Tag:West Virginia
Posted on: October 24, 2011 4:17 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 4:20 pm
 

The Poll Attacks: Week 8

Posted by Bryan Fischer

The latest college football polls are out and now it's time to rip them to shreds. Senior college basketball writer Gary Parrish has been calling out voters in the major hoops polls for thinking a little bit too far outside of the box when it comes to their AP ballots every week.

With the football season starting, I thought I'd steal take the baton on the idea from my colleague and keep all of the writers across the country who vote honest. I've come to know a good number of these people through time and twitter but relationships do not matter, bad votes do.

AP Poll           Coaches Poll           Harris Poll           BCS

(Details of AP ballots courtesy of PollSpeak.com)

Poll reactions: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC

Rodney Dangerfield "No respect" team of the week: Southern Miss

  The Golden Eagles are ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2004 in the Coaches Poll but are just "receiving votes" in the AP. Voters must not be aware of them shutting down June Jones' offense on Saturday, holding SMU to just three points and 330 yards. They're behind teams like West Virginia (blown out by Syracuse) and Arizona State (lost to Illinois, blown out by Oregon) for some reason. Yes, they're a Conference USA team so they have to fight for respect a lot more than others but they should be on everyone's ballot at 6-1.

Overrated: Nebraska

  To be fair, it's hard to figure out where to slot Nebraska because of the mediocre group of teams outside of the top 10-12 or so. The blowout loss to Wisconsin looks even worse now and having to come back and beat Ohio State is not a ringing endorsement for a top 15 team given their troubles in the passing game. We'll figure out if they deserve a high-ranking after Saturday but until then, they probably should be behind Virginia Tech and even Texas A&M.

California Craziness

A trio of voters from California (CSN Bay Area/CBSSports.com's Ray Ratto, San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner, LA Daily News' Scott Wolf) are an interesting voting block. Some would call them progressive, others would call them extreme and just about everybody else will call them crazy given their fluctuations in their ballots each week. All three are consistently in Pollspeak's group of "extreme voters" so we'll highlight the most baffling decision(s) out of each.

  I swear that Wilner just likes being the one in this space in order to gloat to his Bay Area compatriot Ratto. First off, teams that are on his ballot that shouldn't be: Auburn (17th), Washington (21st), Texas (23rd). Teams not on his ballot that should be: Houston, Michigan, Penn State. Also head-scratching: Auburn above USC, Kansas State 19th, Virginia Tech one spot behind Washington, Arkansas ahead of Stanford, South Carolina in the top 12, Georgia in the top 15.

What were you thinking? Desmond Conner, Hartford Courant

  Conner's top 20 isn't bad at all, aside from Nebraska being ahead of both Michigan State and Wisconsin. The bottom five is disastrous however. Arizona State is 20th, followed by West Virginia, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Illinois and Penn State. He was the only voter to rank the Fighting Zookers despite losing back-to-back games to Ohio State and Purdue and has one-loss Penn State dead last on his ballot. Conner is also the only one to leave USC unranked.


Posted on: October 24, 2011 12:43 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 12:44 pm
 

One Big 12 school official won't miss Mizzou

Posted by Tom Fornelli

While Missouri hasn't made it official yet, it's generally accepted knowledge that the school will announce that it's leaving the Big 12 for the SEC at some point in the near future. Which means that the Big 12 is already putting plans together to find a replacement for Missouri should it leave, and rumors have West Virginia as being the favorite to be that tenth school.

Something that one Big 12 school official confirmed to the Austin American Statesman's Kirk Bohls this weekend, and the official also went on to say that the Big 12 would be better off with West Virginia than it would be with Missouri.

“I’d say West Virginia is the leader in the clubhouse," the school official told Bohls. "I think we’ll come out better than before. I’d rather be with someone who wants to be with our conference than anybody who doesn’t.”

“West Virginia has better football than Missouri, better basketball than Missouri, a better budget than Missouri and more passion among its fans than Missouri. They’re better, anyway you turn ‘em. The travel’s not good but that’s it.” 

Well that's no way to convince Missouri to stay.

Bohls also talked to another Big 12 administrator who wasn't nearly as rough on Missouri, and also said he's not sure that West Virginia would be the best candidate to replace it.

