SEC Power Poll Ballot, Week 1

September 2, 2008

It is extremely difficult to parse the differences in the ways that elite teams blowout overmatched opponents, especially for me since I really only got to see the South Carolina-NC State and Florida-Hawai’i games all the way through. I only saw pieces of other games, if any at all.

Don’t be offended if you don’t like where your team is at. The margin between the top teams is razor thin, and until everyone starts playing real opponents, we’re all guessing anyway. Relax, it’s only Week 1; there are 13 more weeks of regular season to go.

These rankings are based heavily on the games played this past weekend. As time goes by, they will change based on how the teams’ résumés change.

Florida – The Gators are my top team as much as anything because I got to see them in person this weekend and no one else. Still, they answered fairly definitively two major questions. Yes, they have running backs, and yes, the defense is a lot better. The D-line was in the backfield all day and the secondary made fundamentally sound tackles for the first time since 2006.

It’s important not to overreact to one single game, but Florida showed enough to make me conclude that at their peak, they’re the best in the conference.

LSU – The quarterbacks were not electrifying, but the rest of the Tiger team showed that those signal callers will not have to be great. Despite a last-minute kickoff time change and a hurricane bearing down, Les Miles had his team focused enough to blowout a normally game opponent. I have few worries about this team for the rest of the season right now.

Georgia – The Bulldogs dismissed their lesser opponent with less authority than the above two did, so they end up third. Honestly, it’s tough to tell teams apart based on beating up patsies. As much as anything, they ended up third because they lost yet another player for the year to injury in DT Jeff Owens. Sure UGA has a lot of depth on the defensive line, but it is negative momentum.

Alabama – As I said earlier, it’s important not to overact based on one game. However, I did see some of the Alabama-Clemson game and Bama controlled the trenches on both sides with startling ease. The Tide just plain wanted it more, and they made a statement with their play. Then again, beating up on a Tommy Bowden team that has high expectations is hardly a stunning achievement.

Auburn – The defense and running game will have to carry this team until the passing game gets sorted out, but it appears for now that they’ll be able to do it. That’s fine in the short term, but Kodi Burns, the best runner of the two QBs, still can’t pass and that’s a problem. Defense and running the ball suit Tommy Tuberville just fine though, so it’s a little early to worry. Eight-man fronts in the SEC could pose a problem.

South Carolina – Thanks to them playing on Thursday, I got to see most of the Gamecocks’ opening game. The defense appears legit again, with Jasper Brinkley making a huge difference. The offense was putrid until Chris Smelley came in, but he also got to play against a demoralized defense after the game was already decided. This team is far from perfect, but Smelley showed at least there’s some hope for finishing above fourth in the SEC East.

Tennessee – I’ll be honest, I haven’t had time to really look at the Vols’ performance against UCLA. I had a late flight into Charlotte and got a flat tire on the way home. It doesn’t look all that great at first glance because I don’t have a high opinion of the Bruins right now, but that could always change. Tennessee got four first half turnovers but only 14 first half points. Crompton’s percentage was bad, but UCLA has a decent defense. I can’t ding them too bad for now since they at least went and played on the west coast.

Ole Miss – Memphis is not very good, but Ole Miss showed some real promise. The Wild Rebel formation, about the only thing Houston Nutt took away from his year with Gus Malzahn, was a smashing success. All that talk about Ed Orgeron stocking cupboards in Oxford was true, and if Nutt can harness it into something cohesive for a season, the Rebels will finish comfortably ahead of Arkansas and their in-state rival.

Kentucky – When Rich Brooks said his team had an SEC-caliber defense, I chuckled and decided to take a wait-and-see approach. Apparently he was absolutely right about that, but he forgot to mention that the offense might not be SEC-caliber. All but three of the Wildcats’ points against Louisville were scored or set up directly by the defense, and the offense prevented a shutout with QB Mike Hartline getting a grounding penalty in the endzone. If the Cats can’t figure out how to score more points, they’ll have a hard time climbing any higher than ninth.

