Kentucky – Florida Wrapup

September 24, 2006

This is quickly going to devolve into a Chris Leak versus Tim Tebow post, and I hate that it has to be, but I’m going to get everything else out of the way first. If all you care about is the quarterbacks, then just scroll down some.

There was a lot of bad football played today. Either games were blowouts, or they were just ugly. We saw it with Georgia earlier today against Colorado, and then with Florida at night. Teams were just not ready to play after last week’s big games. Even USC was terrible against Arizona tonight. The best two games were NC State’s dramatic win over Boston College (despite sucking badly at the beginning of the year, the Wolfpack is now 1-0 in conference play, so Chuck Amato has that for now) and Michigan State’s epic collapse against Notre Dame.

The stat sheet has DeShawn Wynn running for 104 yards on 14 carries, but I can’t for the life of me remember when all those yards happened. Not just Wynn, but all of the running backs need to work on protecting the ball. Dallas Baker was very impressive, and despite at least one first half drop, he was the player of the game I think. He was making big plays at the right times when momentum could have swung to the Wildcats. The offensive line looked just awful though. Everyone seemed to relax after the trick play touchdown, think that they’d walk all over Kentucky. The ‘Cats deserve credit for battling though.

It took Florida’s defense about two and a half quarters to wake up and be it’s normal self. I don’t know if it took them that long to get used to defensive line changes or what, but Kentucky was tearing them up with simple screen passes and draw plays.

The problem was in the game planning by the coaches. Florida kept blitzing with often just one safety to help the corners, who are still not any good. I think they thought they’d have to compensate for Marcus Thomas being out, but as we saw int he second half, Ray McDonald will be fine in there. They need to compensate for the cornerbacks, the weakest and thinnest position on the field, not defensive line, the strongest and deepest position on the field. Once they got their act together everything was as it should have been.

The offensive game plan at first was not that great either. For most of the first half, it seemed like they were trying to get the ball into specific players’ hands, rather than just hitting an open guy. As the coach has tried to tell people, the real Urban Meyer Offenseâ„¢ is personnel-driven, where you get the ball to playmakers and let them run with it. In the hurry-up offense at the end of the half, it became a case of just getting the ball to anyone, rather than someone specific, and the offense clicked. Rather than worry about how many touches players get, they just need to worry about getting the ball to the open guy. Everyone’s dangerous enough this year that it doesn’t matter a whole lot.

I will say that it also was a classic D- performance by the SEC referees. They were in rare form tonight. Both teams got shafted at various times, and the back judge appeared to be incapable of calling pass interference on anyone. Before tonight, I had never seen illegal motion (a before-the-snap infraction) flagged after a play had been run and blown dead. They probably won’t get reprimanded since they didn’t alter the inevitable outcome of the game, but they need to get their act together before they screw up a competitive game.

Okay, now the quarterbacks. Chris Leak was not at his sharpest this week, but he did throw for 268 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. While he wasn’t always clicking, let’s face it: no one was for Florida tonight. Only Baker and Wynn seem to me to grade out for Urban Meyer’s Champion’s Club for this week. ESPN.com did name Leak the player of the game, and says that he helped pad his stats with the game. He did what he needed to, and they got the win. He’s won 5 straight rivalry games, and hasn’t lost in the Swamp since October 9, 2004 (a span of 11 games). I’m not sure what else people want out of him with the inconsistent running game and defense over the past couple of years. He has never played behind a good enough line for him to sit back and pick apart defenses like a Rex Grossman or Danny Wuerffel, yet he’s on his way to breaking several school passing records this year.

Tim Tebow is certainly electric though. His long runs energized the crowd and got it buzzing. However, when you read coverage of this game or hear people talk about it, you’ll find two groups of people: those who watched the LSU-Auburn game and understood what happened, and those that watched and didn’t understand or didn’t see it.

Auburn and LSU have linebackers just as big as Tebow is. They have defensive linemen about as fast as Tebow is. They have safeties who don’t whiff when helping out on the run. In short, Tebow is not going run all over them like he did against Kentucky. He probably won’t against Alabama or Georgia either. No one will though, not Harvin, not Wynn, not Moore, not Brandon James, not Cornelius, Caldwell, Ingram, or anyone. Those defenses are just too good for that. If Florida gets 300 yards against either LSU or Auburn, it will be an accomplishment. If they get 500 yards combined in those games it will be an accomplishment. If anyone out there thinks that Tebow should start or even play significant minutes in the next four games, then they just don’t understand how good SEC defenses are.

