Friday, November 30, 2007

Don't we have a game to play?

Amid all the distractions, we have a game to play. Let me tell you, I don't have a really good feeling about it. All the intangibles seem to be going against us. We're dealing with the imminent loss of our head coach, and our defensive coordinator is busy interviewing for other jobs. We're coming off an emotionally devastating loss in triple overtime. Even more key players are injured, including our starting QB, who may not be able to play.

Word around the campfire is that Les Miles has told the team he will be leaving. Pelini expects to get the Nebraska job and may take an assistant or two with him. Will there be anyone around to coach this team for a bowl game? Will Jacob Hester put on the headset and call the plays in January? The man does everything else, so why not?

We definitely have coaches for this coming game, but you have to wonder if their hearts are in it. Honestly, I'm not sure my heart is in it.

I'm sure the players' hearts are in it though, and that's the most important thing. They still have a lot to play for.

As for the new coach, the three most talked-about names remain Spurrier, Saban, and Del Rio. Between the 3, I like Del Rio the best, but I think I would prefer an experienced college coach currently coaching at a different level. Like, for example, Troy's current coach Larry Blakeney, who has made Troy into a consistent threat.

Poseur and I have talked a lot over the years about why NFL coaches don't necessarily translate to college and vice-versa. The reasons are myriad, but it comes down to the basic fact that the two jobs require different skill sets. A college head coach has to go into parents' homes to recruit. He has to deal with the fragile egos of 18 year olds who for the first time in their lives aren't the star players. He has to deal with the X's and O's of the college game, which is in some ways simpler and in some ways more complex than the pro game. It's simpler in that, because there's a lot less practice time than in the NFL, you can only make your own playbook complicated up to a point. It's more complex in that the teams you face will have a LOT more variation in their own playing styles than you will see in the NFL. There simply aren't two teams in the NFL who play offense more differently than do Florida and Bama. Or Kentucky and Arkansas. And let's not even get into Hawaii and Army.

A college coach also has to teach his players to play football, a task that generally is not needed in the NFL. In college, a coach will have many players who have simply never had competent instruction in their lives. You'll have a running back who, though talented, was never taught how to hold a football so as to avoid fumbling it. You may have a cornerback who has no idea what slide stepping or inside technique are. Or worse, you may have a cornerback who has never played cornerback. You just don't see this in the NFL nearly as often.

In college, the game is emotional, where in the NFL, it's a lot more analytical. A college coach is expected to "rah rah" his way to his players' hearts, whereas an NFL coach who tries that is generally laughed at.

I don't want to get completely sidetracked on this topic, so if you want to read more about why NFL coaches don't necessarily translate to college, read Stewart Mandel's column from earlier this month, about Charlie Weis. It also goes the other way. See Saban, Nick; Spurrier, Steve.

I would model the search on Ohio Stat's eventual hiring of Jim Tressel. They looked far and wide and eventually came up with a guy no one had ever heard of, but who ended up being a terrific coach who was absolutely perfect for their program.

There's reason not to do that, of course. Recruits like to see a splashy, sexy hire. It would definitely pay some immediate dividends to go out and steal away a Nick Saban from Bama or a Steve Spurrier from South Carolina, or any big-name coach from any program, really. It would provide a shot of excitement into any program, energizing fan basing and catching the attention of potential recruits out there.

In the long run, it could be a mistake though. Much more important than making a sexy hire for short term gain is to make a smart hire for long term gain. Hire someone with the management skills to handle a modern major college head coaching position, which is less about X's and O's and more about Human Resources Management, leaving X's and O's primarily to assistants.

Despite all that, I think Del Rio actually has the potential to be a good college football coach. He seems to have the fiery personality that serves college coaches well. He doesn't seem to be the detached analytical genius that excels in the NFL but fails in college (see Weis, Charlie). Further, he has a lot of ties to the area and it seems like he'd stay at LSU until LSU no longer wanted him, adding much-needed stability to a program that has lacked it for decades.

Plus, you know, recruits like to see coaches it NFL experience. Having a former NFL linebcker as our head coach may help with guys like Arthur Brown and Ryan Baker. (I know! I know!).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Brady Ball Is Fantastic

LSU is saying 6-8 weeks, but ESPN is reporting Tasmin Mitchell is out for the year. Guess who I think is more reliable source? So, a season in which the Tigers were going to struggle to stay out of the SEC cellar has just gotten worse given the loss of LSU’s best player.

This leaves LSU with fundamentally a seven-man rotation, and a deeply flawed one at that. If the Maui invitational is to be any indication of the sort of team we have, it is this: a hard-working bunch who will fall just short. Anthony Randolph gives LSU a legit presence inside, even though he’s just a freshman. It will be interesting to see how the season progresses if he can hold up under all of the minutes he’s going to play. Speaking of miunutes, Marcus Thornton is going to play a lot of them. He also is going to score a lot points as the whole offense seems to go through him. Brady’s never been a great offensive mind, so expect a lot of Thornton jacking up shots with Randolph trying to get easy put-backs.
Damean Mason is the only senior in the rotation, and Nichols State was only his second game of the season. He’s a decent role player, but this is a very young team that is not going to rely on its senior for anything other than leadership. Randolph is already our best inside player and bo Spencer is already installed as the starting point guard. Our third freshman, Garett Green, is already threatening to getin the rotation and should slowly eat away at Alex Farrer’s minutes.

So where are we? The same place we always are. The freshmen look pretty good so far, but the team does not look like it can play with the top teams in the SEC on anything other than raw athleticism. The one good season in every four of John Brady’s tenure seems to hold, and by the time these guys are juniors, LSU could be really good. Heck, LSU might even be good next year with healthy Mitchell, Thornton, Temple, and Martin all in their senior years. But that’s next year.

This year is going to be ugly. The SEC may be a little down overall, so LSU has a shot at putting things together and making a run at an NCAA bid, but that’s where things look like they tap out. This is an NIT-caliber team. Which is par for the course under John Brady. He’s a year away from needing a tourney run to save his job, which he inevitably gets. When a coach does just enough to keep his job, it’s probably a sign he shouldn’t be the coach anymore, especially not the coach with the second-longest tenure in the conference. This is Brady Ball.

The Return of the King?

My last post is now somewhat confirmed, as Skip Bertman has said that Michigan officials have asked for permission to speak to Les Miles. Skip has given them that permission, so long as they wait until after Saturday. I'm now almost unwilling to even consider the possibility that Miles is not leaving.

That leaves us wondering, who is going to be the next head coach at LSU. Right now, the message boards are lighting up with 3 names above all: 1) Jack Del Rio, 2) Nick Saban, and 3) Steve Spurrier.

Wait, what was that second one again? Nick Saban? Surely I jest?

No, I do not. In fact, I would say that the Saban name has been the most mentioned among supposed insiders with supposed inside information.

The most common story is that there are several important LSU people in the process who are pushing for us to pursue Saban. This is allegedly not exactly being discouraged by Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton. The fact also remains that Saban has no buyout in his contract with Alabama, and he did this by negotiation. Meaning, he really wanted the option of an easy way out of Bama.

When this first started surfacing a couple weeks ago, I thought it was absolute foolishness. It seemed ludicrous on multiple levels. LSU fans weren't that fond of him any more, and such a move would further hurt Saban's reputation as an unprincipled mercenary. But now I'm thinking it's just crazy enough to be true. After all, did anything that's happened this year in college football really go by the book?

Now, just because there is some outside possibility that it's true does not mean it's a good thing. While I'm not willing to take the Saban-to-LSU rumors seriously enough to discuss them, my discussion will focus on why I think it's a bad idea.

First, correct or incorrect, Nick Saban has a reputation now for being an unprincipled mercenary, as mentioned above. He is, therefore, damaged goods. He simply does not have the cachet he had when he left LSU, but we'd have to pay him a lot more to get him now than we did to keep him then.

Second, while I think Saban is a very good coach, I do not think he is an exceptional coach. I think there are many people around who are just as good at being head coach as is Nick Saban. In fact, I think Saban's the 2nd best coach in the state of Alabama. He's the highest paid coach in college football, but not the best coach in college football, and we'd have to give him a raise to hire him.

Third, Saban's reputation for being difficult to work with is legendary. In an age when coordinators are at least as important as the head man who hires them, I think Saban is going to have a problem moving forward, wherever he is, with hiring quality coordinators. This is a problem that Bama is having right now, according to many. At LSU, he found stability with Jimbo Fischer and Will Muschamp, but those guys aren't returning. I'm not sure he can find coordinators that good anymore who will stay with him for more than a year or two. He also ran through position coaches like a man runs through socks and underwear. This takes a toll on a program.

