Tag:UAB
Posted on: October 9, 2011 3:43 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 6



Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 6.

WINNER: Les Miles.

For years, college football fans have come up with excuse after excuse for why Miles has been less than a terrifiic head football coach, despite his gaudy records and 2007 national title. He's just lucky. Anyone can recruit that kind of talent to LSU. His clock management is terrible. Never lost fewer than two games in a season. He can't get his offense fixed. Did we mention he's lucky? This offseason, one prominent blogger went so far as to place Miles No. 1 on a list of "the Worst Coaches in College Football."

But after today's dominating 41-11 win over Florida and the Tigers' 6-0 start to the 2011 season -- a start that includes wins over four different ranked teams -- even Miles's most ardent detractors have to admit the Mad Hatter has put together the kind of upper-upper-echelon team that can't be explained by recruiting or luck or happenstance alone. Yes, it helps to have Ryan Baker and Tyrann Mathieu and Michael Brockers around, but even superstars like those don't make the kind of terror-inducing defense LSU has today without the guidance of John Chavis, who Miles recruited to Baton Rouge personally. Yes, it's tough to not have a strong running game with Spencer Ware and a veteran line, but that running game wouldn't be nearly so effective if Jarrett Lee hadn't shaken off a career's worth of failures to become exactly the steady, accurate (and vs. the Gators, bomb-tossing) quarterback the offense needs--a development that can be directly traced to Miles's much-derided hire of Steve Kragthorpe as his team's new quarterbacks coach. The Tigers have been special teams killers for far too long under Miles to dismiss their contributions as mere "luck," as evidenced once again Saturday when punter Brad Wing noticed the lack of a Gator punt safety and took off for what should have been a 44-yard touchdown.

In short: to watch the Tigers' rise to 6-0 and their dismantling of the Gators and not see Miles's fingerprints all over them is an exercise in willful ignorance. Luck can explain some of his successes, and the natural advantages of being LSU does explain a little more. But these Tigers? They are only explained by having a coach at the very, very top of his field.

LOSERS: Auburn's wide receivers.

Tiger quarterback Barrett Trotter hasn't played well of late, and has the numbers to prove it--6 of 19 for 81 yards and a pick against Arkansas, to be specific. But he also hasn't gotten much help from his wideouts with leading receiver Emory Blake out ... if he's gotten any at all. Remove a 44-yard reception for Travante Stallworth on a second-half flea flicker completion, and Auburn's wideouts combined for all of three receptions for 21 yards. DeAngelo Benton had a particularly rough evening, dropping one late first-half pass that could have set up an Auburn field goal, getting called for a hold that would eventually force an Auburn punt, and letting a late Trotter pass whistle through his hands for the aformentioned interception.

WINNERS: Backup quarterbacks.

Jacoby Brissett aside, it was a good day to be a current (or recent) second-stringer in the SEC. Connor Shaw cemented himself as the new South Carolina starter and then some with his 311-yard, 4-touchdown, zero-pick performance vs. Kentucky. Mississippi State's Tyler Russell came off the bench to complete 11 of his 13 passes, three of them going for second-half touchdowns that turned what had been a 3-0 halftime deficit into a 21-3 win over UAB. Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers didn't have much of an impact statistically (11-of-18, 104 yards, 2 INTs), but led a couple of decent drives and looked as composed vs. the Alabama pass rush as you could hope.

And then there's Lee, who you'll remember was not only Jordan Jefferson's backup with just days remaining before the season, but many fans' favorite to drop to third-string behind JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger. Against Florida Lee completed only 7 passes--but he also only attempted 10, and those 7 completions averaged a gain of 22 yards.

LOSER: Stephen Garcia.

The career of one of the SEC's most recognizable stars, magnetic talents, and frustrating enigmas appears poised to end not with a bang, but with a whimper. Though you can't ever say never with Steve Spurrier, Shaw's confident command performance against Kentucky suggests he's going to be the Gamecock quarterback for quite some time to come. There's going to be much more difficult opponents ahead for him than the hapless Wildcats, but does it matter? Spurrier's surprising patience with Garcia through his awkward start to this season now looks poised to be turned against him as Spurrier lets Shaw work through the same rough patches Garcia endured.

