Halloween doesn’t officially arrive until Saturday, but for several teams in the SEC, last Saturday was the day of tricks and treats.
Alabama and Florida each had more than their share of both. Tide and Gator fans had moments of heart-stopping fright, followed by explosions of unmitigated glee. Arkansas rang the Ole Miss doorbell dressed up like a team that could score touchdowns in prodigious numbers, but the Hogs were unmasked and run out of the neighborhood.
The perpetual costume party in Baton Rouge played host to the SEC’s other tigers from the Village, and the Aubs proved to be perfect guests who never seriously challenged the home team.
As interesting as they are, these tricks and treats have not really shaken the fundamentals of the league. Florida and Alabama are still the top two teams in the country. LSU still looms as Alabama’s major threat in the West. South Carolina remains hugging the inside rail in the race for second place in the East. But let’s take a numerical look around the conference at some of the more intriguing data points:
) The number of fumbles lost by Alabama’s leading rusher, Mark Ingram, in a Crimson Tide uniform.
) The number of public reprimands pronounced by SEC Commissioner, Mike Slive, on UT’s Lane Kiffin. Also, the number of field goal attempts blocked by Alabama’s defensive tackle and road-grader, Terrence Cody, in the fourth quarter of last weekend’s game against the Vols.
) The number games in Auburn’s current losing streak. The Tigers have not won a game since beating Tennessee 26-22 on Oct. 3.
) Interceptions thrown by Florida’s Tim Tebow.
) Average yards gained every time Vanderbilt completes a pass.
) The average yards gained per play by the Ole Miss offense.
) The number of rushing touchdowns scored by LSU.
) Rushing touchdowns surrendered by Kentucky’s defense through seven games.
) The number interceptions thrown by Mississippi State’s quarterback, Tyson Lee.
) The total number of points by which Florida managed to outscore each of Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State.
Do these discreet data points help to forecast the outcome of future games? Let’s take a look around the league at some of this weekend’s games and find out.
Florida vs. Georgia
This game used to be officially known as The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The same political correctness that has forced other schools to abandon historic mascots and team names in order not to be offensive to the easily offended, has led to the Cocktail Party being forced into a virtual underground.
Is it a good idea to glamorize excess consumption of beverage alcohol in the context of a college football game? Probably not. But it is also not a good idea to glamorize gambling on college sports, yet every newspaper in America runs the Vegas betting line and a significant amount of sports talk radio is devoted to predicting how teams will fare against the spread.
Whether or not it is politically correct, fans of both the Gators and the Dawgs will descend on Jacksonville this weekend for the most unbridled celebration of college football this side of Baton Rouge. Jacksonville Stadium will be filled to its 80.000 seat capacity; something the Jaguars of the NFL are unable to accomplish. But what will the fans witness?
Georgia is in serious disarray. Seven games into the season, Georgia has yet to find a consistent offense. The running game has produced only six touchdowns and while starting quarterback Joe Cox has thrown for 13 TDs, he has also thrown nine interceptions. The Dawg defense has surrendered to opponents an average of 366 yards per game while the Georgia offense only generates an average of 335 yards.
Florida is not in disarray by any means. But there is no serious debate that the Gators have not been the same since Tebow’s injury in the Kentucky game. Last week against Mississippi State, the once and perhaps future Heisman Trophy winner, threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
The Dawgs did not play last weekend. Under Mark Richt, Georgia is 11-3 when playing following an open date. Only three times in the history of the program, has Georgia played against the nation’s top ranked team. Two of those games were against the Gators and Georgia’s record in those contests is 1-1.
Will Georgia be man enough to best the Gators? The Dawgs hold the edge in the series with a record of 47-38-2. But the Lizards have won 9 of the last 12. When Nov. 1 dawns, and the debris from the Cocktail Party is swept from Jacksonville’s streets, Florida will have won 10 of the last 13. The pick: Florida
Auburn vs. Ole Miss
Call this the Game Between What Might Have Been. In August, fans of these two teams were giddy with the expectation of Great Things! As the end of Daylight Savings Time approaches, those same fans will gladly take a win …any win.
