Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two
Exactly how wet are the ears?
Every Thursday, CFN's Brian Harbach and Russ Mitchell break down the SEC games you need to watch, the SEC questions you want answered, and of course, the SEC Power Rankings. All things SEC from two different SEC writers, with two different SEC points of view. One of 'em always right. Now y'all play nice.
Follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brian Harbach on Twitter @harbabd or email him at email@example.com
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with Gus Malzahn's shiny new toy, Cameron Newton, who rushed and passed like a star… Against some state school for the football challenged. So we'll pass on him for now. Same with Georgia's über-frosh Aaron Murray. Or LSU's DB/KR Patrick Peterson, who was remarkable… Against UNC's third string punt coverage team. Or we could go with Alabama's back-up tailback Trent Richardson, who filled in amiably for an injured Heisman (~7 ypc and two TDs in the 1H)… Against some school from Costa Rica. (Eso es una broma.) But is there really any doubt – Mississippi State's QB Tyler Russell was electric last Saturday. The freshman was 13/16, for 256 yards, with four TDs and zero INTs, in leading the Bulldogs to a decisive tune up victory ahead of hosting Auburn this Thursday. But it was much more than just the stats – Mr. Russell's passing was spot-on and suggested the experience of a much wiser QB. Yes, it was Memphis, and yes his progressions need some work. But this is the breath of fresh air they've desperately needed in Starkville, for it brings with it real hope Dan Mullen's offense will work for the Bulldogs. Not that I'm saying Starkville needs fresh… Actually, we'll stop there. Chris Relf – meet Wally Pipp.
Cameron Newton stood out big time last week. Yes, against a completely unmanned Arkansas State team, but regardless of the opponent Newton looked great running, throwing and managing the Malzahn offense. Everyone knows the stats by now…he was responsible for five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing), 186 passing yards, 171 rushing yards, and led the team to 52 points. It was enough to make him the SEC Offensive POW, and it allows Auburn to add a new dimension to its offense after being led last season by a tough (but immobile) Chris Todd.
Honorable mention to LSU cornerback/return man Patrick Peterson. Tell me it wasn't hilarious watching him destroy the North Carolina special teams Saturday night. You know Butch Davis and crew were watching highlights from a year ago saying "Man, I am so glad that Trindon Holliday has graduated so we don't have to kick to him." Any SEC fan who watched an LSU game last year could have told them kicking to Peterson was a bad idea. If Peterson isn't playing in that game LSU probably loses. We'll be surprised if a team kicks anywhere near the talented junior for the rest of the year, which is sad for those of us that appreciate talent. Regardless, it was fun to watch him unfettered at least once.
(ii) Is Ole Miss going to be that bad?
Well, they don't have any more FCS opponents, so they're safe on that front. ole miss will settle in, but as we previewed, the trouble in Oxford goes much deeper than just uncertainty at the QB position. For anyone that watched Jacksonville State march down the field in the fourth quarter like Sherman to the sea – led in crunch time by a true freshman QB, it's disturbingly clear that the rebs are paper thin in the defensive front seven. The secondary was also abused by said true frosh… And then there was an offense that couldn't do much of anything once the pressure started. So, yes, it's going to be a long season for the Reverend, particularly in the hyper-competitive SEC Western division.
At some point you have to question this team's pride. QB Nathan Stanley showed a glimpse of promise (6/10 for 133, 1 TD), though we note against an FCS defense and mostly in the first half when the pressure was off. We wonder how much the Jeremiah Masoli situation has become a distraction. But that shouldn't have distracted the ole miss D, which gave up nearly half a C note's worth of points to the flagship school of the proud state of Jacksonville. Next to Texas.
Last weekend appears to have generated a lot of overconfidence; that's what happens when SEC programs fatten up against OOC cupcakes the likes of which we've never seen in a Week One. That overconfidence was even present before and during games, like the second half of the LSU/UNC game, Florida's offense, Auburn's defense and especially in Oxford. The overconfidence in Oxford got them burned, while the other teams mentioned were able to overcompensate in other areas to win their games. The bottom line with this kind of attitude is that it doesn't last forever and Ole Miss will be just fine once they step on the field against Tulane (RM note: It's not Tulane they need to worry about).