Vanderbilt – Chris Nickson surprised a lot of people with his strong play against Miami University, and the Commodores won somewhat surprisingly easy. That bodes well for a team that lost a lot from last season. Bobby Johnson will have his work cut out for him if he plans on repeating last year’s five-win performance, but it will be easier if Nickson runs for 166 yards every week. D.J. Moore? Beastly.

Mississippi State – Louisiana Tech will be pretty good this season, but still, the Bulldogs had no business playing in Ruston, much less losing there. The magic from last season is fading already as Mississippi State had a -3 turnover margin. They outgained Tech 322-243, but ten penalties, five turnovers, and a 4-15 mark on third down negated that advantage.

Correct the mistakes and they win the game, but it’s not looking good for finishing above fifth in the division right now. Sly Croom is going to have to go back to his bag of tricks to get them to another bowl game.

Arkansas – Yes Mississippi State lost, but if you beat a I-AA team by just four points, that’s not good. This season, I’d classify that as worse than losing at LA Tech. Casey Dick can pass, but the Razorback faithful had better hope this Michael Smith kid (suspended for the first game) can really run. Having just 76 rushing yards won’t cut it in most SEC games.

Arkansas outgained WIU 394-262, committed just four penalties, went 7-11 on third downs, and yet was still down by 10 points in the fourth quarter. That’s some special kind of voodoo right there. Three turnovers, a reported six or so drops by receivers, and a 13:23 deficit in time of possession are troubling. This could be a long, long year in Fayetteville.


SEC Power Poll Ballot: Preseason

August 19, 2008

The preseason SEC Power Poll this year (conducted by Garnet and Black Attack) is not a ranking of the teams, but a ranking of the coaches. Specifically, it is a ranking of coaching ability.

My ballot is based on who is good now, and it is slanted towards performance in this decade. No lifetime achievement awards are being handed out here.

Here’s my list and the explanations.

1. Urban Meyer

Call it a homer pick if you want, but he’s done well everywhere he’s gone. He turned in an undefeated season at Utah, becoming the first BCS Buster ever. Let’s also not forget that he did it before the BCS expanded to five games.

At Florida he won a national and conference championship and got a quarterback a Heisman. He proved the spread could work in the SEC and did it so convincingly that other coaches in the league are going to install some spread-style goodness of their own in 2008. Add to that his ace recruiting abilities, and you have my vote for top SEC coach.

2. Tommy Tuberville

I should specify that this is a vote for the Tuberville of 2004 and on and not for the Tuberville of 2003 and prior. There is a difference, and I outlined it here.

The post-2003 Tuberville has been one of the best coaches in the country in that span, though the fact he’s only parlayed that into one conference title is the reason why he’s second on the list. He also gets points for abandoning his old, conservative offense and actually giving former outcast/spread guru Tony Franklin the shot at major college coaching that he deserves.

3. Mark Richt

Richt is on pace for becoming the most successful head coach in Georgia history. He has two conference titles and a 13-1 season that wins him a national title in nearly any other year than the 2002 season in which he did it. He also lost to Vandy in 2006, something that a top league coach shouldn’t do six years into his tenure despite the strides the Commodores have made under Bobby Johnson.

He ended up third in the league on my ballot. That is still nothing to sneeze at in the best coaching conference in the country. How he does with the heaps of expectations on him this year will help to sort out his place in the hierarchy as well as help to define his legacy as a head coach.

4. Nick Saban

I know some people will be upset seeing him this high, especially given the loss to Louisiana-Monroe last season. It’s difficult to blame him too much for the negative goings on last season though given that his predecessor was Mike Shula, a guy who never should have been given a head coaching position.

Despite that fact, all six of the losses were by eight points or less so the Tide was competitive in every one of them. He had a blowout win over the SEC East champ Tennessee. Let’s also not forget the BCS championship he won at LSU and the incredible amount of talent he left there when he bolted to the Dolphins.

5. Les Miles

I decided that the first five guys on the ballot had to be guys who have won the national title in this decade, or at least have done enough to win one in a normal year. Since Miles won his national title with two losses while Meyer’s and Saban’s came with one loss (and Tuber ville had an undefeated season and Richt had a 13-1 year), he ended up fifth.

