Posted on: August 19, 2011 3:33 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Steve Spurrier has never been one to follow the coaching football crowd or refrain from speaking his mind, and he proved it once again Thursday on his weekly radio call-in show.
For starters, Spurrier announced that Saturday's Gamecock scrimmage would be open to the public, a reversal from earlier policy regarding the scrimmage and a move that flies in the face of the nationwide trend towards closing off fall practices.
But even more interesting was Spurrier's rationale for the switch: “We don’t have to act like all those guys who are paranoid somebody is going to come and watch a ball play," he said on the radio show.
What makes Spurrier's statement particularly interesting is that "all those guys" include most of his SEC head coaching brethren. Les Miles closed LSU practices to the media several days early, unhappy with the local coverage. Will Muschamp closed Florida's spring practice for the first time ever and has kept fall camp likewise off-limits. Dan Mullen closed off Mississippi State practice Aug. 8. Reporters at Auburn are barred from scrimmages while players are instructed not to discuss certain aspects of those scrimmages, aspects like "who played well."
All of which is entirely those coaches' prerogative, of course, as it is the many, many other coaches across the country who employ the same policies. And if asked to choose between more incisive coverage of their team and the potential revealing of information that might help their team's opponents, or more generic coverage and fewer leaks, the overwhelming majority of fans will support closed practices and the latter.
So whether Spurrier is being fair or not in labeling the move towards tighter restrictions "paranoia," don't expect to see it change anytime soon ... just like, as we've seen again, the Ole Ball Coach himself.
Posted on: August 15, 2011 4:19 pm
Edited on: August 15, 2011 4:27 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Running down everything you need to know from the weekend's news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters.
ARKANSAS: Maybe that Knile Davis injury won't hurt the Hogs as badly as expected? That might be the lesson from Tyler Wilson's scorching fall camp, which continued through the weekend after a 16-of-20 performance in the scrimmage in which Davis was injured. Saturday, Wilson hit all 10 of his passes in a skeleton drill and had newly-anointed starting tailback Ronnie Wingo singing his praises. "“He’s taken control of the offense," Wingo said.
Wilson's progress has been helped by a new film system in which the Hogs' practice is shot from a camera at the top of a pole positioned behind the offense. More good news for the Hogs: starting lineman Grant Cook is back at practice and JUCO linebacker Alonzo Highsmith appears to have a starting position locked up.
GEORGIA: True freshman outside linebacker Ray Drew was expected to contribute early and often after picking the Dawgs over offers from nearly every school in the country, but that job became harder Sunday after Drew sprained his shoulder in a scooter accident. He's considered day-to-day.
But the much bigger injury crisis for the Bulldogs is taking place in the backfield--three of the first four tailbacks on the depth chart were forced to miss practice Saturday, including potential starters Richard Samuel and Isaiah Crowell.
LSU: Michael Ford arrived at Baton Rouge as a much-hyped running back prospect, but he was not among the four tailbacks mentioned by Les Miles as being in the starting mix for the Tigers. Those would be Spencer Ware (the favorite), Jakhari Gore, Alfred Blue, and true freshman Terrence McGee, who Miles singled out for some praise. "It's who's got the hot hand a little bit, and right now it would be those four," Miles said.
ALABAMA: Nick Saban sounded less than thrilled with his running game's iffy performance in the Tide's Saturday scrimmage. "At some point in this camp, we need to develop some cohesion,” he said. “I feel like we have power up front, and we should be a better running team." The passing game still has to yet to begin working with one of its key pieces, too, as receiver Duron Carter has not yet begin practicing as the school waits to solve a transcript issue.
But the Tide defense rolls on as expected; Mark Barron is 100 percent after last year's pectoral injury and redshirt freshman OLB Adrian Hubbard drew praise from Saban -- no easy task -- for his pass-rushing potential.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Via the Clarion-Ledger's Brandon Marcello, Dan Mullen was not happy with his team's Saturday practice and was even more disgusted with the Bulldogs' Monday morning effort, calling the offensive showing "pathetic." Also: though Clemson transfer linebacker Brandon Maye has been expected by many to occupy one of MSU's three vacant starting linebacker positions, Mullen said Maye "has a long way to go to get a spot."
