everything they hit, they will destroy."

I suppose I was halfway right when I wrote that. Florida did go 12-0 but they were less than Ivan Drago-like. Thanks to a some new offensive linemen and a group of receivers that could best be described as Riley Cooper and those guys that aren't Tim Tebow's roommate, the Gators had some offensive issues over the season. They were only able to really assert their dominance in two conference games (Kentucky and Vandy) and struggled to put away everyone else. And while their defense was really good, I never considered them to be truly dominant like Alabama's. That could be because Alabama's was so good and everyone else falls way short in comparison, but I wasn't in awe of Florida's defense. I say that and the most points Florida surrendered all year was 20, so what the hell do I know.

"Biggest problems: At Florida, at Alabama, at Ole Miss, Georgia at home, no quarterback, Ed Orgeron, Lane Kiffin, very thin offensive line, not much on the defensive line."

Of those games I listed, the Vols went 1-3, which is one game better than I thought they'd do. As I mentioned earlier this week, Jonathan Crompton started the season on a journey of terribleness the likes of which most of us cannot recall, yet somehow was able to right himself and became something of an asset for his team. Hell, he even played well enough to beat Alabama, which not one person alive (even his parents) could have seen coming. And given the bar of stupidity set in the preseason by Kiffin and company, I thought they did a pretty good job in his first year. He showed flashes of coaching competency (the Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina games) and very few total disasters (UCLA and Ole Miss). I still have my money riding on a 2010 dismissal of him and his staff, but right now it looks like I'll be losing that bet.

"I really don’t see the Vols being much better than last year, and I wouldn’t expect more than 5-7."

Again, moron (pointing at self).


"To me, this season is a defining season for him (talking about Richt). If he pulls out a nine or 10 win season with this bunch, I’ll reconsider my 2200 words that declared him the most mediocre coach in the SEC."

I'll give him a pass on Florida because I assumed there was no way they were going to beat them, but out of Oklahoma State, LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky, Richt went 0-4. With the group he had, I would have considered 2-2 a pretty good job by him. Instead, they collapse against Kentucky and get blown out by Tennessee. He deserves credit for getting his team ready to play against Georgia Tech, but what about the other 11 games? This was a boring, weak and often disinterested team that was a few breaks away from 4-8 (South Carolina, Arkansas and Arizona State).

"Joe Cox is allegedly a member of a plethora of game manager quarterbacks that are in college football, so in order to avoid any upsets, he’ll need to not screw things up. There’s young talent on offense and the offensive line should be pretty solid so anything above average from Cox and Georgia could be a pretty tough team."

I also totally miscalculated Cox's ability to suck. I should have remembered the rule that if you're a senior, especially a 5th-year senior, and have never started before it's because you stink.

"Any chance the Gamecocks have at finishing behind Florida is ruined by their schedule. At Georgia, at Alabama, At Tennessee, and Florida and Ole Miss in Columbia. 1-4 there would be pretty good considering what Steve Spurrier has. A talented, but erratic and often dumb quarterback playing behind an offensive line that was awful last year and might not be much better this year. If South Carolina can’t run the ball with any success, this could be a long year in Columbia."

Why did I have them at number three in the East again? It's like I don't even read what I write. Anyway, the Gamecocks did go 1-4 games in those I listed, but I'm pretty sure I assumed they'd beat Tennessee and not Ole Miss. And it turns out Stephen Garcia wasn't that bad. He stopped doing dumb things, became less interception oriented and was the South Carolina offense since they could not run the ball (except against Clemson, one of the participants in the ACC Championship Game). However, in typical South Carolina fashion, they fell apart at the end of the season, mainly because it was impossible for Garcia to play that well for an entire year (6 TDs, 5 INTs in the last four games) and injuries eventually wore down their defense.

"As for defense, all signs point to it being a little worse than last year’s, which wasn’t bad, but not great. If the defense can’t get any help from the offense, I will again question why I continue to put South Carolina this high every year."

Exhibit AAAAAAA on me not reading what I write.

"If they can hold up against the run, the defense could propel itself into the average category and, combined with a more experienced offense, they could pull off a couple of wins they shouldn’t."

They didn't really hold up that well against the run (11th) or against offense in general (10th), but they established a pretty decent running game (5th) and had the sixth best turnover margin in the conference. That was probably due to the injury to Mike Hartline, who we all remember from his early season push in the Awww-Shit Trophy competition. Once he went out, they were forced into running and created fewer opportunities for turning the ball over. And as for games they shouldn't have won, they did it twice, at Auburn and at Georgia.

"In order to ramp up an offense that was one of the worst in college football, Bobby Johnson has installed a no-huddle, spread attack. That’s nice if you have a quarterback, which, as far as I know, is not on the Vanderbilt campus."

Here's what Vandy got out of it's quarterbacks: 146 yds/game, 6 TDs, 10 INTs and led an attack that ranked 12th in total offense and scoring offense (16.3 pts/game). So clearly, that quarterback was not on campus this season.


My predictions (actual)

1. Ole Miss (Alabama)
2. Alabama (LSU)
3. LSU (Ole Miss)
4. Arkansas (Arkansas)
5. Auburn (Auburn)
6. Mississippi State (Mississippi State)

1. Alabama
"Recently, I heard Eli Gold, Alabama’s radio play-by-play announcer, say that Greg McElroy is a game manager type (buzzword!) that probably isn’t as talented as John Parker Wilson was. If I’m an Alabama fan, that’s a big, fat gulp right there. An inexperienced, lesser-talented version of Wilson behind an offensive line that won’t be as good as last year’s. That group has to replace three guys, the most underrated of which was center Antoine Caldwell. Losing three members off the strength of your team is going to hurt in some way the following year. I think the Tide is a year away from being a legitimate top five team."