Yes it’s true that he walked into a treasure trove of talent at LSU. It’s also true that he has gone 11-2 each of the past three seasons with two blowout wins in BCS bowls and a Peach Bowl win that ended Miami football as we knew it. He also doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping the LSU team together after the Hurricane Katrina disaster just days before the start of his first season in Baton Rouge. He’s colorful, but he can coach.

6. Bobby Petrino

I’m going to throw out his time with the Falcons, which was spent under conditions that pretty much no one could succeed under. Instead, I’m looking more at his time at Louisville where he turned it into one of the country’s best teams, nearly made the national title game, and helped save the Big East.

The immediate drop off after his departure should highlight how good of a coach he was. He still did win his BCS game as the Big East champ though, which unfortunately doesn’t mean a whole lot, and it was over surprise ACC champ Wake Forest, which makes it matter even less. He’s still got a bright offensive mind and knows how to build a winner, so he goes here.

7. Phil Fulmer

You could make a case for him being higher or lower on the list, but he’s listed here thanks to being the final guy who has won a division championship at his current school. His East Division title last season helped some, but the fact remains that he has not won a conference title since 1998 and none of his teams has truly been elite without David Cutcliffe.

He gets some points for hiring Dave Clawson but nothing big until we find out if the Clawfense can succeed long term in the conference. Fulmer didn’t really manage his staff as well as he could/should have in the time between the Cutcliffe stints, but maybe this is a step forward. He will have to win the conference again to move higher on my list though.

8. Steve Spurrier

It pains me a little to put him this low, but there’s not a lot he’s done at South Carolina to support putting him higher. The Orange Bowl win in his final year at Florida was this decade so it does count some, but not being able to break past seven wins at South Carolina hurts his ability to go higher on my list.

Now, he did go to two bowls in a row in 2005-06, which ties the longest bowl appearance streak in school history. Lou Holtz also left the school on probation and in questionable shape. However, I can’t ignore the epic collapse last season after climbing to #6 in the country. His upward mobility will be determined in large part by whether he can win the division.

9. Houston Nutt

This could be a little low, but we’re talking about ability to perform the duties of head coach with this list. He won the SEC West twice this decade, but with Matt Jones and Darren McFadden on those teams, you’d expect that to happen.

In recent years, his ability to be a head coach has appeared to decline. His regime at Arkansas had increasingly been marked by scandal, and last season there was precious little offensive talent behind the McFadden-Felix Jones combination. The cupboards at Ole Miss appear to be relatively full, so he’s going to need to produce quickly in Oxford.

10. Sylvester Croom

Mississippi State was a toxic waste dump of a program when he arrived, and he got it to eight wins and a bowl just four years later despite having no dominant offensive players. Even in Croom’s rebuilding years, he scored upsets over Florida in ’04 and Alabama in ’06 despite them being in better shape.

He has not been perfect; he initially wanted to run a West Coast scheme despite not having nearly the talent or practice time to pull it off. However he’s built a winner, and he built it the right way. If he can sustain it, he can move up.

11. Rich Brooks

Brooks has taken Kentucky to two consecutive bowls, and that should win him some sort of award. I mean, this is a school that used its newly-hired basketball coach to sell football tickets last fall despite having gone to a bowl the previous season.

I have a feeling though that any of the other guys on the list could have done that with the personnel Brooks had. I also suspect that many of them would have done it faster than he did. For that reason, he’s behind the rest.

12. Bobby Johnson

I actually like Bobby Johnson, so I don’t like ranking him last. He has made Vanderbilt a competitive team week in and week out, and he has defeated Tennessee and Georgia in recent years. That’s really good for a school that doesn’t even have an athletics director.

At the same time, he’s not yet made a bowl so I can’t put him ahead of guys who have. His 2005 team with Jay Cutler was his best chance to get eligible, but they lost late in the season to 3-8 Kentucky. As far as I know, Vanderbilt is happy with him so he’s not going anywhere, but I’d like to see him get a shot at a school with more resources.