The denizens of The Grove got altitude sickness when their Rebs were flying high in the rarified air of a top five national ranking. But losses to South Carolina and Alabama have brought them back to lower elevations where there is more oxygen to breathe. With a record of 5-2, the Rebs remain mathematically capable of finishing in second place in the SEC West, provided they beat all their remaining SEC opponents, including LSU on Nov. 21.
The Tigers-Plainsmen-War Eagles-Whatevers, have also taken their fans from the heights to the depths. After winning their first five games, the Aubs have gone on a three-game losing streak, with all three defeats coming against SEC opponents. Although they are currently ranked ahead of both Arkansas and Mississippi State, the Hogs hold the tie breaker in the event that both teams finish the season with identical records.
Rumors of locker-room strife and quarterback controversies are rampant in the Village and the Spread Eagle offense is on a four game streak of declining point production. Against this backdrop of offensive stagnation, the Auburn defense, never dominant to begin with, has allowed opponents to score 96 points in the last three games.
You may rightly ask: What is Auburn doing to rally fan support to help avoid this disaster-in-the-making? Here’s your answer: They have declared the theme for this Saturday night’s game to be …wait for it …The Navy Nightmare!
Do you get it? Saturday night is Halloween …nightmares are scary, aren’t they? “Since the Ole Miss game is on Halloween, we wanted to do something out of the ordinary and host a Navy Nightmare at Jordan-Hare Stadium,” said Athletics Director Jay Jacobs. Is it possible that Jacobs actually saw this absurd comment before it was posted under his name on the official Auburn Web site?
Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous? Auburn football is looking down the barrel of a potential 6-6 season, and this is what they do to rally the troops! Is there no one in all of Lee County who could think up something better? How about this: “Since the Ole Miss game is our next game, we wanted to do something out of the ordinary and beat an SEC opponent for the first time in the last three weeks.” At least that would put the hay down where the goats could get to it.
It won’t matter. Ole Miss may have found a groove. Auburn has its plow stuck in a furrow. The pick: Ole Miss.
Tennessee vs. South Carolina
I predicted this game in my first column where I presented my season forecast for the SEC East. Tennessee gave Alabama a better game than the bookies expected. Primarily that was due to Alabama making just enough mistakes, in play calling and execution, to keep Tennessee hanging around to within striking distance. UT’s excellent defense opened the door of opportunity for the Vols to win, but Alabama’s better defense slammed it shut.
The Chickens, who played an extremely physical game against Alabama two weeks ago, had enough in the tank to beat Vanderbilt. South Carolina at 6-2 controls its own destiny in the SEC East. The Birds average 366 yards of offense per game, have scored 8 TDs on the ground and scored 12 in the air. Quarterback Stephen Garcia is a tough competitor who has completed 59 percent of his passes for nearly 1,800 yards and has been intercepted only 4 times.
UT’s Jonathan Crompton has improved noticably. His passing efficiency rating is 128 and he has thrown for more touchdowns (14) than interceptions (10). But the best news for Crompton is that he is no longer the most reviled human being in Volville. That dubious honor has been claimed by UT’s place kicker, Daniel Lincoln.
It will be hard for Tennessee’s players to put the Alabama game behind them and it doesn’t look as if they will get much help in that department from their head coach. The pick: South Carolina
Vanderbilt vs. Georgia Tech
Oh, please! Please get this Vanderbilt season over with. The pick: Georgia Tech.
Mississippi State vs. Kentucky
MSU has demonstrated that it can play a physical game. The bulldogs have twenty two decent starters. But they have little depth.
Kentucky reversed a three-game losing streak with a road win over Auburn and beat La.-Monroe last Saturday by more than three touchdowns. The Cats have coped with the loss of quarterback Mike Hartline by trusting the offense to QB Will Fidler, and running back Derrick Locke. So far that has worked as planned.
MSU could have beaten LSU and last Saturday gave Florida fits into the fourth quarter. This game should be close and State could get a rare SEC road win, but for me the tie breaker is the record against common opponents. MSU lost to Auburn, and the Kentucky beat them. The pick: Kentucky
The Commissioner is Nashville attorney, Joseph A. “Woody” Woodruff, a partner at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP.