Halfway Never Felt So Far

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Halfway Never Felt So Far
I am a huge fan of The Masters.  One thing that makes The Masters so great is the volatility of the leaderboard on Sunday.  As the saying goes, “The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday.”  And year after year, this is illustrated when CBS puts up a graphic of what is essentially a time-lapse leaderboard.  Displaying  in chronological order what the top of the leaderboard looked like at different points throughout Sunday afternoon, viewers get a chance to step back and see how all the individual swings and holes paint such a compelling picture over about three short hours.
 
It’s not the perfect analogy, but fans of the SEC know that in Green Jacket parlance, we are making the turn on Sunday afternoon.  If recruiting season was Thursday and Spring Ball was Friday and Fall Camp was Saturday, that means the first half of conference play would be the front nine on Sunday, and the second half would be the back nine.  And that’s exactly what we’re currently staring down the barrel of.  So let’s see where we’re at, and what we’ve learned.  It may foreshadow some of what lies ahead.
 
THIS IS WHERE WE’RE AT
 
 
EASTERN DIVISION Conference Overall
School W-L Pct. PF PA W-L Pct.
Florida 4-0 1.000 100 43 6-0 1.000
Georgia 3-2 .600 159 153 4-3 .571
South Carolina 2-2 .500 87 97 5-2 .714
Tennessee 1-2 .333 80 68 3-3 .500
Kentucky 1-3 .250 74 121 3-3 .500
Vanderbilt 0-4 .000 29 95 2-5 .286
WESTERN DIVISION Conference Overall
School W-L Pct. PF PA W-L Pct.
Alabama 4-0 1.000 115 36 7-0 1.000
LSU 3-1 .750 76 61 5-1 .833
Auburn 2-2 .500 112 111 5-2 .714
Ole Miss 1-2 .333 36 45 3-2 .600
Miss. State 1-2 .333 65 82 2-4 .333
Arkansas 1-3 .250 112 133 3-3 .500
 

THIS IS WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  • Alabama is the best team in the country.   Questions about Greg McElroy were legitimate questions, but he has performed well when needed, and above all, has managed his team.  Remember, the Tide went undefeated with Jay Barker back there.  Trent Richardson is having a great freshman campaign, gaining over five yards per carry.  Mark Ingram leads the SEC with a 129 yds/gm average and is sneaking into the Heisman race, but the real star is the Crimson Tide defense.  They are second in the SEC in scoring defense, first in total defense, and tied for first in turnover margin.  In fact, there really has been only one player for the Crimson Tide who hasn’t lived up to preseason billing…

 

  • A.J. Green is better than Julio Jones.  I said it here before the September 19 game between Arkansas and Georgia: 

Oh yeah, then there is A.J. Green, who just might be the best receiver in the SEC. Yes, even better than Julio Jones.

There are actually several receivers building justified cases to claim they are better than Jones.  You won’t find him in the top ten of a single statistical category for SEC receivers.  To be fair, that undoubtedly has to do with the attention he creates, as well as the reluctance Saban has shown to throw the football without reason to.  However, Green gets attention from defenses, too.  That hasn’t stopped him from leading the league in receptions per game, yards per game, and touchdown receptions.  His touchdown grab against LSU on Georgia’s final drive was one of the finest plays of the season, thus far.  Unfortunately, it was also one of the most controversial…

 

  • Florida is missing something.  Dan Mullen’s input.  It’s hard to accuse the SEC’s leading offense in points and yards of being a disappointment, but it’s also hard not to think that if you watch the games.  Florida dined on two courses of cupcake to begin the season, but have sputtered in SEC play, topping 40 once against Kentucky, but failing to hit even 30 in their other three contests.  The absence of Percy Harvin is usually first brought up when Florida’s offensive woes are discussed, but I believe the departure of Dan Mullen to Mississippi State is playing a much bigger role.  The 2009 Gators look the same from a distance, but upon closer inspection one notices that the playbook has been pruned, the execution is not as sharp, and the knack that Meyer has for calling the perfect play at the perfect time seems to be, well, not so much of a knack anymore.  Put all that together and consider that Mullen had been with Meyer since they were at Notre Dame together in the late 1990s and it’s not too much of a leap to consider that Mullen was the creative force behind the offensive juggernauts that Meyer took credit for.

