Demps Honored by SEC

October 28, 2008

Jeff Demps was honored by the SEC as the special teams player of the week after blocking a punt against Kentucky. I’m not sure why he was singled out over William Green and Joe Haden, who also had blocks, but probably it was to honor his overall play for the whole game. It’s the second time he’s been named all-SEC as he was freshman player of the week after Arkansas.

Florida’s streak of having at least one player selected as some sort of SEC player of the week after every win has continued, thanks in part to Brandon Spikes getting defensive player of the week after LSU (which I neglected to mention last week).

In other news, Jim Tartt will be back for the game this weekend. Even though Carl Johnson has been playing well, Tartt has the edge in experience and will help anchor the line on the big stage. If (or perhaps sadly, when) Tartt has to come out, Johnson can go back in and I will feel fine.

Apparently, Ryan Stamper will keep the starting weakside linebacker spot over Dustin Doe until and unless Doe can win it back in practice. Stamper has impressed me a lot this year with his versatility and quality play. If/when Brandon Spikes declares for the draft, the Gators should be in good shape at middle linebacker with Stamper moving up to starter. His ceiling is not as high as Spikes’ is, but he can flat out get the job done.


Another Gag Order

October 27, 2008

After players talked some trash in public before the Miami and Tennessee games, it appears that Urban Meyer has issued a preemptive strike against it by issuing a blanket gag order on the team. Or, at least, the Associated Press thinks so.

The theory stems from a sound bite Brandon Spikes made after the Kentucky game where he said he wouldn’t comment on the celebration because he didn’t want to get in trouble. Such a gag order, if it exists and Spikes wasn’t just trying to be funny, would fit in with his prior maneuvers surrounding player comments. Meyer is one of the most paranoid coaches in the game, which is why he tries to keep his players from talking smack and why he leaves his starters in games longer than most do.

Tim Tebow only said it would fire him up and that’s it. Percy Harvin said that Florida wouldn’t try to do a similar display, something they team has said since last year and that’s never been in doubt. Brandon Hicks is the only other Gator quoted in the piece, and he basically just said they got rattled by the celebration last year and that they’ve had this game circled for a while.

On the Georgia side of things, Mark Richt is steadfastly refusing to talk about it, referring everyone to what he said during SEC media days. LB Rennie Curran just said some boilerplate material about how Florida is a good team and that the Bulldogs are going to try their best.

Meyer for his part tried to downplay it, saying that it was “old news” and had nothing to do with this year’s game. That is in direct conflict with things he said over the summer and in the book that Buddy Martin wrote about him. In those cases, he said it was a big deal and something he’d never forget. I would expect a good number of folks from the UGA commentary community to jump all over that and try to say that he’s a liar, or duplicitous, or some stuff like that.

I really just think that’s his way of trying not to answer questions about it everyday until the game. It won’t work; he’ll likely be asked about it more days than he won’t this week. I guess he figures he’d give it a shot an establish a precedent for avoiding the issue for the rest of October.

Behind closed doors though, I have no doubt that the celebration last year is being used by the Florida coaching staff. Meyer is a master motivator, and I seriously doubt that he’d forgo using something so perfect for getting the guys amped up for this game. Not that the fact the SEC East and the rest of the season are on the line isn’t enough.

Things are going well for Florida right now. They are peaking and getting healthier at the same time. They rolled up 63 points with Harvin getting only three touches for goodness sake. Meyer even hinted that he’s having trouble keeping the team from being too amped for the game saying, “I’m emphasizing with our players that we don’t play this thing until Saturday at 3:30.”

Motivation is no trouble for either side in this one. The winner is in the driver’s seat for the SEC East, with the loser needing the other to collect two improbable losses to go to Atlanta. The winner is also still in the national title race for that matter too.

What happened in the first quarter of last year’s game doesn’t need to be even discussed for both the Gators and Bulldogs to be at their best on Saturday. Yet still, I have a feeling it will be a theme all week. We’ll see.


A Nice Trend

October 26, 2008

There’s not a whole lot to say about the game today, other than it was really fun to watch. If you want to nitpick, you can talk about Tim Tebow throwing an interception and nearly one or two others, as well as him fumbling once and nearly fumbling another time.

But really, it was a 63-5 win. They had 42 points in the first half. Anything other than positives is nitpicking.