Leak is going to get sacked a lot in the next four weeks. Wynn and Moore will get stuffed a lot in the next four weeks. Harvin and Caldwell will get tackled for losses on reverses. It’s all going to happen frequently. Get used to it. The SEC is a big boy’s league, and no one is going to rack up yards and points on these teams. Leak has been there before. He’s played in tough road settings. He’s seen these kinds of defenses. Tennessee is better than last year, but let’s face it: they couldn’t stop Tebow from picking up first downs when even Smokey knew he was running a quarterback draw. It’s always great to beat UT, but they’re nothing compared to what’s coming. This Gator team needs to lean on its seniors again, and it will have to be Leak, Baker, and Wynn leading the way on offense if they want to win.

Now, I like Tim Tebow. He seems like a great guy. His enthusiasm is refreshing. He’s a tremendously gifted running back. He still can’t throw it though. He also has little experience. He will come up with some big plays in the next month, but can he do it consistently? Freshman players always have games where they implode beyond repair for that game. Matthew Stafford had his today. If Joe Cox takes over the starting role for Georgia, he’ll have his too. Arkansas’ Mitch Mustain will have one too. Same with Alabama’s John Parker Wilson. It always happens, and Tebow’s turn will come. Senior quarterbacks have a much better track record in that regard, and that’s why there is no question that Chris Leak is as firmly in the starter spot as he has been all season.

Now yes, the fans momentarily booed when Leak replaced Tebow in the red zone after Tebow’s series of long runs. They quickly turned to cheers though, as if they were booing the removal of Tebow but still supporting Leak. I can’t blame them for feeling that way with Tebow adding some much-needed excitement to the game, but you can’t boo in that situation. The crowd tried to make up for it the rest of the game by cheering more than they had all game for Leak and starting “Leak for Heisman” chants in the student section.

I’d imagine most people didn’t understand why Meyer pulled Tebow there. If you stop though, it does make sense. The first team offense needed to practice running red zone plays, and that includes the starting quarterback. This game was not about how many points can we run up on Kentucky; if the coaches wanted to, they could have scored 50, but that wouldn’t have helped a whole lot to get ready for the next four games. With apologies to Kentucky, this was a glorified practice session for Florida.

I wish I could leave it at this. This won’t be the end of it though. I fully expect more of the same from the Alligator as I wrote about in my “Blown Coverage” post from last week. I would hope Pat Dooley will be on top of this, and I really would expect him to be. I have no idea what any of the major online pundits will say, but it’s likely someone will try to stir up trouble.

Is the Gator Nation divided on this issue? Yes, somewhat, but most of the really devoted fans I know will know how properly to evaluate this game, even if not initially. There definitely is no controversy in the team or coaching staff, and that’s really what matters. Urban and his staff know better than any of us on the outside what’s going on at practice, in the locker room, and on the field of the Swamp. There’s no time for trying to play up something that doesn’t exist.

Alabama is coming on Saturday. Yes, they lost to Arkansas, but only because of a complete meltdown by their kicker. Alabama’s offense might be back to being Mike Shula-as-Tampa-Bay-offensive-coordinator bad, but the defense is still stout. Bama has been unranked all season for a reason, but they still are going to play tough for all 60 minutes. They understand the revenge angle for UF after running it up on the Gators last year, and they’re not afraid of playing on the road.

Possibly the toughest four game stretch in team history is about to start. If Florida even goes 2-2, as long as one of the wins is over Georgia, then they’re set up nicely for going to Atlanta in December. It’s going to be a great test for this team. We will find out what they’re really made of, how tough they are when faced with major adversity. I can’t wait.

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Oh Georgia

September 23, 2006

What a comeback. After stinking up the stadium worse than Uga after eating a bowl of baked beans, Georgia took the lead with under a minute to play on Joe Cox’s second touchdown pass. Matt Stafford looked terrible, and Georgia had no choice but to put in Cox to try to get a spark, as the LF Sports announcers kept saying. While the play calling got a lot more aggressive with Cox in the game, Cox should get a lot of credit for playing very well.