 

  • Houston Nutt, you are who we thought you were.  At the very least, you are still who I knew you to be.  Taking a team full of talented players recruited by the coach you succeeded, you shocked the world in 2008 with nine wins including a Cotton Bowl victory.  Riding that momentum, and on the wings of a top ten preseason ranking, you coach your 2009 squad to a flat opening win against lowly Memphis, rise to #4 as other teams fall, and, with the world watching during a primetime Thursday night showdown, proceed to score 10 measly points in your SEC-opening loss against unranked South Carolina.  Your offense has scored only four touchdowns in three SEC games, and was kept out of the end zone in the massively anticipated matchup against Alabama.  You asked Rebel fans for their support that day, and they responded by setting a new attendance record for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.  And not one soul among those 62,657 got to see a single Rebel touchdown that day.

  • There is no bigger enigma than LSU’s offense.  Unless it’s Les Miles poker strategy.  Seriously, how do you take a group of skill players that includes Charles Scott, Trindon Holiday, Brandon LaFell,  Richard Dickson, and Terrance Tolliver, put them together with an experienced offensive line and a mobile and adequately armed quarterback, and not score points?  And not gain yards?   With all of that talent, LSU is 11th in scoring offense, and LAST in total offense.  Amazingly, in another massively anticipated contest with another attendance record set, another home team failed to cross the goal line, as the Tigers accounted for just three points against Florida on October 10, only hours after Ole Miss suffered the same fate at the hands of Alabama.  If not for a ridiculous punt return by Chad Jones against Mississippi State, and the unfortunate penalty against A.J. Green in the Georgia game, LSU could easily be 1-3 in SEC instead of 3-1.  Miles must walk around on two huge rabbit’s feet.

 

  • The suckass officiating in the SEC has reached critical mass.  To use a highly scientific adjective.  After inserting themselves into the winning equation in at least two high-profile games this season, referee Marc Curles and his crew find themselves suspended until November 14, which is pretty much unprecedented (to my knowledge) in the Southeastern Conference.  The poor officiating during the waning minutes of the Georgia-LSU game earlier in the year was highlighted by an excessive celebration call against A.J. Green following his touchdown catch in the YouTube clip seen above.  That was bad, but Curles and his crew outdid themselves last Saturday with their ineptitude calling a game between Arkansas and #1 Florida in Gainesville.  Just watch:

Something has to be done.  The SEC is all about superlatives.  The best conference.  The most money.  The worst officiating.  Can’t we, just on this one issue, strive to be mediocre? 

 

THIS IS WHERE WE’RE HEADED

Where else?  We’re headed for a matchup between #1 Alabama and #2 Florida in the SEC Championship Game for the second consecutive year.  Last year, I thought that Alabama was the best team, and I was wrong.  This year, I again feel like Alabama is better than Florida.  I think they are head and shoulders better than Florida.  Than anyone.  I’ll be shocked if I’m wrong on this two years in a row.

What else? 

Arkansas will win their final six games of the season and turn a 1-3 start in the SEC into a New Years Day bowl season. 

Mark Richt will be legitimately on the hot seat after his Bulldogs fail to get any momentum whatsoever for the entire 2009 season. How hot will his seat be?  That will depend on the outcome of the Bulldogs annual Thanksgiving game against Georgia Tech.

Auburn will complete a successful first season under Gene Chizik, although there will be a faction of fans ready to fire him after being humiliated by Alabama.  Tiger fans will pray that they can hold on to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn for just one more year. 

Ole Miss could potentially miss out on a bowl game after being ranked in the preseason top ten.  This is because the magic number for the Rebels is seven wins, due to the scheduling of two Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) teams.  They need three more wins, and have only one gimme.  It could happen.  Oh, please, let it happen.

The only thing for certain is that the second half of this SEC season, like the first half of this season, and every season before it, will be marked by the routine occurrence of the completely unpredictable.  Maybe Ryan Mallett will have a 98 yard touchdown run.  Maybe Florida will get beat by Vanderbilt.  Maybe Steve Spurrier will realize he has become a defensive coach.  Maybe Lane Kiffin will make headlines for actually coaching football.  Better tune in.  You just never know.  Except about Houston Nutt. 

 

 

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