Y'all Play Nice: The SEC Staple, Week 9
State's QB Tyler Russell
Every week, CFN's Doc Harper 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.
Russ Mitchell is the lead SEC columnist for CFN. Follow him @russmitchellcfb
Doc Harper covers the SEC for CFN. Follow him @doc_harper
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best performance in Week 8?
We could go with Bama's quarterback AJ McCarron and his four touchdown passes…'cept the closest coverage on any of them was the Vol DB who tripped and fell flat on his face at Amari Cooper's feet. No joke. We could go with UGA's quarterback Aaron Murray and his career best 427 passing yards in squeaking out a 29-24 win against Kentucky…'cept you get no awards for squeaking past the 2012 Wildcats. We could go with LSU's MLB Kevin Minter and his morning in College Station: 12 tackles, a sack, 1 TFL, an INT, a pass deflection, two QB hurries…seriously, maybe this kid should play quarterback for the Tigers… But is there really any doubt: Florida punter Kyle Christy is the difference this year for the Gators. Christy set a record on Saturday with a 54 yard average. He had seven punts greater than 50 yards – that's simply ridiculous. He's helped Muschamp & Co. flip the field for most, if not all, of 2012, which has put more pressure on opposing teams and led to a radical YoY improvement in turnover margin (See: What Y'all Should Be Talking About, But Aren't below).
It's easy to say McCarron...so we will. He might not have faced much competition, but McCarron's the most consistent player in the conference, and set career highs against Tennessee with 306 yards, 4 touchdowns, and only 5 incompletions. Nothing more to say, really. Just a solid performance against a Tennessee team spiraling downward. We would like to give a shout out to the Florida coach in charge of that team's strip drills. The Gators struggled to move the ball in the first half, gaining only 29 yards, but scored 21 points due to three forced fumbles.
(ii) Over/Under on SEC coaching vacancies this year: 3.5?
3.5??? Take the over. Joker Phillips is true blue, literally. Since his playing days he's been loyal to all things Kentucky; but recruiting mistakes and poor on-field production (and the corresponding drop in attendance revenue) mean the clock has struck midnight in Lexington. We said Auburn would go winless in conference play after the loss to Arkansas and with that Gene Chizik would lose his job, and we'll stand by that assessment. John L is already baked in Arkansas. Meanwhile Derek Dooley is likely taking his Tennessee Vols into Columbia for their fifth straight conference loss, and another losing SEC season. The real question is when Georgia gets undressed by Florida on Saturday, making it five consecutive years without a signature SEC win for the Dawgs, do we finally see a shift away from mediocrity in Athens?
Over. I wasn't sold that Auburn would fire Chizik until they lost to Vanderbilt. It looks like they'll go 0-8 in the SEC and that just can't happen. Chizik, Dooley, and Phillips all have their programs at lower points than they found them and their respective fan bases have given up on them. In this day and age, once the fans give up (read: money) it's almost impossible for the coach to go back, because athletic departments are so reliant on fans for cash flow. And John L. Smith is already gone...so I'm saying over.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week 8, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with how many SEC coaches are likely to be fishing next season, whether or not Florida is really the nation's second best team or just how much pot a honey badger can hide in his den... (i) The Tennessee Vols are now dead last in the SEC in defense, and they've accomplished the feat by spreading around the incompetence. Tennessee is ranked twelfth in the conference in run defense and thirteenth in pass defense… (ii) A lot of folks are high on the Hogs again. With Arkansas winning its last two games, many have suggested the Razorbacks are back on track. Easy now… As we projected three weeks ago, the SEC is likely to have two teams go winless in conference play for the first time since 2002: Auburn and Kentucky. Arkansas' last two wins? Auburn and Kentucky... (iii) As we noted early in that SC/FL game Saturday, Gators' punter Kyle Christy is to 2012 what LSU's Brad Wing was to 2011. Christy had seven punts more than 50 yards and set a Florida record with a 54 yard average. His success has helped Florida flip the field, which has in turn placed more pressure on opposing teams. Not surprisingly then, the Gators have radically improved this year in turnover margin. Florida was dead last in the SEC last year in turnover margin, and 113 in nation. So far this season they're third in the conference and ninth overall… (iv) On both offense and defense, Mississippi State is a very balanced team. But many SEC fans are unaware that State has the conference's leading rusher in Ladarius Perkins. Perkins is averaging 103 rushing yards per game. Only one other SEC player is averaging triple digits: TAMU QB Johnny Manziel (100). (Since many don't pay close enough attention to State, may we point out that Vick Ballard ranked fourth in the conference rushing last year, and in 2009 – the year Bama's Mark Ingram won the Heisman – State's Anthony Dixon actually led the conference in rushing...) (v) In our weekly installment of "Introducing the World of CFB Outside the SEC": Kent State is a good example of what happens when you leave your school nickname up to the student body. The Golden Flashes were so named in 1926. No, not for lightening - in fact, there's no explanation for the name. They've been represented by a golden retriever called Flasher, a golden palomino named Golden Flasher and a golden eagle called Flash. Next up: a goldfish named Flush... and (vi) With Tennessee falling out, the SEC currently has just two teams ranked in the top 25 in total offense (TAMU 9 & UGA 18), but still five teams ranked in the top 25 in total defense (Bama 1, LSU 3, Florida 7, SC 9 and State 25). Florida and SC switched places from last week…
READ all ten things SEC fans should be discussing, but aren't.
Everybody's talking about coaching searches, Florida's resurgence, potential BCS controversies, and how horrific Auburn and Kentucky are, but few people are talking about how easily Arkansas beat both of those last two schools. The Razorbacks, who gave up 24 points to Jacksonville State, lost to Louisiana-Monroe and lost their first two SEC games by a score of 110-10, won their last two games 73-14. Yes, again, Auburn and Kentucky are historically awful, but the Razorbacks of September would not have won those games as easily as they did, if win them at all. The Hogs are coming off a bye week before taking on Ole Miss Saturday, and if Arkansas continues its current momentum and wins that game, watch out for them in November. They play three ranked teams and could put them on upset alert.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Week 8 Spotlight?
Tyler Bray, Quarterback, Tennessee: Given the great slate of games this weekend, we could have gone in a number of directions with this. McCarron, Perkins, Russell, Arkansas' Knile Davis, Rebels' Bo Wallace, either SC's Connor Shaw or Marcus Lattimore… There's another half dozen you can add to that list without breaking a sweat, but this week the heat's really on the Tennessee signal caller, and part of that's his own doing. Unfortunately, Bray's going to have to do it by himself. As we've discussed, this Vols' defense is dead last in the SEC and gives up points in bunches…all of which just adds more pressure onto Bray's tattooed shoulders. He's showed poor maturity at times this season, and this road trip to Columbia is likely to once again test that. There is no chance Tennessee wins this game without an A+ performance from Bray…and even that might not be enough.
Mark Richt, Head Coach, Georgia: If the Bulldogs lose they will likely finish third in the East. The team with what many considered one of the easiest schedules for a good SEC team in recent memory may finish third in the East. Numbing. Richt has already escaped the hot seat before, but if they lose to Florida again and finish third, uh oh. Florida is resurging while Georgia underachieves? Not a good mix in Athens.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Bama – The most efficient secondary Bama has faced yet, ranked 4 in SEC
2 Florida – Just how many offensive lineman can Pease squeeze on the line vs. UGA?
3 LSU – Can use time off to figure out how to throw a forward pass…and feed the world
6a Miss State – Can't afford to make any mistakes…literally. A tall order.
6b TAMU – A loss to the winless/hapless Tigers would echo
7a South Carolina – Well, Shaw and Lattimore should be rested, right?
7b Georgia – Allowed 200+ yards rushing to Kentucky, whose run O ranked 100. Next up: UF
7c Ole Miss – If you're going bowling, this is a game you really must have
10 Vanderbilt – Franklin: Don't think Dores ever had a -3 turnover margin & won…until Aub
11 Tennessee – Another losing season in SEC if you fail to win this road test in Columbia
12 Missouri – Protect your QB, stop Kentucky's rushing. Mizzou run D better than UGA's
13 Arkansas – Ole Miss a big step up over Auburn & Kentucky. No, really…
14a Auburn – Tell us something we don't know, Gogue
14b Kentucky – As we said in Aug, no one bleeds Wildcat blue more than Joker…won't matter come Dec