Fourth, it is well reported that Saban lost the team during the 2004 season, one which can be characterized as a major disappointment. Reports are the team spontaneously erupted in applause when it was announced that he was leaving. There are still a few players from that team here now. Not to mention, the Saban personality traits that caused him to lose that team still exist. I think he's the kind of coach whose life span at any particular place is limited. He can whip a program into shape (I think), but he will also kill the morale around the football offices and eventually wear the whole program out, including the players, who will tire of his shenanigans.

While there is a certain amount of deliciousness in thinking about this (it would, after all, be a great story), I really hope LSU does not seriously pursue this. I would prefer going in another direction.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Coaching Carousel

What has been a profoundly weird season may yet turn into a profoundly weird post-season. It appears that Bo Pelini is on the verge of being named the new head coach at Nebraska, and that this may have been a done deal for weeks now. There is plenty of speculation that this may have been a substantial distraction from game preparations for Arkansas, as well.

And judging from how the defense played, it wouldn't shock me. We were completely predictable and did absolutely nothing defensively to seize the initiative from Arkansas's offense. That, frankly, is no way to succeed.

Also, reading the context clues, it appears that Michigan is going to seriously pursue Les Miles, but is waiting until after the SEC Championship Game to make its play. What makes me say this? Check out how things are going. Carr has been out at Michigan for about 10 days, yet there has been no discernible movement on Michigan's part to find a new head coach. They've reportedly known this was coming for half a season, so you have to believe they know who they want.

While Michigan has done nothing, Nebraska reportedly has its coach a mere 3 days after firing Bill Callahan. Ole Miss reportedly is in serious talks with Houston Nutt a mere 1 day after Nutt announced his resignation at Arkansas.

The point is, these things are usually done quickly, particularly when you have plenty of notice of what needs to be done. Michigan has done nothing. Word is that they will spend this week interviewing their own assistant coaches for the position, but that none of these guys are expected to get the job.

What is Michigan waiting for? Well, since we can anticipate that Michigan knows who it wants, and since we know Michigan could move quickly if the circumstances were right, we can infer that the circumstances are not right for them to pursue their man. Inferring the circumstances are not right to pursue their man, we can further infer that means their man still has some coaching to do for his current team before he can legitimately be pursued. We can also tell from the way these things are going that a bowl game is no obstacle to a coach looking for a new job.

If you believed the conventional wisdom that their most likely candidates were Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, LSU's Les Miles, and Cincinnati's Brian's Kelly, then those context clues point to Miles. Ferentz's season is over, though there may be some minor bowl game for Iowa. Brian Kelly's regular season is over, though a bowl awaits. Les Miles is the only coach on that list with a game to coach on Saturday. I think this points to Michigan wanting Miles and needing to wait until the bowl season to pursue him.

I've also said before that I think it's a given that Miles will leave if he's offered by Michigan. Since I now think he'll be offered by Michigan, I'm going on record as changing my position and thinking it's likely that Saturday's game against Tennessee will likely be Miles' last as LSU's coach.

I'm sure the LSU athletic administration is not blind to this either, but my speculation on who we would hire would be well beyond premature.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Moving on

Yesterday was a travel day, and I actually didn't get on the internet at all yesterday after oversleeping. Hence my lack of a post. No, I'm not on any kind of hurt-myself-watch.

It's time for the LSU fans, and even moreso the players and coaches, to move on from this loss. There is still much to play for, such as a conference championship against a pretty good but beatable Tennessee team. Yes, it was a very disappointing loss, but at the risk of rationalization, it doesn't appear in hindsight like we were playing championship calibre football for most of this season. We just kept winning, barely pulling out wins against teams many thought we should be beating convincingly.

We finally lost one of those again. Much has been said in analyzing why that happened, for which my contribution is simply this. We haven't had both the offense and the defense playing well at the same time since the Virginia Tech game, and Friday we saw that even within the game. The defense was very good in the first half, but the offense stunk. Then the offense started playing well just in time for the defense to collapse.

And no, I don't understand why we never blitz anymore.

But we move on. We get Tennessee this weekend, and once again we'll have to play them with key players at well below 100%. It is in this game where we will see, once and for all, the character of this team. Can they make the turnaround from the disappointing loss to come back and play in the next one? This next game, literally, is the entire season. And by "literally" I of course mean "figuratively". Lose this one, and ALL of our goals are lost. Win this one, and we are champions. Not national champions, but conference champions, and deservedly so. Say what you want about this team winning by luck, but we DID win all those games. We did not lose them. Those other teams, had they won those games, could also have been described as lucky. They didn't. We did. As a result, we still have a season.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Day After: Arkansas

That was just about the most disappointing LSU football loss in my memory. I'm going to avoid being overly critical, but I think it's very fair to ask what happened to our defense. Well, what happened to it?

I know that Dorsey is playing hurt and is not nearly at All-American calibre. I know that Beckwith is playing hurt. I know that Alexander is out. Still, Auburn was able to hold Arkansas to 7 points. We gave up 28 in regulation and got only one defensive stop in all of the 2nd half and the 3 OTs, plus the stop that came when Arkansas was in the hurry-up.

When Casey Dick was at quarterback, we never pressured him. I don't think we called a single blitz the entire game.

Yes, that was a very disappointing loss, but honestly, have we looked like the best team in the country lately? Not really. We just kept winning. No matter what happened, we just kept winning. Yesterday, we weren't able to do it.

There was a time yesterday, when we had scored in overtime to get within one point anticipating the extra point to tie, that I thought we should have gone for two to end the game. Our defense had shown little capacity to stop Arkansas's offense, and it just looked like they were going to keep scoring until their defense could stop us. A surprise two-point conversion, a la Boise State, may have been just the thing for us to do.

The National Championship is gone, but we still have a conference to go out and win. We will have to rebuild the defense and get them to go out and beat whoever we play.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Game Day: Arkansas

I'm still in Gonzales, preparing to watch this game on my parents new HDTV. w00t!

There are only two games today with any importance to us. And by "us" I mean people who care about SEC football. If you only care about LSU football, there's only one game of any importance today. That game, of course, being Arkansas vs. LSU at 1:30pm today on CBS.

The other game is Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss, which I have come to find out is on Lincoln-Financial at 11:30am. Of course, it won't be over by the time LSU's game starts. I'll watch it until 1:30, because I want to know who wins, and hopefully this game will be decided by then.

In our game, LSU is playing only for national championship positioning. We have already won the SEC West outright. We have already clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game. We know we probably have to win that game to get to any BCS bowl. This game is all about pride, momentum, the seniors, and the national championship.

And what a great group of seniors we have this year. Let's rattle off the names: Early Doucet, Glenn Dorsey, Jacob Hester, Matt Flynn, Kirston Pittman, Ali Highsmith, Chevis Jackson, Craig Steltz, Jonathan Zenon, Luke Sanders, Keith Zinger, Shawn Jordan, Mit Cole. There have been very few senior classes with more accomplishments, and if this group gets the national championship this year, they will be hands-down the greatest group of seniors ever to don this particular set of jerseys.

Looking ahead to next year, I think more than anything, the 2008 team will miss the leadership these guys have shown. We could get a nice bonus if Kirston Pittman decides to exercise his option to get a medical redshirt.

As for the game, I don't really know what else there is to say about it. Arkansas is not as good of a team as they were last year. They don't have the offensive line or the defense this year that they had last year. They still have McFadden and Jones though, and that makes them dangerous. They also have Marcus Monk, who is definitely one of the most skilled receivers in the conference. He was hurt for most of the year, and had incompetent quarterbacking for most of the rest of his career. Let's hope Casey Dick continues to be unreliable.

When LSU is on offense, they need to look for the big play. Arkansas is vulnerable to it. I hope we don't go into our usual shell of trying to grind out yards 5 at a time with Hester. That works with a lot of teams, but I think we can have more success another way here. And if we try to grind it out, I fear that Arkansas may be better at it.

So the schedule is:

Now - 11:30am: Hang around, play with the baby, etc.

11:30am - 1:30pm: Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss, Lincoln-Financial. I sure hope MSU wins this one. I want them to go to a bowl game.

1:30pm - 5:30pm: Arkansas vs. LSU.

5:30pm - whenever: I'm going meet Poseur, Anthony, and Anthony's parents to go out to eat. We're all in the Baton Rouge area at the same time, so we're going somewhere to meet up, probably to Chimes East.

