The SEC Bachstory will be a weekly Southeastern Conference recap posted every Monday morning during the season breaking down all the big events from the previous weekend. In order to eliminate all confusion, the Bach in Bachstory is pronounced like back (Back to the Future, The Empire Strikes Back, Back in Black), you get the picture. This week we look at the quarterback turnover in the SEC, rotating quarterbacks in Columbia again and the Polls.
The Summer That Was
When was the last time the SEC had such a huge amount of turnover at the quarterback position? This year there could/will be new starting quarterbacks at Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Nearly two thirds of the league is starting over at the most important position in the game. The good news is that a lot of the new starters have experience and should hit the ground running with their teams. Teams that should expect limited drop off in production are Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State. Cameron Newton (AU), John Brantley (UF), Aaron Murray (UGA) and Chris Relf or Tyler Russell (MSU) should be able to handle their offenses with very little depreciation.
Ole Miss is an interesting situation because Nathan Stanley looks like he may start early in the year, but Jeremiah Masoli could be a difference maker once the Rebel schedule warms up. Stanley knows the plays and the system better than a guy who has been practicing with the team for a couple weeks, but Masoli has skills that can't be taught. Masoli is a wild card in the SEC this season. The last three schools could go either way…if South Carolina goes with Garcia instead of Connor Shaw then they will be the same as last year. The Gamecock offense will be inconsistent with Garcia, but it will be better than playing a true freshmen.
Tennessee is looking more and more like Matt Simms' job to lose, but it probably isn't going to matter either way who is the quarterback for the Vols this season, their record will be the same either way. Vanderbilt wants Larry Smith to step up, but Robbie Caldwell will probably end up going with JUCO transfer Jordan Rodgers in the Commodores opener against Northwestern. Larry Smith has been too inconsistent and he hasn't progressed the way that the coaching staff would have liked by now.
The Summer That Wasn't
The big story of the summer has been the Agent situation in South Florida that has involved two SEC programs. Both Alabama and South Carolina are caught in the middle of a problem that we don't know a lot about, but should have some clarification to in the next couple weeks. Alabama DE Marcel Dareus and South Carolina Tight End Weslye Saunders are the two players involved, but nothing of substance has come out since the original story. It would be great if this was the only agent problem this summer but there are accusations that former Florida Gator Maurkice Pouncey was given money after the SEC Championship game but before the Sugar Bowl by a runner.
Add in both Urban Meyer and Nick Saban's fury in the general direction of the men that will be helping their players make as much money as possible in the next couple years. The grandstanding is unnecessary. It would be great if the NFL could help colleges with this situation but it is up to the players to make smart decisions and the compliance department to train the players on what is acceptable.
The Summer That…What the Heck
All summer we were told by the South Carolina coaching staff and the blind or misinformed South Carolina media that Stephen Garcia had been stepping up like never before and he had started working out more while giving up beer. That was news to my inside source, my younger brother Scott Harbach. Scott is a recent graduate from the University of South Carolina, a proud Gamecock fan and he is neither blind nor misinformed as the rest of the media in the state of South Carolina seems to be. His assessment upon seeing Garcia at a local pool this summer was the complete opposite of every report that came out regarding the starting QB. There should have been no surprise when Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier said last week he had not decided on who would be taking the first snaps at quarterback against Southern Miss…at least I was not surprised.
Supporters of South Carolina trump up the "Spurrier being Spurrier" language as he talks about pulling Garcia in favor of true freshmen Connor Shaw but Spurrier isn't Spurrier anymore. There isn't a Doug Johnson starting with Jesse Palmer right behind him, this isn't Danny Wuerffel getting pulled back and forth…this isn't Florida and it isn't the SEC of the 90's. The two quarterback situation only works when a player is coming in for specific plays like a Wildcat QB. Jockeying back and forth between Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw is only going to hurt the Carolina offense and confuse the team. When Carolina hired Spurrier shuffling quarterbacks was expected but not like this and not with the end results he has been putting up.
The Season That Will Be
Usually in this section is used for highlighting the games for the upcoming week, but since there are no games this weekend it will be used to talk about the favorites and the underdogs in the division races. Like pretty much every other preseason prognosticator, this column feels that Alabama and Florida will be playing in Atlanta this year. Even though they do play in Tuscaloosa on October 2nd, don't necessarily expect a 12-0 vs. 11-1 matchup in the Atlanta. There is a lot of balance in the SEC this year; especially the West but Alabama and Florida have to be the favorites right now.
If there were two teams that deserve an extra hard look at as underdogs in their division Georgia and LSU should be at the top of that list. Georgia is more by default because the East is as down as they have ever been and there really aren't any other options to jump up and overtake Florida. LSU on the other hand is in the middle of a very deep and talented SEC West that could have any of four teams make it to Atlanta, but since only Alabama and LSU play defense…LSU has to have the edge over Arkansas and Auburn. The LSU defense and the potential they have on offense is all they need to be a sleeper in the West, did I mention they get Alabama at home too?
Big Man on Campus (BMOC)
Mark Ingram, Alabama Running Back
It is hard to put anyone else in this spot since Ingram is the returning Heisman Trophy winner and the best player on the defending National Champions. Ingram is an interesting player this season since both first team running back slots were filled by Crimson Tide players. Will he have better numbers with Trent Richardson taking up carries so both of them are fresh? Can he get enough touches, yards and touchdowns to earn a return invite to the Heisman ceremony. All of these questions will be answered this season, but the Ingram story line should be a fun one to watch all year.
Player Now Doing Charlie Work (PNDCW)
As a note to those who do not know what "Charlie-Work" is, do yourself a favor and start watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (the episode called "Dennis and Dee go on Welfare" explains it perfectly). BTW, new season starts September 16th on FX.
