Sunday, January 3, 2010

About that bowl showing . . .

Some observations about the SEC's less-than-stellar showing in the bowl games.

1. It's the best league, but its top two teams are light years ahead of the rest.

2. When you send 10 teams to the post-season, you'll get some odd matchups, as in lower-ranked SEC teams vs. teams with better records from supposedly weaker conferences (Tennessee vs. Va. Tech, for instance, or LSU vs. Penn State, the No. 2 team in the Big 10).

Still . . .

*South Carolina's performance against UConn takes the cake for the worst bowl showing of any team, even Cincinnati. In the great scheme of things, bowl games say very little about next year's team, but the widespread ineptitude Steve Spurrier's players displayed against a Big East opponent shows just how far the Gamecocks still have to travel, while raising further questions if at his age, Spurrier still has the want-to to make that journey with them.

*When we look at the tape of the 2009 season, one of the great surprises will always be why, week in/week out, all that physical talent at LSU played so soft and slow. Penn State buried the Tigers in the slop of Orlando whenever the Nittany Lions really needed to, and at big moments, even the Tigers' vaunted secondary offered less resistance than Rachel Uchitel. New defensive coordinator John Chavis was supposed to make a difference. Looks like the new coach needs some new players. The Louisiana heat comes early for Les Miles.

*While on the subject of problematic defenses, Auburn and Arkansas survived because their opponents couldn't kick. Who would have thought East Carolina would have been able to throw and run with such ease against the Hogs, or that Northwestern would move the ball up and down the field against Auburn? The Plainsmen didn't help their cause with their celebration penalties, but the underdogs from the Big 10 bit off huge hunks of turf against a team that was bigger and faster. That said, kudos to Gene Chizik and his staff. The excitement at Auburn didn't stay dormant for long, and the new guy looks and acts like a head coach. Chizik and Gus Malzahn must find a quarterback, but with a bunch of players returning and recruiting gathering even more steam, expectations will be boiling throughout the summer in Tiger Nation. At Arkansas, so much depends on whether Ryan Mallet stays another year. Bobby Petrino still must prove he can recruit with the SEC big boys. Otherwise, he will simply be relying on a different set of mirrors in 2010. Mallett's return could change much of that.

*How would things have been different at Ole Miss had Houston Nutt built his offense around Dexter McCluster instead of Jevan Snead? The script of the Cotton Bowl was unfolding along the familiar lines of all Ole Miss losses: When Snead struggles, the Rebs fall apart. McCluster put Ole Miss in front, Snead's mistakes kept it close. Fortunately for the SEC'ers, Oklahoma State made even more errors down the stretch, and they made several in the vicinity of the Ole Miss goal line. Next year Nutt's offensive line will be better, and he will continue to ride the benefits of Ed Orgeron's recruiting. For good or bad and probably both, it's likely he will have a returning quarterback. But he will lose the SEC's most valuable and versatile offensive player, a player who would have won Mississippi a few more games, had his head coach not taken so long to figure out what he had.
Oh yeah, Ole Miss fans, Dan Mullen has something smoldering in Starkville. Look for some maroon flames next falls.
*As expected, Lane Kiffin is recruiting like a mad man, but he faces an off season filled with more holes than a woodpecker tree. His is a meat-and-potatoes approach in which you line up against your man and whip his butt. He doesn't have a flashy offense like Auburn or Arkansas, or nearly enough depth to fully feed off his daddy's defense. Now he loses his best player, Eric Berry, a senior quarterback who played above almost everyone's expectations, and one of his best overall leaders, Montario Hardesty. Next year, Tennessee will be younger than ever. The kids have real potential, but Tennessee is nowhere near the point of winning without a quarterback who makes big plays (Georgia will be rowing the same boat). Looks like another year in east Tennessee where the head coach will make most of the headlines.

One game to go, more on that to come.

Michael Gordon

P.S., Peter St. Onge - I guess the view from the top provides clarity on everyone else's shortcomings. A dissenting view: While it's definitely self-affirming for the Tide fan to say that the problem with the SEC is the "rest" of the SEC, the Tide's close calls against Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina beg otherwise. Alabama is the best team in the conference, yes, but only by the length of Terrence Cody's outstretched hand.