“The only place where there’s an advantage for West Virginia is better football,” the second official said. “Their academics is not as strong. If there’s any thought about what’s best for the student-athlete, we’ll go with Louisville.”

So the two likely candidates to replace Missouri are still West Virginia and Louisville, and the favorite depends on who you ask. So all we really know at this point is that Missouri is going to leave and that the Big East is squirming.
Posted on: October 23, 2011 7:52 pm
Edited on: October 23, 2011 9:17 pm
 

SEC poll reactions, Week 8

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.


(AP/Coaches)

1/1. LSU

We'd like to think that even if Oklahoma had completed their failed comeback against Texas Tech, the Bayou Bengals' annihilation of a top-20 Auburn team (as opposed to a mighty struggle at home vs. an unranked team with two home losses) would finally resulted in their taking over as a consensus No. 1. But fortunately for clarity's sake, the Red Raiders finished the job. And even if Alabama wasn't on a bye themselves, that consensus wasn't going to change during LSU's off-week--the Tigers have a 49-10 advantage in first place votes in the AP, and a 41-18 edge in the Coaches.

2/2. ALABAMA

The Crimson Tide should have passed the decisively less-impressive Sooners weeks back, but there's no doubt plenty of thanks being sent Lubbockward after the Red Raiders made the Tide's consensus move to No. 2 it official. (Then again, knowing the relationship between the Tide fanbase and Tommy Tuberville, maybe not.) What's interesting is that the Tide have enough support for a short fall in the event of a loss to LSU--the 122-point margin between the Tide and No. 3 Oklahoma State is wider than the margin between the Cowboys and No. 6 Clemson.

8/8. ARKANSAS

The Razorbacks move up two spots in both polls but find themselves in the same broad position as last week: the second-highest one-loss team behind Oregon. It's a strong show of support for the Hogs that even after an unimpressive win over Ole Miss -- one that required overcoming a 17-0 first-half deficit and a last-minute interception to preserve the victory -- Arkansas still moved past plummeting Oklahoma and Wisconsin. But as we said last week, if forced to pick between the Hogs and Ducks in a one-loss head-to-head, we think the Hogs deserve the nod.
14/14. SOUTH CAROLINA

Oh, Coaches poll. We wish there was a better explanation for jumping Kansas State past the Gamecocks on the basis of a win over Kansas and Carolina's bye week than "Oops, we kind of messed up by having that undefeated team so low last week, better fix it" ... but we know there isn't. At least Michigan State's leapfrog past the Gamecocks makes more sense. The Spartans jumped the Gamecocks in the AP, too, but Carolina stayed put thanks to West Virginia's freefall. Given that the Gamecocks' loss came to a now three-loss team at home and that their signature win is a three-point escape at Georgia, they can't have any complaints about sticking at 14th.

22/21. GEORGIA

The Bulldogs didn't play this week, but still got a two-slot bump in the AP and leapt into the Coaches at No. 21. Guess it helps when so many bottom-rung top-25 teams -- Auburn, Illinois, Washington, Georiga Tech -- absorbed lopsided and/or embarrassing losses. But the Dawgs can't gripe about not being higher, not when their best win is still over 3-4 Tennessee.
Posted on: October 23, 2011 6:01 pm
 

Big East poll reactions, Week 8

Posted by Chip Patterson

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the Big East fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.

(AP/Coaches)

24/23. Cincinnati

Cincinnati's early success has been discredited by many, either for a lack of competition or fresh memories for a mistake-laden 2010 campaign. But with Week Eight in the books, the Bearcats are the only team still unbeaten in conference play

The improvement from year one to year two under head coach Butch Jones has paid off, and it all starts with turnovers. In 2010 the Bearcats put up big offensive numbers, but sloppy execution and a young defense resulted in finishing the season 119th nationally in turnover margin. Now Cincinnati leads the Big East in the same category, and ranks 3rd nationally behind Oklahoma State and LSU. With West Virginia's loss the door is open for Cincinnati to try make a run for their third Big East title in four years.