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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"I Love This Team, and I'll Not Do Anything To Hurt Them"

The words in the title of this post were said by Les Miles at his weekly press conference yesterday, and where I put a comma there was a pause of several seconds while Les Miles choked up and nearly lost his composure. You can watch the video here.

I know a lot of people around the country think Les Miles is a fool. A buffoon. A joke. I never have. I think he's an intelligent man, and what's more he has an infectious personality. Everyone who knows him (with the exception of Lloyd Carr, reportedly) considers him to be a tremendous human being. His greatest strength as a coach is that he believes in his players and cares about them, and they respond in kind.

I doubt he's great with X's and O's. But is that really necessary for a head coach? Does the head coach design plays for this team? I sincerely doubt it.

I doubt he's out there instructing linebackers or wide receivers in technique very often. But is that necessary for a head coach?

He certainly does not have the kind of press-friendly funny personality of a Steve Spurrier. While that personality has made Steve Spurrier a sport-transcending star to a certain extent, I wouldn't say it's what has made him a great coach.

Les Miles' job as a head coach is to a) motivate and manage players, b) choose and manage assistant coaches, c) recruit, d) be the public face of the program (including fund raising), and e) coordinate with the assistants on gameplanning and be the final decision-maker on play-by-play tactics (such as 4th down attempts). By my observations, he does four of these five roles with great skill. He's not a particularly good "public face of the program" as evidenced by the fact that a lot of people think he's a fool. A buffoon. A joke.

But I think even that reputation will come around soon. It is, by the way, a reputation that exists ONLY in the national media. The local media and the local fans, in general, don't feel the same way about him as the talking heads think. You simply cannot be a fool and be 32-5 in this league, even with the mythical "superior talent" we supposedly have. (If we have "superior talent", why couldn't anyone catch Brent Schaeffer?).*

This is all not to say that I think he's definitely staying at LSU beyond this season. While I think he was very sincere in saying that he loves LSU and won't do anything to hurt the team, he also did not say that he's definitely going to be around for 2008. I think he's definitely interested in the Michigan job, and I can't blame him. It's home for him. It's his dream job.

He unequivocally said that Michigan has not contacted him. Reportedly, Michigan has known since early in the season that Lloyd Carr would definitely retire, and I would be shocked if they did not at least put out feelers to Miles' agent as well as the agents of several other coaches. Les said nothing about whether his agent has been contacted.

We as football fans tend to treat football differently than we treat anything else in the world. If a coach leaves his team, he is considered disloyal, a traitor, an unperson. If he's flagrantly dishonest about, well, see what the national media says about Nick Saban. If I were to tell my boss later this morning that I'm leaving for a job I want more, he would wish me luck and move on. If I engage in a full-blown job search while still working there, well that would just be par for the course for a person trying to advance his career. Some bosses may be upset about that at times, but they get over it. Do the same thing as a football coach and be careful of the claws.

For the record, I am not looking for a new job. I just use that as an example.

All this is to say, if Les Miles gets a job opportunity at Michigan, and if he decides that the way for him to achieve personal fulfillment is to go there, I wish him luck. I will be disappointed, and I'm not naive enough to think it's a foregone conclusion our next hire would necessarily be a great fit or have the same level of success. Nor am I naive enough to believe that there will be no transition costs associated with that. This is why I want to keep him, but you won't see any anti-Les Miles rants from me if he leaves, even if he leaves before the bowl game, whichever bowl game that may be.

*I mean really. Get a load of his accomplishments. 32-5 overall record, which is one of the best opening records ever compiled by an SEC coach. Has never lost a non-conference game. Has only lost one home game. He has not lost to an unranked team. He's 6-3 against teams ranked in the top 10. He's 2-0 in bowl games, and both were routs. He's 2-0 in games in which his starting quarterback could not play due to injury. He's 11-0 in the month of November. He's the only LSU coach in history to record back to back 11 wins seasons, and he'll have 3 more games to get to 11 this year. He has had come from behind wins countless times, including 8 against ranked teams and several against ranked teams on the road. He has never had this team ranked outside the top 15, and has only rarely been ranked outside the top 10. He is the first LSU coach in MANY decades to actually win a game while ranked #1 in the country. We've won our first outright SEC West title since the SEC split into divisions. He's beaten every coach in the SEC except Mark Richt (whom he has faced once), and has beaten 5 coaches who've won national championships. His first games were played in the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, which disrupted his practice schedule and facilities and was the direct cause of his team losing an average of 7 pounds per person (which probably led to one if not two of his 5 losses).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Around the SEC: Week 12

It was definitely an interesting week, more interesting than could have been anticipated I guess thanks to Bama's loss to ULM. For what it's worth, I take no pleasure in seeing Bama lose a game like that, but I am happy for my fellow Louisianians. And here are the results on the day:

Florida 59
Florida Atlantic 20

I don't have much to say about this. Florida beat up on an overmatched opponent to get to 8 wins. Tim Tebow put up gaudy stats again. Ho hum. Tebow won't be the GeauxTuscaloosa Offensive Skill Position Player of the Week, because that honor will go to a guy who put up numbers against SEC competition.

Georgia 24
Kentucky 13

Georgia may be the best team in the SEC right now. This is a very different team than we saw early in the season. Kentucky really did give Georgia its best shot and ultimately didn't really challenge for a win here. Kentucky outgained Georgia on the game, but turnovers and the return game killed Kentucky. Georgia did it basically without passing effectively, having only 99 yards passing on the game with two interceptions.

I did some figuring up yesterday, and here is how Georgia could still conceivably make it to the national championship game. They are currently sitting at 7th in the BCS, behind LSU, KU, Mizzou, West Virginia, Ohio State, and Arizona State. First, Georgia would have to win the SEC (in my opinion) after beating Georgia Tech next week. That would eliminate LSU. Oklahoma would have to win the Big 12. That would eliminate KU and Mizzou. Personally, I think they SHOULD be chosen over W. Virginia but that wouldn't happen unless the Mountaineers lose this coming week to Connecticut (I give Pittsburgh little chance to pull that upset the next week). Then, if Arizona State loses to USC, Georgia is suddenly the #2 team in the country behind Ohio State and is headed to New Orleans for the national championship game. It's unlikely, but I think not at all outside of the realm of possibility. In fact, the least likely part of it is probably their getting to the SEC Championship Game, because they would need for Kentucky to beat Tennessee for that to happen.

As for Kentucky, they're definitely going bowling this year. They sit at 7 wins, and right now three SEC teams are at 6. Those teams at 6 are not bowl safe right now, but it's looking more and more like the 7 teams with 7 wins or more are bowl safe. I won't pretend to know where they're going at this point though.

Arkansas 45
Mississippi State 31

I never thought I would say this, but this was a passing battle between Wesley Carroll and Casey Dick. Carroll had 421 yards passing with 4 touchdowns, but also 4 interceptions. Casey Dick was 14 of 17 with 199 yards and 4 touchdowns. I also thought I'd never say this, but Casey Dick with his efficient passing and 4 touchdowns without an interception is the GeauxTuscaloosa Offensive Skill Position Player of the Week.

This whole stat line sounds like it came from a parallel universe. Arkansas scored 45 points without McFadden getting 100 yards rushing? And Felix Jones didn't even play? MSU only got 80 yards rushing, but scored 4 touchdowns? It's insanity. I think I'm going to try to forget this game happened, because it blows my mind too much.

Arkansas is bowl safe, but MSU is sitting at 6, tied with South Carolina and Bama. Two of those teams will make it to a bowl game and one won't. I think MSU makes it to a bowl game even if they don't get to 7, because they're a great story. I could be wrong though, but they also have a good chance to beat Ole Miss and make it to 7 wins.

Tennessee 25
Vandy 24

If you were at a game somewhere and didn't keep up with this, it was just as close as the score, and Tennessee pulled it out by the skin of their teeth. They were losing from the middle of the second quarter until 2:46 to play in the game. In other words, they did their best LSU impersonation this time. They were behind by 15 when the 4th quarter started. Even when they took the lead, it wasn't safe because Vandy managed to get off a makable last-second field goal attempt, which would have won the game, but hit the upright instead. Tennessee got their furious comeback though, and keep their SEC title hopes alive. They get a tough Kentucky team next, a team that is coming off a tough few weeks.

Vandy appears to be out of bowl consideration at this point. A win next week against Wake Forest could make it interesting for them, but I think even with 6 wins, they'd be behind Bama and MSU, but I could be wrong.

