He’s a uniter not a divider.
He has brought down the walls that separate East from West, South Carolina from Alabama, and Florida from everyone else. He has galvanized fan support throughout the SEC.
Not for his team, mind you, but for his opponent.
With his immature boasting, and meritless grandstanding, he managed to turn the Florida Gators into the team that fans of every other school in the conference-besides his own-were cheering for last Saturday.
That’s right. Lane Kiffin took his team of David’s into the Swamp for a contest against Urban Meyer’s Goliath, and darned near the whole league was pulling for Goliath!
Kiffin attempted several justifications of his unseemly smack-talk. At first it was getting the fans and players energized. Then it was supposed to be an aid to recruiting. This explanation soon was followed by telling his players, “I’ve got your backs” — whatever that was supposed to mean.
And last Sunday, he claimed the whole shabby business a roaring success because “it took all the pressure off the players.” Oh, please!
Coach Kiffin’s gaff-o-rama didn’t take any pressure off of his players. It contributed to the unconscionable venom that UT fans heaped on their hapless fifth-year senior quarterback. By convincing gullible fans that he and his posse of high-priced assistant coaches were going to turn the SEC upside down, Kiffin was setting his players up to take the fall when things didn’t turn out as promised.
And that’s exactly what has happened.
Kiffin has turned the UT program around. But not in the way his sycophants had hoped. With the first quarter of the regular season in the books, he has managed to turn one of the proudest programs in the SEC, into a team that considers a 10-point physical thumping at the hands of its most bitter division rival, to be a moral victory.
UT plays Ohio this weekend. The Vols will be 2-4 by the time they reach their open date on Oct. 17.
So let’s take a look around the rest of the league and make some predictions about the outcome of the better games to be played this weekend.
Alabama vs. Arkansas
The Hogs visit Bryant-Denney Stadium on Saturday and bring with them a very potent offense that looks like it would be more at home in the Big 12 Conference than in the SEC.
In its first two games, Arkansas has averaged 538 yards of total offense per game, with the bulk of those yards, 427 coming through the air. Starting QB Ryan Mallett has completed over 62 percent of his passes with no interceptions and earned an effectiveness rating of 195.49.
What the Piggies have on offense, however, is not matched by the defense. Last week, Georgia shredded the Hogs defense for 530 yards [155 rushing] that included 5 TD passes.
Alabama, by contrast, has been impressive on both sides of the football.
The Tide has a potent and balanced offense that averages 268 yards per game rushing and 245 yards per game passing. ‘Bama’s rushing attack is four players deep and is led by Sophomore Mark Ingram, who averages 6.8 yard per carry.
Defensively, Alabama is better than last year, especially in pass rushing. The Tide’s three opponents have been tackled for a loss 24 times including 10 sacks, and the pass defense has been credited with 14 breakups, 15 deflections and 10 hurries.
The Hogs pass-happy offense will not come as a surprise to Alabama, which has faced similar schemes from each of its three opponents. But the Crimson Tide defense will be unlike anything the Hogs have faced against Missouri Sate and Georgia. The pick: Alabama
Georgia vs. Arizona State
Georgia has improved more than any other team in the league and with two conference wins, has positioned itself as the clear number two in the East. The Puppies that were throttled in Stillwater on opening weekend are nothing at all like the Dawgs that won back-to-back shootouts against South Carolina and Arkansas.
Though still not much of a running team, Georgia has become deadly through the air with QB Joe Cox and a trio of quality receivers in A. J. Green, Michael Moore and Orson Charles.
The 2009 edition of the Dawg defense is a far cry from the by-gone days of the storied Junk Yard. They don’t exactly keep opponents out of the Georgia end-zone, having given up 102 points while scoring 103.
Arizona State has not proven that it has the offensive depth of Georgia’s three previous opponents. The Sun Devils’ running attack so far has been essentially a one-man-show with starter Dimitri Nance averaging only 57 yards per carry in two games.
Look for this game to be a track meet for three quarters, and for Georgia to pull-away in the fourth. Georgia will have to get better — a lot better — on defense if it is going to have a chance against Florida later in the year, but for this weekend the Dawgs are man enough. The pick: Georgia
Vanderbilt vs. Rice
Is it time to declare the 2009 Vanderbilt season to be a repeat of 2007 rather than 2008? Readers of this space will recall that I predicted the ‘Dores to build on last season’s appearance in the Music City Bowl and to finish third in the East. Beating Mississippi State was part of that calculation.
Are we witnessing the Music City Meltdown? The way Vanderbilt embarrassed itself against MSU could be a harbinger of much worse things to come. This weekend’s game against Rice is a fork in the road.
A win gives the ‘Dores the chance to salvage the season, provided they pick up an improbable win down the road. A loss pretty much puts post-season eligibility out of the equation.
Rice is beatable. The Owls have given up 140 points, while scoring only 48, against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and UAB. Playing a hapless team like Rice ought to be the tonic that Vanderbilt needs to get its season record back to .500.
Surely, Vanderbilt is capable of beating a team that lost by 20 points to UAB. The alternative is too dreary to contemplate. The pick: Vanderbilt
LSU vs. Mississippi State
What do we know about these two teams after the first quarter of the season? We know that LSU is not yet as good as it could be, and that Mississippi State, right now looks better than it ought to be.
The Tigers looked bad against Washington on the opening weekend, but the Huskies’ upset of Southern Cal last Saturday puts a better shine on LSU’s ugly win in Seattle. Vanderbilt took LSU into the fourth quarter, but superior talent proved the winning difference.
After losing badly in the second half at Auburn, Mississippi State dominated the second half a week later to beat Vanderbilt. The Dogs are playing at home and in the daylight. In fact, with an 11:30 kickoff, most LSU fans will not yet have switched from Bloody Mary’s to straight grain alcohol.
The Commissioner has only picked incorrectly twice so far this season. Both games involved Mississippi State. The Bulldogs will not make it three in a row. The pick: LSU.
Ole Miss vs. South Carolina
Tonight’s game between the Rebs and the Fighting Chickens is perhaps the most interesting contest of the weekend.
Ole Miss has been the Cinderella darling of the pollsters and pundits so far this season, and the Rebs have enjoyed several weeks in the top 10 while beating Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana. South Carolina, meanwhile, squeaked by NC State, lost narrowly to Georgia in a shootout and handled Florida Atlantic fairly easily.
But something about this game is nagging at me. Maybe it’s the fact that the Yard Birds have played an extra game, or that they have faced stiffer competition. Maybe it’s the fact that the game comes on a short week, and the Rebs are on the road at night. Maybe it’s the thought of the festivities in the rail-spur next to Williams-Bryce Stadium where the drinking and dining in the Cockabooses are better than anything to be found in The Grove.
Maybe the Rebs’ balloon will burst tonight. If so, then the SEC West becomes a two-team race between Alabama and LSU. But, if the Rebs win on the road in Columbia, then things are really going to be dicey.
South Carolina will have to win out to finish in third-place in the East and the plantation set, over in the Magnolia State, will make the first cut on the invitation list for their Gala December Reception to be held in Atlanta. The pick: South Carolina.
Florida vs. Kentucky
Saturday, the Cats host Florida followed a week later by Alabama. By the second Saturday in October, the Cats record will be .500. The pick: Florida.