25/24. West Virginia

West Virginia was embarrassed and exposed by Syracuse on Friday night, but one poor performance was not enough to completely erase the Mountaineers' body of work in the minds of the voters. Dana Holgorsen's next task as a first-year head coach will be refocusing this group as they make a push for the Big East title down the stretch. If the Mountaineers win out (including a victory over 2-0 Cincinnati on Nov. 12) they can guarantee at least a share of the league championship. But in order to do that they need to find a way to do a better job protecting Geno Smith, and the defense needs to recapture the aggressiveness that defined the unit in 2010.

Others receiving votes:Doug Marrone's Syracuse team got some predictable attention from the voters after the defeat of West Virginia. The Orange schemed well for the primetime showdown, and now the challenge will be turning their strong start into a big finish in Marrone's third year at the helm. Rutgers, despite an embarrassing loss to Louisville on Friday that featured three Gary Nova interceptions, also received votes in both the AP and Coaches poll.

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Posted on: October 23, 2011 12:19 am
Edited on: October 23, 2011 3:14 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 8



Posted by Chip Patterson


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: The Big East

Entering conference play, I was curious to see how long it would take the league to figure out a way to slow West Virginia. There are plenty of great coaches in the Big East, and the backloaded conference schedule usually allows plenty of preparation material. Syracuse showed the conference how to beat West Virginia, and also opened up the race for the Big East title with their 49-23 win in the Carrier Dome on Friday.

The Syracuse defense sent extra pressure at Geno Smith all night, getting in his face and bringing him to the ground on four different occasions. The extra pressure got to Smith and he began to force throws from the pocket, which led to two big interceptions for the Orange defense. Until the Mountaineers prove they can counter, look for more Big East opponents to bring extra pressure to try and rattle Smith in the coming weeks.

LOSER: The Big East

While Syracuse's victory did show the rest of the league a way to slow down and possibly defeat the Mountaineers, it also eliminated the Big East's best chance of having a team finish high in the final BCS standings. As conferences look towards 2013 and the renewal of the BCS automatic bids, one concern to meet the requirements involves teams ranked in the final BCS standings.

The Big East has struggled in the polls and BCS standings in recent years, and not meeting the requirements for an automatic bid is one reason why the reported "Global Conference" has become an option. Cincinnati would likely have to run the table to finish with a high ranking, and if this weekend showed us anything it is how hard running the table has become in the Big East.

WINNER: Butch Jones

It is fairly difficult to be on the hot seat after just one season, but Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones was pretty close to it after the Bearcats finished 4-8 in 2010. There was no dissension in the program, but many fans were quick to doubt if Jones was the right choice to replace Brian Kelly.

But here in Week 8 of the 2011 season, there is only one unbeaten team left in the Big East - and it is Jones' Bearcats. Pulling Cincinnati back into bowl eligibility this early in the season takes a lot of pressure off Jones' shoulders, as he can now turn his teams' focus towards claiming their third Big East title in four years.

LOSER: South Florida's defense

BJ Daniels threw for 409 yards, three touchdowns, led the Bulls in rushing, and most importantly threw no interceptions. But it wasn't enough to snap South Florida's losing streak. Daniels put together what appeared to be a game-winning drive with 1:27 left when he found Andre Davis for a touchdown to give the Bulls a 34-30 lead.

But the defense could not come up with a stop, allowing Zach Collaros to march 70 yards in seven plays over a 75 second span. A pass interference call in the end zone was the final mistake for South Florida's defense, allowing the Bearcats to set up 1st and Goal from the two yard line. There were plenty of mistakes throughout the game, but the defense's inability to stop Cincinnati in the fourth quarter led to the third straight loss for the Bulls.

WINNER: Syracuse tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens

Part of Syracuse's gameplan for taking down West Virginia involved using the play action to match up the tight ends with the Mountaineers linebackers in coverage. What the Orange revealed to the rest of the conference was a dramatic weakness in this year's version of Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense. Tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens combined for 95 yards and four touchdowns on eight catches. After biting on the play-fake, Ryan Nassib would roll out and locate a tight end off his release in the perfect soft spot of West Virginia's defense. Provo and Stevens are among the better tight ends in the conference, but the gameplan on Friday set them up for a huge night that Syracuse fans will remember for the rest of the season.

LOSER: Rutgers

There is no way the Scarlet Knights could have known it at the time, but they missed out on a great opportunity to gain a leg up on the Big East title hunt on Friday night. With West Virginia falling to Syracuse, Rutgers could have stepped forward with Cincinnati as the only teams left unbeaten in conference play. Until the 16-14 loss at Louisville, Greg Schiano's squad was putting together an impressive body of work. The defense was rigid, and the offense had been able put together enough plays to lead the Scarlet Knights to victory.