Tyrone Nix will get the defense refocused. The Rebels are still a bowl team; there are still six wins on their schedule. Of course we are shocked they lost to Jacksonville State, but this was not a team, even with Masoli, that anyone thought was going to be more than a seven win team (RM note: Perhaps. But we all thought one of those seven would be Jax State). Everyone remembers Michigan losing to Appalachian State, but they forget UM ended up 9-4 that season with a win in the Capital One bowl over Florida. It was one game, a bad game, but just one game.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week One, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with ole miss, why LSU's OC Gary Crowton thinks there's only three quarters in a football game, and we hope that's not it for Florida's offense… (i) Forget it, I'm writing about ole miss. Last time an SEC school lost to a Div 2 school, they were still called Div 2 schools. It was the year of our Lord 2004. Bush was in his first term. We were only one year into the eight year Iraq War. And gasoline was just $0.59 a gallon. Ok, maybe not that last one, but what a disgrace rebels! Grow a spine for crying out loud, (ii) Absolutely no truth to the rumor Jax State broke into the apartment of ole miss QB J. Masoli and replaced his playbook with one made out of hemp (thanks Spence), (iii) What? We said no truth, (iv) we recognize that ole miss is just trying to steward the young Masoli through this tough period in his life, but something tells us Sandra Bullock's not going to be making a feel good movie outta this, (v) And don't bitch to us. You brought this on yourselves, ole miss – first by recruiting him and then with this atrocious loss. Accept it, take your hazing like a man, and move on, (vi) As for those of you arguing that it's all over for ole miss, all we have to say is, in the words of the late, great John "Bluto" Blutarsky, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??? Hell no!" (vii) That said, anyone need a pair of ole miss season tickets? Cheap. (viii) Word out of Nashville has the Vanderbilt brass reminding the expected onslaught of happy Cajuns that parking and tailgating space are limited on the Vandy campus, and alcoholic beverages and parking on the grass are prohibited. Yeah, that ought to do it, (ix) You're not allowed to smoke the grass either, Masoli, (x) Lose another game as badly as that again, and it's going to be a loooooooooong year, ole miss.
Everyone should be discussing the importance of AJ Green, and think about the one player on your team that if lost could change the expectations for the entire season. The Green suspension is disappointing. I spent at least 15 minutes racking my brain trying to decide if he was enough of a loss to change my opinion of the Georgia/South Carolina game. That answer is below, but let's just assume that his suspension changes the Georgia team to a degree that they cannot be the same offense without him. Who are the Bulldogs other options for their Redshirt Freshmen QB? A young Tavarres King, a returning-from-injury Kris Durham, a still-waiting-to-break-out Marlon Brown, and the reliable Orson Charles are it. A loss this weekend could very well bring down the season with Arkansas and Mississippi State on deck. Could 2010 end up being Tuberville-esque for Richt?
Every team has a player whose health (or lack thereof) can change their fortune for the year, but most of the time that's a quarterback. Imagine Kentucky without Randall Cobb, Arkansas without Mallett, MSU without Chad Bumphis and Florida without Jeff Demps. All those players bring their team to another level; they would be far less dangerous without them, and Green is likely in that same category of player for Georgia. UGA was one of the more interesting stories before the season started, and now that they are down one of the best players in the country it could turn their season on its head. Georgia is appealing and for their sake we hope they're successful. They need Green, and so does Aaron Murray.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Not Aaron Murray – he's a freshman playing in his first road game. Anything you get out of that is gravy. No, the spotlight shines far more brightly on SC's QB Stephen Garcia. I mean, this is it, right Steve? This is why you came to play for Spurrier. This is why you rededicated yourself to the sport and your team. Hell, this is why you gave up beer in the offseason (that was too much). Few games carry the weight of this one. In their corner, your mischief-prone, unremarkable history. In your corner, your team played well last week in nearly every facet of the game; great in some, but well in virtually all. You finally have all the toys at the skill positions around you. And you get an UGA team, dazed and confused by the late Green news and musical chairs at HB, in Columbia, led by a true freshman playing in his first ever road and SEC game, and a defense rebuilding and still trying to learn the playbook. Garcia, if you can't win this, you can't win.