Outstandingly wrong. Not only was there no drop-off from Wilson to McElroy in terms of game management, the offensive line was good enough to lead the fourth best ground game in the SEC (and fourth best total offense). Throw in Nick Saban and a defense that was one of the best I've ever seen in person, and you have a 12-0 team that laughs at the idea Ole Miss could have won the division. While this team wasn't an indestructible buzzsaw, it was in my opinion the best in the SEC.

2. LSU
"At Ole Miss, at Alabama, at Georgia and Florida at home. A 2-2 finish there would be impressive and I think that will be a stretch for this team."

Finally, I got something right. The Tigers finished 1-3 in those games.

"As I’ve said before, Jordan Jefferson may be talented (I haven’t seen it), but he’s not good enough to win the West. Les Miles won’t play conservative offense with him and Jefferson will make tons of mistakes (remember Jarrett Lee last year). He’s got talented running backs and receivers, but I don’t think he’s ready to be an SEC quarterback."

I'll give myself a .5 for being halfway right and a .5 for being halfway wrong (I have no idea what kind of scoring system I'm using here or if I even have a scoring system). Jefferson was not good enough to win the West and led a terrible offense (11th in total and 10th in scoring). But, I think he's going to turn out to be pretty good and he was ready to be an SEC quarterback this year. He still struggled at times, but he has all the tools to be good. Now, whether or not Les Miles is the person that will get that ability to come out of Jefferson is up for debate.

"First, the schedule. Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee all come to Oxford. The toughest road games are a Thursday night trip to South Carolina and a trip to Auburn. No other team in the West has a schedule that favorable."

3-1 in those home games and 0-2 in those road games. To me, the Auburn game was inexcusable. That was not a good Auburn team and was a road game that should have been won.

"Second, an established, experienced, talented quarterback. No other team in the West has that."

And no other team in the West has a head case that can't figure out the simple concept of looking off defensive backs, not staring at the primary receiver and not turning the ball over at an unbelievably high rate. Jevan Snead was the major flaw of Ole Miss' season.

"Third, defensive line. No other team in the West can match the talent there. Alabama could make a case, but they don’t have the depth Ole Miss does."

Alright, something else that I got halfway right. Yes Ole Miss had the depth, but it wasn't always good depth.

"As I have stated many times, if Ole Miss develops eight competent offensive linemen, they should beat every team they play in the regular season."

They made it to seven, but unfortunately it didn't happen until the Tennessee game. Although the offensive line certainly was the major contributing factor to the South Carolina loss, they got their business in order for the rest of the year, and while not great, they did enough to win the rest of the games (other than the Alabama game).

"As for the argument that Ole Miss has never been here before, that’s not really a strong argument to me. If you recall the end of last season, this team developed a sense of confidence I’ve never seen in an Ole Miss team. They knew if they didn’t have dumb turnovers, they were going to win. So they know what it takes to win."

While that statement about last year's team holds true, let this be a lesson to me and every other Ole Miss fan that we will NOT, I repeat, NOT make it to Atlanta. Ever.

"Holy crap, what a schedule. At Alabama, at Florida, at Ole Miss, at LSU and Georgia at home. 1-4 would be outstanding here."


"If they can get anything out of their defense, which was the worst or one of the worst in the SEC last year, they might sneak up on some people."

Not so much (12th in total defense). But in some games, their defense did show up. Other than the Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss games, they played well enough to win every game, nearly beating Florida and LSU and handily beating South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn.

"That is if Ryan Mallett proves to be worth anything."

Does 29 TDs and only 7 INTs do it for you, Gray? While he was a little streaky with his completion percentage (he streaked from bad to average), this was easily the worst insinuation I made.

"Gus Malzahn’s offense was brought in to breathe some life into a disastrous offense from last year. Unfortunately, Chris Todd is operating that offense."

And breathe new life it did. But while the Tigers piled up the yards against bad teams (which monstrously inflated their stats), their offense looked like a competent, forward-moving unit for periods of time, unlike last year when playing good or bad teams. And while Chris Todd racked up yards and touchdowns against the bad non-conference teams Auburn played, he only managed six touchdowns while throwing five picks in SEC play (15 of his 21 touchdowns came against Louisiana Tech, West Virginia, Ball State and Furman). It also pains me to admit this, but Gene Chizik proved to be a head coach that wasn't as awful as the endless number of five wins at Iowa State jokes I made.

"An excellent group of teams comes to Starkville this year, unfortunately they’re all really good teams. LSU, Georgia Tech, Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss all come to Starkville, and barring anything crazy, all will win."

A win over Ole Miss turned that from 0-5 to 1-4. And by barring anything crazy, I'm pretty sure I meant Chris Relf turning into Tommy Frazier in the 12th game of the season.

"Dan Mullen will have a tough year ahead of him, he’s got no quarterback, a bad offensive line and a defense that will probably be worse than least year’s. At worst, I can see a 2-10 season, and at best they can somehow claw their way to 5-7."

I thought Mullen did a fantastic job this year. As I mentioned, he had no quarterback, but got an offensive line to play better and rode the best player on his team, Anthony Dixon, all year. And did this despite a defense that wasn't very good. This season was a big change from the Sylvester Croom era where the Bulldogs were routinely run off the field by halftime. Mullen had them competitive in every game but two (Alabama and Auburn) and had Tyson Lee not been his quarterback, perhaps they could have pulled off one or two more wins.

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