Which means that in the end, Garcia's senior season hasn't been undone by the off-field troubles that so many have expected to be his downfall. It's gone south because he simply hasn't produced on the field, because aside from one half against East Carolina, he's never looked as good in 2011 as Shaw looked Saturday. It's not how we expected things to come to an end for Garcia (if this is the end), but nothing about Garcia's time in Columbia has ever played out as expected, has it?

LOSERS: Kentucky fans.

The Wildcats kicked off to open their game against the Gamecocks, forced a fumble on the return, and recovered just outside the Carolina 20. Cue the shots in the stands of overjoyed Kentucky fans high-fiving each other and celebrating the best possible start.

60 minutes later -- and only 96 Wildcat yards, 6 Wildcat first downs, and 3 Wildcat points which came immediately following that fumble recovery later -- those same fans had to be some of the most miserable in the country. It's one thing to watch a poor football team; it's another to watch a team that seems so hopelessly outmatched on offense and doesn't seem to be showing any kind of week-to-week improvement. After failing to top 300 total yards against Louisville or Florida, the Wildcats have now failed to top 300 yards in their games against LSU and Carolina combined.

So about that kickoff: were those fans happy to have that one moment of joy? Or all the angrier for that joy being so completely misleading?

WINNER: Georgia's defense.

Before the game, we asked if the Bulldog secondary could live up its gaudy post-Boise State numbers against the likes of Tyler Bray and Da'Rick Rogers on the road at Tennessee. The answer: mostly. Bray and late-game injury replacement Matt Simms did throw for 290 yards at a perfectly respectable 7.3 yards-per-attempt clip, and without an interception.

But they never did throw a touchdown, either; in fact, the Volunteers were kept out of the end zone entirely until Simms snuck in from a yard out with only 2:45 to play in the game. Thanks to the Dawg defensive backs keeping the Vols in front of them, and the UGA front seven stuffing the pathetic Tennessee ground game to the tune of .4 yards per rush (yes, .4), Bray and Co. finished the game with all of 12 points on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs offense wasn't much to write home about -- Isaiah Crowell didn't even hit the 60-yard mark on the ground, the red zone offense sputtered, and like his Vol counterparts Aaron Murray threw neither an interception nor touchdown pass -- but after years of seeing their team score like a pinball machine only to lose after another lackluster defensive display, we expect Dawg fans will take it.

LOSER: Clarity in the SEC East.

South Carolina was the preseason favorite. They were the favorite after they beat Georgia. But then Garcia struggled and Florida beat Tennessee, and the Gators were the favorite. And then Carolina lost to Auburn and Florida lost to both Alabama, and lots of people considered Georgia as the new favorite. But now that Shaw looks to have healed the Gamecocks' Achilles heel ... are they the favorites? Or is Georgia, still, after beating Tennessee? Or is Florida just ripe to return once their schedule eases up? All we really know is that none of the other three teams is winning the division, and that the East winner is going to be a two-touchdown underdog to the West's come December. Past that? your guess is as good as ours.

WINNERS: Everyone who loves college football. Let's not go crazy by saying something like "LSU and Alabama isn't going to be the only game that matters in college football this season"; with Wisconsin, Stanford, Clemson, Boise State and of course Oklahoma all looking at potential undefeated seasons, it's too hasty to even lay claim to LSU and Alabama as the nation's best two teams.

That said: if you're a college football fan, and you've watched Alabama and LSU play this season, and you know how good they are, and you've considered how much fun it would be to watch them meet, undefeated, with a trip to Atlanta on the line on Nov. 5 ... then every week that passes with the two of them still unblemished is a good thing. This was one such week.





Posted on: October 6, 2011 3:33 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 6

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

In which we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:



Florida's running game: can you give your quarterback(s) any breathing room?
Any team that can start Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps at tailback and then substitute the other in for the first is going to be a threat on the ground, regardless of who their team faces; when the tiniest sliver of a crease could equal an 80-yard touchdown before the coaches have their headsets correctly adjusted, the Gator ground game is where a defense's focus is going to start ... and probably finish.

That probably goes double for LSU this Saturday, since with John Brantley out and some combination of true freshman Jeff Driskel and other true freshman Jacoby Brissett taking over at quarterback, the Gators' passing game is the most glaring of question marks. But it doesn't matter how badly the Tigers stack the box, how fearsome LSU's defensive front is, how well John Chavis has his charges prepared--Florida must find a way to get Demps, Rainey, and possibly Trey Burton moving forward on the ground. Even with Brantley looking as sharp as he ever has in the first half, the Gators still couldn't rush the ball at all vs. Alabama; Rainey, Demps, and Mike Gillislee carried 17 times for 13 yards, and the end result was zero points over Florida's final 10 drives.