Aaron Murray, Georgia QB – Both QB's are huge in this game, but Murray is the unknown with this being his first start in an SEC game. Garcia is inconsistent, but you know what you get from him. A slow start means a slow finish, a quick start and he builds confidence. What kind of quarterback is Aaron Murray? Is he going to be confident from play one? Will he struggle early and improve or will he buckle under the pressure? For all the heat Mark Richt has gotten this offseason, he knows how to handle quarterbacks. Richt thinks Murray is "the guy", but the real question is can he do it now or will he do it in the future? I don't expect a breakout game from Murray, but a good one can beat South Carolina. A bad one and Georgia has no chance.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Alabama – This is the youngest PSU team Paterno has had since… Brylcreem
2 LSU (up from 3) – Perhaps the Bengals should keep the pedal to the metal for 4 qtrs
3 South Carolina (up from 5) – Nicely done in almost every facet last Thursday
4 Arkansas – Yawn, the Sequel
5 Florida (down from 2) – Last weekend's biggest shock; you're here ‘til you prove otherwise
6 Miss State (up from 8) – We hate to say we told you so
7 Auburn (down from 6) – Wish they'd played a slightly better team Sat; like with a pulse
8 Georgia (down from 7) – See game notes below; particularly w/o AJ
9 Tennessee – Pleeeeeeease don't lose to your third PAC 10 team in row
10 Kentucky – Good showing against Louisville; could be as high as 7
11 Vanderbilt (up from 12) – Not really, but ole miss deserves it for a week
12 ole miss (down from 11) – What did you expect? Flowers?
1 Alabama – Bama vs. PSU in a non-conference game. Thank you ADs
2 Florida – Since when are shotgun snaps more difficult than snaps under center?
3 LSU – Still on the band wagon; not penalizing for overlooking an undermanned UNC
4 Auburn – Cam Newton looked every bit the QB AU fans expected, & Bama fans feared
5 Arkansas – Rumor is Hogs played some defense last week. That's the rumor
6 Georgia – Huge game; loser is in bad shape in the East, & with their fans
7 South Carolina – see Georgia
8 Miss State – Sexy pick to upset Auburn; Russ and I are pretty split on this one
9 Kentucky (up from 10) – Another rivalry win over Louisville; Joker with a great start
10 Tennessee (up from 11) – Big game against Oregon; Holla at me if you are in Knoxville this weekend
11 Vanderbilt (up from 12) – There's the Larry Smith we have been waiting to see
12 Ole Miss (down from 9) – Unlike Russ, I care more about grammar than losing to FCS programs, hence the capitalization (RM Note: Turning a new leaf?)
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Georgia vs. South Carolina; Saturday, September, 11th. Georgia played the University of Louisiana Lafayette football team last week, and we use the term "football team" loosely. The talent gap between these two programs is so cavernous, there's virtually nothing you can take away from that game. And even then there were far too many instances where UGA's offensive line failed to open holes for its backs. Nevertheless, word out of Athens has the Dawgs quite confident heading into this Saturday, where they will go up against one of the best defenses CFB has produced for three years straight, with a QB who will be playing in the first road and SEC game of his college life. Not just SEC road game, any road game. Are y'all mad? Have you forgotten what our conference does to freshman QBs on the road? Particularly given this is arguably the best defense in our conference with an extra couple days to prepare. Murray wasn't even the starter coming out of Spring ball – that was the exiled Zach Mettenberger (who rumors now have heading to LSU).
You don't have to be a genius to know what's coming – if you had to choose, what would you do? SC DC Ellis Johnson is going to stymie Georgia's rushing attack (which won't be that difficult), and force Murray to win it. He'll get a cheap TD early on a misdirection play, taking advantage of the Gamecock's eagerness to pummel him, but that's it. Oh and he'll run for some, likely when his blocking breaks down (bold sub-plot prediction: don't be at all surprised if Murray leads the Dawgs in rushing). Here's the drinking game for Saturday – every time SC blitzes and/or violently slams Murray to the turf, drink. Just make sure there's a designated driver. What? It's not softball, ladies. It's a violent sport, and perhaps most violent (and fast) in the SEC. Oh yeah, and South Carolina has never been this balanced on offense under Spurrier. UGA loses this one even with Green ; without him, they're one dimensional, and not even a good dimension at that. Drew Butler shines.