But Gary Nova, who had led the comeback against Navy just a week before, showed his youth against the Cardinals' multiple defensive looks. The three interceptions came at the worst times for Rutgers, who couldn't put together the final push in the fourth quarter to stay undefeated in league play. Rutgers has never won a Big East title, and now that dream is going to be a little tougher with West Virginia and Cincinnati left on the schedule.


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Posted on: October 21, 2011 11:32 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Syracuse 49, No. 11 West Virginia 23

Posted by Chip Patterson

SYRACUSE WON. With an aggressive pass rush and methodical ball control, Syracuse bullied No. 11 West Virginia for four quarters on the way to a 49-23 victory at home on Friday night. Quarterback Ryan Nassib led a efficient, mistake-free Orange offense to 441 total yards of offense one of the Big East's best defensive units. The Orange also won the time of possession, finishing with 35:26 compared to West Virginia's 23:04. Mountaineers' head coach Dana Holgorsen is used to his team starting slow, and not owning the clock; but in most of the cases before Friday it resulted in victories.

HOW SYRACUSE WON: By keeping West Virginia's offense off the field, the Mountaineers were never able to develop a rhythm of establish any kind of continuity. The Orange converted on 12 of 16 third downs, and put up 11+ plays on three different touchdown drives. Inside runs, play action roll outs, and lots of tight end completions kept the Orange chipping away each drive. It wore down West Virginia's defense and combined with Syracuse's pass rush led to the victory for Doug Marrone's squad.

WHEN SYRACUSE WON: On the final play of the third quarter, Geno Smith dropped back and was picked off by Philip Thomas for his second interception of the game. The play came just after Ryan Nassib had completed his third touchdown pass to a wide open tight end (four touchdowns were accounted for by tight ends) to make it 35-16. All of the momentum was swinging Syracuse's way, and the Mountaineers needed a spark to get back into the game. Instead Smith's second interception set the Carrier Dome into a frenzy at the break, and Syracuse ran with the momentum to a victory.

WHAT SYRACUSE WON: A signature win for the Doug Marrone era. Last season's bowl appearance was a huge success for the former Orange offensive lineman, but much was credited to the play of the seniors. In what was considered to be a rebuilding year, Syracuse has jumped out a 5-2 start with a win over arguably the league's most talented team. There were 45,000+ in the Carrier Dome to witness the victory, one of the largest crowds since Marrone took over as head coach.

WHAT WEST VIRGINIA LOST: Their frontrunner status in the Big East, and likely 10+ spots in the polls. In the round-robin conference format with no title game, the only way for West Virginia to control their BCS destiny was to finish undefeated in Big East play. Two games in, that position of power has already been stripped. Only Cincinnati sits undefeated in the Big East standings, and after watching the Mountaineers and Rutgers on Friday night, the Bearcats better be ready to bring their best on Saturday.

THAT WAS CRAZY: As pointed out below, West Virginia has been a slow starting team all season. At the end of the first quarter, there was this observation. But unlike most of the previous games on the schedule, the Mountaineers were not able to climb back from this deficit. In fact, they let it get out of hand rather quickly.



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Posted on: October 20, 2011 3:48 pm
Edited on: October 20, 2011 5:25 pm
 

Man vs. Woman vs. Machine: Week 8



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Man vs. Woman vs. Machine is a feature that runs every Thursday afternoon. It is here that Tom Fornelli fights against the rising tide of female empowerment and technology to ensure that men everywhere can at least claim that college football is still theirs. He does this by picking a set of games against the spread against his girlfriend, Lynn, and his Playstation 3.

This could be the week that makes or breaks all of us. After spending a month trying to catch The Woman in this race, she's pulled away the last few weeks and taken a two-game lead once again. I'd be concerned about this in any other week, but this week things are different.

The spreads this week are insane.

When they were first released there were 20+ point spreads everywhere I looked. I trimmed them down to the ten games that were the most, shall we say, sane, but still, there's not a lot of confidence between Woman and I in our picks this week. When the spreads are like this, you may as well be flipping  a coin, but I'm not introducing that aspect until next season.