If Driskel and Brissett have any prayer of completing passes consistently against the carnival of athletic freaks that make up LSU's secondary -- in Baton Rouge, no less -- that secondary is going to have to be not just concerned but downright obsessed with the Florida running game. That won't happen if that running game doesn't pick up some good early gains, maybe break a 20-to-30-yarder somewhere, and keep the Gators out of anything but the occasional third-and-long. Otherwise, Chavis's Tigers will spend all afternoon teeing off on the newbies under center and generally choking the life out of Charlie Weis's attack. Weis failed miserably in his first attempt at finding a way to run the ball against an elite SEC defense; a second failure will equal a potentially even-more-miserable defeat.



Barrett Trotter: are you up to giving Auburn a passing attack again? The Tigers' 4-1 record and road upset of South Carolina has helped mask a major, major flaw in the Tiger offense, and a surprising one given Gus Malzahn's track record: Auburn's vertical passing game has all but vanished. In the five quarters since the start of the second half against Clemson, junior QB Trotter has completed just 52 percent of his passes, for only 5.9 yards an attempt, while throwing 4 (often ugly) interceptions to just 3 touchdowns. That's not to mention the eight sacks taken by Trotter the last two games or that neither FAU nor the Gamecocks are going to be mistaken for having world-class secondaries any time soon.

Judging by Arkansas's efforts to stop the run against Texas A&M (or lack thereof), Trotter should get plenty of help from Michael Dyer and the Auburn running game. But that alone won't be enough for the Tigers to keep pace with the Hogs, not given the way Bobby Petrino's quarterbacks have shredded the Auburn defense the past two seasons (702 combined yards, 7 touchdowns) and the kind of form Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright are in right now. With the Tiger secondary as flammable as ever (provided your quarterback isn't Stephen Garcia), Arkansas is going to score a boatload of points.

Which is why the injuries to receivers to Trovon Reed and Emory Blake couldn't have come at a worse time for Auburn. Trotter already needed to take a substantial step forward to keep the Tigers within striking distance on the road; now he'll have to do it without two of his top three receivers. If there was ever a week for Malzahn to earn his substantial assistant's salary, this looks to be it.



Georgia secondary: are you for real? When Kellen Moore gouged the Bulldogs for 28-of-34 passing and 3 touchdowns Week 1, it looked like the Bulldog defensive backs had regressed back to their dark Wille Martinez-led days. But with safety Bacarri Rambo returning from suspension, the Dawgs have held their last four opponents to team QB ratings under 86 and rank 11th in the country in opponent's pass efficiency despite the Moore carpet-bombing.

Those past results are no guarantee of future performance, since facing Tyler Bray in Neyland Stadium represents a vast step up in competition from the likes of Garcia, Zack Stoudt, the slumping Chris Relf and whoever it was Coastal Carolina trotted out. But it's worth remembering that the Vols still have next-to-nothing going on the ground; even after totaling 199 yards against Buffalo, the Vols rank a horrid 109th in the country in yards per-carry. If the Dawg defensive backs can slow down Bray at all, the Vol offense could grind to a halt ... and barring another turnover-fest from Aaron Murray, Georgia should be able to walk out of Neyland with the victory.

So: can those Dawg DBs slow down Bray or not? The evidence to date is encouraging, but with the memory of Moore's night at the Georgia Dome still lingering, it's not compelling just yet.

Other SEC questions worth asking: How does AJ McCarron look against the Vanderbilt secondary? (Don't laugh; this is the best set of defensive backs McCarron has faced yet. A strong showing would further cement the belief that the Tide have no Achilles heels.) Can Marcus Lattimore keep pace in the Heisman race? (Sure, most of the attention on Carolina is focused on new quarterback starter Connor Shaw. But a second straight subpar outing against a Kentucky defense that kept LSU's ground game bottled up for a half would put the sophomore badly behind at the midseason mark.) Does Mississippi State have any fight left? (The Bulldogs have looked utterly listless and deflated ever since losing to LSU. Is there any indication that could change down the road vs. UAB?)

Posted on: September 26, 2011 2:13 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 5:34 pm
 

SEC Poll Reactions, Week 4

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.