Here’s a nice trend I’ve noticed though:


I’m not naive enough to think that the trend will continue this weekend, but things on offense have clearly gone in the right direction. After all of the whining, hand wringing, and calls for Dan Mullen’s head, the Gator offense has kicked it into a whole new gear. It has been looking lately as we thought it would back when making preseason previews.

There will be plenty to discuss this week considering the opponent at the end and all, but not much of it will surround this game. Florida played at the top of its spectrum while Kentucky played at the bottom of its spectrum. I don’t think we really learned anything else yesterday.

In the meantime, feel free to re-read (or just read, if you missed it) my review of Georgia’s offense against South Carolina. It, along with the Bulldogs’ game against Alabama, provides the blueprints for playing well against Georgia.


The Kentucky Game Tomorrow

October 24, 2008

I have not spent time this week breaking down the Kentucky game tomorrow for a couple of reasons.

First, Florida has won the past 21 games in the series, so being a 23-year-old, I am not wired to consider the Wildcats as a threat in football. I know UK has gotten a lot better in the past couple of years under Rich Brooks; last year’s game was a real battle. That’s just the way it is with me.

Second, and more rationally, it’s because Kentucky has been ravaged by injuries as of late while Florida has been getting healthier. Jim Tartt is still going to be out, but Carl Johnson has helped pave the way for the largest two-game rushing count for Florida under Urban Meyer. Emmanuel Moody may get a couple snaps, but Kestahn Moore is listed as the No. 1 running back and of course Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps will get carries.

Meanwhile in Lexington, Dickie Lyons, Jr. and Derrick Locke have been lost for the season in consecutive weeks. DT Myron Pryor will be out for the game, and OT Justin Jeffries will sit out with him. Three linebackers are banged up but will go; the same goes for two defensive backs.

Let’s be honest here. After demolishing LSU and jumping up in the polls, Florida is not just back to being a premier SEC contender but a national title contender as well if Penn State loses. If a newly-healthy Florida team loses to a shorthanded Kentucky team, we’ve got some real issues that run a lot deeper than whether I am taking the Wildcats seriously enough.

UK has enough of a defense this season to give the Gators some fits if it’s healthy. With an important starter missing and five guys not at 100%, it should not be able to do a whole lot of damage. The Kentucky offense should struggle because Mike Hartline is not good enough to beat a powerhouse on the road without his two best skill position players.

Yes, Kentucky gave Alabama a great game in Tuscaloosa in a game that the Tide didn’t fully show up for. They also needed a semi-miraculous comeback to defeat Arkansas just last week. I just don’t see any way that the hurting Wildcats ruin homecoming for Florida.


Statistical Strength of Schedule, Week 8

October 23, 2008

This is a strength of schedule rating based on taking the average of a team’s opponents’ total and scoring offense and defense and then averaging those together. The lower the score, the tougher the schedule. For a detailed explanation of what’s going on here, including its pluses and minuses, try this post.

We’re another week into the season and most teams have added another game to their resumes. Even if they didn’t thanks to a bye week, their opponents did so everyone’s scores are different this week than they were last week. That’s the way it goes with college football; during the season, everything constantly changes.

Here is this week’s top 25 in statistical strength of schedule (SSOS), with the team’s change from last week listed in parenthesis.

  1. Washington (NC)
  2. Texas A&M (+19)
  3. NC State (+9)
  4. Syracuse (+20)
  5. Michigan (+20)
  6. Washington State (+20)
  7. Wake Forest (-5)
  8. Missouri (+42)
  9. Arkansas (+5)
  10. Hawai’i (+35)
  11. Purdue (+12)
  12. Tennessee (-2)
  13. Utah State (-13)
  14. Nebraska (-14)
  15. Wisconsin (+17)
  16. Colorado (-11)
  17. Temple (+2)
  18. FIU (NC)
  19. Middle Tennessee State (+22)
  20. Michigan State (+4)
  21. Stanford (-14)
  22. Vanderbilt (+17)
  23. UCLA (-17)
  24. Colorado State (16)
  25. Toledo (-5)

Last week, there was some considerable consternation about how many Pac-10 schools were near the top of the list. I begged for patience, asking folks to just wait and see how things play out the rest of the season.

This week six of the ten schools fell in the rankings, five of them by more than ten spots. With more games in the system, imbalances tend to work themselves out.