UL-Monroe 21
Bama 14

OK, what is there to say about this game. I watched it on CSS's replay on channel 23 yesterday morning. At no time while watching this game did I think it was clear to an outside observer that Bama was supposed to be the stronger, faster, more athletic team. They seemed to play slow, like they just weren't any better than a Sun Belt conference team. The only time in the game it looked like Bama was the clearly better team was late in the game when everyone knew ULM would run the ball to run clock. When Bama knew what was coming, they had the manpower to get into the backfield and stop it. Otherwise, I didn't really see a David versus Goliath in this game.

I think Bama's defense played well. One of the touchdowns given up was on a drive of less than one yard. They gave up only 281 yards total. The offense got over 400 yards, but sure seemed to sputter when it counted, and gave up some very bad turnovers. I think it's unlikely you'll see Jimmy Johns carry the ball again this year, since he gave up what amounted to a game-ending fumble when he finally got the ball.

What does this mean? I'm not sure the Bama team can come back from this. They appeared to be a defeated team this past week, at least offensively. Football is as much psychological as it is physical, and psychologically this team looks like they're ready for the season to end. But it's not over. They have their biggest game of the season next week as they try to keep Auburn from getting 6 wins in a row over them. I've been wrong about a lot of things this year, as has everyone, but I don't see the fight in this team that it will take to win that game. Psychologically, they look down, and that goes for the players and the coaches. They look tired and beaten.

If Bama can't win this game coming up, do they go to a bowl game? I think they probably will. They travel well, and so the lower tier bowls will find them to be an attractive team to invite. They travel better than MSU, Vandy, and South Carolina. The thing working against them would be their late season collapse. Bowls are a little hesitant to invite teams that finish the season very weakly, but unless South Carolina wins next week, Bama will finish the season stronger than them. I think a 6 win Bama team gets an invite before a 6 win South Carolina team. I think given the storyline of Sylvester Croom, I think a 6-win MSU team gets invited over Bama though. The danger is if South Carolina wins next week and Bama does not. Even worse would be if MSU wins as well. If all those things happen, I believe the bowls are required to take a 7-win team over a 6-6 team, and Bama will be shut out of a bowl. I kind of doubt that happens, though. South Carolina has collapsed like no one else.

Coach Miles: We all know now that Carr's out. Everyone is saying it. However, everything I'm reading seems to suggest that Miles will not be their first choice. There's plenty of chatter that Carr does not like Miles, and that Carr will have a lot of say over who gets the job. What's more, even if they want Miles, he may not listen to them until the season is over, and Michigan wouldn't want to wait that long.

If I was a betting man, I would take an even money bet that Miles would be our coach for the 2008 season. Right now, I think it is much more likely than not that Miles will not be Michigan's next coach.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Day After: Ole Miss

I was talking to Poseur earlier today, and our best description for that game was that Ole Miss kept it close enough for it to remain exciting, without ever really threatening to win it. I think that's exactly right, and while I certainly am a little befuddled by the play of our defense, which gave up 466 yards, I simply cannot condone complaining heavily about a road win in the conference. And, like I said not once, but twice, Ole Miss is really not that bad of a team.

Our offense looked, in my opinion, just about the best its looked all year. We did almost no long passing, but all of our running backs were effective. We ran at will, and were a threat to break off a big one every time. While we did no long passing, we still averaged 6.7 yards per pass attempt, and Flynn finished the game with positive rushing yards, meaning sacks didn't hurt us that much.

For once, I can say our offense really carried us to victory.

But let's talk about the defense. Realize what we are dealing with here. One of our starting defensive tackles on opening day is injured and out for the year. Our best defensive tackle hasn't been 100% in a month. Our 3rd defensive tackle is also hurt. We've had to take the redshirt off a Drake Nevis in the middle of the season and play him significant minutes; not just in mop-up time either. For the last two games, our starting middle linebacker has been out. Our best cornerback reportedly still can't see right since injuring his eyes a month ago.

The point being, this is not the same defense that began the season. This is a defense that is seriously nicked up. And that's overlooking the fact that the guy we expected to be a starting defensive end has been suspended for the whole season so far for reasons unknown. In particular, the middle of our defense is hurting.

Also, it is no secret that athletic, running quarterbacks have given us fits for years, even when we're healthy. That certainly happened to us yesterday. Brent Shaeffah came into the game when we had gameplanned for a drop-back passer. We weren't ready for it, and we're vulnerable to it anyway. I don't really know why we've been so vulnerable to running quarterbacks, but it has certainly been an ongoing theme. Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech was able to move the ball the first time he ever played a college football game. Tim Tebow has hurt us for two years. Even Tulane's quarterback did a lot to us.

Last night's difficult performance by the defense is partially explained by that, but that certainly isn't the whole story. Shaeffer didn't complete a 40 yard pass on 3rd and 29 by running around. I think the problem is that our defense just isn't at athletic as advertised. We don't have a defensive lineman, or even a linebacker, capable of running down someone in the open field. Even Ali Highsmith seems to get outrun fairly easily. What's more, our safeties don't seem to have wide-receiver-calibre speed.

I know everyone says that we have athletes everywhere, and we do. We have good athletes everywhere, but our defense appears to have only one GREAT athlete, and he's not much help in chasing down a fast quarterback, because he plays in the middle of the field and weighs more than 300 pounds. Chad Jones is also a great athlete, I think, but he's only now getting regular playing time. Darry Beckwith may be our 3rd best athlete on defense, but of course he's been hurt.

Next week, we get a team with not just good, but GREAT running backs. I sure hope that we get Dorsey and Beckwith back for this, because we'll need them.

Did anyone notice Jarvis Jones, a true freshman, playing at right guard during key situations? He has been our backup left tackle, playing only in garbage time to this point. But when we needed a new right guard (for reasons unknown to me), we put in the true freshman instead of the normal backup (Max Holmes, I think).

This season is getting tenser again. We have a lot to lose, and a team ahead of us that isn't great, but sure is dangerous. There will be more on this later.

Later in the week: discussion of the Bama loss and discussion of how wide open the national championship still is.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Game Day: Ole Miss

Today, Mrs. GeauxTuscaloosa's family is coming over. They have tickets to the Bama-ULM game (they're Bama fans). They're bringing Mrs. GeauxTuscaloosa with them. You know what that means? I'll be home with the baby, just the two of us, watching the LSU-Ole Miss game. I'll also be making a pot of red beans and rice. The beans have been soaking since last night, and I'll start chopping the vegetables after everyone leaves the house to go to the Bama game.

So, that gives you an idea of my schedule, and here it is:

Now to 9:30am: Get the house cleaned up for guests. The living room must be vacuumed and the laundry must be at least off the floor. Also, I must make the syrup for mock-Toomer's Corner lemonade. Here's how you do it. Make a simple syrup and place in a large decanter, such as a tea jug. Squeeze the juice from a bunch of lemons into a second decanter (such as a measuring cup), doing your best to separate the seeds. Add a half-cup of syrup to 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and add water and ice until it's at your desired sweetness. Good stuff.

This is also one of the baby's LSU game days. If I haven't explained this yet, it's a good story. You must know that my wife is a Bama football fan (though she hates Bama basketball, and roots for Kentucky in basketball, which I still consider cheating). How we manage to get along is something of a miracle, but we manage.

Anyway, when we were pregnant, one of the things we discussed was how the baby would dress on game days in football season. Naturally, I wanted her to dress in LSU gear on game days. My wife, pregnant and not thinking clearly, wanted her to dress in Bama gear. A compromise had to be reached. We sat down and negotiated a schedule of game day gear for the baby. She could wear LSU gear on certain days, and would wear Bama gear on others. Given the need to compromise this, it actually worked out OK, because some of our biggest games coincided with weeks that Bama was playing some nobody, and vice versa. The biggest bone of contention was the week of the Auburn-LSU game and Bama-Tennessee game (same week). Ultimate she pulled the I'm- the- one- carrying- her- for- 9- months- and- not- sleeping- and- throwing- up- all- the- time- and- having- to- go- through- labor card on me (grossly unfair, I say), and she won that battle.

9:30am - 11:30am: Visit. Make lemonade for people. I imagine that at some point during this time, they will want to go to the campus to walk around. We will part ways at that time. If they leave before 11:30am, I will cut up my vegetables at that time. I'll start checking in on Ohio State at Michigan as well.