Pick South Carolina 27, Georgia 13
2) Penn State vs. Alabama; Saturday, September, 11th. That Gameday is in Tuscaloosa is a tribute to history and longevity. Nothing else. Maybe the BBQ. Even considering the Tide have questions on defense, after you get past the PSU starters this is a very young squad that Coach Paterno brings down South – some argue it's the youngest team he's had in a long while. And they'll need depth to compete with Alabama – particularly in Tuscaloosa. More importantly, State is rebuilding at many positions. The two squads are just at different levels this season. And given Saban's history, there's no chance Bama's not up for this one.
Pick Alabama 31, Penn State 10
3) Auburn vs. Mississippi State; Thursday, September, 9th. Picking MSU is trendy? Since when, Brian? People forget that MSU has had a good defense now for several years – they stopped Florida last year, among others. What they've lacked is a multi-faceted offense (though they had running covered with A. Dixon). This year, they've got it. Granted, Russell is a freshman, but he'll be at home against an Auburn defense that's one of the worst in the conference. Those two facts will be the difference. The Bulldogs are still a two point underdog at home, that according to Vegas. We'll rarely write this, but Vegas is wrong – straight up wrong. Fear the cowbell.
Pick MSU 33, Auburn 30
4) Oregon vs. Tennessee; Saturday, September, 11th. Not even close.
Pick Oregon 35, Tennessee 17
1) Georgia vs. South Carolina; Saturday, September, 11th. For some reason I can't get that David Bowie song out of my head… You know the one: Pressure. This could very well end up being the game of the year in the SEC East if the winner can take the momentum and run with it. Georgia brings in a QB who has never started on the road, which helps Carolina. But Carolina still didn't use their backs to run the ball the way you need to in the SEC last week, which is good for Georgia (RM note: Disagree.). This game comes down to the team that can sustain drives, and that team is Georgia because of their O-line. The Green suspension hurts, but this is going to be a low scoring, ugly battle. If it turns out like last year, South Carolina will win.
Pick Georgia 14, South Carolina 10
2) Penn State vs. Alabama; Saturday, September, 11th. The last couple of years this game could have been the out of conference game of the year, but with Penn State in a rebuilding mode and with a true freshmen QB, this blockbuster has lost some of its luster. Add in the Mark Ingram injury and everyone seems more excited about the Ohio State/Miami game. People have forgotten that Gameday will be in Tuscaloosa this weekend. A true freshmen playing in recently expanded Bryant Denny against a Nick Saban defense is more than enough to push this one in favor of the Tide.
Pick Alabama 31, Penn State 17
3) Auburn vs. Mississippi State; Thursday, September, 9th. Picking MSU over Auburn seems to be a very trendy thing to do this week, but it's fool's gold. Not that I'm calling you a fool, Mitchell ;). That lumbering MSU defense will get worn down by the total number of plays that Auburn will run this week, and Cameron Newton's ability to extend a play will help Auburn avoid playing behind the yardstick. MSU looks like they will be an improved team this season, but one win over Memphis is not enough to convince me they're ready for primetime.
Pick Auburn 38, MSU 27
4) Oregon vs. Tennessee; Saturday, September, 11th. In our weekly SEC picks, Russ noticed that I went out on a limb and picked the Vols to upset Oregon. I am not hedging on that one bit; I expect one heck of a game Saturday night in Knoxville, and I am picking the Vols to win. So as not to come off as some reckless pickster-doofus, I am glad to back it up. First, Oregon is travelling cross country to play a motivated SEC program that's been kicked to the curb by their former coach and media. Second, it is a night game in Knoxville, and an atmosphere that young Oregon QB Darron Thomas has never seen before or played in (RM note: Luv ya, but I've been to Autzen Stadium for a big game – the best football environment west of the Mississippi). Third, Oregon matches up well for a team like Tennessee. The Vols are a run first, ball control team, and the best way to stop an explosive offense is to keep them off the field. Does anyone realize the Ducks biggest D-lineman weighs in at 272 lbs? I am taking Dooley's boys in the biggest upset of the year.
Pick Tennessee 27, Oregon 24
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes every Wednesday.
Follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brian Harbach on Twitter @harbabd or email him at email@example.com
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One, September 2, 2010