ELSEWHERE: Jadeveon Clowney collected a pair of sacks in South Carolina's weekend scrimmage, but defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says he's not in line for a starting position just yet ... Florida do-everything tight end Jordan Reed got a look at punt returner over the weekend--and from the sound of things, came away with a shot at the job ... Speaking of punt returns, Auburn assistant Trooper Taylor said he'd take some heat this year if the Tigers' lackluster returns on his watch didn't improve. "It needs to get better or somebody else will be here talking to you," he said. "I'll be spraying fruit at Walmart" ... Tennessee is poised to start a pair of true freshmen linebackers in Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson. And while Derek Dooley was pleased with the improved "efficiency" of the Vol offense under Tyler Bray, Bray still completed just 12 of 26 passes (46 percent) in Saturday's scrimmage ... And speaking of errant passing, the three quarterbacks dueling for the Ole Miss job went a combined 7-of-24 in the Rebels' weekend scrimmage.
Tags: A.J. Johnson, Adrian Hubbard, Alabama, Alfred Blue, Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas, Auburn, Brandon Maye, Clemson, Curt Maggitt, Dan Mullen, Derek Dooley, Duron Carter, Florida, Georgia, Grant Cook, Isaiah Crowell, Jakhari Gore, Jerry Hinnen, Jordan Reed, Knile Davis, LSU, Mark Barron, Michael Ford, Mississippi State, Nick Saban, Ole Miss, Ray Drew, Richard Samuel, Ronie Wingo, SEC, Spencer Ware, Tennessee, Terrence McGee, Trroper Taylor, Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson
Posted on: August 4, 2011 2:42 pm
Edited on: August 4, 2011 4:49 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Whatever you think about preseason polls -- such as the USA Today Coaches version, released earlier today -- the one thing you cannot argue is that they don't matter. For Oklahoma and Alabama, the news became official today that if they win all their games this 2011 season, they will be in the BCS national championship game--no ifs, ands, or buts. And though they'll start the season No. 4, the same can now be said of LSU, since they'll face two of the three teams ranked ahead of them.
So with that fact about their importance in mind, it's time to break down where each of the SEC's 12 teams landed in (or outside of) the first Coaches Poll of the year, and decide whether the pollsters placed them too high, or too low, or just right:
ALABAMA (No. 2): So much for defense winning championships, apparently. The Tide allowed a full half-yard less per-play than the Sooners did in 2011 (ranking seventh in the FBS to Oklahoma's 33rd) and return 10 defensive starters, while Oklahoma has said good-bye to All-American safety Quinton Carter and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Beal. There's also the little matter of Nick Saban's recent defensive pedigree over the much, much iffier Sooners'.
Given that Saban is still deciding between two inexperienced quarterbacks while the Sooners return Heisman candidate Landry Jones, we can understand the coaches' thinking here. But we don't agree with it.
Verdict? Even at No. 2, too low.
LSU (No. 4): It's not often you see the nation's 86th-ranked offense rewarded with the No. 4 ranking the following season, but such is the buzz surrounding the Tigers after their bludgeoning of Texas A&M in last year's Cotton Bowl.
But until Jordan Jefferson proves he's as improved as he appeared to be that night in Dallas and the new (and, unfortunately, newly reshuffled) offensive staff prove they're genuinely capable of putting all the Bayou Bengals' weapons to use, we're still foreseeing a lot of tight, competitive, coin-flip-style ball games. And as excellent as Les Miles is in those kinds of contests, that's still not the recipe for the one-loss season required to finish in the final top-five.
Verdict? Top 10 makes sense, but top 5 is too high.
SOUTH CAROLINA (No. 12): There's no question that with Stephen Garcia back in the fold, the Gamecocks have the talent to live up to this lofty billing. And the schedule, while difficult, isn't that difficult; no LSU or Alabama means trips to Georgia and Arkansas are the trickiest dates on the slate. If Carolina can survive the week 2 trip to Athens, a 10- or even 11-win season beckons.
Of course, the Gamecocks have also been the kind of program that traditionally loses trap games like their roadies at Mississippi State or Tennessee, so it's also possible they drop three or four regular-season games and wind up nowhere near No. 12. Splitting the difference seems reasonable.
Verdict? About right.
ARKANSAS (No. 14): We'll make this simple: a talented, veteran defense opposite a Bobby Petrino offense featuring his long sought-after plowhorse running back and the nation's best wide receiving corps? They're going to be really, really good. 10-2 good, second straight BCS bowl berth good, we're thinking.