11:30am - 2:00pm: Watch Georgia vs. Kentucky on Lincoln-Financial, while kind of keeping up with Ohio State at Michigan. Georgia has been the best team in the SEC lately, blowing out Auburn and beating Florida by 12 in the last 3 weeks. It wasn't that long ago, however, that this team was completely dismantled by Tennessee (who isn't that great) and was almost beaten by Vandy. They've been hot lately, but I think it's thin and could conceivably all come crashing down at any time. Then again, they might not. Kentucky's late season swoon is something of a mystery. They looked really good against us, and then they lose to Florida and get blown out by MSU, before winning a close game against Vandy. Not long ago, this was a top 10 team. Now, they're an also-ran in the SEC East. I really anticipate this to be a good matchup. Everyone's hyping Georgia lately, but I'm not convinced they can keep it up. Everyone's down on Kentucky, but I'm not convinced they're down for good.

2:00pm - 2:30pm: Get the vegetables sautee'ing, and get the beans boiling, all while trying to catch the end of the Georgia-Kentucky game. Get that done by 2:30pm if possible, but if it isn't, rest assured that Tivo has my back.

2:30pm - 6:00pm: LSU at Ole Miss, CBS. One of my blogging compatriots, over at this site, believes that Ole Miss is basically a terrible team. I respectfully disagree. I think that if Ole Miss was in another conference, even in a solid conference like the Big 12, they would be a middle-of-the-road team. Maybe they'd be overmatched in the Pac-10 as well, but in many conference, they'd be a decent team. I think they're as good as Purdue, for example, and Purdue is 7-4. This is not to say they're a particularly good team, the Rebels, but don't overlook them. I've happened to see their two best played games on the year, against Florida and against Bama. They were really able to do some things, and they showed considerable athleticism. They ended up losing both of those games, but they were very close, and did not let those games get away from them. I've seen their receivers do some amazing things this year, and Greg Hardy is probably the second-best defensive lineman in the conference behind our own Mr. Heisman, Glen Dorsey.

It is certainly true that Ole Miiss lacks the depth that we have, and does not have the NFL-calibre talent all over the field that we possess (really, how many of our starters won't at least get a free agent contract when they turn pro?) But they've got good players and good athletes at some key positions, including on the offensive and defensive lines, at running back, at linebacker, and at wide receiver. Some of that talent is young and relatively inexperienced. Some of that talent is playing among less talented people. But it's not like this is the gang that couldn't shoot straight. They have enough good players at key positions that if we do not come to play, we will have a real fight on our hands.

Of course, if we come to play and don't make the mistakes we made in past games, we will win by several touchdowns. They have good players, but we have a lot more good players. Just don't assume this is an easy win, because it may not be at all.

Starting at 5:30, if the game is well in hand at that time, it will be time to make the rice.

6:00pm - 7:00pm: Entertain the guests with crazy stories of my brief stint as a New York playwright and feed them red beans and rice. They will then depart for home.

7:00pm - bedtime: I don't know. There's no SEC game on. Perhaps I'll watch Oklahoma against Texas Tech, if we even get it here. I just checked, and it looks like we get it. Or maybe I'll read a book.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What Miles Should Do

I'm still taking it as a given that Les Miles will leave for Michigan if offered the job. For what it's worth, that sentiment is not universal. Some are saying that there is no way that LSU would let Miles keep them on the string until New Year's, and that if we are playing for a national championship, Miles would not leave before the game to go to Michigan.

Now, if you're Les Miles, and you are trying to keep your options open, you would say things like this:
On whether he would say unequivocally LSU is where he'll be next year: I love this place, this is a place I enjoy fully. Again, I’m turning no attention towards any other opportunities. I’m just focused on the job at hand.
This saga will continue until it ends, and our team will be saddled with distractions until the matter is resolved.

I don't blame Les Miles for making equivocal statements about his dedication to the LSU job. I'm a big boy, and I know that people change jobs for one reason or another, but that a college football coach can't come out and say that. Les Miles cannot say, "If Michigan comes asking, I'll listen to them." He also cannot (or should not) say that he is absolutely not a candidate and would not be a candidate if it came up. That's what Saban did at Miami, and he got crucified for it.

Miles has to walk a tight rope. He can't completely deny all interest if he wants to keep his options open. He also can't say, "I'm keeping my options open," because if the opportunity does not come he will have to live with hurt LSU fans. That's just the reality of the college coaching carousel, and I don't have a problem with Miles playing the game at this point.

At this point. Only at this point. If Lloyd Carr announces his retirement next week as is expected, and if Miles is subsequently offered the job, here is what I think Les Miles should do. He should come out and say it publicly. He should say, "I'm in serious talks with Michigan and I expect to be their new head coach. I will continue coaching the team until _______________."

I am OK with Miles leaving, if that's the future. What I don't want is for us and the team to be hanging in limbo for weeks or a month while it happens. Let us know. Let the team know. We'll come to terms with it, and the team will no longer be distracted by the speculation. There would be no need to speculate if you just tell them what's up. The team would know what it's playing for and I think would continue to give their all for this. It would also let the school start its coaching search, which will help the new coach get started with recruiting.

Also, I honestly believe LSU fans would get over it. While I like Les Miles, and I think he's a very good coach, i do not believe he's above criticism. I don't like that we only have one experienced QB coming back next year (and that he may not be coming back). I'm not particularly fond of how we've handled running backs this year. I think Miles had made some mistakes in recruiting, and that those mistakes have led to a lot of players leaving (either voluntarily or involuntarily) at some key positions, such as offensive line.

Don't get me wrong. I think Miles is a good coach. I like how he has developed a sense of family within the team, and I don't think you can fake the level of caring he seems to have for the players. He really seems to be "on their side" in a way that appears to be very genuine, and that the players seem to respond to. He also seems to be very intelligent about convincing talented players to come to LSU. Despite what you may have heard from a certain columnist recently, last year's recruiting class that Les Miles signed is probably the most heralded ever to come to LSU.

All things considered, I'd sure like to keep him for years to come. I think he has been the most successful coach in LSU history to this point in his career, and that the pieces appear to be there for this to continue. It is ALWAYS dangerous for a successful team to go on a search for a new coach. It throws the team into tumult, and even if you find a good coach, he may not be the right fit for your team. While I think LSU is in a position right now to be able to get a good coach, you just never know exactly how it's going to work out. This is a very tough league, much tougher than the Big East, for example. A guy like Rich Rodriguez, who has had success at W. Virginia may find it tougher here, if that's what the future holds.

But if we are to lose him, Miles would be doing us all a favor by telling us as soon as he knows.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

SEC Preview - Week 12

We're really coming down the stretch of the season, and most teams are still playing for something, either for championships or bowl position. Here in Week 12, only LSU's opponent, Ole Miss, cannot make it to a bowl game. Here is the preview of this week's games:

Florida Atlantic at Florida and University of Louisiana-Monroe at Bama. Bama will get to win #7 and a near-certain bowl bid unless there is a serious breakdown of epic proportions. Florida will reach win #8 and position itself for a Dec. 31-or-later bowl game. Neither Florida Atlantic nor ULM are even particularly strong cupcakes, and I expect these games to be well in-hand by halftime.

Kentucky at Georgia, 11:30am, Lincoln-Financial. Once again, Lincoln-Financial gets a huge game. Just a couple weeks ago, Georgia was an enigma of a team that got stomped by Tennessee and that beat Vandy by 3 points. Now, all of a sudden, they're one of the hottest teams in the country, having gone on a 4 game winning streak that included big wins over Auburn and Florida. They have one of the best young running backs in the country, and one of the best young quarterbacks around. I still think their defense and their offensive line are suspect though. And Kentucky, despite recent woes, still has one of the best set of skill players in the country, and a defense that surprised me with its intensity and physicality. They are more than capable of beating Georgia and ending ALL of Georgia's high hopes. A loss by Georgia means it cannot go to the SECCG, and will not go to a BCS bowl. A win by Georgia eliminates Florida from the SECCG, and Georgia would still need help from Vandy or Kentucky (in the form of beating Tennessee) to make it to the SECCG.

Mississippi State at Arkansas, 1:00pm, no television. Both of these teams sit at 6 wins and are trying to get to 7, which will make them, I think, bowl safe. Both of these teams have something to market to a bowl committee even with 6 wins, but I don't think either one of them is a safe bet to make it unless they get to 7. MSU is one of the feel-good stories of the year in the country, and Arkansas is one of the feel-bad stories. MSU is overachieving, winning for a coach who was in great danger of being fired, and is emerging as one of the fun young teams to watch. Arkansas is coming off a tumultuous offseason, has underachieved for a coach under fire, and has failed to perform around its Heisman Trophy-calibre player. And yet, both sit at 6 wins, ready for more. This is actually a pretty good and pretty even matchup, and I wish it was on television, but it isn't.