LSU. We wrote late Saturday that you couldn't go wrong with either the Bayou Bengals or the Crimson Tide at the top of a ballot, so yes, from here LSU's ascension to the No. 1 spot in the AP poll looks entirely deserved. What's interesting is that the voting wasn't even that close; Les Miles's team drew more the double the first-place votes of previous No. 1 Oklahoma and the Tide combined.

Two points to be made from this development:

1. Aggressive nonconference scheduling can pay off. The "three victories over ranked teams on the road" soundbite is a bit of an exaggeration -- the "neutral" site in Dallas was far closer and cozier to LSU than Oregon, and Mississippi State, only No. 25 at the time, is deservedly nowhere near the polls now -- but there's still no question which team has the best overall resume in the country right now. That LSU is now in poll position to potentially lose a game somewhere and still reclaim their BCS title-game spot with a win over Alabama is a just reward for their willingness to challenge themselves.

2. The AP poll deserves kudos for their voters' willingness to respond to results on the field and adjust accordingly. It wasn't that long ago the Sooners would have held the top spot come hell or high water, as long as they didn't lose. Thankfully, where the AP is concerned, those times are behind us.

ALABAMA. As much fun as the polls are to track and debate, when you're in the Tide's position, it doesn't honestly matter where you're ranked at this stage. If Alabama continues winning -- particularly against LSU -- it will reach the No. 1 spot, no questions asked.

But it remains odd to see the Tide badly trailing LSU and Oklahoma in first-place votes, leaving them third in the AP and tied for second with LSU in the Coaches. If the Tide don't have LSU's overall body of work, in Saturday's total domination of Arkansas they also put together the most complete single-game performance of any team in the FBS this year, considering the opponent. With Oklahoma struggling to put away Missouri at home and Florida State absorbing a second loss (and in turn making the Sooners' win in Tallahassee less impressive), it's a close call ... but after watching Saturday's performance, we'd favor the Tide, and we find it surprising more voters don't.

SOUTH CAROLINA. The Gamecocks are now officially a top-10 team in both polls, moving up to 9th in the Coaches and 10th in the AP. But they're still not doing it by overwhelming the voters' impression of them; they simply moved up one spot to account for Texas A&M's loss in the Coaches and two for that and Florida State's in the AP.

No one in Columbia's going to complain about occupying a top-10 slot when Stephen Garcia's playing as poorly as he is, but we asked last week why the Gamecocks were ranked behind an Oregon team with a worse record and worse resume, and that still stands. Carolina is undefeated, the Ducks aren't; Carolina has beaten Georgia on the road, Navy and Vanderbilt all teams with better records than anyone the Ducks have beaten. To rank Oregon higher means voters are simply guessing that they're better--and at this point of the season, shouldn't they be relying on something other than guesswork?

FLORIDA. The Gators continue to rise, moving from 15th to 12th in both polls thanks to losses from the Aggies, 'Noles, and Razorbacks. The same complaint regarding Oregon could maybe be repeated here (the Ducks are one spot ahead in the Coaches, three in the AP), but with wins over FAU, UAB and a terrible Kentucky team, the Gators don't have nearly the quality-of-victory the Gamecocks do.

ARKANSAS. The Razorbacks fell to 18th in both polls, a slide of six spots in the Coaches and just four in the AP. This seems extremely generous on the part of the voters--yes, the Hogs are likely good enough to eventually win their way back into the top 15 or even top 10 by season's end, but at this point their entire resume consists of: 1. Blowing out an FCS team; 2. Blowing out New Mexico, potentially the worst team in the FBS; 3. Beating Troy by 10 points 4. Being routed by Alabama.

The Razorbacks are a good team. But until they prove it by beating quality competition, they have no business being ranked in front of teams like Michigan, Georgia Tech or Illinois, all of which have victories (or two) over likely bowl teams tucked away. Again: guesswork should be for preseason polls, not for those in Week 4.

EVERYBODY ELSE: In the Coaches, no other SEC team is receiving more than the 3 points pulled by Tennessee, good enough to make the Vols "No. 37." Auburn somehow checks in the third-team-out position in the AP -- clearly, not media members saw the Tigers wheeze past awful FAU Saturday night, when they outgained the Owls by all of eight yards -- but aren't quite "knocking on the door" of the poll yet; they're still 97 points behind No. 25 Arizona State.

