Thursday, November 22, 2007

SEC Preview - Week 13

I apologize for not updating yesterday. I got on the road very early in the morning and I did not have time to update. Once I was finally able to sit down at the computer for a while, it was late afternoon and I just decided to wait until now to update.

It's a tired refrain, but this is another big week here in SEC country. There are a few big out-of-conference games this week, rivalry games, and games where the teams are playing for quite a lot. Let's get down to business.

The Egg Bowl, Mississippi at Mississippi State, 11:30AM Friday. For once, the Egg Bowl may not be the only bowl game for one of these two teams. Mississippi State sits at 6 wins, bowl eligible but not guaranteed a bowl game. A win here will make them very attractive for a lower-tier bowl committee, and they may yet sneak into the Cotton Bowl if they get some breaks along the way. As for the game, MSU is clearly not the team that started the season. They are now primed and ready to play. They proved last week they can pass (if you don't play defense against them), and they proved in previous weeks that they can run the ball, force turnovers, and make big defensive plays. Ole Miss is not a great team by any stretch, but they are better than their 0-7 record. It is simply Ole Miss's misfortune that the rest of the SEC is so strong this year. In previous years, this Ole Miss squad probably would have gotten a couple wins. Ole Miss showed last week that when Brent Schaeffer is playing well, they can be very dangerous.As it is, they are certainly capable of winning this one and ruining MSU's season. With a loss here, MSU may not get its bowl game. It still might, but it's not definite.

Note the start time of this game. It's starting Friday morning. Bama will probably be keeping one eye on the score of this one, because this game may decide their bowl fate.

Arkansas at LSU, 1:30pm Friday, for The Boot. I haven't really previewed this game yet because of distractions and travel. Allow me to rectify that. Let me just say that Arkansas has a TERRIBLE pass defense. Just terrible. MSU, a team that can hardly pass at all, torched them for 421 yards and 4 touchdown passes. Bama had 327 yards passing against them. South Carolina had 364. Hopefully, someone told Miles and Crowton that this team is vulnerable to the pass.

I think this is a game in which it would be a mistake to be so heavily reliant on Jacob Hester. I think Hester's an excellent player, but this Arkansas team is vulnerable to big plays, and we should take advantage by leaning more heavily on our speed backs and our passing game. This is not to suggest shelving Hester, but simply that we should not use him as heavily.

Of course, the big threat with Arkansas is their running game. We all know about Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. They are simply the best one-two combination of running backs in recent SEC memory. McFadden is probably the best running back in the SEC since Bo Jackson. Our defense will have to be focused on stopping those two.

Teams have had a certain amount of success at that this season. While each has over 1000 yards of rushing, and McFadden has more than 1500, McFadden has been held under 100 yards rushing 3 times this season. Jones was held under 100 yards 3 times before he got hurt against Tennessee. The strange thing is that Arkansas is 2-1 in games where McFadden is held to under 100 yards rushing; is 4-3 in games where McFadden gets between 100 and 300 yards rushing; and is 1-0 in games where McFadden goes for over 300. McFadden's individual success does not seem to significantly contribute to wins. I don't know what to make of that, but I'd rather take my chances by stopping McFadden.

Last year, Casey Dick had a terrible game passing and all but gave us the game gift wrapped with a bow. This year, Dick is coming off probably the best game of his career heading into this one. He was 14 of 17 with 4 touchdown passes and no interceptions last week in a win against MSU, but looking at his stats on the season, this appears to be an exception. He has thrown for over 200 only once this season, and has thrown 9 interceptions to 17 touchdown passes. Before the last game, it was 9 interceptions to 13 touchdown passes, a very modest stat line. He is also not a QB who can hurt you with his legs.

Tennessee at Kentucky, 12:30 CBS Saturday. This is the other game of some considerable importance to us. I think we all know by now that this game will decide who LSU plays in the SEC Championship Game. If Tennessee wins, they're in. If Kentucky win, Georgia is in. I'd rather play Tennessee, personally. I think Georgia may well be the best team in the country right now. They remind me a lot of the 2001 LSU team that started very pedestrian, then ended the season as one of the best around. We don't want to go against that team if it can be avoided.