Verdict? Too low.
AUBURN (No. 19): As we mentioned earlier today, the old adage that you shouldn't drop the previous No. 1 until they lose might suggest the Tigers have been slapped in the face being as low as No. 19. And indeed, no defending national champion has been ranked this low to start the season since Minnesota went unranked in the 1961 preseason top 20.
But almost none of those defending national champions have faced either the kind of talent exodus the Tigers do or the savage slate that sees Auburn face all seven of the other SEC teams in the poll. If Gene Chizik can win the nine games that are likely necessary to finish the season in the top 20, he'll have done nearly as good a job as he did in 2010.
Verdict? It's a nice gesture towards the defending champs. But performance-wise? Too high.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (No. 20): Dan Mullen's Bulldogs will be good enough (and will have enough opportunity, with home dates against Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina) to impact the SEC race and make the top 25. They don't seem to have enough horses (particularly in a graduation-damaged front seven) to actually challenge for a title in a division as completely stacked as the West. 20 is jus tabout where we'd have them, too.
Verdict? About right.
GEORGIA (No. 22): Mark Richt's Bulldogs, on the other hand, are the SEC's biggest 2011 wild card. They might start 0-2 and collapse in an under-.500, Richt-finishing heap. They might start 2-0 and ride the league's cushiest schedule all the way to an undefeated regular season. (Seriously. Look at their slate and tell me which game after the Carolina tilt they won't be favored in if they can get past the Gamecocks.)
That would suggest a cautious 22 might be about right, but we're betting Richt has turned the tide with this spring's "Dream Team" recruiting class and the focus that comes with a make-or-break season.
Verdict? Too low. We think. Maybe.
FLORIDA (No. 24): It's easy to forget that for all of the disappointment and frustration of Urban Meyer's final season in Gainesville, the Gators still won eight games--and could have even snagged a few more if not for some unfortunate bounces against teams like LSU and Mississippi State. So even though we're firmly in wait-and-see mode where the John Brantley-Charlie Weis shotgun marriage is concerned, having the SEC's second-best defense from a year ago getting the added boost of Will Muschamp's arrival seems like reason enough to take a flyer on the Gators at the bottom of the ballot.
Verdict? About right.
THE OTHER FOUR (n/a): Tennessee pulled seven voting points to land in the "Others receiving votes" category at "No. 41" overall, with none of the other three SEC teams receiving even a token vote. We're surprised the Volunteers didn't get a little more love -- after their late-season surge in 2010, there was some measure of buzz pegging them as 2011 sleepers -- but after Tyler Bray's up-and-down spring, we don't blame the pollsters for their skepticism.
Verdict? About right.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Bobby Petrino, Charlie Weis, Cotton Bowl, Dan Mullen, Florida, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Jeremy Beal, Jerry Hinnen, John Brantley, Jordan Jefferson, Landry Jones, Les Miles, LSU, Mark Richt, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Nick Saban, Oklahoma, Quinton Carter, SEC, South Carolina, Stephen Garcia, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Tyler Bray, Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp
Posted on: July 22, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 2:10 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Houston Nutt opened his SEC Media Days comments by admitting last year's 4-8 campaign was "disappointing." That disappointment might explain why Nutt wasn't quite as animated at the podium as the "Right Reverend" has been in the past.
But that doesn't mean he didn't still have plenty to say. Here's the highlights, by topic:
Mississippi State. Nutt's Starkville counterpart Dan Mullen has done his best to claim ownership of Mississippi following two straight Egg Bowl victories, with "Our State" billboards and calling State the "people's university." Nutt never once mentioned State or Mullen by name, but was clearly rankled by his rivals' Rebel-baiting.
On recruiting, he mentioned in his opening statement the Rebels had landed "the best players out of Mississippi." Asked about the Egg Bowl's recruiting effect again later, he responded with "You checked recruiting this past season, right? It didn't affect us. We had the best recruiting in the state of Mississippi."
On the billboards, Nutt said "Ole Miss has never been to Atlanta ... I feel like I know the road map to get there. And to waste your time and energy on something like that, it's a waste of time. You better be concentrating on recruiting, and concentrating on winning."
Asked about the SEC West, Nutt said "You better buckle up. Both chin straps," and proceeded to praise every team in the division (his own included) ... with the single exception of Mississippi State. We doubt that was coincidental.