Colorado should have won this game, and is now kicking itself for missed opportunities in the first half. The better team usually wins games, and when you’re not the better team you have to capitalize on every chance you get.

I feel bad for Colorado, but not too bad since a loss would have embarrassed the SEC. Dan Hawkins played there last year with Boise State, so he knew what it would take to win there. Colorado is not as bad as its first game would suggest. Hawkins is a good coach, and there is still talent there. None of the Buffaloes’ four losses is in-conference, so they still could win the Big XII North.

The big news here is Georgia. They need Joe Tereshinski III more than the fans want to admit. They wanted Matthew Stafford, and they got him, and he almost got them a catastrophically bad home loss. Now, they have a controversy again with Cox saving the day today.

This was Georgia’s game where they come out flat and not ready to play (like most every team has every year) and they still came out with a win. The defense is still good too. The offense won’t be scaring anyone though, and that means the team as a whole won’t either. Things are definitely looking up for Florida in the SEC East.


Kentucky – Florida Preview

September 23, 2006

No running accounts of games today because I’ve got things to do and my left thumb was really sore after last week. It was listed as questionable earlier in the week, but was upgraded to probable yesterday, but we’re keeping it to limited action today. After all, it’s just Kentucky.

This game actually pits two quarterbacks who are number one and tied for number two in touchdown passes. Chris Leak comes in leading the nation with 10 TD passes (yes Tebow fans, you read that right) and UK’s Andre Woodson is tied for second with nine.

Kentucky fans were ready to fire Rich Brooks in the offseason after just two years, but he’s got things looking up this year. They won their SEC opener for the first time since the ’80s after beating Ole Miss. The offense looks pretty good, even at times during their blowout loss to Louisville. They look better than Vandy for sure, and maybe even South Carolina with how bad the Gamecocks have been. They still have Central Michigan, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Vandy, and Louisiana-Monroe left on the schedule, and if the Cats can go 4-1 in those games they they’re 6-6 and probably at the Music City Bowl or Liberty Bowl. That’s an awfully good season for them.

Still, it’s Kentucky. I know they have a pulse this year, but not much more than that. Florida has won 19 consecutive games. That includes when UK had a 21-3 lead late in the second half in Lexington, and in the early ’90s when Florida committed seven (!) turnovers and still won. This series also produced the “Doering’s Got a Touchdown!” game. Urban Meyer’s offense that struggle to get 3 points against Bama last year looked like the 1999 St. Louis Rams against Kentucky last year. There’s no way Florida loses this game.

The only questions are regarding how much playing time players get. Will they keep feeding DeShawn Wynn to see if he can put two weeks in a row together, or rest him up for the Bama game? How much will Percy Harvin play? Hopefully, as little as possible so he’s fresh and ready for next week. How much will Leak play before Tebow comes in for some work? Probably at least some into the third quarter and long enough to get 3 or 4 more touchdown passes.

This is also a chance for the defensive line to get adjusted to life without Marcus Thomas. I think it will be fine, not just today but in future games too with how much depth Florida has at the position. I still am disappointed in Marcus, but it’s better he learns his lessons now while he has a college family that will be supportive rather than an NFL team that will simply cut him.

This game will also give some more insight into Urban Meyer the coach, not only in how he manages playing time but also in how well the team plays. There’s no reason to win by fewer than 20 or 30, but will the be looking ahead to the tough stretch ahead? I think probably not since there was no looking ahead to Tennessee in the UCF game. I say the Gators win comfortably, and the game will be out of hand by halftime.

As a side note, Georgia looks terrible against Colorado. Matt Stafford looks every bit the freshman he is, the receivers are dropping passes left and right, and the Bulldog defense is startlingly porous. There’s a lot of time to go, but it should be worse that the 10-0 halftime score if not for a Colorado field goal having been blocked and the Buffaloes committing a false start on 4th and inches deep in Georgia territory. This would be a really, really bad loss for Georgia.


Week 4 Preview

September 23, 2006

GameDay had a nice piece on Chris Leak on how things have changed from last year. He’s running the offense, not learning on the field anymore. In addition he attended the Manning quarterback camp and got a lot of advice from Archie Manning. He then did a demonstration on how to deal with a corner blitz with Dallas Baker and Desmond Howard. It then sounded like the Ohio State fans chanted overrated about the Gators, but I couldn’t hear it that well and I have no idea why the fans of the number one team would chant “overrated” at someone. I think it may have been more a thing against Howard for daring to attend a rival school.

Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit then defended Leak and said what I have been: there’s no reason to be clamoring for Tim Tebow to start. There’s the stat about beating rivals that Dave Revsine brought up that I just mentioned, plus Leak is a senior leader. The worst excuse that I’ve heard as to why Tebow should start is that he looked good in the Orange and Blue Game. Well, everyone looks good in the Orange and Blue Game. It’s like the NBA summer league. If you look good it doesn’t say anything, but if you look bad, that’s really bad. St. Timothy is going to be great in time, but this is Leak’s team and Leak’s year.

* * *

I like to look at stats because I am an analytical type. Right now, Florida is 11th in total offense and 13th in total defense. Total offense and defense has to do with how many yards you gain and how many you give up. I decided to look at teams’ average ranking in these two categories to see how they stack up so far. I looked at only the top twenty teams in each category because I’m only looking for the top teams right now. Withholding comment on the meaning of the list right now, here is the top twenty in average ranking in total offense and defense:

  1. Missouri: 5th in Offense/2nd in Defense – 3.5 Average
  2. Florida: 11/13 – 12
  3. LSU: 23/1 – 12
  4. Texas: 26/6 – 16
  5. Connecticut: 12/24 – 18
  6. Southern Cal: 15/22 – 18.5
  7. Louisville: 1/37 – 19
  8. UCLA: 24/15 – 19.5
  9. Texas A&M: 22/18 – 20
  10. New Mexico State: 2/41 – 21.5
  11. West Virginia: 4/39 – 21.5
  12. Houston: 6/40 – 23
  13. Tulsa: 27/20 – 23.5
  14. Arizona State: 13/38 – 25.5
  15. Oklahoma State: 32/19 – 25.5
  16. Utah: 34/17 – 25.5
  17. Michigan State: 3/49 – 26
  18. Boise State: 52/4 – 28
  19. Michigan: 48/9 – 28.5
  20. Ohio State: 18/48 – 32

I have not posted 21 – 38 of my list here for sake of space.

This is not that meaningful yet because there’s only a sample size of at most three games for each team. It also does not tell how good a team is, but rather how good the combination of how its offense is against its competition’s defenses and how good its defense is against its competition’s offenses. It assumes that yardage is an accurate measure of how well each unit does. It penalizes bend-but-don’t-break defenses and rewards high-powered offenses. Still, if you consider two teams’ collective opponents to be about equal, it’s a way to compare the teams objectively.

Missouri and Florida are the only two teams on the top twenty in both categories, and that’s reflected in them being in the top. LSU is tied with Florida at two, which is interesting. LSU is at 23rd in offense, which shows what that Auburn defense did to them after two 45-3 wins. Auburn, incidentally, is 21st in defense and 60th in offense, for a 40.5 average. Weird things happen with this list early on, with New Mexico State, Houston, and Tulsa showing up.

This list is susceptible to teams with bad schedules showing up high. When teams with tough schedules show up, it really validates them as excellent teams. That looks good for Florida, having played two of the better C-USA teams and Tennessee. Of course, we have no idea how good UT is. I’ll probably revisit this later in the year after a few more games.

Interestingly, when you average the position of all of the top twenty in both categories, you get 32.45 in offense and 32.92 in defense. That’s pretty remarkable when the list includes Colorado State, who is 101st in offense, and Northern Illinois and Purdue, who are 112th and 100th in defense, respectively.

Finally, most people assume that when teams have good offenses, they usually don’t have a good defense and vice versa. Well, the average difference between teams’ offensive and defensive rankings is 44.21, showing that there seems to be a degree of truth in that in this list. When you average offensive minus defensive rank for these teams, you get -0.47. That means that collectively, these teams are a wash on offense and defense, and we saw that with the average rankings for all of them. It makes sense, because if you look at all of the teams then offense and defense will exactly cancel each other out (if you throw out games against I-AA teams) but it appears that when you look at the top of each category, they cancel each other out too.