Potential Risers in 2008

July 29, 2008

Playing a lot of close games can be good or bad depending on your perspective. If you’re planning on being a top team, it could be bad since you’re not blowing out as many teams as you thought you would. If you’re an up-and-coming team, it could be good because that means you’re competitive in many games.

To win a lot of close games, it takes some skill and a lot of luck. You have to get some breaks in order to prevail, no matter how skilled you are. Some times you get them, some times you don’t.

Things tend to even out in college football in regards to winning close games. If you get a lot of breaks one year, you don’t tend to get them the next, and vice versa. Following that line of thinking, it is possible to use how a team does in close games in one season to pick out candidates for risers and fallers for the next season.

For instance, Rutgers and Wake Forest were big surprise teams in 2006 when they went 3-0 and 5-1 in close games. By that measure you’d expect them to fall off some, and they did, going from 11-2 and 11-3 in ’06 to 8-5 (2-2 in close games) and 9-4 (3-2) in ’07. On the other side of the coin, Missouri went 0-3 in close games in 2006 on the way to going 8-5, but it went 12-2 in 2007 thanks in part to being 2-0 in close games.

It is an inexact science of course. Teams get better and worse, their schedules change, players come and go, coaches and coordinators change, and so on. This is a list of teams that have the potential for rising; you must engage your brain from here on out to decide how well these teams will do.

For these purposes, a “close game” is defined as a game where the final score is eight points or less – in other words, one touchdown and conversion could tie or swing the game. Teams that made the main list had at least three more losses than wins; teams on the watch list had two more losses than wins and played at least four close games.

Only BCS conference teams (including Notre Dame) were analyzed.

Maryland Terrapins, 6-7 overall, 1-5 in close games

Maryland has languished in mediocrity since winning 10+ games from 2001-03. Ralph Friedgen probably needs a good season or else he could be on his way out. His team posted one of the three worst records in close games in 2007, so either his team was really close or it had poor execution.

Maryland was picked 5th in its division in 2007, precisely where it ended up, and it’s picked to do the same in 2008. If the Terps can catch some breaks though, which they apparently couldn’t a season ago, they could surprise a lot of people.

Michigan State Spartans, 7-6 overall, 2-6 in close games

Mark Dantonio was almost universally praised for the job he did in his first year in East Lansing. After three straight losing seasons, he got them above .500 and competitive in all six losses. Sparty could be set for a breakout season in 2008.

Minnesota Golden Gophers, 1-11 overall, 1-6 in close games

Minnesota’s season was a disaster last year, especially on defense. Tim Brewster has proven to be a pretty good recruiter, and he has lots of optimism for the future. And why not? Despite the poor defensive play, seven of the Gophers’ twelve games were close.

Then again, one of those close losses was to North Dakota State. Caveat emptor.

UCLA Bruins, 6-7 overall, 0-3 in close games

I would hazard a guess that most UCLA fans would attribute the poor record in close games to mismanagement by Karl Dorrell.

This team is a probably a case where the record doesn’t indicate a turnaround – the coaching staff has changed, the top two quarterbacks are hurt, and it’s debatable how much talent is on the sidelines in Westwood. Then again, Rick Neuheisel is known for quick turnarounds.

North Carolina Tar Heels, 4-8 overall, 2-6 in close games

In Butch Davis’ first year, UNC was very competitive for a 4-8 team. Only two of its eight losses were by more than one score, and that’s what you’re looking for in an up-and-coming team.

Many people are already expecting big things out of the Heels in 2008, with them having been picked second in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Their record in close games in 2007 would seem to back up those expectations, as long as things regress to the mean in Chapel Hill.

Vanderbilt Commodores, 5-7 overall, 0-3 in close games

For the second time in three seasons, Vanderbilt finished one win away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 1982. Two seasons ago the five wins came on the back of star QB Jay Cutler. Last season the five wins came despite great upheaval at the quarterback position, and the ‘Dores had three good chances to get that sixth win anyway.

Could 2008 be the season that Vandy finally breaks through? Perhaps, but lets not forget that scaring the big boys by losing close games is one of the things that defines Vanderbilt over the past couple decades.