And finally, asked directly about the Bulldogs for what must have been the fourth or fifth time, Nutt said this: "The reason they're loud right now is they've won the last two years ... I do understand the Egg Bowl. It's a real rival. And our players and coaches understand that. And there's only one thing to do about it."
Quarterback. Nutt claimed the Rebels' offensive woes are being overblown, saying "We averaged 30 points a game last year now. We were in just about every game. We had one or two bad games on offense. Too many times when we didn't take care of the ball."
Which is why he doesn't seem worried about his quarterback situation in the wake of Jeremiah Masoli's departure. "I think we have a good situation," he said. "We just have to figure out who's going to stay away from the problems, the disasters."
West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti will be the No. 1 quarterback entering fall camp, but Nutt was far from declaring him a starter. "If we were playing tonight ... he would probably go out there first," Nutt said. "But that's why you have two-a-days."
To that end, five-star linebacker recruit C.J. Johnson will have "every opportunity" to get early playing time, epsecially after the injury to starting MLB D.T. Shackelford. "He doesn't look like a guy just coming out of high school," Nutt said. "By default, he'll line up second team on Day 1."
2010. So what happened last year? Nutt said the Rebels' 2008 and 2009 campaigns might have led to some complacency. "After two seasons of success, we got in that mood of assuming," Nutt said. "'I just assume I can roll my helmet out there and go through the motions.'"
But he also said that those two years of Cotton Bowl victories were key to maintaining the Rebels' success on the recruiting trail. "I know we're on the right track. I believe it," Nutt said. 'Back-to-back January 1's, no doubt in my mind, that's what caused these young men to say "Coach Nutt, I know you didn't have a good year this past year, but we're coming with you' ... they see it."
Posted on: July 20, 2011 10:00 pm
Edited on: July 20, 2011 11:54 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
If those numbers seem merely good but not outstanding, objectively speaking, yes, that's true. This is Mississippi State we're talking about, however, a football program with just two nine-win seasons in the last 30 years (1998 and 1999) and a historical reputation alongside Vanderbilt and Kentucky at the bottom of the SEC. So clearly, nine wins is a big deal, and considering the amount of offense returning (nine positional starters and the kicker), it's hardly out of the question for a second straight year.
At Wednesday's Media Days appearance, Mullen credited his fans early and often for that turnaround, citing the 10 straight sellouts thus far, and he seemed to indicate that their continued support is what'll keep Mississippi State performing at such a high level consistently going forward.
Questions about the Bulldogs' personnel were a little light, focusing only on bruising tailback Vick Ballard (968 yards, 19 TDs in 2010) and returning quarterback Chris Relf, a senior in 2011. Ballard was a first-year starter in 2010, coming out of junior college, and Mullen cited the praise from Ballard's coaches as a main indicator of future success. "When the coaches come out, and his junior college coaches say, 'He's the one that makes us go,' that's something that really draws your attention as a coach," Mullen said.
Mullen did not have such high praise for Relf as a prospect, however; Mullen said that in his first year coaching the Bulldogs, he "had a lot of doubts whether [Relf] could play quarterback in the SEC. Chris played his first year, relied on some of his natural ability, ran the ball well, made some good throws, but was very inconsistent." Mullen is now impressed with Relf's development and decision-making, and the coach praised Relf's maturity several times during the interview.
Of note, also, is Mullen's near-unconditional support of Mike Slive's academic proposals, noting correctly that currently, high school academic eligibility and college acceptance standards don't have much in common with each other, and that a high school student-athlete's grades usually climb considerably during his senior year once the importance of academics becomes tangible. "I'm all for increasing the standards," Mullen said. "We just want to make sure there's a plan in place, that we don't just increase the standards but don't have a plan to raise the standards of these young people while they're in high school as well."
One thing Mullen didn't bother mentioning, however, was his team's in-state rival: Ole Miss. Not once was that football program, its school, its fan base, its coach, its players, or any other aspect of its existence acknowledged during the course of Mullen's 40-minute appearance -- not even when Mullen was asked about the "Welcome To Our State" billboard on Mississippi's border that bears his face and his school's logo. Oh, Mullen mentioned Southern Miss and its head coach, Larry Fedora, as two parties that might not appreciate the billboard, but the billboard's real aim -- riling up Rebels fans -- went unmentioned.
