It’s a Delphic Mystery. It’s a secret that defies understanding, like calculating the value of Pi to the last digit right of the decimal point.
It is a question that has befuddled SEC fans of every school. Not even Einstein could figure it out. Neither could a 23 year old geek with a six-pack of Mountain Dew and unlimited access to a Cray Supercomputer.
Here’s the question: Why is it that the best conference in college football has the worst officiating in the game?
Here’s a corollary question: Couldn’t the conference's central office use some of the bazillion dollars that ESPN paid to broadcast the league’s games to upgrade the quality and competence of its on-the-field officials? Do you think this is a partisan rant? OK. Offer me a coherent theory that explains the following:
Georgia’s A. J. Green gets flagged for 15 yards because he was excited to score what seemed to be the game winning touchdown against LSU — we all know how that turned out.
An Arkansas defensive back gets a choke-hold put on him by a Florida receiver that would embarrass an L.A. cop, and the Hog defender gets flagged for interference. In the same game, Arkansas gets a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct and nobody can identify what provoked the official’s call.
Three weeks ago, Alabama was flagged for a block in the back on a kick return. The offending player? According to the ref it was “number 28.” That number belongs to Javier Arenas, the guy who was returning the kick.
You want to talk about what qualifies as pass interference in the SEC? Last week, anything short of aggravated battery is perfectly good pass coverage. But don’t get used to it. This week, a different crew will call you game and your DBs will draw a penalty for invading the receiver’s zone of privacy.
When they aren’t littering the field with laundry for phantom penalties, they are missing more blatant infractions than UN nuclear weapons inspectors. And don’t get me started on umpires. You know umpires. They are the guys in the middle of the defense who need to spend some serious time in the gym. They get in the way of crossing routes, they clog up the middle of the field, and they interfere equally with both teams.
Look, I know that calling a football game is not easy. No crew of officials is going to get every call right. Humans are fallible and football officials are human. But when no weekend goes by without some outrageous foul up on the part of the refs, there is something systemically wrong. The league needs to get its act together. Now.
This weekend features some outstanding games with ten teams playing an SEC opponent. Let’s look at the match ups and make some picks.
Alabama vs. Tennessee
The Tide offense, or at least the passing game, has underperformed for two straight weeks. Despite the heroic performance of Mark Ingram, who, against South Carolina, ran for more yards than any player has ever done in Bryant-Denny Stadium, being one-dimensional on offense is not a formula for success against a defense coached by Monte Kiffin.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Georgia about it. But on a weekend where every top-ranked team played less than perfect ball, the poll voters saw fit to elevate Alabama to the top spot in the AP rankings.
Against the Dawgs, UT’s Jonathan Crompton played the game of his life. Can he repeat that against Alabama’s defense? Or will he join the ranks of Jevan Snead, Ryan Mallet and Stephen Garcia – much better quarterbacks who have been smothered by Alabama this year.
Tennessee has had a week to prepare and comes into the game having beaten Georgia in a manner that can only make every player more confident in themselves, their teammates and their coaches. Alabama is tired. It has played a very difficult schedule, it needs a by-week, and it is suffering the loss of defensive star Dont’a Hightower and return genius, Arenas, who is listed as day-to-day.
In my SEC East preview, I said that Tennessee would win a game with its defense that it was not supposed to win. Will this be that game? I don’t think so. The pick: Alabama.
Auburn vs. LSU
The bells in the clock tower have chimed midnight, and Auburn’s Cinderella season has come to an end. The fairy tale is over.
Gene Chizik was once the belle of the ball, but two straight losses have turned him into one of the ugly step-sisters. The Auburn faithful once gleefully predicted an undefeated season, beating Alabama, and playing in a BCS bowl. Now, Alabama fans are declaring Oct. 21 to be “Gene Chizik Day” because the date coincides with his lifetime coaching record: 10-21.
LSU has had an open week to recover from its narrow loss to Florida. The Gators defense exposed the LSU offense, and especially its quarterback, as flawed and inconsistent. The Auburn defense, however, has been exposed as one that can be exploited and scored upon.
The Bayou Tigers have the home field advantage over the visitors from The Village. The Spread Eagle offense is going to have to be in high gear for Auburn to win. In the third quarter of their game against Arkansas, Auburn showed what it could do as it ripped off 20 unanswered points in less than five minutes of game time. The problem for Auburn is that it has not been able to summon up the same big play threat in nearly five quarters of play and the loss to Kentucky last Saturday – the first time the Cats have bested Auburn in 43 years— was ugly by every measure.
A victory would help restore some of the swagger on the Plains and reduce some of the excess inventory of toilet paper in the Village. But the tree at Toomer’s Corner is safe for at least one more week. The pick: LSU
Arkansas vs. Ole Miss
But for the intervention of incompetent officials, the Hogs played well enough to beat Florida last Saturday. Only Alabama and Florida have contained the Arkansas offense. Ole Miss has a good defense, but its offense is terrible. Mississippi’s collapse from its 4th place national ranking has been astonishing.
The Rebs defense is reasonably stout, but as good as that defense is, however, it is not enough to contain the Hogs when they crank up their points machine. The Ole Miss offense has generated an average of 30 points per game, but you have to drill a little deeper into that particular statistic. Against Alabama and South Carolina, the Rebs were only able to score two field goals and a single touchdown. They can beat up on the likes of Memphis, Vandy and UAB, but Arkansas is not in that category. The pick: Arkansas
Florida vs. Mississippi State
Ever since his concussion sustained in the Kentucky game, Tim Tebow has not been the same player. Against Arkansas the Gators looked confused and out of sync. Uncharacteristic turnovers allowed Arkansas to keep the game close enough to win.
Mississippi State could have upset LSU and first year head coach Dan Mullen certainly needs no scouting report on his old team.
The Gators are clinging to a very slim perch at the top of the BCS poll. Florida’s poor play cost it enough votes in the AP poll that Alabama took over the number one spot. But Florida is the defending BCS Champion. Until they lose, the Gators deserve the first-place ranking. They will take that first-place position on the road this weekend. Will they still have it when they return to Gainsville? So long as Tebow is able to take the field, Florida will survive another week. The pick: Florida.
The Commissioner is Nashville lawyer, Joseph A. “Woody” Woodruff, a partner at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLC.