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Cavalcade of Whimsy - The Overrated SEC
Alabama WR Keith Brown
Alabama WR Keith Brown
Posted Sep 25, 2007

From Mike Gundy, to ten things to watch for from the under-the-radar unbeatens, to advertising issues, to the SEC, where Alabama and Georgia might be merely average, it's all in Fiu's latest Cavalcade of Whimsy.

Fiu's Cavalcade of Whimsy

a.k.a. Frank Costanza's Festivus Airing of the Grievances

By Pete Fiutak   
What's your beef? ... E-mail with your thoughts  
Past Whimsies
2006 Season | Preseason Part One, Part Two | Week 1 | Week 2
Week 3

If this column sucks, it’s not my fault … Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy thinks my column is garbage. It makes him want to puke.

“Well, I didn’t know you wanted to get involved with the discussion, Mr. Helper.” …
Watch the Gundy all-timer of a press conference meltdown regarding an article in The Oklahoman about QB Bobby Reid, then try to find the classic Sam Kinison blowup on Thornton Mellon in Back to School. Tell me the Gundy and Kinison don’t sound exactly alike in voice, tone, and inflection.

Me thinks a $165 million gift changes things up a wee bit …
Lost in Gundy’s rant was an interesting thought about the line between the media's role in covering college players and, in his words, attacking an amateur athlete. Yeah, these kids are on scholarship, but they’re also pawns in a billion-dollar industry. Their actions and play affect millions upon millions of dollars for the school, not to mention the budgets of the athletic departments. Sorry, but criticism comes with the gig at the D-I level, and that pressure is often part of the reason why players choose to go to the schools they do. The media should be able to attack, critique, and overanalyze the on-field play of anyone at any time, and if a player doesn’t like it, he can go play at the lower levels where the stakes aren’t as high. However, it can’t ever be a personal attack or mean-spirited, and at the collegiate level, the line has to be drawn when it comes to questioning toughness or an injury. These guys still have to go to class, and they don't always have the world-class trainers the pros do to speed up the healing process. It's not right to demand that they play through a serious injury like the NFLers do. As far as "attacking," if the overall pie-in-the-sky goal of collegiate athletics is to create better people for the real world, then saying a quarterback sucks is a soft wet kiss behind the ear compared to what he’s going to face when his college days are over.

In an attempt to surpass the record number of frighteningly angry e-mails received, recently set by the “passionate” college wrestling crowd …
As of right now, with the caveat that I'll likely change my tune as the season goes on and as teams start to jell, today, Tuesday, September 25th, 2007, marks day one of the rest of my life. From this day forward, I will try to be brave enough, and strong enough, to stop blindly kissing the SEC's butt.

For years, everyone’s been afraid to poke the bear with a stick (as opposed to the legend of The Bear poking Nick Saban), knowing that anything short of continuous genuflecting at the altar of the almighty SEC will bring nothing but great vengeance and furious anger from the most passionate fans in college football.

Yes, with Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State not being that bad, from top to bottom, the SEC is the best conference going right now (please note what I just wrote when your bile starts to build), but it’s time to start taking a really hard look at the league this year, and it's time to stop assuming it’s the dominant force everyone thinks it is.

You’re 100%, rock-solid, bet-the-house certain that LSU is one of the two best teams in the country right now. It's been driven into your head so much, it's now become an unquestioned fact. The defense has been so dominant, ranking first in the nation in almost all categories, and seventh in pass defense, that no one can do anything against it, right? Yeah, and last year's Ohio State offense couldn't be shut down. Take a look at the offenses LSU has faced so far: Mississippi State (102nd in the nation), Virginia Tech (107th), Middle Tennessee (108th), and South Carolina (79th). It won't get much harder once the meat of the season kicks in. Right now, half the SEC offenses are ranked 74th or lower, none are in the top ten, and only Florida, Kentucky, and Arkansas are in the top 25. I'm not saying LSU isn't fantastic, or that the D stinks. I'm merely saying that there might be more to the story.

You’re 100%, rock-solid, sell-the-house certain that Florida has simply reloaded, and it automatically belongs among the national title contenders, right? (Actually, I do believe this, but more on that later.) Western Kentucky is barely D-I, Troy is dead last in America in run defense, Tennessee has a great brand name, but isn’t Tennessee right now, and Ole Miss is 107th in the nation in defense. You're basing everything on one dominant performance against an average Vols team.

There's no question about it, LSU and Florida are good, but I want to see more. Unfortunately, I won’t, because now the SECers basically play each other, and everyone likes to pump up SEC teams based on what they do in conference play.
You have to remember that just because one or two teams are top-shelf dominant, that doesn’t mean the entire conference is great. Did you rank the Pac 10 as one of the best conferences over the last few years because of USC? No, so why are you doing it now?

Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt aren’t awful like the true bottom feeders in other leagues, but they’re at a lower level compared to the rest of the league (even after MSU's win over Auburn). South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia are all at a similar level of average, with a few differences here and there.  

Arkansas can't throw more than three feet down the field with any sort of accuracy (but to be fair, it's missing top WR Marcus Monk), Auburn is woefully short on playmakers and on the offensive line, Alabama can't find any sort of a pass rush no matter what the situation, Georgia is as flaky as they come thanks to a reloading young team, Kentucky can't stop the run, South Carolina's offense is more painful to watch than an Oprah/The View double-feature, and Tennessee has apparently decided to not play defense this year. I'm not saying the programs stink, and I'm not saying these teams won't be really good at the end of the year, or dominant next year. I'm talking about right now, and if you're watching the entire college landscape, then you can't objectively look at the mid-level SEC teams and say they're anything remotely special.

And then there are the big non-conference games to compare and contrast. In
the big ones, Tennessee lost to Cal, Auburn lost to South Florida, and barely beat Kansas State, LSU dominated a Virginia Tech team that’s still playing like the weight of an entire region is on its shoulders, and Kentucky beat a Louisville team that couldn’t stop you and ten girl scouts from putting up 500 yards and 43 points. That’s it.

The best non-conference wins for the other nine teams: Alabama (Western Carolina 52-6), Arkansas (Troy 46-26), Florida (Troy 59-31), Georgia (Oklahoma State 35-14 … this was good, even with the Cowboys’ loss at Troy), Ole Miss (Memphis 23-21), Mississippi State (Tulane 38-17), South Carolina (UL Lafayette 28-14), Tennessee (Southern Miss 39-19), Vanderbilt (Richmond 41-17). Oooh, a bunch of real BCS killers in that bunch.

Basically, I'm asking the world to actually watch the SEC games like it would games from any other league. I will now curl up into a corner with a warm glass of milk, a copy of I'm OK, You're OK, and rest up for the onslaught that's about to come my way.

Allegedly, The Caretaker Plan also includes dumping me for writing this sucky column …
What’s the toughest place to coach in America? Alabama? Sure, the pressure is ridiculous, but it’s like that everywhere in the SEC. Notre Dame? Sort of, but outside of a few academic issues, Charlie Weis has every advantage in the book. No, the toughest place to be a head football coach right now is at UCLA.

It’s a major media market without pro football (keep your Reggie Bush comments to yourself), so until the Lakers get rolling, all the focus is on USC and UCLA. Of course, the unattainable success of the Trojans under Pete Carroll jacks the expectation levels to unfair proportions, made only worse by a very rich, very powerful, very demanding alumni base that can only take so much abuse from their University of Spoiled Children friends and co-workers. And then there’s the overall UCLA expectation level, with all the success in various sports, the resurgence of the basketball program, and the all-timer success under John Wooden. (Unfortunately, there’s no Sam Gilbert for the football program.) This is a place that always demands winners. Karl Dorrell is in a tough spot, and if he gets canned, the job search will make the latest search for an Alabama head coach seem like an audition for America’s Next Top Model.

On the plus side, these are the two ads currently running that don’t have Peyton Manning in them …
I’m calling you out, Taco Bell. I know the subliminal image you’re trying to fire out in the opening shot of the ad for your new cholesterol speedball, also known as the Cheesy Beefy Melt. You know exactly what that looks like. I know what that looks like. Any normal 15-year-old boy with an internet connection knows what that looks like. There’s a reason why the hot chick, and not one of the other people in the ad, is holding the burrito in that way from the first frame. I’m sorry, but the ad is gross enough as is without me having to feel all pervy for noticing your trick.

Making things worse is the ad that always seems to come on right after with the Viva Viagra guys (possibly the same ones who shared their feelings in the annoying Dockers ads from several years ago) who can’t keep the ball on the tee thanks to stress, bad food, and having to schtup the same person for 31 years.
If the timing is really right, they pop the pill, feel the need to sing about their cheese and biscuits, and then go on to presumably please their women. Thank goodness there isn't a shot of them walking to their cars for what has to be an interesting ride home.

“I gave you your chance to be a cop, and you blew it!” … In its current batch of ads with the mock press conferences featuring former NFL coaches, the Coors Light people had one shot to stick the landing on the Dennis Green “crown their ass” classic, and they missed. Go ahead and do a rewrite and reshoot. The campaign has been building to this, and there has to be more of a payoff.

But there’s still no excuse for only running Jorvorskie Lane twice …
A pot of fancy jam goes out to Miami for once again proving that there’s a difference between playing fast and being fast. All off-season, all we had to hear about was how fast Florida was compared to Ohio State, when in reality, the Gators executed better, had a superior gameplan, and flew around with more energy. Does anyone out there ever think Miami can’t run? Of course not, so then why did the Canes look so slow in the 51-13 loss to Oklahoma? OU played better than Miami, and Miami made Texas A&M look like it was running in mud by playing faster on the lines and executing better. All teams in the top 25 can run fast 40 times, last year's Ohio State team could run with anyone, but that doesn't always matter. Remember this the next time someone spouts about a team being better because of its wheels.

The last thing he said to me, Doc, he said, Sometime, when the crew is up against it, the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to get out there and give it all they got and win just one for the Zipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Doc, he said, but I won't smell too good, that's for sure.”  … This won’t be the worst season in Notre Dame history. There were a few clunkers in the mid-1960s, bottoming out with a 2-8 campaign in 1960 (with one of the wins coming against a bad USC team). However, this will be the worst start by a long, long shot. Just look at the schedule. Georgia Tech and Penn State each took turns shaking the Irish. Then Michigan slapped them, was told it was wanted on the phone, slapped them again as the camera pans down the aisle of the airplane, where Michigan State has on boxing gloves, Purdue has a baseball bat, UCLA has a whip, Boston College has a tire iron, and USC has a noose.

James Earl Jones went to Michigan. He was in Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner, who was in JFK with Kevin Bacon … What happened to the pompous pinheads who voted for Appalachian State in the AP poll a few weeks ago? Wofford beat Appalachian State, who beat Michigan, who beat Penn State. Since NC State beat Wofford, doesn’t that technically mean UCF, who beat the Wolfpack, has to be ranked higher than Michigan and Penn State? If you really want to do this right you AP voters, then it goes UCF, NC State, Wofford, Appalachian State, Michigan, Penn State, in that order. Instead, Penn State is 21st. Michigan, with 21 votes, is 31st, and UCF, with four votes, is 35th.

The true definition of tough … Good luck to New Mexico State in its fund-raising efforts to come up with $200,000 in the fight against breast cancer. In what should be an interesting scene against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, there will be a pink out, with all the fans and coaches wearing pink. The issue was brought to the forefront by head coach Hal Mumme’s wife, June, who’s a breast cancer survivor.

The Non-Sexual Man Crush Of The Week Award goes to … Michigan RB Mike Hart. No one since Vince Young has carried a team on his back like Hart has. The defense certainly did a great job against Penn State, but that was an all-timer of a gut-check performance by one player. The whole world knew Hart was going to get the ball, and he still produced with 44 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown, taking the heat off freshman QB Ryan Mallett, and all but turning around the entire program.

The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength
Everyone has mailed it in and made it a three-team race for New Orleans between USC, LSU and Oklahoma. While it's almost a lock that at least one of those teams will be playing for the national title, it’s important to not go to sleep on the other unbeatens out there. Remember, just because you didn’t put a team in your preseason top five, or top two, that doesn’t mean it deserves to be out of the national title discussion. Here are ten interesting storylines for some of the other undefeated teams that you should be paying attention to.

10. South Florida is getting the love, but Cincinnati and Connecticut are suddenly in the picture.
Now that Louisville has politely bowed out of the national title race, and already has a setback in the hopes for a Big East title, all eyes turn to the West Virginia vs. South Florida showdown this week to see who’ll join Rutgers as the favorite to win the title. Flying way, way under the radar is Connecticut, who’s coming off a dominant performance over Pitt. The defense has forced 13 turnovers so far, while the offense is doing just enough to get by against lousy teams. The Huskes won’t win the Big East, and came within an awful call of losing to Temple, but with Louisville, South Florida and Rutgers coming to Storrs in a three game span, they’ll play a role in who will. Cincinnati is a different story and a legitimate contender. New head man Brian Kelly has done wonders, helped by a D that leads the nation with 19 takeaways, while the offense is averaging 45 points per game. Unlike UConn, the Bearcats have a big-time win, stomping Oregon State 34-3. Louisville and West Virginia have to travel to Nippert Stadium.

9. Don’t forget, Florida did this last year
Is Florida a question mark after only beating Ole Miss by six? Absolutely not. We all made this mistake last year when the Gators won game after game after game by tight margins, most notably with a close call against Vanderbilt. How’d the season turn out? Looking ahead, even if Florida loses at LSU on October 6th, if it can win out, including a rematch with the Tigers in the SEC title game, it’s last year all over again.

8. Michigan State is Wisconsin’s biggest obstacle until the Ohio State game
If Juice Williams can be even remotely accurate, Illinois will give Wisconsin problems in Champaign, but it's still Illinois. While Penn State’s defense is certainly nasty, the mediocre matchup makes it a good matchup for the Badgers. The big problem for UW is this week’s game against Michigan State, who exposed an overrated 9-0 Wisconsin team in 2004 in a 49-14 win. Wisconsin’s offensive line is lousy on key passing plays, and MSU is the best in the nation at getting into the backfield. If Wisconsin wins this game easily, then it’ll be time to suggest that the team is for real.

Arizona State is going to screw someone up
There’s not enough of a pass rush from the Sun Devil defensive front to win the title in a pass happy Pac 10, but this is a tough, physical team that’s getting good play from all the key parts in Dennis Erikson’s first season. In a four-game stretch, ASU plays Cal, at Oregon, at UCLA, and USC, with two weeks off before dealing with the Trojans. If the first four games were any indication, this team is good enough to win two of those big for games and end up at least third.

6. Kansas is playing as well as anyone outside of Los Angeles, Baton Rouge or Norman.
It’s not time to put KU in the BCS just yet after home games against Central Michigan, SE Louisiana, Toledo and FIU, but while top-name unbeatens like Wisconsin, Texas and several others have had a few letdowns against lousy teams, Mark Mangino’s club is crushing and killing everything in its path. KU won its first four games 214 to 23, is first in the nation in scoring defense, third in scoring offense, third in tackles for loss, fourth in total offense, and second in kickoff returns. A trip to Kansas State in two weeks should finally start to show if the team is for real.

5. The collapse might not come, part one … Clemson

We’re all familiar with Clemson’s work under head coach Tommy Bowden. If the team is rocking in the first half of the year, it hits the skids in the back half. If it rocks out of the gate, like last year, it goes into the tank in the second half. However, last year’s team lost one rough game at Virginia Tech 24-7, and lost to bowl winners Boston College, Maryland, South Carolina and Kentucky (of course, this one was in the Music City Bowl) by a total of 13 points. This year’s defense is healthier, QB Cullen Harper has become magnificent, and the running tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller appear to be just getting warmed up. Considering Virginia Tech and Boston College have to come to Death Valley, if the Tigers get by Georgia Tech this week, 11-0 is very possible before going to South Carolina. However …

4. Boston College has the makeup to be something special (but the schedule will ruin the dream).
The special teams are shaky and there’s not enough of a pass rush. Other than that, this could be a special Eagle team as the year goes on. Matt Ryan might just be the best NFL quarterback currently playing in the collegiate ranks, the rushing tandem of Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth are experienced and just now starting to rumble under the new coaching staff, and the lines have been brick walls. The defense is finding ways to get it done without future NFL DT B.J. Raji (academics) and LB Brian Toal (hurt). The problem? Five road games in the final seven, including dates at Virginia Tech, Maryland and Clemson. The home games are against Florida State and Miami.

3.  The collapse might not come, part two … Oregon
We’re all familiar with Oregon’s work under head coach Mike Bellotti. Outside of a tremendous 2005 season, in recent years, the Ducks haven’t been able to put together a full season, with almost every year marred by a prolonged losing stretch. It might not happen this year. Everyone seems to have assumed that Michigan stunk it up in the 39-7 home loss to Oregon, when in fact, Dennis Dixon and the boys might just be that good. The offense has been unstoppable, averaging 300 rushing yards and 48.5 points per game,
with Dixon playing as well as any quarterback in America. The defense has been shaky, but the offense, at least so far, has been able to overcome the problems by hitting the home run. Why is it time to buy into Oregon? Cal, USC and Arizona State all have to come to Autzen.

2. Ohio State might just be the real deal
Completely tossed aside after that game, it’s easy to forget that Ohio State has won 23 of its last 24 games. Helped by the play of emerging superstar WR Brian Robiskie, the offense has been explosive and efficient. The O line is giving new QB Todd Boeckman 19 days to throw, while the defensive line is playing like it’s trying to make up for the Glendale debacle on every play. The defense is currently ranked second in America, but it hasn't exactly faced a juggernaut of offenses yet, If you really believe the Big Ten stinks, then road trips to Purdue, Penn State and Michigan shouldn’t be that big a deal. Wisconsin has to come to Columbus.

1. Rutgers’ schedule
Welcome to the single biggest X factor in the 2007 season. Rutgers hasn’t exactly set the world on fire by playing Buffalo, Navy and Norfolk State, and while the schedule gets tougher, any team that can even say the words national championship has to take this slate and run with it. Maryland and Cincinnati are home games over the next two weeks before going to Syracuse, and then comes the make-or-break two-week stretch hosting South Florida and West Virginia. Nasty games, of course, but again, a champion takes advantage of the home breaks. At Connecticut could be a beartrap if there’s a lack of focus, but that’s followed up by a trip to Army, Pitt, and finishing up at Louisville, who now looks very, very beatable.

Nuggets for the upcoming week, now made with white meat, at participating restaurants …
- That Georgia overtime win over Alabama might be bigger than you think in terms of what could’ve been for Nick Saban’s first season. There’s a home date with LSU on November 3rd, but with the way the rest of the SEC is currently playing, every other game on the slate is winnable: Florida State, Houston, at Ole Miss, Tennessee, at Mississippi State, UL Monroe, at Auburn. It’s not a stretch to say that a win over the Dawgs might have meant the LSU showdown would’ve been for an unbeaten regular season.
- Akron had better be getting paid. The opener against Army was technically a neutral site game, and now the Zips only have four true home games, with only three of the first 11 in the Rubber Bowl.
- Syracuse averaged 24.8 yards per completion in its win over Louisville. That wasn’t just a fluke five-completion day, Andrew Robinson hit 17 of 26 passes. Middle Tennessee’s Joe Craddock averaged 20.7 yards per completion on the Cards. Ten yards per completion is considered unbelievable.
- Big name coordinates are occasionally way overrated. How's that Florida State offense under Jimbo Fisher? Gary Crowton left Oregon for LSU, and now the Ducks are blowing up, averaging 537 yards and 48.5 points per game. Bob Toledo left New Mexico to take the head coaching job at Tulane and now the Lobos are on fire averaging 450 yards and 34 points per game.

C.O.W. shameless gimmick item …
The weekly five Overrated/Underrated aspects of the world
1) Overrated: Oklahoma vs. Oregon, 2006 ... Underrated: Temple vs. Connecticut, 2007
2) Overrated: My hair, after getting it cut so I don’t look like an oogie on TV  … Underrated: Mike Gundy’s hair/visor combo
3) Overrated: Young, running quarterbacks  ... Underrated: Old, standstill veteran quarterbacks
4) Overrated: Being suspended from Florida State for a bar fight ... Underrated: Being suspended by Tulane for allegedly knifing five people on Bourbon Street
5) Overrated: Stepping down from the Texas Tech defensive coordinator’s job for “personal reasons” ... Underrated: Losing after the offense cranked out 646 passing yards

My Heisman ballot this week would be … Before going on, I vote based on a combination of three things: Most valuable player, most outstanding player, and the signature player of the season. It’s not fair, but while Darren McFadden and Brian Brohm might be the two most talented players in college football, without them, their teams would have the same records they currently have. Hence the value part of the equation. I will change my mind weekly and then sort it all out at the end. 1) Glenn Dorsey, DT LSU, 2) Matt Ryan, QB Boston College, 3) Sam Bradford, QB Oklahoma, 4)
Pat White, QB West Virginia, 5) Colt Brennan, QB Hawaii.

“You know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools/But that's the way I like it baby, I don't wanna live forever” …
The three lines this week that appear to be a tad off. (1-2 for a third week in a row, 3-6 overall, so as always, enjoy these just for pure amusement.) … 1) Penn State -3 over Illinois, 2) Toledo +1 over Western Michigan, 3) Alabama +2 over Florida State

Sorry this column sucked, but it wasn’t my fault …
 I wanted to leave to go write other columns, but I was limited to ones that weren’t on future Notre Dame schedules.