Syracuse vs. West Virginia (-13 1/2) - Friday, 8pm (All times Eastern)

Man - The thing that drives me insane about the Big East is that every week the team that is supposed to be the best team in the conference loses to somebody they have no business losing to. Thankfully, I'm confident that West Virginia is a team that knows what it should be doing and will do it. Pick: West Virginia

Woman - "No way Syracuse is going to surprise West Virginia two years in a row. Not even a raised eyebrow." Pick: West Virginia

Machine - The Machine must be a big fan of Dana Holgorsen's skullet and Geno Smith, as the Mountaineers blow up the Carrier Dome 51-17. Pick: West Virginia

Missouri vs. Oklahoma State (-7 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - I know that Oklahoma State's defense isn't exactly wonderful, but the Missouri offense has been so inconsistent this season that I just don't see any way that it can keep up with the Cowboys. Even if Missouri's defense can slow the Cowboys down a bit, I just don't think it'll be enough. Pick: Oklahoma State

Woman - "Yes, the Cowboys are playing stellar ball and you'd think this would be another step in their march toward BCS glory.  But Mizzou is 3-0 at Faurot Field and its three losses have been close ones against good teams. Make assumptions about Missouri folk at your own peril." Pick: Missouri 

Machine - The Machine sees a pretty close game for three quarters before Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon have a party in the fourth quarter and pull away late. Cowboys win 40-24. Pick: Oklahoma State

Clemson (-10 1/2) vs. North Carolina - Saturday, 12pm

Man - Considering the way that Clemson has a habit of making things really close for three quarters before finally pulling away, this point spread does scare me a bit. That being said, North Carolina doesn't really inspire a lot of confidence in me, and since Clemson is at home I'll put my faith in the Tigers. Pick: Clemson

Woman - "To be honest, I know virtually nothing about Tar Heel football.  I expect that will still be true on Sunday." Pick: Clemson

Machine - The Machine sees the annual rite of Clemson blowing up taking place this week as North Carolina wins 24-17. Pick: North Carolina

Kansas vs. Kansas State (-12 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - Somewhat odd that Kansas State goes from being an underdog every week against teams it's better than to nearly a two-touchdown favorite, but Kansas has just been that bad. Also, let's not forget that Kansas State beat Kansas 59-7 last season and I don't think last season's Kansas State team is as good as this version. Pick: Kansas State

Woman - "I have created (and by created, I mean, found) a very special Sunflower Showdown Emo tribute for the Jayhawks to be played directly following the game. Enjoy." Pick: Kansas State 

Machine - Game recognize game, and The Machine recognizes Bill Snyder's likely stoppable killing machine, but it won't be stopped in Lawrence. Kansas State wins 31-13. Pick: Kansas State

Purdue vs. Illinois (-5 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - This spread seems a bit too easy to me. In my opinion, gamblers are overreacting to what Illinois did against Ohio State last week and what Purdue did against Penn State. Penn State's offense is terrible enough to keep Purdue in a game, and the Boilermakers have been beaten pretty bad this year by teams that spread it out. In Zook I trust! Pick: Illinois

Woman - "It's hard to shake the memory of the Illini's cringe-worthy outing last week but bottom line, they're a better team than the Boilermakers. Purdue will play the best game of its season and keep it close, but not that close." Pick: Illinois

Machine - The Machine seems to think that Ron Zook is going to have a lot of questions to answer this week as Purdue knocks off the Illini 21-3. Pick: Purdue

LSU (-22 1/2) vs. Auburn - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - I don't want to pick against Les Miles. I really, really, really don't. Still, without the Honey Badger and Spencer Ware, I'm just not as confident in LSU's ability to cover that spread. Will the LSU defense smother a quarterback making his first career start for the third straight week? Of course it will, but will the LSU offense cover more than three scores? Probably, because I'm picking against Les and must be punished for it. Pick: Auburn

Woman - "Yeah, LSU will win but given the news that three of its top players have been suspended, I think that line may be a bit stout." Pick: Auburn

Machine - The Machine is not a fan of three touchdown spreads for LSU offenses without its leading rush, as LSU wins 17-10. Pick: Auburn