Washington Huskies, 4-9 overall, 0-5 in close games

Ty Willingham has been working his way through a bad situation in the post-Neuheisel era. His many critics probably would attribute the 0-5 mark in close games to poor coaching and execution. Others might attribute it to having a young team and starting a freshman quarterback.

The pressure is definitely on Willingham to have a good season. If another year goes by with a poor record in close games, the folks on the “poor coaching and execution” side of the argument will probably win out.

The Watch List

Alabama Crimson Tide, 7-6 overall, 4-6 in close games

Arizona Wildcats, 5-7 overall, 2-4 in close games

Cincinnati Bearcats, 10-3 overall, 1-3 in close games

Louisville Cardinals, 6-6 overall, 3-5 in close games

Mississippi Rebels, 3-9 overall, 2-4 in close games


Seven Ways 2007 Could Have Been Crazier

June 16, 2008

The 2007 college football season will long be remembered as a season of chaos. The #2 ranking was a curse, Appalachian State and Stanford supplied two of the biggest upsets in the history of the game, and we ended up with the first two-loss champion since the polls named champions before the bowls.

It was a season for the ages, and we’ll likely not see anything like it again. Before we permanently put it in the past with the 2008 season, let’s take a look back at seven close calls that could have made 2007 even crazier than it was. All rankings are the teams’ rankings at the time of the game.

September 1: #4 Texas 21, Arkansas State 13

As you can tell by the ranking, expectations were high in Austin at the beginning of 2007. Everyone was looking forward to seeing how Colt McCoy would follow up his excellent freshman year, and the assumption was that the Longhorns would have a chance to win two titles in three years.

Arkansas State had other plans. The Indians outgained the Longhorns by 57 yards for a total of 397, and they scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to pull within eight with a minute to go. Texas recovered an onside kick to ice the game, and they were just happy to win on the same day that Appalachian State took down Michigan.

Texas had another close call two weeks later at UCF, but the Knights at least won Conference USA. The Indians finished 5-7 out of the Sun Belt, but it still says a lot about a season when Arkansas State winning in Austin would not have been the lead story of the day.

September 8: #5 Wisconsin 20, UNLV 13

The Texas-Arkansas State game had the underdog score late to pull it close. In this contest, it was four-touchdown favorite Wisconsin overcoming a one point UNLV lead by scoring a touchdown with 1:53 to go.

It was a rather pedestrian game, with UNLV leading 10-9 after three quarters. The result was very surprising considering Wisconsin had just put up 42 points in a win over Washington State. The Badgers just slept on the overmatched but very game Rebels in a match played far from the cozy environs of Camp Randall.

In the end, Wisconsin controlled the game with its rushing attack and some heady play from QB Tyler Donovan. After a couple more close calls, Wisconsin would lose its first game a month later against Illinois, but it nearly was one of the first in the long line of huge top 10 upsets in 2007.

September 8: #20 Hawaii 45, Louisiana Tech 44

Hawaii had many close calls on it slate in 2007, but none was closer than its game in Ruston. Hawaii needed overtime to defeat head coach Derek Dooley’s upstart Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

In a decision reminiscent of Boise State’s in the Fiesta Bowl, Tech decided to go for two in the first overtime, figuring it would be next to impossible to keep Colt Brennan from scoring again. The conversion pass was deflected and the Warriors escaped.

It turned out to be the first of two trips to Louisiana for Hawaii. The Warriors became the second WAC team to break into the BCS but collected its first loss at the hands of the team once coached by Derek’s father, the Georgia Bulldogs.

September 29: #12 Boston College 24, UMass 14

It seemed like it was going to be a nondescript win for BC against an in-state I-AA opponent. The Eagles had a 17-0 lead at the half and everything was going swimmingly.

UMass is a power in I-AA though, having not lost since the championship game against Appalachian State the previous season. As BC head coach Jeff Jagodzinski pointed out after the game, the Minutemen had plenty of I-A transfers, and they showed their ability by scoring 14 points to pull within three in the third quarter.

BC would answer with a touchdown late in the third, and the 24-14 margin would hold up for the rest of the game. UMass would go on to make the final four of the I-AA playoffs where it fell to Southern Illinois.