SSOS by Losses

A week ago, the one-loss teams had a considerably more difficult schedule than the two-loss teams. Thanks to a few of the one-loss and two-loss teams losing, that imbalance has evened out at least for now. As games go on, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a W shape return as the chart expands horizontally because there was one on this graph for much of last year.

It gets a little choppy from four losses on, but the graph indicates that those teams have played the toughest schedules. That’s what you would expect. Right now there still is some kind of circular effect, where the top teams’ success depresses the stats of their opponents, but it’s not as strong as you think and it fades over the course of the year.

Average SSOS Rank by Losses

Here is the average SSOS rank of each group of teams for each number of losses. So, the undefeated teams have an average SSOS rank of 93. That’s pretty remarkable considering Alabama is ranked 38th and Texas is ranked 60th. Oklahoma State is 89th, Penn State is ranked 99th, and Texas Tech and all the guys from the non-BCS leagues are in the triple digits.

Ball State brings up the rear this week at 119th, with Tulsa nudging up to 115th. Texas Tech is 111th, the third lowest of all BCS-conference teams. The final two unbeaten teams, Utah and Boise State, clock in at 105th and 101st, respectively.

Biggest Movers

This week’s top gainers:

  1. Missouri, +42, played Texas last week
  2. Virginia Tech, +37, Boston College
  3. Hawai’i, +35, Boise State
  4. UL-Lafayette, +33, Arkansas State
  5. Kansas, +30, Oklahoma
  6. New Mexico State, +29, San Jose State
  7. California, +25, Arizona
  8. Middle Tennessee State, +22, Louisville
  9. Michigan, +20, Penn State
  10. Syracuse, +20, USF

Keep in mind as I mentioned in the overall explanation that who you play is not the only thing that determines your movement. In the case of Missouri, playing Texas certainly made a huge difference. In the case of New Mexico State, playing San Jose State might have hurt more than it helped, but the combined effect of its other opponents’ movements as well as those around them allowed the Aggies to jump a few spots.

The week’s biggest fallers:

  1. FAU, -43, Western Kentucky
  2. Louisiana Tech, -40, Idaho
  3. USC, -34, Washington State
  4. Oregon State, -28, Washington
  5. New Mexico, -25, San Diego State
  6. Nevada, -25, Utah State
  7. Louisville, -24, MTSU
  8. Illinois, -22, Indiana
  9. Marshall, -20, UAB
  10. UL-Monroe, -18, North Texas

FAU plummets because WKU still counts as I-AA for this year and thereby gives 120 in all categories. The Pacific Northwest seems particularly toxic thanks to Idaho, Washington, and Washington State helping to drag down opponents.

We can see what kind of dynamic can exist in one case here. Louisville helped bump Middle Tennessee State up 22 spots, but the Blue Raiders helped cause the Cardinals fall 24 spots. Again, they didn’t do that to each other alone, but it’s always interesting to see pairs show up on these lists.

SSOS by Conference

Total Average SSOS for all 119 Teams: 66.98

Best Schedule: Washington, 1st overall, score of 36.92

Worst Schedule: Arizona, 107th, 80.14

Average SSOS Rank: 43.00

Average SSOS Score: 60.86

Best Schedule: Arkansas, 9th overall, score of 53.96

Worst Schedule: Kentucky, 93rd, 74.86

Average SSOS Rank: 43.50

Average SSOS Score: 62.70

Best Schedule: Michigan, 5th overall, score of 50.71

Worst Schedule: Penn State, 99th, 76.28

Average SSOS Rank: 48.64

Average SSOS Score: 63.69

Best Schedule: Texas A&M, 2nd overall, score of 48.07

Worst Schedule: Texas Tech, 111th, 82.61

Average SSOS Rank: 50.83

Average SSOS Score: 64.25

Best Schedule: NC State, 3rd overall, score of 49.46

Worst Schedule: FSU, 118th, 89.75

Average SSOS Rank: 67.00

Average SSOS Score: 68.96

Best Schedule: Syracuse, 4th overall, score of 50.50

Worst Schedule: West Virginia, 117th, 88.75

Average SSOS Rank: 70.59

Average SSOS Score: 70.88

The SEC has closed in and nearly overtaken the Pac-10 in the conference rankings. The Big 12 improved, but so did the Big Ten. As a result the Big 12 edged closer to third place but was not able to pass up the fellas up north. The only change in the order was the ACC jumping over the Big East.