Kentucky is actually favored in this game, and I can see why. They have a great QB and good running backs and receivers. Tennessee has been very vulnerable on defense and does not get a lot of pressure on the QB. Plus, this game is in Kentucky, and Kentucky wants to end its LONG losing streak against Tennessee. This is of course the best Kentucky team in decades and if they're going to do it now is the time.

Tennessee, of course, can also do some things. Erik Ainge is quietly having an excellent season. In an ordinary season, one in which the SEC doesn't have two Heisman candidate quarterbacks, this kind of season would be good enough for 1st team All-SEC. Tennessee also has good running backs. Their defense, while not great, has been known to make big plays converting interceptions to touchdowns. I think this is a very even matchup.

Wake Forest at Vandy, 1:00pm Saturday, no television. Vandy tries to achieve bowl eligibility, but even if they make it, I think a bowl game is a long shot. Maybe they can sneak into a bowl that can't get a team from its conference tie-in. I don't know how all that works. I also don't know much about Wake Forest.

Georgia at Georgia Tech, 2:30pm Saturday ABC. Once again, this in-state rivalry pits two teams of vastly different quality. This series isn't LSU-Tulane yet, but it appears to be getting there. Georgia Tech is not a bad team though. They sit at 7-4, a reasonably good team in the ACC. They're just not Georgia. Georgia is one of the hottest teams in the country, and look like they can beat anybody right now. Georgia is not playing for conference positioning, but a win here will probably mean they go to a BCS bowl (if they don't go to the SEC Championship Game). A loss here may push them out of the BCS, and may mean the SEC gets only one BCS bid (but I doubt it).

Florida State at Florida, 4:00pm CBS Saturday. We all know about FSU's inconsistencies this year. We all also know about Florida's young talent. I really don't have much to say about this game other than that. Florida is playing probably for the Cap One Bowl, and wouldn't it be exciting if they got to play against Illinois?

Clemson at South Carolina, 6:00pm ESPN2 Saturday. South Carolina is playing for its bowl life. They were one of the first SEC teams to reach bowl-eligibility, and they remain one of two teams to beat Georgia on the year, but they are reeling. They haven't won a game since October 13. No bowl will want South Carolina at 6-6 if they lose this game. They will be on a 5 game losing streak. They don't travel particularly well. No one will be interested. If they want to go to a bowl game, they HAVE to win this game. It's hard to believe this team was in the top 10 in the country at midseason.

Bama at Auburn, 7:00pm ESPN Saturday. Talent-wise, I think these teams are roughly equal. The question is going to be, "Where is Bama psychologically?" Football is as much a psychological game as it is a physical game. Rumors are that after the UL-Monroe travesty, Bama players were out on the Strip in Tuscaloosa talking smack about each other and blaming the disappointing season on their coaches and teammates. Then, early this week, their coach gave the strangest press conference since Mike Gundy's rant earlier this season. He described the loss to UL-Monroe in almost apocalyptic terms, and according to my wife appeared to be about to challenge a reporter to a fight. He also put the blame squarely on his players, saying there was a "personality" problem on the Bama team. These are not good signs.

What's more, this team is not a lock to get to a bowl game with a loss here. They'll sit at 6-6, and we know that not all bowl-eligible teams will make a bowl game this year. The worst case scenario for Bama is that they lose while South Carolina and MSU win. Even worse would be if Vandy wins, giving the SEC another bowl-eligible teams and 9 teams with 7 or more wins. A 6-win Bama team with a 4 game losing streak is not a particularly attractive bowl team, with the one plus being that the Bama fans usually travel well.

Auburn is almost an afterthought right now, but that just means even more pressure is on them to win this one. You don't want to be the team that lost to the team that lost to ULM the week before. They're also playing for bowl position, and will almost certainly get a New Year's Day bowl if they win here. A loss here could send them to Shreveport.

Both teams are under a lot of pressure in this one. A Bama win takes some of the sting out of the loss to ULM and ends Auburn's 5 year winning streak in this series. It also embarrasses Auburn and sends them to a weak bowl. A Bama loss may end their season, and would definitely make this an unabashed failure of a season, and give them tons of negative momentum going into the offseason.

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