October 20: #5 Oklahoma 17, Iowa State 7

Oklahoma had already been upset by Colorado, and in preparation for this game, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops gave his team a list of top 25 upsets that had happened the previous week. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference as the normally potent Sooners needed the entire game to beat Big 12 North doormat Iowa State.

The Cyclones scored their only points of the game in the first quarter, but it wasn’t until a Sooner field goal with 1:34 to go that Oklahoma put the game away for good. It was the closest game between the teams since Iowa State lost by a count of 17-14 in Norman in 1998.

This one was in Ames though, and had the Cyclones pulled it out it would have been a signature win for new head coach Gene Chizik. Instead, Oklahoma headed home with its national title aspirations intact for another week.

November 17: #20 Tennessee 25, Vanderbilt 24

The last time the Commodores went to Knoxville, they pulled off the upset and got their first win over Tennessee since 1982 and first win in Knoxville since 1975. For most of the game, it looked like they would make it two in a row.

Tennessee made a 16 point comeback in the fourth quarter and Vanderbilt missed a field goal with 33 seconds to go to give the Vols a one point win. It’s difficult to believe, but Vanderbilt actually had a 24-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

By pulling this one out, Tennessee prevented Georgia from facing LSU in the SEC Championship Game, something that perhaps would have given us a more satisfying end to the season.

December 1: #13 Arizona State 20, Arizona 17

USC clinched a berth in the Rose Bowl earlier in the day, but Arizona State was still in the race for a BCS at large bid. All it would take to remain eligible was a win over its in-state rival.

Arizona, who was playing to become bowl eligible for the second straight year, had other ideas. The Wildcats jumped out to a 7-0 lead and kept within a score of the Sun Devils until an Arizona State touchdown with 4:27 to go. Arizona would tack on a touchdown with 26 seconds to go, but an offsides penalty on the ensuing onside kick would end its hopes of winning.

Arizona State would end up getting passed over in the BCS selection process for Georgia, Kansas, and Illinois, but had it lost this game it wouldn’t have been in the discussion at all.


Surfing Through the SEC Football Schedules

May 7, 2008

The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu put out his preliminary projections for the SEC, and it got me thinking. I am not ready to put out my projections yet, mainly because there are too many good teams in the conference just to throw an order together right now. Projecting the SEC finish will take a lot of research.

I did end up looking at each school’s schedule, mainly focusing on the non-conference games. If you haven’t yet done that, you’ll be glad to know that the SEC schedules this year are less cupcake-y than past years.

For the record, I am fine with schools raiding the bakery for fundraiser games a couple times a year, but I do expect BCS schools to play at least one BCS opponent. I also think playing I-AA teams is inexcusable except for the very best I-AA teams, like Appalachian State, which are better than the Utah States and FIUs of I-A anyway.

Here’s a rundown of the SEC non-conference schedules, in alphabetical order:

ALABAMA

BCS Opponent: @ Clemson (Aug. 30)

Cupcakes: Tulane (Sept. 6), Western Kentucky (Sept. 13), Arkansas State (Nov. 1)

ARKANSAS

BCS Opponent: @ Texas (Sept. 13)

Respectable Non-BCS: Tulsa (Nov 1)

Cupcake: Louisiana-Monroe (Sept. 6)

I-AA: Western Illinois (Aug. 30)

AUBURN

BCS Opponent: @ West Virginia (Oct. 23)

Respectable Non-BCS: Southern Miss (Sept. 6)

Cupcake: Louisiana-Monroe (Aug. 30)

I-AA: Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 8 )

FLORIDA

BCS Opponents: Miami (Sept. 6), @ FSU (Nov. 29)

Respectable Non-BCS: Hawaii (Aug. 30)

I-AA: The Citadel (Nov. 22)

GEORGIA

BCS Opponents: @ Arizona State (Sept. 20), Georgia Tech (Nov. 29)

Respectable Non-BCS: Central Michigan (Sept. 6)

I-AA: Georgia Southern (Aug. 30)

KENTUCKY

BCS Opponent: Louisville (Aug. 31)