If you look in terms of average SSOS rank, the gap from one to four is not all that significant and is almost as big as the gap between fourth and fifth. If you go by average rank instead, then three somewhat distinct tiers appear: the Pac-10 and SEC at the top, the Big 12 and Big Ten in the middle, and the ACC and Big East at the bottom. Incidentally, those same exact three tiers formed last season; it will be interesting to see if they remain true all year.

Another Saturday of great games will help shape these rankings even more. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be shocked to see Oklahoma State on the biggest risers list.


The Gators’ Rooting Guide, Inaugural BCS Poll Edition

October 22, 2008

The BCS standings have just come out, and Florida is 10th. As I mentioned earlier, the Gators are only a hair out of fifth place if you look at the scores, so it’s pretty tight so far.

The overall sentiment this season is that, if no one goes undefeated and these are available, the one-loss Big 12 champion and the one-loss SEC champion will play for the title. These two are clearly the best conferences in the land, and the conventional wisdom goes that their champions should be rewarded for it.

Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: the champion of the toughest conference may not automatically be the best team. A better team could exist in a weaker conference. However the past two seasons have shown that the “most deserving team” argument is going to win over the “best team” in today’s climate, and coming out of the toughest conference with the same number of losses than someone from a weaker conference makes you more deserving.

Because the SEC is one of those top two in the perception ranks, the Gators really just need to win out and have Penn State lose and most everything will take care of itself. Even so, if you want to leave no doubt of Florida’s chances to make the title game, here’s your rooting guide for the rest of the season arranged by conference.

Non-BCS Teams

With BYU’s loss, there isn’t a non-BCS team that can plausibly make the title game. In theory BYU might have been able to sneak in because they began the year relatively high in the polls, they have wins over two Pac-10 schools, and they’ve won a national title in the past.

TCU made that unlikely scenario moot.

ACC and Big East

None of these teams have a shot, so continue to root for or against teams as you normally should. Some have tried to make the case that the Gators need to root for Miami and FSU to prop up their resume, but being from the SEC means they don’t really mean anything.

And really, root for Miami or FSU? Unless they are playing a team ahead of Florida in the polls at the end of the season only, there’s no reason ever to. Please.

Big 12

It doesn’t really matter what goes on here, because there’s no way that both title game slots end up with Big 12 teams. Honestly I don’t think anyone left on Texas’ schedule plays enough defense to beat them, so worrying about this league is more or less a waste of time.

If you want to be absolutely sure, then root for every team to have at least two losses. That’s not very likely, of course. If you have a mischievous streak, then root for Oklahoma to win out and Texas to somehow lose to Baylor. OU would finish higher in the polls, but they will not have even won their division.

Big Ten

It’s very simple: root for Ohio State to beat Penn State. A one-loss Big Ten champ will not be ahead of a one-loss Big 12 or SEC champ at the end, so as long as the Nittany Lions lose to someone (Ohio State? At Iowa? Michigan State?), then we’re set.

After this weekend though, root for Ohio State to lose to Northwestern and/or Illinois. They’re by far the best win on USC’s resume, so if the Buckeyes fall they will tug down on USC too.

Pac-10

USC obviously is the only title contender from this conference, and quite simply another loss will do them in. The computer formulas already hate them, and none of their wins the rest of the way will gain them any favor with the algorithms. A sinking Ohio State would also hurt.

Something Lisa Horne brought up is that if both USC and Oregon State win out, then the Beavers will win the tiebreaker and get the Rose Bowl berth as Pac-10 champion. Technically USC and OSU will be recognized as co-champions by the conference, but human voters look at tiebreakers and will recognize the guys from Corvallis as the sole champ. Then, the Trojans will have the “didn’t win their conference” argument working against them.

SEC

The only concern within the conference is hoping that the heavyweights (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and LSU) don’t get upset a lot by weaker teams and bring down the perception of the league some. I don’t know how much that will happen, and it would take an awful lot for people to come to the conclusion that the Pac-10 or Big Ten are better conferences.

Since Florida controls its destiny, all the Gators must do is win out. That begins this weekend with Kentucky.


SEC Power Poll, Week 8 Released

October 22, 2008

The poll looks a lot like it did last week. The numbers are a team’s average number of points in Week 1, Week 4, and Week 8 so you can see how everyone has moved. Florida: holding steady.

Not sure about South Carolina being ahead of Vandy; the Gamecocks have three losses to the Commodores’ two and Vandy won the head-to-head. Oh well. Full poll with comments here.


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