Still, a win at South Carolina this weekend (however unlikely that seems after Saturday) would seem to lock up an AP spot for Auburn next week.


Posted on: September 14, 2011 6:53 pm
 

SEC RapidReport Roundup, 9/14: Gators ready

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Running down everything you need to know from the week's news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters.



FLORIDA. Just in time for the Gators to face their first opponent of 2011 with a definable pulse -- and judging by their comprehensive smackdown of Cincinnati, Tennessee has more than just a pulse at the moment -- Will Muschamp will have his most complete roster to date. Defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd will officially be in uniform after serving his NCAA-mandated two-game suspension, and running back Jeff Demps will be able to go after missing most of the Gators' drubbing of UAB with a shoulder problem.

"He's fine," Muschamp said of Demps. "He's playing. He's been practicing." The one question mark is backup linebacker Dee Finley, arrested earlier this week on multiple misdemeanor charges; Muschamp would not say whether Finley had been suspended or not.

TENNESSEE. On the other side of the rivalry, Derek Dooley has several nicked-up players -- including pivotal defensive back Prentiss Waggner -- practicing in non-contact jerseys, but only as a "precautionary" measure. For senior starting defensive end Ben Martin, though, even a precautionary non-contact jersey would be an improvement; an ankle injury means Dooley would "like to get 15 plays from him" but may have to keep him on the sideline entirely.

In other Vol lineup news, struggling freshman Justin Coleman is holding off senior Art Evans at starting corner ... for now. On the scheduling front, Tennessee will play third-year FCS program Georgia State in 2012.

AUBURN. Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator for Auburn Week 3 opponent Clemson, have something unusual in common besides their similar schemes: both came up through the high school coaching ranks. Malzahn hopes the matchup will help other teams look at high school coaches when filling out their staffs. "Hopefully, things like this will give more high school coaches opportunities that we've been fortunate enough to both have," Malzahn said.

The Tigers have been using as many as 12 defensive linemen and won't change those plans against Clemson, though redshirt freshman end Justin Delaine's season-ending knee injury may limit that number by one. True freshman kickoff returner Tre Mason is hoping Clemson kicks to him after Mississippi State began using squib kicks last week.

SOUTH CAROLINA. Despite the Gamecocks' 2-0 record, Steve Spurrier isn't thrilled with his team's defense. "We don’t look like we know what we are doing or we have some bad players, one or the other," he said. "I have been reading about all these great athletes we have on defense, but we don’t play great that’s for sure right now." He had similar comments for his wide receivers, who he said "are getting a lot of publicity, but need to start doing something." Wideouts other than Alshon Jeffery have combined for only five receptions so far this season.

Despite the Gamecocks' struggles in the passing game (on both sides of the ball), Spurrier said he won't be rotating Stephen Garcia with Connor Shaw. "The competition was over," Spurrier said. "[Garcia]’s got every opportunity to take us as far as he can because we firmly believe he’s our best quarterback on the team."

ELSEWHERE: Alabama senior wide receiver Darius Hanks will return for the Tide's meeting with North Texas after missing the first two weeks with a redshirting issue. "I don’t think his transition back will be a problem," Nick Saban said ... Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden is surprisingly already practicing again after his broken ankle was found to be only a hairline fracture. Bolden could see the field as early as this week ...

Mississippi State
head coach Dan Mullen says his players have practiced "angry" this week after last week's loss to Auburn. "They felt we should have won that football game," he said ... As for the Bulldogs' Thursday night opponent, LSU head coach Les Miles would not rule out backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger making an apparance after a successful debut against Northwestern State. "I would anticipate playing Jarrett Lee really start to finish," Miles said, but added "You just never can tell when you may turn to him and see if we can get a hot hand and go." Lee is nursing an ankle injury but should be fine against MSU ...

Starting Georgia safety Shawn Williams could get a look at inside linebacker after the position has been hard-hit by injuries ... Vanderbilt's surprising recruiting renaissance has continued with the commitment of a top-25 wide receiver from Minnesota.
Posted on: September 12, 2011 1:00 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 1:04 pm
 

SEC injury roundup: Another Georgia LB out

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

This Saturday was not kind to the SEC on the injury front. Here's the rundown.