Cupcakes: Middle Tennessee (Sept. 13), Western Kentucky (Sept. 27)

I-AA: Norfolk State (Sept. 6)

LSU

Respectable Non-BCS: Troy (Sept. 6)

Respectable I-AA: Appalachian State (Aug. 30)

Cupcakes: North Texas (Sept. 13), Tulane (Nov. 1)

OLE MISS

BCS Opponent: @ Wake Forest (Sept. 6)

Cupcakes: Memphis (Aug. 30), Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 15)

I-AA: Samford (Sept. 13)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

BCS Opponent: @ Georgia Tech (Sept. 20)

Cupcakes: Louisiana Tech (Aug. 30), Middle Tennessee (Oct. 25)

I-AA: Southeastern Louisiana (Sept. 6)

SOUTH CAROLINA

BCS Opponents: NC State (Aug. 28), @ Clemson (Nov. 29)

Cupcake: UAB (Sept. 27)

I-AA: Wofford (Sept. 20)

TENNESSEE

BCS Opponent: @ UCLA (Sept. 1)

Cupcakes: UAB (Sept. 13), Northern Illinois (Oct. 4), Wyoming (Nov. 8 )

VANDERBILT

BCS Opponents: Duke (Oct. 25), @ Wake Forest (Nov. 29)

Cupcakes: Miami University (Aug. 28), Rice (Sept. 13)

* * *

Only LSU doesn’t have a BCS opponent. Alabama, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt do not have I-AA opponents. LSU should not lose anything for playing Appalachian State, though, especially because Mountaineer fans have already begun predicting a victory on Charlotte sports talk radio.

LSU’s slate is the only one I’d call “shameful” in the bunch, though I am not happy about all of the non-App State I-AA teams you see listed. However, until the NCAA reverses the rule and stops allowing wins over I-AA teams to count towards bowl eligibility, those games are sadly inevitable.


Gators Pregame: Vanderbilt

November 3, 2007

It’s homecoming. It’s Vandy. Vandy hasn’t won at Florida Field since 1945. Florida should win. The end.


Schedule Analysis: Part 4

August 9, 2007

Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

October 27: Georgia (in Jacksonville)

Death, taxes, and Florida over Georgia, right? Well, it’s not that simple, but is has seemed that way since 1990. It took Ron Zook being fired earlier in the week for Georgia to beat Florida the last time they did, back in 2004. The only other time since 1990 that Georgia has won this game was 1997, the year after Florida won its first national championship. We are now presented in 2007 with the same situation. Does that mean Georgia‘s time has come once again?

The answer is a solid maybe. A lot probably depends on how the quarterbacks of the teams grow this year. Matthew Stafford was decidedly uneven in his performance as a freshman, and Tim Tebow basically was a running back who occasionally did halfback option passes. Stafford had to beat out three other guys to become the starter last year, but now is the undisputed top guy at the position. Tebow was Chris Leak’s backup and change of pace guy, but now is the undisputed top guy at the position. While Stafford probably won’t ever get pulled other than in the second half against Western Carolina (and maybe Troy), Tebow will likely come out of games for brief periods in favor of Cameron Newton. Urban Meyer said he plans to continue the two-quarterback system, and last year said that one of the reasons he did it was so he could talk to the QBs face-to-face on the sideline.

One point of intrigue is Mike Bobo. Mark Richt let the former Bulldog QB call plays for the last two games of 2006, both wins, and plans on doing the same this year. Will he remain as successful as the season goes along and defensive coaches get more film of his strategy? Bobo has said that he plans on establishing the run first, which makes sense because Georgia has a lot of depth at running back and no depth at receiver. While Georgia‘s offensive line will be young, it will probably end up being fine. This game will present a big challenge to the Gators’ young front seven.

Georgia is doing a bit of rebuilding on defense after it gave up more than 24 points only once in 2006. It’s not nearly as extensive as what Florida is going through, having lost nine starters, but it may be a concern for the Bulldogs this year. In fact, Georgia‘s best cornerback was declared academically ineligible and entered the NFL supplemental draft. This news should make any Gator fan perk up because Florida is loaded on offense this year, especially at receiver. While rivalry games never seem to turn out the way they should on paper, Florida should have noticeable success on offense against Georgia.

