We have reached that point in the SEC season where various “watch” lists and award semi-finalists are being announced every day. It’s not just the Heisman Trophy, but also the Outland, the Wuerfel, the Thorpe, the Butkus and several other prestigious awards calculated to recognize college football excellence.
People are also starting to talk about “coach of the year” honors. Just last weekend, a local newspaper columnist opined that UT’s Lane Kiffin ought to be considered the front- runner for that accolade.
Lazarus Trophy – Awarded to the college football player who has done the most to resurrect his career. The SEC finalist is UT’s Jonathan Crompton. His career as the Vols’ quarterback was dead, buried and starting to smell, but through a combination of hard work, good coaching, and favorable schedule luck, he has come alive in the second half of the 2009 season.
The Nobel Prize for College Coaching – The name of the award says it all. The SEC finalist is Ole Miss head coach, Huston Nutt. He’s not being honored for anything he has actually accomplished on the field. No. It’s the preseason expectation that sends a tingly feeling up the legs of the Norwegian judges.
UFC Horizon Award – Given to the player deemed most likely to land a gig in the Octagon. Florida’s linebacker, Brandon Spikes, made the cut for his nationally televised eye-gouge of a downed Georgia ball carrier.
Dr. Phil’s Prize for a Successful Recovery From a Bad Breakup – This award recognizes people who make it through Dr. Phil’s 12-step process for getting over the heartbreak of a failed relationship. This year’s SEC finalists are all the LSU fans who have finally worked through the psychic pain of realizing that Nick Saban just didn’t like them “that way” any more.
The Joe Biden Memorial Gaff-O-Rama – This prestigious award is given every year to honor those persons in the public eye who can be counted on to say something really stupid in front of large crowds. This year the prize has been awarded to the CBS broadcast crew of Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist. Week-in and week-out this pair of fearless (and clueless) broadcasters demonstrated their uncompromising commitment to misstating the rules of the game, misunderstanding the events on the field and misidentifying the players and teams. They won by acclamation.
Urban Meyer Prize – 2009 is the inaugural year for this award that recognizes a college coach who literally “puts his money where his mouth is.” Naturally, the prize goes to the man for whom it is named; Florida’s head coach who, until he was slapped with a $30,000 fine by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, failed to appreciate the irony in him, of all people, complaining about poor officiating.
Well, so much for a look ahead at some of the little-known post-season football awards; it’s time to look at the games on store for this weekend and make some predictions.
Tennessee vs. Ole Miss – Since coming off their open date, the Vols have been playing much better football, even against quality opposition. They quickly shook off any emotional baggage from their disappointing loss to Alabama and viciously dispatched South Carolina and Memphis.
This week, Tennessee faces the last realistic speed bump standing between them and a season record of 8-4. Ole Miss is …well, Ole Miss. All the pre-season hope that propelled the Rebs to their highest poll ranking in 40 years started disappearing before the dog days ended.
The people in The Grove haven’t been this disappointed since the caterer failed to chill the chardonnay properly. If you drill into the statistics, however, you can still find the traces of the offensive prowess that was supposed to help the Rebs contend for respect in the SEC West. They average nearly 400 yards of offense per game. Jevan Snead has a passer rating of 124, has thrown for 1,850 yards and 17 touchdowns.
But those same statistics also reveal the rot behind the whitewash on the Ole Miss facade. Snead has been intercepted 13 times. The Rebs have fumbled nine times and they have surrendered 12 sacks. More than anything else, the inability to sustain a consistent offense is what has made Ole Miss 2-3 in conference games.
Playing against Monte Kiffin’s defense is not what you want to do when your offense has been struggling. The pick: Tennessee
Auburn vs. Georgia – It has always struck me as ironic that Vince Dooley played at Auburn and made his coaching reputation at Georgia, while Pat Dye did it just the other way, playing in Athens and coaching in Auburn. Mark Richt and Gene Chizik are by all accounts very fine men, but so far they haven’t shown that they possess the promise to eclipse their more famous predecessors.
This was once one of the premier games on the SEC calendar. It could be again, but not as long as Urban Meyer coaches in Gainesville and Nick Saban is in Tuscaloosa. It’s time to just tell it like it is about Georgia: The Dawgs are a bad team. They are an undisciplined rabble that has been penalized 85 times [OK, it should only be 84 – the penalty against A. J. Green in the LSU game is still a bad call, but my point remains the same.] Their defense is a sieve that yields 121 rushing yards and 26 points per game.
Auburn remains a work in progress. The Tigers roared off to a 5-0 start then lost three in a row to SEC opponents. They have won their last two games and now stand at 7-3 with an open date between Georgia and the season finale against Alabama on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Give Chizik lots of credit. Not many people had the 2009 Tigers picked to go 8-4 and nobody considered them a pre-season candidate for 9-3.
As scheduling luck would have it, Auburn plays eight games at home this year. That has evidently been to the Tigers’ advantage, because they have only won a single road game – Tennessee in Knoxville. But the Auburn / Georgia series is one where the road team has enjoyed the most success. The Dawgs are 14-9-2 in Auburn while the Tigers have a record of 18-10 between the hedges. I think that trend will continue this weekend. The pick: Auburn
Florida vs. South Carolina – Florida continues its tune up against the systemically weak SEC East as it prepares to defend its SEC title against Alabama on Dec. 5. The way that the Fighting Chickens have played in two miserable losses to Tennessee and Arkansas, it is unrealistic to think that the Old Ball Coach will reverse the Roosters’ fortunes against his former team this weekend. The pick: Florida
Alabama vs. Mississippi State – If ever there was such a thing as a trap game, Alabama’s game this weekend against Mississippi State is it. The Tide locked up the SEC West title with its 24-15 win over LSU last weekend. The only thing that the sports media wants to talk about is the SEC Championship Game, which isn’t being played for another month. It would be only human nature for the Tide players to look ahead to the showdown with the Gators in Atlanta.
But there are several men wearing crimson jerseys who are not playing like mere humans. Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain and Marcel Dareus lead an Alabama defense that opponents have found to be nearly impenetrable. LSU had 11 offensive possessions against Alabama last Saturday. Eight of those possessions ended in a punt and one ended in an interception.
On offense, sophomore running back Mark Ingram is averaging 128 yards per game and 6.6 yards per carry running the football. Mississippi State has a potent rushing attack as well with Anthony Dixon gaining 125 yards per game and 5.7 per carry.
MSU’s passing game has been weak. Starting quarterback Tyson Lee has an efficiency rating of only 111 and has thrown 11 interceptions against only 4 TDs. Along the line of scrimmage, MSU’s defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks 16 times but the offensive line has allowed 12.
State could have beaten LSU and lost to Florida by only 10 points. Two other teams that Alabama has faced also came within a dime of the Gators: Tennessee and LSU. It took two blocked field goals for the Tide to beat the Vols and LSU had the lead over Alabama to start the fourth quarter.
It has been said that Alabama is on a mission to win the BCS Championship. If they look past the Bulldogs this weekend, then come January, the Alabama players will be watching on TV as someone else plays for the big crystal football. I think that Nick Saban knows this without having to be told. The pick: Alabama