Vandy at Tennessee, 1:00pm, GamePlan. There isn't an SEC game on television after the CBS game this week. What is ESPN doing? This game is important to the SEC race and it can't get past the GamePlan schedule? Tennessee, of course, controls its destiny in the SEC East. If they win out, they're in the Championship Game against LSU. If they lose a game, that opens the door for either Georgia or Florida to make it. Vandy is sitting at 5 wins, with an uphill battle to get to a bowl game. If they lose this one, they get a decent Wake Forest team next, and only 6 wins by no means guarantees a bowl game this year. Vandy needs to play as if they MUST win this game, because honestly they probably really do need this game in order to make it to a bowl. Despite the 5 wins, Vandy is probably the most disappointing team of the season. I really expected them to be more competitive and to beat a good team or two. They beat South Carolina, but that team was in the middle of an epic collapse. I don't think either of these teams are very good, but Tennessee is better.

LSU at Ole Miss, 2:30pm CBS. There's not a single night game in the SEC this week. I find that bizarre. I usually don't talk about LSU games in this segment, but I've been distracted from talking about it until now. What do I think of Ole Miss? I think they're better than their record. They're 0-6 in the conference, but they have been in some games against teams that pushed us to the limit. They lost to Florida by 6 points, and to Bama by 3. They've also played some bad games, losing to Vandy by 14 and to Arkansas by 36. I think their quarterback is not bad at all. He has more passing yards than Matt Flynn, though he's averaging less per attempt and cannot run. He's got some young receivers who do some amazingly athletic things sometimes. Their passing game has struggled a lot in the last few games though, with completion percentages under 50%, and averaging less than 100 yards per game. I don't have any explanation for that collapse other than the possibility that the loss to Bama simply took all the starch out of them.

Ole Miss's defense has some good players. Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman are both very good defensive linemen, and Chris Strong is going to be a very good linebacker at some point. But right now their defense lacks size and athleticism at other positions, and that means we can probably beat them with our receivers and our offensive athleticism.

Keep in mind though that Ole Miss plays its season for a chance to beat us. This is their bowl game. It's their opportunity to make a mark on the college football world this year. I think we can expect Ole Miss to come out and play its best game, particularly on defense. Of course, LSU is also playing for a lot, and I don't think the Miles rumors are going to impact this particular game. Maybe next week though.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Miles and Michigan

I don't want to go the whole week without talking about LSU's opponent this week, but other topics keep getting in the way. Chatter is abounding regarding Lloyd Carr likely retiring as head coach of Michigan early next week, and Les Miles possibly being the next Michigan coach.

Let me get some points out there real quick. I take it as a given that Lloyd Carr will retire. It's been rumored all year, and now there appear to be multiple sources within the Michigan athletic department saying it is imminent. I also take it as a given that if Michigan makes a serious offer to Les Miles, he will take it and go to Michigan. With Miles, we've known all along that if the maize and blue comes calling, he would leave.

What I do not take as a given is the prospect that Michigan will offer the job to Miles. Message board chatter has always been that the Michigan fans aren't exactly unanimous in their respect for Les Miles. Hiring Miles wouldn't be a universally popular move among Michigan fans. Yes, Miles is a Michigan man, but he is also reportedly not high on Lloyd Carr's Christmas list. This goes back to reports of splits within Michigan boosters among the Schembechler faction and the anti-Schembechler faction. Miles is a Schembechler protege, and Carr is a card-carrying member of the anti-Schembechler faction. If Carr is going to have a say in choosing his replacement, one can imagine he won't put in a good word for Miles. All of this comes from chatter, and may not be totally accurate, but it's what's out there.

But that's not the theme of this entry. My main point (and I know I have buried the lede beyond all imagining), is that I am happy all this is coming to a head. For the record, I like Les Miles, and I really want to keep him. I want him to be the head coach at LSU for years to come. I think he's building this program to new heights year after year. I think he is a very good CEO-style head coach, and we are lucky to have him.

However, we knew that Lloyd Carr's retirement/firing was coming eventually. If not this year, it would be next year or the year after. Every year that Carr stays at Michigan is another year that opposing coaches can use it against us in recruiting. Coaches like Urban Meyer, Ed Orgeron, and Mark Richt can tell recruits, "Are you sure you want to go to LSU? You know Miles probably won't be there in two years." That impacts recruiting.

The good news here is that we won't have to face that anymore. I think Michigan is probably the only place Les Miles would voluntarily leave LSU to go to, and that will either happen now or it won't happen for quite some time. Once Michigan has its man, they will keep him for a minimum of three years, and likely 4 or 5 even if he is not particularly successful. Therefore, if Miles is not hired by Michigan, there is no prospect of him leaving LSU any time in the near future.

If Miles leaves for Michigan, we will have a new coach in place before recruits have to fax in their letters of intent, so no recruit will have to sign with LSU without knowing who will be his coach. Once we have our man, we won't lose him for at least 3 or 4 years, minimum, so players can be secure in knowing they'll have one coach for most if not all of their careers.

The worst case scenario is for this to play out for years and years like it did with Saban. Every year the question was, "Is he leaving this year," until one year he left. We won't face that with Miles.

As for early speculation on who we would hire, let me just throw a few names out there:

Mike Price: He of "It's Rolling Baby" fame. He is a top-shelf coach though, and he would have been great at Bama. What's more, he seems to have been at least partially vindicated regarding that ugly incident. Price is going to get a big-time gig again one day, and he is, like I said, a really terrific football coach. Besides, we have John Brady, so we can't exactly complain about a guy having a tumultuous personal life.

Bobby Petrino: I just have a feeling he may not be pleased with his current NFL gig, considering he took it thinking he'd have Mike Vick to play with. He brought Louisville to prominence, and they collapsed right after he left. Is that good? Or is it bad? He's a big name who may be available, and who would probably come into Baton Rouge and keep things going.

Rich Rodriguez: We know he's open to leaving West Virginia. We also know he's an innovative young coach. I think we would be a better fit for him than Bama as well, considering our athleticism on the offensive side of the ball.

Greg Schiano: He's probably the only young coach with real buzz the way Urban Meyer had buzz a few years ago. There's a lack of that kind of coach available on the market right now. Schiano has worked miracles at Rutgers, but is it all because of Ray Rice? Would Schiano be the next Curley Hallman, who made his career by taking credit for Brett Favre's accomplishments?

Jeff Tedford: It would take a fortune to get him, but he's a really respected coach who would create buzz.

Bo Pelini: I don't buy it. I don't think he's head coach material. He's stiff with the media and there's no indication he's got the CEO mentality a modern head coach needs. I think he's a very good coordinator, but if he's a head coach, he's going to have to prove it elsewhere.

Major Applewhite: Once again, I don't buy it. I don't mind at this point if he's the next LSU head coach, as long as that's about 5 years from now, or more. LSU is a pressure-cooker of a job, and it's not for entry-level candidates. He has to prove himself at a smaller program first, in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Editor's Note on BCS

As it happens, I pretty much agree with my guest blogger when it comes to the BCS. I agree the whole thing is an illegitimate system that only pretends to add objectivity quality-control to the decision-making process of choosing the national champion. It is, in short, the Kansas of ranking systems: a pretender no one takes seriously when they really think about it.

I actually liked the formulation they used in 2003 and before, where they de-valued human polling and put great emphasis on quality wins. That system was changed because it didn't give results the humans liked.

The current formulation defeats the entire purpose of having a BCS formula, which was to have an mostly objective formula for choosing who would be the teams playing for the title at the end. It emphasized computers, strength of schedule, and quality wins, but it kept USC out of the championship game in 2003 despite the fact that the humans rated them #1. It did, therefore, do exactly what it was designed to do. It used dispassionate formula to trump human biases. The humans protested being overruled, and that system is dead.

They've backtracked just a little on that, by assigning BCS value to the total points teams get in the polls, rather than just the absolute rankings. Therefore, teams that are closely separated in the polls will be closely separated in the poll-portion of the BCS, and therefore easier to jump with solid computer rankings.