This brings up a good point: this is a rivalry game. While it has been eclipsed in recent years by the rivalry with FSU, and some might even argue Tennessee, it is still Florida‘s oldest and most traditional rivalry. Young Gator fans like myself almost take it for granted that Florida will beat Georgia, just as sure as Phil Fulmer is fat at it always gets freezing cold in Gainesville the week of the FSU game (or at least it seems like it does). Older, I mean, um, more experienced Gator fans relish every victory as payback for the many years where the Bulldogs beat up on the Gators seemingly every year. Georgia fans have completely lost their minds over this game though, going as far as “taunting” myself and my fellow Gator Band members in 2005 saying, “You should have won by more!” The atmosphere and split stands in Jacksonville also make for a very special weekend every year.

I’ll tell you one Gator who doesn’t take a win in this game for granted is Urban Meyer. He is an unthinkable 6-0 so far in rivalry games (versus Tennessee, Georgia, and FSU). His only loss in the state of Florida was in 2002 when Bowling Green lost at USF. The winner of this game probably won’t be guaranteed to be in the SEC title game with Tennessee and South Carolina expected to be better, but the loser almost certainly will need help to get to Atlanta. With so much on the line, I have to expect that Meyer will find a way to win this game. Georgia has more overall experience, but Florida is the more talented team. No one maximizes talent like Urban Meyer does, so if my earlier prediction is correct, he will improve to 8-0 in rivalry games following this one.

November 3: Vanderbilt (HC)

After inexplicably having LSU for homecoming last year (on the first weekend of October, no less), Florida returns things to normal and has homecoming in November against an SEC bottom feeder. Well, sort of.

Vanderbilt probably will finish last in the SEC East again. It was the only SEC East team not to go to a bowl last year (which is pretty incredible, when you think about it). Bobby Johnson has had the Commodores respectable the past couple of years, and last year proved it wasn’t just Jay Cutler doing it. Chris Nickson has come in and is one of the more dangerous guys in the conference for both sides. He can be electric with his running and passing, but he was erratic at times and committed more turnovers than he would have liked. With Earl Bennett and George Smith to throw to, he has a couple of the best targets in the league.

Vandy is a team that seems to play Florida well, at least a lot better than it should play. Urban Meyer has had particular trouble with the ‘Dores, needed double overtime to win his first game with them, and winning by just 6 points last year. Florida and Vandy have played every year since 1992, a side effect of the SEC expansion and introduction of divisions, and the results have been as follows: Florida wins by 10 or more happened 10 times, Florida wins by fewer than 10 happened 5 times, and wins by Vandy did not happen.

So, about once every three years, Vandy gives Florida a serious run for its money. It’s either an aberration that two of those five close Florida wins have come in the last two years, or it’s a sign that Vanderbilt is getting better. I lean towards the latter. The talent at Vandy is as higher this year than I can ever remember it being, and Johnson has done about as well as can be expected at a private college with no athletic director (yes, really) playing in the toughest football conference in the country. Vandy had a couple of really close losses last year, and should have gone to a bowl in 2005 except that it inexplicably lost to a bad Kentucky team.

So where am I going with this? Well, I don’t think that it will be a repeat of 2005, but I don’t think it will be a blowout either. It will probably play to the standard script, where Vanderbilt stays close longer than it should and Florida pulls away at the end. How much the Gators can pull away depends on how well the defense can keep Vanderbilt’s offense from moving the ball. In addition to Nickson, Bennett, and Smith, Vandy has a fairly good running back tandem with Jeff Jennings and Cassen Jackson-Garrison. If those two stay healthy, it will open up opportunities in the passing game and allow Nickson to spend less time running around like he did last year.

I don’t think this is a winnable game for Vanderbilt. Even with everything Florida has lost and everything Vanderbilt has coming back, it’s still Vandy. The Commodores will struggle to win more than the four games they won last year. However, it won’t be a comfortable day for all the Gators groggy from Gator Growl and the festivities the night before.


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