* * *

There are not many good games today. It’s a Big 10 showcase, with Penn State-Ohio State, Wisconsin-Michigan, and Notre Dame-Michigan State being the headliners. Colorado-Georgia is looking a lot better now than it did before the game. But still, when ESPN picks up Kentucky-Florida for its prime time game, you know there’s not a whole lot going on.

* * *

An interesting poll that was started recently is the Master Coaches Survey. It polls former coaches who have a chance to watch all of the games and make informed choices, unlike the coaches poll used in the BCS. There’s a lot of big names and good football minds on the list, including Vince Dooley, Pat Dye, LaVell Edwards, Bo Schembechler, and Gene Stallings. I won’t reprint the full list or poll here since you can just visit the site and see it, but it is not that different from the other polls right now. That will change though. For the record, Florida is fifth.

The nice thing about it is that it’s open. You get to see every ballot every week. They also publish commentaries from some of the coaches and now have “PollCasts” featuring audio comments as well. I don’t always agree with it, but I don’t have nearly the experience or credibility that these coaches do, so there you go.


A Couple of Things

September 23, 2006

Here’s a couple of random thoughts before GameDay comes on.

It’s hard for me to watch what’s happening to Colorado. You see, I enjoy rooting for Boise State for a number of reasons (their offensive style, they use orange and blue, the blue turf) and I really thought that Dan Hawkins would do better off the bat with the Buffs. It turns out that Colorado in Gary Barnett’s last days was a lot like Mississippi State during the end of the Jackie Sherrill reign: rotten from the inside and ready to collapse. Now, MSU is in worse shape than Colorado if for no other reason than it’s in the brutally tough SEC rather than the soft Big XII North.

It really goes to show that there may be something to staying at a top-tier “mid-major” school and bringing it to prominence. Dirk Koetter, the BSU coach before Hawkins, has not exactly set the world on fire since starting there in 2001 and frequently is mentioned as being on the hot seat. Hawkins probably should have gone to a better situation than the mess at Colorado. Meanwhile, Boise has not missed a beat under Chris Petersen, most notably destroying Oregon State 42-14 a couple of weeks ago. Now, if they can beat Fresno State at home (where Broncos have only two losses since 1999) they will likely be undefeated at season’s end and perhaps fighting TCU for a BCS bid.

Aside from Boise’s big loss at Georgia last year, the team has played well in recent years. It has beaten Pac 10 teams on a regular basis. If the program could become a consistent winner, who knows, it might get an invite to be the 11th team in the Pac 10 similar to how Penn State became the 11th team in the Big 10. I’d say that Boise State is already better than Washington, Washington State, Stanford, Oregon State, and Arizona. It also could probably beat Arizona State and UCLA fairly regularly. Potentially that’s a third-place finish in the Pac 10.

That is why I don’t know why Boise State coaches seem to want to get out of there. Of course, BCS programs pay more, and there is the disadvantage in being in Boise, Idaho (not exactly LA when pitching to recruits). However, Bill Snyder consistently put a winner on the field in Manhattan, Kansas. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the Pac 10 would ever invite Boise State to join. Still, George O’Leary seems to be content to build up UCF into a national power, and the right coach could do the same for Boise State. Heck, Boise State is already a national power to a degree in that it gets ranked for some time every year. Maybe Petersen is the guy, unless he chases dollars at someplace like Stanford where is paycheck increases, but job security and satisfaction plummet.

In Gator news, Dave Revsine points out that Chris Leak has won five straight games against Florida’s big three rivals (FSU, Tennessee, and Georgia) dating back to the Ron Zook Field game. The only other Gator QB to do that was Danny Wuerffel, some of whose records are in jeopardy of being broken by Leak. It’s looking likely that Leak will extend that to six straight and possibly seven since Georgia is playing a freshman quarterback and Florida just finds ways to beat Georgia every year, and FSU looks like a train wreck. Some of that credit also should go to Urban Meyer for putting together great game plans for those rivalry games (even if his Alabama and LSU game plans in the past leave something to be desired).

Urban also says that Percy Harvin will see limited playing time, in the neighborhood of 10-15 plays. I’d rather see him sit the game out since there’s no possible way we’re losing to Kentucky, but Urban is on his “Are we a tough team?” kick, tough guys play through pain. I just don’t want to see Harvin reaggravate the injury against the Wildcats and lose him for the important stretch of the season, like how Alabama lost Tyrone Prothro last year in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Marcus Thomas is already out, let’s not lose Harvin too.