Miami (-3 1/2) vs. Georgia Tech - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - I had been pretty high on Georgia Tech before last week, but man did the Ramblin' Wreck get exposed by Virginia last weekend. That plus the fact that Jacory Harris is actually playing pretty well for Miami makes me lean toward the home side here. Pick: Miami

Woman - "When I think of the NCAA and scholar athletes, these two schools leap immediately to mind, especially Hurricanes' DL Micanor Regis and his groundbreaking work on the physics of balls - please skip to minute five for Micanor's powerful research.  Unfortunately, Micanor got so deep into his studies last weekend, he'll have to miss this game, which gives the 6-1 Wrecks a leg up." Pick: Georgia Tech

Machine - The Machine sees Miami getting up early, and a Georgia Tech playing from behind is not a very good Georgia Tech to bet on. Hurricanes win 28-17. Pick: Miami

Northwestern vs. Penn State (-4 1/2) - Saturday, 7pm

Man - As I mentioned in the Illinois/Purdue pick, Penn State's offense is terrible. It's defense has been great, but it's also faced mediocre offenses all season save for Alabama, and we all remember how that went. So with Penn State going on the road I have to go with the team that's getting the points. Pick: Northwestern

Woman - "Northwestern stems the bleeding from three straight losses and Dan Persa gets to show his newly bald head around campus again." Pick: Northwestern

Machine - It's a clean sweep as The Machine sees Pat Fitzgerald's team getting its act together this week and beating Penn State 30-17. Pick: Northwestern

Michigan State vs. Wisconsin (-8 1/2) - Saturday, 8pm

Man - We're nearly in November and Wisconsin is leaving Madison to play a football game for the first time all season. Wisconsin will also be facing an offense that I feel can move the ball on a defense that hasn't really faced much of a test this season. I don't know that Michigan State is going to win this game, but I do know that they're going to keep it closer than anybody else has against the Badgers this season. Pick: Michigan State

Woman - "Everyone's talking about how 'emotional' this game will be.  After the third quarter, quietly emotional." Pick: Wisconsin

Machine - Well, we're going to have one less unbeaten to contend with after this weekend. Michigan State wins 24-20. Pick: Michigan State

Stanford (-20 1/2) vs. Washington - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Every week I toy with the idea of picking against Stanford because the spread seems so large, and then every week I end up picking Stanford anyway and the Cardinal cover. So why change up a formula that's working? Pick: Stanford

Woman - "I get all excited about the Huskies impressive 2011 season and then I remember last year's game against the Cardinal.  41-0. 41-0. 41-0. Did I mention 41-0?" Pick: Stanford

Machine - Andrew Luck for President. Stanford destroys Washington 48-10. Pick: Stanford

Standings

Season Record (Last week)

1. Woman 47-28 (6-4)
2. Man 45-30 (5-5)
3. Machine 38-37 (4-6)
Posted on: October 18, 2011 10:36 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 2:57 pm
 

Eye on College Football Midseason Report: SEC

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

At the top, midseason 2011 remains the best of times for the SEC. Alabama and LSU have given the conference not one but two highly viable -- some might even say favored -- candidates for a sixth straight national title. It's not even such bad news that one seems all-but-destined to eliminate the other from the title race when they meet in Tuscaloosa Nov. 5; assuming both clear their final hurdles this week, that game should arrive with more hype, more anticipation, more coverage and more viewers than any regular season college football game since Ohio State and Michigan clashed as undefeateds the final week of 2006. From a national title perspective, the SEC has never mattered more.

But anywhere other than the top, these are the worst times for the SEC in a while. A plague of injuries, inexperience, and ineffective coaching has gutted much of the league's offensive bite and turned what used to be riveting battles amongst the league's wealthier-than-thou middle class into glorified slapfights. Take this past weekend: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina combined for a total of 49 points across two hideous games; lambs-to-the-slaughter Tennessee and Ole Miss lost to the league's top two by a combined 76 points; and Georgia and Vanderbilt played a game most notable for the screaming match between its coaches afterwards. It was ugliness all the way around--and that's with the conference's worst offense, Kentucky, on a bye. 

Alabama vs. LSU should be a classic. And Arkansas, still easily top-10 caliber and as exciting as ever, is blameless. But are the hobbled back-nine of the SEC capable of giving us anything else deserving of that label in 2011's second half?