Indeed, Mullen preferred to discuss Starkville and Mississippi State, implicitly thumbing his nose at Ole Miss' famed campus and tailgating at the Grove as follows (emphasis ours):
Posted on: July 20, 2011 6:58 pm
Edited on: July 20, 2011 7:21 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
After a few ho-hum seasons at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier had been turning in a few ho-hum performances at SEC Media Days the past few years -- ones nearly all observers agreed were a far cry from his charismatic, entertaining turns during his Florida salad days. Spurrier admitted as much in his appearance Wednesday. "I haven't won enough to be very talkative lately," he said.
But Gamecock fans have to be encouraged that, for the most part, Spurrier today was at his charming, engaging best. Here are the highlights from his comments, organized by topic:
Expectations. In his opening statement, Spurrier said "we feel like we've probably assembled maybe the best group of players we've had in the seven years now that I've been there."
But asked later about being the presumptive SEC favorite, Spurrier responded with a question of his own: "You know we lost our last two games last year? We're not sitting around patting each other on the back too much." He mentioned twice that the Gamecocks finished seventh in the conference in both total offense and total defense, so they were "not a great team by any means." In short: He doesn't believe egos or motivation will be a problem as the team looks to "win the game in Atlanta" for the first time.
"We've accomplished a few firsts," he said, referring to last year's SEC East title (among other accomplishments), "but there's still plenty more out there for us to go after."
Garcia. Spurrier said wayward quarterback Stephen Garcia had "done everything we've asked" and was still "set to return" come fall camp. Noting that Garcia's recent issues haven't been of a legal nature -- "no arrests, no DUIs" -- Spurrier explained his willingness to keep his troubled star on the roster by saying, "I guess we just don't want to kick him out for stupidity."
But Spurrier also defiantly refused to name Garcia the starter, saying he would "have a little competition" between the senior and 2010 backup Connor Shaw. "Whoever our quarterback is, he needs to go out and earn it in preseason practice," Spurrier said. (The number of people convinced that quarterback might be Shaw likely remains in the single digits, however.)
Scholarship proposals. Spurrier made it clear he is no fan of Mike Slive's reform proposals, even addressing his reponse to Slive when it came to offering multiple-year scholarships. "That's a terrible idea, Commissioner," he said.
He also slammed the proposed new standards for freshman eligiblity, saying he felt they were "pretty good the way they are right now." "For some reason," he added "we seem to want to try to make it more and more difficult for these young men who come from difficult backgrounds and difficult academic settings."
Clowney. When will No. 1 overall recruit Jadeveon Clowney see the field at defensive end? "Early and often," Spurrier said. "We think he's really going to be a super player and a real good guy for us."
From the sound of it, he might even start. Addressing his defense, Spurrier said, "We're hoping with Devin [Taylor] coming on one end and Jadeveon coming from the other end or up the middle or somewhere, we're gonna have a good pass rush this year."
Spurrier credited his team's improvement in large part to better in-state recruiting, of which Clowney is a part -- between him, Marcus Lattimore and All-SEC corner Stephon Gilmore, Carolina has landed the last three South Carolina Mr. Football winners. According to Spurrier, Clowney's decision "sends a message" as the first No. 1 overall recruit to choose a program that has never won a national title.
Honesty. As usual, Spurrier (to his everlasting credit) answered questions with nothing less than his honest opinion. Lobbed a softball question about star receiver Alshon Jeffery being "underappreciated," Spurrier cited Jeffery's many accolades (including a first team All-American nod) in saying he didn't feel like Jeffery was underappreciated at all.
Asked what had made the difference between the 2010 Gamecocks and their previous editions, Spurrier discussed Lattimore and other factors -- but also started his reponse by saying his team benefitted from the East's "three top teams not having the years they usually have."
Spurrier was also questioned about the departure of Bryce Sherman, the former Gamecock walk-on whose 2010 scholarship was not renewed and who left the team in a flurry of angry Tweets. "We gave him a year and a half [of scholarship money], which I thought was pretty nice of us," Spurrier said.
Special teams. Spurrier revealed he was sorely disappointed in his special teams units, noting that they have yet to score a touchdown during his seven-year tenure. "Some day, I want to win a game with a blocked punt," he said.
