Well, we’re six weeks into the regular season and it’s time to take stock.
Although there are still seven weekends of football to be played, eight of the teams in the SEC have already played half of their games.
What do we know about the teams in the league now that we have reached the mid-point of the season? How are those pre-season predictions holding up? And what’s in store between now and the weekend after Thanksgiving?
We know that Vanderbilt’s appearance in the 2008 Music City Bowl is not going to be repeated in 2009.
The ‘Dores have to win four of their last six games in order to be eligible for post-season play. It’s a good thing that Vandy scheduled its open weekend for Nov. 28; the players can get an early start on studying for exams. The prediction that Vandy would beat Tennessee and make a second consecutive bowl game appearance has been proven wrong, as the Commodores have fumbled, stumbled and bumbled their way to a 2-4 record after six games.
We know that Georgia is a bad football team. Nobody is currently using “Junk Yard” as a compliment when the subject of conversation is the Dawg defense.
We know that Ole Miss was unable to live up to its pre-season hype. Heck, the Rebs weren’t able to live up to their three-games-into-the-season hype. Ole Miss was the number 4 team in the country when it coughed up a hairball against South Carolina.
We know that down in The Village, Gene Chizik will not channel the ghost of Terry Bowden and go undefeated in his first year as Auburn’s head coach.
We know that Arkansas is capable of lighting up the scoreboard, as long as the Hogs aren’t playing Alabama.
We know that the prediction that the SEC Championship game would be played between Alabama and Florida is looking to be a valid call. The prediction that Georgia would finish second in the East remains a mathematical possibility, but the Dawgs may have to do the impossible and beat Florida in order to avoid losing to UT in the tie breaker.
Of course, that assumes the Vols manage to do better than .500 in their remaining 6 games. And don’t forget about South Carolina. The Chickens are sitting in an enviable position. Having beaten Ole Miss, the Yard Birds can lose to Alabama and Florida and find themselves in a three-way tie with UT and Georgia, in which case the tie-breaker formula will require computations so complex that the SEC Central Office will outsource the number crunching to Vanderbilt.
Now let’s turn our attention to the games that are being played this weekend.
Arkansas vs. Florida
Even though their defense allowed Auburn’s “Spread Eagle” 20 unanswered points in the middle of the second half, Arkansas was never in any real danger of losing, and the Pigs offense proved to be capable of slamming the door on Auburn’s erstwhile comeback.
After an open week, and with Tim Tebow’s availability not determined until shortly before game time, the Gator offense was able only to score 13 points against a suspect LSU defense. But the score doesn’t tell the whole story. Florida gained twice as many yards of offense than LSU and controlled the ball for a staggering 36:30. The Florida defense pressured LSU quarterback Joe Jefferson all night and sacking him five times.
Arkansas brings the best offense that Florida has faced so far. But if there is one thing the Florida defense has demonstrated it is the ability to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard. The Swine will need every bit of offense they can muster this weekend in the Swamp. They will score; maybe more than any other team has managed. But in the end, it won’t be enough. The pick: Florida.
Could there be two more dreadful teams playing each other this weekend?
Vanderbilt lost to Army. And what a pathetic loss it was. The ‘Dores barely managed to force the game into overtime with a last minute field goal, and then failed to score on their only possession in OT.
Georgia meanwhile, was getting boat-raced in Neyland Stadium. One of two things has to be the case: either Georgia’s defense is better than Western Kentucky’s but not as good as Ohio’s, or else Jonathan Crompton is to football what Robert Johnson is to blues music. Selling his soul in order to play like Joe Montana would explain Crompton’s transformation.
But I’m not buying the whole “down to the cross-roads” thing. Crompton had a great day because Georgia is a football team with a one-dimensional offense and a really bad defense.
It’s not impossible that the ‘Dores can find whatever is left of the stuff that enabled them to beat Western Carolina and Rice, and to take LSU deep into the 4th quarter. But I doubt that there is enough of it left out on West End to help Vanderbilt beat even as sorry a bunch of dogs as Georgia will bring to town. The pick: Georgia.
Kentucky vs. Auburn
The trees at Toomer’s Corner were bare Saturday night as the Inmates at Alabama Polytechnic Institute had to find something else to do with their supplies of toilet paper.
Allow me a brief aside at this point. Can you think of a more ridiculous “tradition” among the other 11 schools in the SEC than throwing rolls of TP into the branches of a tree outside a local drug store?
LSU has their outlandish sartorial displays and ethnic food. Ole Miss has The Grove, where members of the plantation set gather to congratulate themselves on being the aristocrats of places such as Greenwood, Grenada and Gautier. South Carolina has the cockabooses and Alabama has the motor homes. And Auburn? Toilet paper! Are you serious?
Kentucky put up a decent effort against Alabama two weeks ago and gave South Carolina all it could handle last weekend. The Cats had their second best offensive day all season against the Gamecocks but still managed to lose. They take a three game losing streak down to the Village. The streak will be four games when they head back home. The pick: Auburn.
Alabama vs. South Carolina:
This is the premier match-up this weekend. Two national championship winning head coaches face each other. One in the prime of his career, the other perhaps more gray, but capable of winning on any given Saturday.
Alabama is playing at a very high level. The Tide offense is balanced, potent and able to grind out sustained drives or score on the big play. Defensively there is probably no better team in the league. In the first half last weekend, Alabama held Ole Miss to just 20 offensive plays. The Rebs total offense in those score of snaps? 19 yards! That’s right. Ole Miss gained less than three feet for every time it hiked the ball.
And just in case South Carolina needed any bad news: Tide linebacker Jerrel Harris, who was listed second behind all-everything Dont’a Hightower, has just been cleared to play after a six game suspension, making the already deep Bama defense even deeper.
South Carolina is a tough opponent. There is little doubt that ever since the narrow loss to Georgia in the second game, South Carolina has improved every week. The Gamecocks have won four in a row and are averaging 27 points and 370 yards of offense per game, but they haven’t played anyone with a defense as good as Alabama’s. Ole Miss, which has a very good defense held South Carolina to 16 points.
The Chickens will be fortunate to score that many against the Tide. USC beat Ole Miss 16-10. Alabama beat the Rebs 22-3. If the transitive mathematical property applied in football, Alabama would win this Saturday by 13 points. But the transitive property does not apply in football. Alabama is on a mission. South Carolina will not stand in the way. The pick: Alabama.