Bowdenery

September 23, 2006

A good catch by my brother. He’s in Orlando, and sometimes listens to Terry Bowden’s unintentionally funny radio show on the ESPN affiliate down there. He apparently said that there are people who want him to go coach Miami. He also said that if he did, he’d take Jeff Bowden away from FSU to be the receivers coach to make both programs better.

Certainly Jeff is a problem up in Tallahassee. So is Lorenslow (or is it Slowrenzo?) Booker. And probably Drew Weatherford. And a lot of guys. Most of all, it’s Bobby’s fault for leaving his overmatched son in the offensive coordinator’s job for too long, and for slipping on recruiting. FSU used to have the best atheletes in the nation. Now, they probably would be outrun by Louisville or West Virginia on both sides of the ball. They’d go 5-6 in the SEC like Tennessee did last year. So would Miami, probably. As for Terry at Miami, please. These people are joking, right?

As I had predicted last Saturday, Tommy Bowden got some more charity from Bobby in their game last week. Tommy Boy can do some recruiting (see C.J. Spiller) and always wins just enough games to keep his job. He’ll never top his undefeated season at Tulane with Shaun King, but he at least plays in one of the weaker BCS leagues. Clemson might win the division not for being good, but for not being pitiful. If FSU can win the ACC with three conference losses, so could Clemson.

Maybe FSU can get rid of Jeff by sending him off to replace Chuck Amato at NC State. Maybe Terry could put together two straight coherent hours on the radio. Maybe Bobby could learn the names of his players. Or maybe that’s waaaay too much about Bowdens for one sitting.


Marcus Thomas

September 22, 2006

I tried to write this yesterday between classes, but not enough time. Oh well.

It’s pretty obvious I’m not breaking news here. It broke Wednesday around 11 am when Heath Cline’s radio show on The Star 99.5 started. He said that Marcus Thomas was suspended, but in his typical responsible journalist way, he declined to say what for as long as the appeal process was going on. Steve Russell on AM850 at noon gave the reason: a second failed drug test.

As you know by now, he says that it was the result of lingering THC in his system from the incident that caused his first positive test that also resulted in his suspension the first game. Thomas had said he was taken out of the first game so the younger players could get some reps. It’s abundantly clear now that he lied in that regard.

It’s unfortunate for Marcus since he has played very well in his two games and potentially could have been a first round draft pick. Now, he’s out for at least two games according to Urban, and he gets the “character issues” label that didn’t used to matter but now could cost a player several rounds. He’ll still play well when he comes back, probably stand out in the senior games, and perhaps test well at the combine. He’ll be at least a second day pick, but he could have been a first rounder. That ship has probably sailed at this point.

Of course, he may win his appeal. Lito Sheppard won an appeal not that long ago. Different people’s bodies metabolize substances in different amounts of time. Nearly every report so far says that THC is fat soluble, and Thomas is famous for having his big belly, nicknamed “Scoop.” Depending on the timing of it all (which only Marcus knows) it very well could have been a result of his first action. I can’t speculate on this, so I’m just going to wait it out.

The plan for now is for Ray McDonald to move inside to Thomas’ spot and have Derrick Harvey start. Harvey looked good against Southern Miss and should fit in nicely. McDonald has played inside some already this year, and should be able to get most of the push that Marcus could generate. While this blow hurts, defensive line is the deepest position on the roster. They’ll end up more or less fine.

The good for the team in this is the opponents. They get a tune-up game against Kentucky, then a home game against Alabama, a team that struggled putting the ball in the endzone against Hawaii in Tuscaloosa. That should give them time to gel before the real tough stretch of LSU, Auburn, and Georgia hits the schedule. Thomas could theoretically be back for LSU anyway, since it’s a minimum of two games, but I frankly don’t see that as likely.

This is bad for the university, bad for the program, and most of all bad for Marcus Thomas. Hopefully this can get him straightened out. Often times, it takes the worst to get someone right again. This hurts, but the team will fight on without him. It’s all they know how to do. They’ll paste Kentucky this weekend, then get a tough game but still likely a win against Alabama in two weeks as the new D-line figures itself out. After that, it’s murderer’s row. Let the games begin.