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama. It's easy to forget Richardson's 2011 season actually got off to a slow start, with only 148 yards on a 3.8 per-carry average through the Crimson Tide's first two games. Since then: five games, 764 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 8.2 yards-per-carry, the sort of per-attempt number starting tailbacks for national title contenders achieve only in video games. It's not just the production, either; Richardson has showed off the proverbial total package and then some, flashing breakaway speed, bone-rattling power, and startling elusiveness, sometimes -- as in his Heisman-reel tour de force against Ole Miss -- all on the same play.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback, LSU. The only serious defensive candidate for the 2011 Heisman, the Honey Badger has stormed onto the national scene on the back of a wave of big plays: the strip-and-fumble-return for touchdown against Oregon, the dazzling interception-and-return-to-the-1 against West Virginia, the sack-strip-and-fumble-return for touchdown against Kentucky. But those game-changing efforts shouldn't obscure what Mathieu does on an every-down basis: namely, lead the nation's No. 4 defense in solo tackles and spearhead the nation's No. 6 secondary in opponent's passer rating.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Les Miles, LSU. Nick Saban obviously deserves commendation as well, but with the ridiculous stockpile of defensive talent in Tuscaloosa and the rock-steady stability of Saban's program, the Tide were never in any danger of not being really, really good. Miles, however, had to navigate a major offseason shakeup of his offensive coaching staff, the Jordan Jefferson barfight brouhaha on the eve of the season (amongst other distractions), and a handful of offensive line injuries to have his team where it is now--atop the AP poll and well on their way to bringing an 8-0 record to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

SURPRISE: Auburn. Few SEC teams have legitimately exceeded expectations in 2011 -- LSU and Vandy are the only other two, frankly -- but none has been as big a shock as the Tigers, who had been predicted by many to sink to fifth (or worse) in the West and general irrelevancy in Year One A.C. (i.e., after Cam). But despite being a Vegas underdog in all four of their SEC games (and scoring 20 points or fewer in their most recent three), a newly-energized defense and timely plays on offense and special teams have Auburn sitting at 3-1 in the league and 5-2 overall. If Miles's and Saban's teams hadn't run so far away from the pack, Gene Chizik would be a hot favorite for SEC Coach of the Year.

DISAPPOINTMENT: Mississippi State. The 0-4 SEC record isn't that bad, honestly; at Auburn, vs. LSU, at Georgia, and vs. South Carolina is a reasonably tough road to hoe. What is that bad is that Dan Mullen's veteran offense has looked so lost, scoring just one offensive touchdown over its last three conference games. This was supposed to be the season Mullen started winning games against the heavier hitters of the SEC, but thanks to his team's offensive struggles, the Bulldogs are now losing games (and in uglier fashion) to the same caliber of team they defeated in 2010.

GAME OF THE YEAR--SO FAR: South Carolina 45, Georgia 42, Sept. 10. Thanks to the lack of offensive fireworks and Alabama and LSU horse-whipping opponents on a weekly basis, candidates for this honor are few and far between, But back in Week 2 the Gamecocks and Bulldogs played a back-and-forth thriller that may still wind up deciding the SEC East. Marcus Lattimore powered for 176 bruising yards, but the player of the game was Gamecock defensive end Melvin Ingram, who scored touchdowns on both defense and special teams and capped his breakout performance by snaring the Dawgs' last-gasp onsides kick. 

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GAME OF THE YEAR TO COME: Alabama vs. LSU, Nov. 5. Do we even have to spell out why? Consider that the average score to-date between one of these two behemoths and an SEC opponent has been 37-8, and the only thing keeping either one from being heavy, heavy favorites to win the league title is the other. With the pair currently ranked No. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings, it's not an exaggeration to think of this as a BCS championship semifinal.

AND YOUR SEC CHAMPIONS ARE: Alabama out of the West, purely on the basis of getting to host the Game of the Century of the Year, and Georgia out of the East--the Bulldogs have far fewer offensive question marks than the Gamecocks and the easier schedule down the stretch. And as for the SEC Championship Game, well, when the best of this year's West meets the best of this year's East, there's only one outcome worth predicting. We like Alabama to win this year's SEC title and advance to the BCS national championship.

 
 
 
 
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