GEORGIA. After the Week 1 injury to sophomore Alec Ogletree, there may not have been an area of the field where Georgia could less afford to sustain an injury than at inside linebacker. But that's exactly where they've sustained one all the same, as CBSSports.com RapidReporter Fletcher Page reported Sunday that junior Christian Robinson has injured his foot and will miss at least three games. Robinson leads the Bulldogs through two games with 22 tackles.

With former inside linebacker Richard Samuel now plying his trade at running back in the wake of the departures of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, the two ILB starters for this week's meeting against Coastal Carolina will be some combination of senior walk-on Jeremy Sulek, junior Mike Gilliard, and trure freshman Amarlo Herrera. The trio combined for four tackles against South Carolina, three of them belonging to Gilliard. Mark Richt won't admit it even if it is what he's planning, but with Isaiah Crowell shining at tailback, we could see Samuel moved back to linebacker this week.

There is some good injury news for the Dawgs; starting offensive lineman Kenarious Gates should be back on the field this week after missing the Garolina game with a sprained ankle.

ARKANSAS. Though he's not currently expected to miss the Razorbacks' Saturday matchup with Troy, starting quarterback Tyler Wilson did leave his team's rout of New Mexico with concussion-like symptoms. Bobby Petrino said that though Wilson had not (and as of now, has not) been diagnosed with a concussion, they weren't taking any chanes.

Wilson wasn't the only Hog to take a knock against the Lobos. Though not currently expected to miss any time going forward, receiver Jarius Wright and defensive end Jake Bequette -- both key members of the Razorbak starting lineup -- missed the second half after being "nicked up" with a knee and hamstring injury, respectively.

MISSISSIPPI STATE. Bulldog fans had to fear the worst when starting left tackle James Carmon was carted off the field in the second half of State's loss to Auburn. And Carmon will indeed likely miss at least this Thursday's huge home tilt against LSU. But the good news here for MSU far outweighs the bad: Carmon will not face surgery, and Dan Mullen said that fellow injured lineman Quentin Saulsberry should be able to play against the Bayou Bengals.

Given both Carmon's and Saulsberry's importance to the State line and how serious both injuries appeared to look Saturday -- Carmon's in particular -- we suspect those sighs of relief you're hearing right now are coming from Starkville.

FLORIDA. The Gators are ailing, but as things stand now, they should have nearly everyone aavailable for their SEC opener against Tennessee. Running back Jeff Demps left the UAB drubbing with a shoulder injury but "should be fine" according to Will Muschamp. Starting tight end Jordan Reed should also be able to overcome a hamstring problem, and junior corner Jeremy Brown may be able to return from a knee injury after missing two weeks.

ELSEWHERE: South Carolina true freshman running back Shon Carson sustained a serious knee injury and will be "out for a while," per Steve Spurrier ... Tennessee had a pair of lineman starters leave the Cincinnati game with injuries, but both could see the field against Florida anyway ... Still no timetable on the return of backup Ole Miss running back Enrique Davis. (Starter Brandon Bolden is, of course, out with a broken ankle. Fortunately, third-stringer Jeff Scott appears more than capable of filling in.).
Posted on: September 11, 2011 3:55 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2011 4:16 pm
 

SEC Poll Reactions, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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

ALABAMA/LSU. Entering this week, there was some expectation that a comprehensive performance from the Crimson Tide in Happy Valley might allow Alabama to retake the No. 2 slot in the media poll and consolidate their lead on the Bayou Bengals -- scheduled for what was little more than a light scrimmage against Northwestern State -- in the Coaches.

Thanks to getting that comprehensive performance, the Crimson Tide did indeed leapfrog the Tigers into No. 2 in both polls--but their margin for error in either balloting remains thinner than Nick Saban's patience for unforced mistakes. In the AP, Alabama has eight fewer first-place votes but a miniscule six-point lead all the same (1,422 to 1,416); in the Coaches, the margin is 38 points, less than half the gap between LSU and fourth-place Boise State.

Frankly, this is how it should be; both teams have decisive victories over quality opponents (though Oregon does look a good bit stronger than the Lions at the moment), both have overpowering defenses and a few offensive questions, and both spent one week dallying against lesser competition. If it looks like the pollsters are pslitting hairs at the moment, that's because those hairs ought to be split.