Here are some things I believe I will never change my mind about, vis a vis the BCS:
  • Only conference champions should be considered. Any system in which teams that failed to win their conference are allowed a chance to win the national championship invites chaos and sacrifices legitimacy in the proceedings. Will this penalize teams that play in conferences with tough championship games (i.e., everyone other than the Pac-10 and the Big 10)? Yes, but those conference aren't required to have a championship game, and can get rid of it if they choose. Those teams also get the benefit of a late-season win against a team most likely to be rather good. This pleases voters and computers, and I think on balance conference championship games normally help a team get to the BCSCG more than they hurt it. But if you think about it, who are the most ridiculed teams to make it to the BCSCG? Nebraska in 2001 and Oklahoma in 2003, one of whom lost its conference championship game, and the other of whom failed to even get to its conference championship game. Both were subsequently beaten in the BCSCG. Last year, a lot of talking heads wanted a rematch of a game that had been played late in the season between Ohio State and Michigan. Both of those teams got exposed as pretenders in their respective bowl games.
  • The teams have to be chosen based on accomplishments on the field. I don't want to hear about who has the most talent. I want to hear about who wins the games against the best teams. Your team can be as talented as the Patriots, but if they don't get it done on the field it doesn't even matter. And how would you even know if they're as talented as the Patriots? If you're stating a case for your team, your argument should begin and end with what it has done on the field, and should eschew all talk of things like recruiting, potential NFL talent, All-Americans, personality, and coaches. Now, if there are circumstances that serve to put on-field accomplishments in context, it's fine to bring them up, contextually. For example, if LSU had beaten Georgia in 2005, we very much should have talked about how much we accomplished in the face of Katrina and a shifting schedule. As it happened, we didn't have a legitimate claim to a spot in the BCSCG (see above), but those circumstances definitely serve to highlight and emphasize the accomplishments of the season.
  • I agree with Poseur about how those accomplishments should be organized within your arguments. Start with your wins. In particular, start with your best wins. Talk about how you won. Did you win tough games? Did you blow out good teams? Did you win close ones? Then discuss your loss(es), if any. Defend your loss. Feel free to use context, such as the temporary loss of a key player, or something of that nature.
  • I have no faith in human polling. I think it's getting a little better than it's been in the past, as voters are getting more apt to move teams around a little. In the past, the polls were a ladder in which teams moved down when they lost, and teams moved up to replace the teams that lost. That was the only movement in the polls, at least at the top. This season, we've seen the voters be a lot more willing to move a team around based on quality of performance. It's an improvement, but you still hear absolute garbage being spewed like, "They're #1 until someone proves they aren't by beating them." This attitude is nothing more than an excuse not to think. Personally, I believe any voter who ever utters this phrase should immediately have voting privileges taken away. When you think about it, this ladder method is nothing more than a modified computer ranking, with the simplest and least legitimate formula ever devised. Win your game, whether it's by 30 to a power or by 1 to a 1-AA team, and you move up to replace those above you who lost. Lose your game, and you move down. Whenever I hear a talking-head say this, I want to jump through the screen to throttle him. I've seen way too much of this in the past to have any faith in the polls to get things right.
  • No team should EVER base their season on the BCS. It's too arbitrary, too subject to having to decide between legitimate teams, too apt to choose illegitimate teams. I think teams should judge their season based on conference championships. Every team controls its destiny in its conference, and the conference champions are decided objectively, on the field, without ambiguity.
  • Despite all these complaints, I oppose a playoff. It just doesn't solve anything. A 4-team playoff just shifts the argument from "who's #2" to "who's #4". An 8-team playoff shifts it to "who's #8". And what happens when the #8 team that no one thought should be in it wins? Will that be considered legitimate? I'm doubtful.
  • What's the solution? Use the BCS for fun, but get judge the season based on conference championships. The BCS makes for great arguments if you're into that sort of thing, but it is not and should not be the end-all, be-all of season accomplishments.

Monday, November 12, 2007

BCS Number Crunching

We’re #1 in the BCS. There’s a cottage industry of breaking down the BCS, and I don’t want to disparage their work, particularly TigerDropping’s LSUMatt, who really should draw a paycheck for his LSU-centric BCS analysis. So don’t think I’m trying to disparage his terrific work when I say this:

It’s all a load of crap.

There’s going to be no shortage of people telling us who to root for and what we need to have happen, but here’s the long and the short of it: the human polls are two-thirds of the formula. So the BCS analysis is really just breaking down the one-third of the BCS which is predictable: the computers. The other two-thirds is just guesswork. In short, it is the illusion of a mathematical objective criteria to selecting the BCS teams when it really is this: the top two teams in the polls with a brake in case they do something remarkably stupid.

This is what you need to know: LSU is #1 in the Coaches and the Harris Poll. And teams which are #1 don’t drop if they don’t lose. Ever. So, if LSU wins out, they are in the BCS title game. If they lose, they are not. Don’t kill yourself working out the Strength of Schedule consequences of Kentucky losing their last two games. It doesn’t really matter.

If we win out, who do we play? Well, probably the #2 team in the polls unless the computers fall in love with a team. I’m not smart enough to run those numbers, but I’d consider it pretty unlikely for Oregon to drop from #2 in the human polls without a loss, so their computer ranking would have to crater for them to miss out on the BCS if they win out. Which I’m sure could happen. The Big 12 is essentially a four-team conference (OU, Kansas, Mizzou, and Texas) and their lack of depth allows the big boys to just pad their record against the Iowa States and Baylors of the world. But if whoever comes out of the Big 12 Elimination Tournament will be hard to keep out of the title game, and Oregon has already proven to be rather easy to screw over (see 2001).

Let’s just pretend I’ve now gone on the standard futile rant about how the BCS is a total farce. The fact that the NCAA changes the formula every single year pretty much sums up why the system is broken. It has absolutely no legitimacy. Let’s put it like this, the RPI is a flawed measure in basketball, but it has a certain level of respect due to its consistent application, and the check of the human committee. The BCS has no such consistency and no such human oversight, despite 2/3 of the formula being human polls. It’s the illusion of objectivity.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. We win, we’re in. We lose, we’re not. You don’t need tea leaves to figure that out. What is right or what a team deserves is completely irrelevant in the BCS and always has been. But beware anyone who makes an argument based on the weakest part of a team’s resume (their loss) then the strongest part of their resume (their quality wins). At the end of the day, the question of quality is answered by answering this question: what has this team accomplished? No one in the nation has accomplished more than LSU. Apologize for nothing. No team has LSU’s resume of quality wins. If they win out, maybe Oklahoma will be on the same level (Texas, Mizzou, and Kansas or Mizzou a second time). Oregon has some great wins, but they have done nothing on the road, which hurts them. And their wins don’t look as impressive, though why has everyone forgotten about Arizona State already?

But based purely on watching teams, as an LSU fan I ask myself this question: what team scares me? Oklahoma has talent but seems even flakier than LSU and doesn’t look as impressive as their gaudy record. Oregon’s offense is terrific but their D is beyond porous. Kansas is crushing teams but the best team they have beaten is Texas A&M so I’m not sold. West Virginia turns the ball over at a disturbing rate though White and Slaton are incredibly explosive. Honestly, the team that matches up best against LSU and I don’t want to face surprises even me: Mizzou. Daniels is quietly having a great year and is the type of QB who eats our defense alive. And they have a pretty stout defense to go with their offense. The one team I find myself a little afraid of is the other Tigers. I never thought I’d find myself thinking that. Then again, they lost to OU.

And we lost to Kentucky. Beware of morons who compare losses.

Around the SEC - Week 11

It was a fascinating week around the SEC, and like we expected, things shook out quite a lot. The SEC West representative at the SEC Championship Game is decided (woot!), and while the SEC East still has 3 candidates mathematically in it, the decision tree got a lot simpler. While LSU played a laugher and Ole Miss was idle, every other team played a meaningful game.

Mississippi State 17
Alabama 12

This was a fun, competitive game to watch, and it went pretty much by MSU's script for winning games. Run the ball effectively. Get some timely turnovers and either score or get good field position. Rush the passer effectively. MSU only had 215 yards of total offense, compared to 274 for Alabama. The box score of this one is ugly. MSU ran the ball OK, but didn't have a single running back average more than 4 yards per carry. Their QB didn't complete half his passes, and averaged less than 5 yards per attempt, with an interception. But of course, there were the interceptions, which were the deciding factors in this game.

MSU gets to 6 wins, with two shots at getting to 7. Alabama remains at 6 wins, but they get a rent-a-win next week, and they'll get to 7 before going against Auburn to close out the regular season.

Tennessee 34
Arkansas 13

I hope our team watches film of this game and the Auburn-Arkansas game to figure out how to stop Darren McFadden. You may remember he totally ripped us apart last year. We won anyway, but we never figured him out. Tennessee figured him out, even though he got 115 rushing yards. Most of it was after Tennessee was already way ahead. If we can hold McFadden to 115 yards, we will beat Arkansas easily too.

Tennessee is one step closer to the SEC Championship Game. They need to win out in games over Kentucky and Vandy to make it.