Practice. Asked about the Ivy League's new policy limiting full-contact practices and whether it would work at the FBS level, Spurrier offered a surprising response for an SEC coach -- he said the Gamecocks would be fine with that policy in place.
"To me, it doesn't make any sense to get your own players hurt in practice," he said. "When the Army guys practice against each other, they don't use live bullets. Why do football teams use live hits?"
Money. Spurrier mentioned that the Gamecocks spend less on recruiting services than any other SEC school (just $12,000 a year), then spun that into a discussion of the massive amounts of money in the league these days ... and a dig at Mississippi State, with Dan Mullen waiting in the podium wings.
"Mississippi State's got a jet airplane," Spurrier said. "They've got all kinds of money at Mississippi State. Everybody's got a lot of money."
Posted on: July 18, 2011 12:40 pm
Edited on: July 18, 2011 1:55 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
If you want a quick and easy gauge of how happy a college football team's fanbase is with its current lot in life, check out their season ticket sales. Auburn fans? Yep, pretty happy: they've sold out their season tickets for this season. Oregon fans? Hope you like standing-room-only. Think Mississippi State supporters are pleased with Dan Mullen's decision to return to Starkville for another season? They've already broken their record for earliest sell-out, set just last year.
Contrast that with the reports out of Tennessee, where the picture isn't nearly so rosy:
As of Friday, the school had sold roughly 61,500 of its 72,500 season tickets, said UT senior associate athletic director for external operations Chris Fuller. That's about 2,000-2,500 tickets fewer than what was sold at this point last year.
"We've got some work left to do for sure," Fuller said. "When you look at the factors in our case, obviously most of our fans lock in on performance.
"If you win, they'll come."Certainly, last year's 6-7 mark isn't the kind of winning Volunteer fans are used to. But the chaos of the Lane Kiffin era didn't exactly leave the cupboard full, and on paper, Tennessee should be much improved in 2011. There's budding stars at quarterback (Tyler Bray) and wide receiver (Justin Hunter); arguably the SEC's best secondary now that Janzen Jackson has returned; the natural improvement that comes with being in the second year of a coaching transition; and the impressive* four-game winning streak to end the regular season.
In short, this seems like the perfect formula for an atmosphere of optimism and excitement, and with dates against LSU, Georgia and South Carolina, the home schedule shouldn't be that much of a drag. So why aren't Volunteer fans buying in? Is there a way to answer that question that doesn't suggest skepticism regarding Derek Dooley?
Maybe. The economy's still no great shakes, of course. Cavernous Neyland Stadium means that sell-outs are going to be naturally harder to come by. And improved or not, the Vols are almost certainly still another year or two away from being an SEC East contender again.
But we doubt too many Mississippi State fans believe they've got a shot at an SEC West title, and that hasn't stopped them. No team in the country has been more disappointing over the past two seasons than Georgia, but the Dawgs sold out their 2010 season tickets with ease and have already bought their entire allotment of seats for the 2011 opener vs. Boise State. In the SEC, any glimmer of hope is usually enough for demand to outstrip supply.
Not selling out still isn't an issue, necessarily, considering the huge numbers of seats the Vols have available. But that tickets are selling at a reduced pace in year two of the Dooley era suggests all the same that the Volunteer rank-and-file simply weren't impressed by year one, and don't yet see the need to get in on the ground floor for years three and four.
It's far too early to start speculating about what this might mean for Dooley's job security. But with a new A.D. in charge (eventually), we also don't doubt Dooley is already feeling the pressure to make sure that downward arrow on the sales graph is heading in a different direction this time next summer.
*Yeah, the wins came over Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Still, the average margin of victory in the streak was 24 points, with none of the four decided by single digits. That's nothing to sneeze at.
Posted on: July 5, 2011 5:53 pm
Edited on: July 5, 2011 6:22 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Click over to the "expanded" version of the Major League Baseball standings here at CBSsports.com, and you'll see something interesting: Each team's record in one-run games.
Even 10 years ago, casual baseball fans would have shrugged at those records every bit as forcefully as they would have at "record in day games played west of the Mississippi River in which both starting pitchers wore mustaches." But thanks to baseball's stats revolution, even your average CBSSports.com-reading seamhead likely knows that over 162 games, every team's record in such close games will gravitate to .500.