SOUTH CAROLINA. Interestingly, the team just ahead of the Gamecocks in each poll -- Virginia Tech -- happened to face the same team in Week 2 -- East Carolina -- Carolina had faced in Week 1. So between the Gamecocks' road victory over a desperate Georgia team and Tech's weaker performance against the Pirates, it's only fair that Steve Spurrier's team jumped the Hokies in both polls, going from No. 12 to No. 11. The Gamecocks are even within striking distance of the top 10 in the AP, sitting only five points back from Nebraska.

Too bad the Gamecocks won't have much of a chance to make an impression the next two weeks--they take on Navy and Vanderbilt.

ARKANSAS.
The Hogs blasted New Mexico, but given that the Lobos may not be much better than Arkansas's Week 1 FCS opponent Missouri State, there can't be any complaints out of Fayetteville about staying at No. 13 in the Coaches and No. 14 in the AP.

FLORIDA. The Gators blew past overmatched UAB in a second straight tune-up, but thanks to Mississippi State's loss and Ohio State's ineffective performance against Toledo, the Gators moved up anyway to No. 17 in the Coaches and No. 18 in the AP. That's a jump of four spots from the Gators preseason rank in each poll, just for beating the hapless Blazers and even-more-hapless FAU--sometimes scheduling cupcakes pays, apparently.

AUBURN. Weclome back to the AP poll, Tigers; Auburn's win over previous No. 16 Mississippi State has the defending national champions re-included at No. 21 in the AP and up three spots to No. 19 in the Coaches.

It's not a bad reward, but there's an argument to be made that the AP could do even more for the Tigers, though, and are still overreacting to the Week 1 escape against Utah State. After all, look at Florida--the media started the season with Auburn just one spot behind the Gators. Since then, Auburn has beaten two teams better than either of Florida's opponents--and now sit five spots behind the Gators.

MISSISSIPPI STATE. The Bulldogs can thank their New Year's Day Gator Bowl pounding of Michigan for just remaining in both polls this week, clinging to the No. 25 rung; without that emphatic victory, there's no doubt MSU doesn't enter this past week at No. 16/17, and (in turn) even less doubt they lose that top-25 spot. At this point, it's not like beating Memphis (47-3 losers to Arkansas State) should be worth anything in the voters' minds.

TENNESSEE. It's time for the voters to pay more attention to the Vols. After throttling a likely bowl team in Cincinnati, Tennessee has accomplished more in the win column and looked more impressive in doing so than, say, West Virginia, which beat Marshall in Week 1 and somehow trailed middle-of-the-road FCS program Norfolk State at halftime in Week 2. But the Mountaineers are ranked 20th in the Coaches and 18th in the AP, while the Vols limp along deep in the "Also Receiving Votes" category.

That's not to say the two teams should necessarily be switched; the young Vols still have a lot to prove. But there's no way the gap should be that wide given the results on the field.

Posted on: September 11, 2011 2:16 am
Edited on: September 11, 2011 2:20 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

1. Mark Richt is in deep, deep trouble. But he's not finished. It would be different if the Dawgs had lost Saturday the way they lost against Boise State, getting overwhelmed in the trenches and wilting in the second half. It would be different if Richt's team hadn't shown such drastic improvement from Week 1 to Week 2--not just on the scoreboard, but in everything from run blocking to tackling to special teams work. It would be different if Georgia hadn't had every opportunity to win the game Saturday. And most importantly, it would be different if the Dawgs were facing a different schedule.

But they are facing the schedule they're facing, which includes one tricky true road date (at Tennessee), the annual Cocktail Party showdown against Florida, two challenging home games against Auburn and Mississippi State ... and six other winnable games. Saving Richt's job won't be easy; we projected earlier it would take nine wins to do it, meaning Richt would have to go 3-1 in the games above and sweep the remaining six. 

But it's certainly possible. His team hasn't thrown in the towel. He has a star on his hands in Isaiah Crowell, who in the Dawgs' next big game we'll wager won't carry only 16 times. He has a quarterback who remains one of the SEC's best, despite his serious mistakes against the Gamecocks. He has a defense that only really gave up 27 points and should be even better against anyone who's not Marcus Lattimore. He's not dead yet.

2. Alabama is a national title contender. This is something we've had confirmed, rather than outright "learned," but there's no other way to look at the Tide's strangle job on the Nittany Lions. AJ McCarron wasn't impressive statistically (just 5.3 yards per attempt), but that "zero" in the interceptions column is really the only statistic that matters. Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy combined for 196 yards on the ground. And after generously allowing Penn State a first-quarter field goal, the Tide defense barely let the Lions breathe again until the game was entirely out of reach. 