Weslye Saunders, South Carolina Tight End
Saunders is having a rough summer, first with the allegations related to a party in Miami that could cause the NCAA to suspend him for a game or more and recently he has been once again suspended by Steve Spurrier for a violation of team rules. That would be Saunders second suspension from the head coach this year and the feeling is that it will be the last time that the HBC has to do it. With his career at South Carolina seemingly over before his senior season, it is sad that we see another player with such potential fall short.
4 Downs with the SEC
First Down – A Different Angle on Masoli
Earlier this summer I made my feelings known about Houston Nutt bringing in Jeremiah Masoli. There is no point rehashing that here, I want to talk about the impact that Masoli could bring to Ole Miss this season. Let me start by saying that Masoli will not be the starter for the season opener against Jacksonville State. Nathan Stanley can probably lead Ole Miss to a 5-0 start with the very easy start to the season Ole Miss has this year, but game five is where things start to get interesting. If Masoli has begun to pick up the offense a couple games into the season and gets some playing time in games that are over by halftime. It is very likely Nutt uses him for the rest of the season.
It works for two reasons, the first being that Masoli is an elite college football player and brings a dimension to the Rebels offense that Stanley does not possess. The second reason this works is because Stanley gets some real game experience as a starter, even starting against two SEC teams (Kentucky and Vanderbilt). That gets Stanley ready to try and take over the team for the 2011 season and gives the Rebels their best chance to win more games in the second half of a very difficult schedule. Just because Masoli has some personal missteps does not take away any of the skills he had on the field. He is a great player, he is a better quarterback than Stanley right now and he will play a significant role for Ole Miss this year. It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out but Houston Nutt did not bring in Jeremiah Masoli only to add depth.
Second Down – Lackluster Out of Conference Slate for the SEC
The past couple years we have been spoiled with what has been big, early season out of conference matchups between but this season seems to be void of the really sexy games that we have seen in past seasons. Sure North Carolina/LSU is a good one in the Chicken Kick-Off Classic, but it has been damaged with all the agent issues. Alabama/Penn State is probably the best OOC game of the season, but no one seems to be talking about it, especially not nationally and the rest of the games are just kind of blah. Auburn/Clemson, LSU/WVU, Georgia/Colorado, Oregon/Tennessee and Arkansas/Texas A&M all look good on paper, but are any of them games that you would consider must see television?
Don't count the rivalry games in this discussion because those are going to happen every year and every rivalry game is huge. I would consider Florida/FSU, Georgia/Georgia Tech and Clemson/South Carolina must see games for any SEC fan. There just isn't an Alabama/Virginia Tech or Georgia/Oklahoma State or LSU/Washington out there this year. Those are three games that I had to watch opening weekend a year ago, this year there are two in the opening two weeks that deserve space on the DVR.
Third Down – The Poll, the One that Matters
Let's talk about the Coaches Poll for a minute, for a long time I felt that the Coaches poll was the less accurate poll because the coaches aren't watching as many games as the AP voters and sometimes the people filling out those polls are just Sports Information Directors. But after thinking about this more my opinion has changed, the coaches should be the ones voting and the votes that matter. Feel free to disagree, but who knows the teams better than the coaches, not just their team but all teams? I think I know college football, but I don't know it as well as USA Today Coaches Poll Voter Nick Saban. We should want the people deciding national champions to be the professionals who know the teams, not the professionals who write about them.
This is not a knock against the credibility of the AP Poll, but one item that has been a hot button item this week has been Boise State. Yes, this is an SEC column but Boise State is actually a pretty important topic to the SEC this year. The AP poll has Boise ranked third; the Coaches poll has them fifth. The AP poll has a writer who voted (Joe Giglio, Raleigh NC) Boise State as the best team in the country, the Coaches Poll did not have anyone do that and the Coaches Poll includes Boise State Head Coach Chris Peterson. With all the excitement behind Boise State, I challenge any AP voter to name two Boise State players that are not quarterback Kellen Moore without looking at a roster. The bottom line is that because the Coaches are the ones voting and the Coaches Poll is the one that matters…the SEC will always be ok. Which bring us to the Fourth Down...
Fourth Down – The Often Beaten SEC Champion
Coming full circle in regards to the Polls, Alabama was the first SEC National Champion to go unbeaten since Tennessee did it in 1998. Four other BCS National Champions from the SEC have won the title with one or more losses and of course everyone knows about Auburn going unbeaten in 2004 getting nothing. Earlier this year I felt that a 1-Loss SEC champion would get jumped by Boise, I don't believe that is the case any longer. If the SEC Champ has two losses, I don't think SEC Champs gets a shot but a 1-Loss SEC team would jump over Boise State because the Coaches are the ones doing the voting and the writers are not.
Whine and complain all you want for the little guy, but the coaches just simply aren't going to put a team that plays their last nine games against New Mexico State, Toledo, San Jose St, Louisiana Tech, Hawaii, Idaho, Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State in the top two of the Coaches Poll. They especially won't do it if a team like Florida loses at Alabama week 5 and wins out against LSU, Mississippi State, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Appalachian St, Florida State and the SEC West Champ. Which coach is going to vote Boise over Florida? Not a one. Which writer is going to vote Boise over Florida? More than none will.
Any time you give voters a chance to dissect the totality of a team's schedule it gets ugly. Remember 2004 when Auburn, Oklahoma and USC were all unbeaten and the reason to leave Auburn out was because they played the Citadel out of conference. Writers were saying because Auburn played a weak out of conference schedule they should be left out. Well, the same thing will happen with Boise State. Give voters a chance to review their body of work and bad things are going to happen. The SEC is in great shape for fifth straight BCS title as long as the Champion has only 1-loss and there is only one other BCS unbeaten team.
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me Brian Harbach
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