This is an outgrowth of Bill James' pythagorean theorem for baseball, which, if you 've never heard of it, isn't nearly as complicated as its name might make it sound; the idea is simply that total runs scored and allowed (i.e., winning by many runs rather than just one) is a better indicator of future performance than straight win-loss record.
And though college football isn't nearly as stats-obsessed a sport as baseball has become, concepts like these are hardly new to dedicated followers of the pigskin, either. Numbers-driven magazine guru Phil Steele has been tracking "net close wins" for years, finding that teams that win or lose an unusually high number of one-possession games one season tend to lose or win a corresponding number the next season. (The current poster children for this phenomenon are the Iowa Hawkeyes, who lost four games in 2008 by a total of 12 points, went 11-2 in 2009 by winning four games by a total of eight points, then slipped back to 8-5 last year with all five losses coming by seven points or less.)
One Alabama blog, RollBamaRoll, has taken the next step where the SEC is concerned, actually performing the Pythagorean calculations for the 2010 SEC conference season. Though eight games is a tiny sample size for this kind of statistical work, the same calculations predicted (or would have) the downfall of such notable disappointments as 2005 Tennessee, 2000 Alabama, and 2009 Georgia.
So what do these approaches have to say about the SEC in 2011? Several things:
Georgia should be taken seriously in the East. Both Steele and the pythagorean wins agree: the Bulldogs were the unluckiest team in the SEC last season. Mark Richt's team suffered a league-high four "net close losses," and per their points scored/allowed should have won nearly two more games than they did in 2010.
Combine better fortune in competitive games with the Bulldogs' manageable schedule, and the numbers say Georgia should be poised to take a big step forward in 2011. (Steele pegs them as this year's East champions.) If they don't, the question has to be asked: if Richt can't engineer a turnaround this year, when can he?
Auburn is due for a sizable tumble. The next team to win a national championship without a healthy dose of luck will be the first, but Auburn might have enjoyed a little more than most last season; its seven net close wins were the highest in the nation, according to Steele. The pythagorean wins marked them as overachievers by nearly 2.5 games in SEC play alone. In other words, Gene Chizik and company shouldn't expect quite so many friendly bounces of the ball in 2011--and should in fact expect the opposite.
Of course, the numbers can't account for the expertise of Gus Malzahn or the fine recruiting classes assembled under Chizik's watch. But it's safe to say that between less good fortune, the Tigers' massive losses, and a brutal schedule, another top-25 season on the Plains will have been earned.
LSU remains the ultimate wild card. Steele tabulates the Bayou Bengals at five net close wins for 2010 -- usually an indicator of an impending backslide. But thanks to blowouts of Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, the pythagorean wins saw LSU as only slight overachievers in 2010, and (as we've noted before) Les Miles has an unusual knack for late-game decision-making that's given him a 22-9 record at LSU in close games. (Is it the grass?)
In other words, LSU could see Miles' dice-rolls come up snake eyes and the bottom drop out. They could continue to ride the Mad Hatter's hot streak back to a BCS bowl. Any and all possibilities seem to be in play.
Mississippi State may have to run to stay in the same place. With Dan Mullen still in Starkville and plenty of starters returning on both sides of the ball, State may seem poised to take the next step and challenge for a West championship. But there's also some indications the Bulldogs weren't quite as good as their 9-4 record last fall might indicate. Despite going 4-4 in league play they were outscored by 30 points over those eight games, making them the SEC's second-biggest overachiever according to pythagorean wins. And while Steele's net close wins indicator doesn't feel strongly about them, his magazine does note that State's average yardage margin of -36.5 yards per SEC game was third-worst in the conference.
Steele also recently introduced a new metric which shows that teams that take a big leap forward (or backward) over (or under) the baseline of their previous two seasons usually -- though not always -- regress back towards their previously-established mean. Aside from Auburn, no team in the SEC fits that profile better than the Bulldogs.
No reason here to not buy Alabama or South Carolina. Though the above "slipping and sliding" Steele metric is mildly doubtful of Carolina's ability to maintain last year's gains, neither presumptive divisional favorite has anything to worry about from this statistical perspective. In fact, thanks to several blowout wins and their losses to LSU and Auburn by a combined four points, Alabama was the second-most unfortunate team in the league last year behind Georgia.
If the Tide get a handful more breaks and have the defense we're all expecting? Look out.