Considering all of that was on the road against a quality Big Ten team, yes, the Tide deserve to be in the same breath with LSU and Oklahoma at the top of the polls until proven otherwise.

(A random aside: is it time for Lacy to start borrowing a few more of Richardson's carries? He's gotten only 19 attempts in two games to Richardson's 37, but boasts a per-carry average of 7.5 yards to Richardson's 3.8. Food for thought.)

3. Whatever else they are, Auburn is dangerous. Given that they share a division with the Tide, LSU and Arkansas, it's hard to see a team that's given up 979 yards in two games (one of them against Utah State) go on to win a division title. But focusing entirely on Auburn's defensive problems means missing the fact the Tigers have started the year with 83 points in those two games--42 in the first, 41 in the second. And that's before Gus Malzahn's attack has really put it all together, too. The run game sputtered in Week 1; the passing game was inconsistent in Week 2. 

Combine a potentially even more lethal offense with a much-improved special teams (led by freshman kickoff return weapon Tre Mason and redshirt frosh kicker Cody Parkey), and there may not be any single game on Auburn's schedule where they couldn't erupt for 40-45 points and win.

4. Speaking of dangerous: Tyler Bray is, too. That 5-of-30 performance in the Vols' spring game is far, far behind the sophomore now. Bray tore the visiting Cincinnati defense to pieces, completing 34 of his 41 passes for 405 yards, 4 touchdowns, and -- perhaps most importantly for a player whose coaches have occasionally accused of being too loose with his decision-making -- zero interceptions. Like Auburn, the Vol defense may not be strong enough to insert Bray's team alongside the Gamecocks and Gators in the SEC East race (the Bearcats ran for a whopping 6.4 yards on their 26 carries) ... but they might make things awfully interesting all the same.

5. Florida and Arkansas need to play someone. Full credit to the Gators and Hogs for dispatching lightweights UAB and New Mexico by a combined 88 points Saturday. But it's tough to know exactly how seriously to take either team playing cream-puff opponents like these or respective week 1 fodder FAU and Missouri State. (At least the Gators get serious next week against the Vols; the Hogs have to wait until a Week 4 showdown with the Tide.)

6. Vandy won't be an embarrassment. It remains to be seen how much headway they can make in the win column against their SEC slate, but that doesn't mean we should overlook that James Franklin's 'Dores already have as many wins in 2011 as they had in either 2009 or 2010. Thanks to a legitimately stingy defense that held UConn to fewer than 200 total yards, Vandy should be far more competitive than the 2010 squad that was outgained by 245 yards per SEC game.

Posted on: September 10, 2011 11:51 am
Edited on: September 10, 2011 11:51 am
 

Gameday weather updates, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Here's the rundown on the weather for all of today's big games (all times Eastern). It can't be any worse than last Saturday, but it does look as though we'll get a good bit more sunshine:

Noon kickoffs

Toledo at No. 15 Ohio State, 12:00, Columbus, OH: Mid-to-low 70s, scattered thunderstorms

Oregon State at No. 8 Wisconsin, 12:00, Madison WI: Sunny, high of 80

No. 16 Mississippi State at Auburn, 12:20, Auburn AL: Sunny, mid-to-low 80s

Afternoon kickoffs

No. 11 Virginia Tech at East Carolina, 3:30, Greenville, NC: Sunny, high of 84

No. 3 Alabama at No. 23 Penn State, 3:30, State College, PA: Scattered thunderstorms and showers, low 70s

Nevada at No. 13 Oregon, 3:30, Eugene OR: Sunny, hot. High of 93

No. 12 South Carolina at Georgia, 4:30, Athens GA: Sunny, mid-to-low 80s

Evening kickoffs

UAB at No. 18 Florida, 7:00, Gainesville FL: Isolated thunderstorms, chance of rain 30 percent. 70s.

Fresno State at No. 10 Nebraska, 7:00, Lincoln NE: Mostly clear. Low of 58

BYU at No. 24 Texas, 7:00, Austin TX: Clear. 70s.

Utah at USC, 7:30, Los Angeles CA: Partly cloudy, 20 percent chance of rain. 60s.

Notre Dame at Michigan, 8:00, Ann Arbor MI: Showers throughout day, thinning out during evening. 60s.


 
 
 
 
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