1 Alabama – Finally start playing ranked teams!
2 Florida – Wore LSU down. Beat Vandy with O. Beat SC with D.
3 LSU – These close games mean we're closer to a Les moment, right? Fingers crossed!
4 South Carolina – Hold onto the ball! The ball, hold it!
5 UGA – Needed a bad running into the kicker flag to beat Wildcats?
6 A&M – Johnny plays Auburn? Johnny likie.
7 State – We thought they'd cruise to 7-0, and here they are
8 Ole Miss – Took a long time to get that SEC win. How long til they get another?
9 Tennessee – Hey, isn't it early for those moving trucks at the Dooley house?
10 Arkansas – Like a bloodied boxer struggling to convince the ref he's still ready
11 Vanderbilt – On the road to a second straight bowl appearance
12 Missouri – Could get first SEC win this week over Kentucky. Maybe.
13 Auburn – We should start counting the number of 2010 references Chizik makes thru Dec
14 Kentucky – Joker's best chance is that basketball's starting up
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1a) Mississippi State vs. Alabama, Saturday, 8:30 PM ET I ESPN. Neither team has really played a challenging schedule, and usually this troubles us. Last year Bama went the season with a soft slate before slamming up against LSU's defense, and that hurt the Tide. However, this year both teams are in the same boat. This is not a great State team, but what it IS is good in almost everything. There are few weaknesses, and perhaps the one area in which they excel is holding onto the football. MSU is ranked best in the country in turnover margin – they'll need that Saturday in Tuscaloosa to have a chance. It likely won't matter. Bama has not done a great job of protecting AJ McCarron, who already has more sacks this season than all of last year – however, State can't seem to get any pressure in opposing backfields (ranked 12 in the SEC in sacks and TFL). Bama is simply too deep, playing at home under the lights… State will keep it close in the first half, and don't kid yourselves, Bama, this will be a very physical game. But the Tide will shut down this Bulldogs offensive line and Ladarius Perkins in the second half, which will cause quarterback Tyler Russell to make two mistakes…which MSU simply can't afford…
Pick: Alabama 34, Mississippi State 13
1b)Florida vs. Georgia, Saturday, 3:30 PM ET I CBS. This is it for Georgia – there's no one left on the schedule that's a remote threat after the Gators. Florida's rushing offense is ranked third in the conference, and Georgia just surrendered more than 200 rushing yards to Kentucky, whose rushing offense is 100th in the nation. Getting the picture yet? Add to that the fact that Florida's defense and special teams are even better than the Carolina team that undressed the Dawgs three weeks ago, and this starts to weigh a little heavier. Georgia's offense this season has been its freshman running backs, who given the last two games appear to be slowing down… Yes, this is a rivalry game, which is the only thing that'll save it from being a dumpster fire for the Dawgs…
Pick: Florida 31, Georgia 17
3) Ole Miss vs. Arkansas, 12:21 PM ET I SEC Network. Both teams have good offenses and spotty defenses, but the Rebels defense has played better – much better, actually. That'll be the difference Saturday afternoon in Arkansas. Keep an eye on Tyler Wilson's uniform, particularly if it gets a lot of green on it. The Rebels' defensive line might be slight, but it has had success putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season. For the Hogs to win, Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson must get more than 30 carries and rush for more than 150 yards – and in so doing keep this Ole Miss offense away from the ball. Not going to happen…
Pick: Ole Miss 38, Arkansas 31
1)Florida vs. Georgia, Saturday, 3:30 PM ET I CBS. The winner probably goes to Atlanta. Georgia struggles to win this game even when they're much better than Florida. And when Florida is really good, the Bulldogs basically have no chance. The best hope for Bulldog fans to cling to is that Muschamp doesn't have the same Jacksonville magic Meyer and Spurrier had...
Pick: Florida 38, Georgia 24
2) Mississippi State vs. Alabama, Saturday, 8:30 PM ET I ESPN. We've been waiting for this game for a while just to see how good Mississippi State actually is. And to a lesser extent, how great Alabama is. Neither of these squads have played a particularly good team yet. The Bulldogs have played very well in recent weeks and the Tide have been the Tide. This could get interesting if Alabama's looking ahead to next week...
Pick: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 17
3) Ole Miss vs. Arkansas, 12:21 PM ET I SEC Network. If nothing else, this should be an entertaining game. Both offenses are good and defenses are questionable at best. Expect lots of points. These two teams are playing for bowl eligibility...
Pick: Arkansas 38, Ole Miss 35
Russ Mitchell is the lead SEC columnist for CFN. Follow him @russmitchellcfb
Doc Harper covers the SEC for CFN. Follow him @doc_harper