A nitpick: The Northwestern kick-that-wasn't only would have sent the game into a second overtime. And yes, while Auburn's depleted defense gave up yards and points to Northwestern, Auburn was one silly, late-game fumble away from a 14-point win.


Anonymous said...

Hey buddy thanks for the Georgia analysis. I guess they will be as relevant as the one line u gave them. We will see, as they probably will be the favorite in the east next year.

Anonymous said...

Just wait until next year! UNC -- the REAL Carolina will win every game!! Starting with LSUlosers! Hahahahahah! This is the REAL Carolina way. LOOSERS!

Peter from Georgia said...

I guess you could consider the Dawgs a real contender if they only had a quarterback, a consistent running attack, discipline, defense, and a defensive coordinator. Other than those considerations, the prospects are great.

Anonymous said...

Watched the USC game against UCONN and I think it was a reasonably good defensive effort had against the huskies. What I think most SEC fans don't realize is that UCONN is far better than most football fans realize. UCONN lost five games but came just fifteen points away from knocking on the door of an undefeated season and all their losses were decided within the last few minutes of each of those games! They were incredibly close to playing in one of the major bowl games, so don't knock USC as much as one should give UCONN more credit. UCONN has done an incredible job in light of the fact that they are an "infant" program in the world of big time football.

Michael said...

Mr. St. Onge:

You're absolutely right. Auburn should have won by 14 points. Instead, they were lucky to win at all.

Facts are facts. There are three complete teams in the country this year and two of them came from the SEC.

But many of the conference's traditional powers didn't play up to the par or are at least a year away. The mediocre bowl performances prove that.

Auburn exceeded expectations in many ways, certainly, and the future is very bright.
And true, a bowl win is a bowl win. Except when it's really not.

As for the Dawgs, it's hard to see UGA as the favorite of anything until they find a quarterback and a better defense.


bama brother said...

Mr. St. Onge has a point about Alabama's close encounters. Pointing out the obvious, I don't think the Tide will remove all the doubters until they beat Texas. Of course, they have never beaten the Horns (though Joe Namath might disagree given a certain quarterback sneak call that went against him and his team in the 1965 Orange Bowl). Nonetheless, I have a weird feeling about this upcoming game, only because it has made me think of another Orange Bowl, the one in 1972 between Alabama and Nebraska.
At that time, after a four-year slide, Alabama seemed to be back, and what better way to cap off the season than to beat Nebraska, the team that was on the losing end in Alabama's last bowl victory, the 1967 Sugar. Unfortunately, the Huskers had spent their season dashing some other schools' dreams, and they treated Alabama like a fly at the end of a swatter.
There's not much of a comparison between then and now; I'm just going on a feeling. With all that has happened so far and with so much at stake now, you'd think we would not dig ourselves too deep a hole too soon. But, an error or two here or a big play or two there, and you're wondering where that shovel came from.

Anonymous said...

I take issue with MG's assessment of the Outback Bowl (surprise!).

I told y'all when the pairings came out that this game would be a track meet. Auburn hasn't had many playmakers on defense all year, so I can't believe MG is surprised Northwestern moved the ball so easily.

I take serious issue with the celebration penalties. The game announcers not only agreed with the penalties, but probably felt they should have been penalized 30 yards for both of them. But both of the penalties were horse crap. McFadden started high-stepping at the 15 yard line. OMG!!!!!!! High-stepping????? What an evil act!!!!!! And slam-dunking the ball over the goal post after a TD? OMG again!!!!!!!! Who could ever conceive of committing such an atrosity!!!!!!!!!!!

Did these officials take an SEC-sponosored seminar on celebration penalties? Ridiculous.

And while I'm berating officiating, you can't seriously think that roughing the kicker penalty was legitimate. Dude lunges to block the kick, misses, and rolls over twice and rolls into the kicker, who falls and hurts his knee. Running into the kicker? Yes. Roughing the kicker? You've got to be kidding.

Now the face mask on what should have been the game-clinching sack? Legit, and quite stupid.

Looking forward to next year and life with a decent QB.

Maroussia said...

It will be great to watch Penn State Nittany Lions, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.