Kentucky 27
Vandy 20

Speaking of Kentucky and Vandy, they played a game this week that did not make it to television. It was competitive to the end, but nothing really stands out on the box score to me. It was just another game that Vandy had a chance to win and lost. They held Woodson to 222 yards passing and didn't give up a 100 yard rusher. However, they themselves did not pass the ball effectively, averaging less than 6 yards per attempt. This was, of course, an important game for both teams. Kentucky got to 7 wins, and Vandy failed to get to 6.

Georgia 45
Auburn 20

Now, before I get into this game, I want to whine and moan about officiating. There's been a trend in the SEC years to be really liberal about throwing flags for late hits on the quarterback, and indeed late or helmet-to-helmet hits on anyone. It's gotten out of hand, and they're penalizing things that simply should never be penalized. The game of football includes hitting, and the officials should recognize that. Here we are in a league with tons of athletic, running quarterbacks and we're penalizing little hits against them. We have athletic, aggressive defenses in this conference. That's why this conference is so popular, but aggressive teams are being heavily penalized, much more than is really justified.

There were two outrageous penalty calls in this game, both against Georgia, and both when the game was still very much undecided. In the first, a Georgia defender rolled over Brandon Cox as he went down to the ground. There was no helmet-to-helmet contact, and it was probably less than 1/2 second after Cox was down. It was flagged for a 15 yard penalty. The second one involved another hit on Cox, who had just thrown the ball. It was also unjustified.

The SEC needs to do something about this. It's outrageous. It's hurt LSU, who has gotten, I think, at least 2 unjustified late hit penalties that have hurt us. One was against Florida, and led to a touchdown. The other was against Bama, and was by most accounts the game-changing play of the first half. But it's also hurt other teams. I recall complaining about a call that went against Mississippi State a couple weeks ago. Two went against Georgia this week, and they came at times when the game was still very much in doubt, and in fact when Auburn had momentum. These could have been game deciding calls, and they were both egregiously wrong, and went against the aggressive team.

Anyway, on to the game. Despite the large margin of victory here, this game was close until the end of the 3rd quarter. Georgia scored a touchdown on the last play of the 3rd quarter to go ahead by 11. Just half a quarter earlier, Auburn had all the momentum in the game. They had a lead, and had scored the previous 17 points. What's more, Georgia couldn't move the ball at all. They had a couple consecutive 3-and-outs on offense and looked terribly out of sync.

I'm starting to agree with Gary Danielson, who said, "Momentum means nothing in this sport." If you thought momentum was important in football, you would have quit watching this game halfway through the 3rd quarter thinking that Auburn had it won. But Georgia handed the ball to Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown and the rest is history.

Auburn lost all shot at a BCS bowl, and Georgia closed in on a possible berth in the SEC Championship Game. They need to beat Kentucky this week and hope either Vandy or Kentucky can beat Tennessee though.

Florida 51
South Carolina 31

I can name one team that appears to have packed it in for the season. I can name one player who deserves to win the Heisman Trophy. The GeauxTuscaloosa Offensive Skill Position Player of the Week is Tim Tebow. I think this is the 4th time he's won this award this year. He threw for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns. He ran for 120 yards and 5 touchdowns. With Percy Harvin out with an illness, Urban Meyer gave the ball to Tebow and he dominated this game.

In fact, if Tebow wasn't going to be the GTOSPPOW, it would go to his teammate Andre Caldwell who caught 11 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown.

Florida put itself in position that it can still win the East, but it needs a lot of help. They need Kentucky to beat Georgia and for either Vandy or Kentucky to beat Tennessee. They really needed some help this week to get to the Championship Game, and they didn't get any of it. Now, it's looking fairly unlikely. It could still happen though.

What does it mean?

The SEC has 10 bowl-eligible teams, and we could get to 11. The SEC has 8 bowl tie-ins. The SEC could potentially get an at-large BCS placement, giving us 9 bowl teams. It looks like someone's going to miss a bowl game despite being eligible. One of the rules is that you have to take a team with a winning record over a team with a .500 record if there is one available, so you can be bowl-safe by getting to 7 wins.



Mississippi State
South Carolina


Arkansas and Mississippi State play each other this week. One of those teams will be bowl-safe. Alabama plays ULM and they will end up being bowl-safe. That will make 8 bowl-safe teams. If Arkansas doesn't beat MSU, they have to beat LSU to get bowl-safe. Tall order. If MSU doesn't beat Arkansas, they have to beat Ole Miss to get bowl-safe. South Carolina has to beat Clemson to get bowl-safe, and if they don't do it they are probably the team that will be left out of bowl season, having lost 5 in a row under that scenario.

Heck, it is entirely possible that the SEC will have 10 teams with 7 wins, and that this standard will no longer be bowl-safe. It think that's unlikely though.

It is also possible, especially in a 10-teams-with-7-wins scenario, that the last SEC team out will get an at-large bid in a game that does not have an SEC tie-in due to a lack of eligible teams elsewhere. But in a 12-game season, there are likely to be a lot of bowl-eligible teams out there.

Later this week: Recruiting discussion.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Day After: La Tech

Ehh. Some fans can't stand prosperity. We win 58-10, and some can do nothing but complain. Did we look like the New England Patriots? No. I was able to watch the game thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and we looked like a team playing a vastly overmatched opponent, but that had a hard time getting out of the gate and made a few mistakes along the way to a big victory. I'm not complaining.

On the way there, we clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game, by virtue of Bama's loss to MSU and Auburn's loss to Georgia. We now also know for sure that our opponent there will be either Georgia, Tennessee, or Florida, and with Georgia's and Tennessee's wins, Florida looks like a long shot. You never know, though. Florida has to hope that Georgia loses to Kentucky and that Tennessee loses to either Vandy or Kentucky.

With the win, it looks like we're going to be the #1 team again, and it also looks like there is no way we can miss out on the national championship game if we win out. We may get passed by one team, but we won't get passed by two. Thank you Ron Zook and the Fightin' Zooks. I always liked you, and I thought you got totally jobbed in Gainesville.

Who would have thought we'd see the Ryan Perrilloux to Mit Cole touchdown pass combination? I predicted it, but I can't find the link. Sorry.

We played the whole game without starters Marlon Favorite and Darry Beckwith, who should be back next week, and we'll need them. BenJarvis Green-Ellis is a fine running back for Ole Miss, and of course there's a certain former Heisman candidate waiting for us the day after Thanksgiving. We've been a little vulnerable to power running backs in the middle of the field this year, and we will have to be at our best in those games.

It appeared to me that about midway through the second quarter, the coaches realized that there was no way La Tech could match our athleticism, so they started using the speed guys a lot more and we started pulling away. Of course, speed-demon Jacob Hester got into the act with the longest touchdown run he ever imagined himself making (87 yards). I seem to recall Dalton Hilliard having a 90+ yard touchdown run at some point in his career, but other than that Hester's run is the longest in my memory.

Brandon Lafell and Terrance Toliver had big games as well. In particular, it's great to see Lafell be a solid contributor. With his good games in the last two weeks, maybe he's ready to be our #2 receiver again. The kid is a solid player, who just had a case of the drops. Richard Murphy had a great run that he almost stuck into the end zone. Trindon Holliday and Keiland Williams had more touches than usual. In all, it was a chance to showcase some future talent, even on the offensive line, where Joe Barksdale and others got into the action early. On defense, we saw an awful lot of Chad Jones, Drake Nevis, and Jacob Cutrera, all guys who figure to be major players next year and the year after.

I think that Murphy kid in particular looks like he's going to be an exciting player. It's very telling that he's gotten into some big games late in the action, such as against Auburn and Kentucky. For whatever reason, when the game is on the line and they need a speed back, they got to Murphy rather than to Keiland.

If you're wondering why I haven't focused much attention to arguing who should be #1 and who should be in the BCS, it's a simple matter of keeping in mind that there is still a lot more season to play. We have three more games to play, against Ole Miss on the road, against Arkansas at home, and against Georgia/Tennessee/Florida on a neutral site. All of these games are loseable, and I don't want to get caught up in arguing who's better between LSU and Oregon or between Oregon and Kansas when there's still plenty of football left to be played before people really have to make that decision. How many teams have vehemently defended their lofty rankings only to subsequently lose a game they probably should have won? Michigan. USC. Us! Ohio State. Cal. The other USC. Wisconsin. Oklahoma. It may be November, but there's still a lot of football left to go here.

In the coming days, we'll go around the SEC and discuss the fact that the conference now has 10 bowl eligible teams. And if you want to know who the GeauxTuscaloosa Offensive Skill Position Player of the Week is, check out the box score of the Florida-South Carolina game.