Monday, October 22, 2012
Hot and Not in the SEC
By Chris Low
The SEC hot/not machine is charged up and ready to go:
SEC’s BCS chances: It would take a pretty crazy turn of events at this point for the SEC not to have a team in the Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami. The best bet is No. 1 Alabama, which has yet to be pushed this season. The Crimson Tide are embarking, though, on their most difficult stretch of the season: home against Mississippi State, on the road against LSU and then back home against Texas A&M. No. 2 Florida’s 44-11 win over South Carolina, the Gators’ second over a top-10 opponent in three weeks, has them in prime position. Should Alabama and Florida both be unbeaten and face off in the SEC championship game, the winner would be a lock to finish in one of those top two spots in the final BCS standings. And even if Florida had one loss entering that game and knocked off a previously unbeaten Alabama, the Gators would stand a decent chance of making the national title game if there wasn't more than one unbeaten team at that point. Don’t forget about LSU, either. The No. 6 Tigers have been hard to watch on offense. But if they can take down Alabama at home in two weeks, they’re in the best shape of the one-loss teams to navigate their way into the national title game.
Kyle Christy kept the Gators ahead in the field position battle with South Carolina.
Florida punter Kyle Christy: The next time you diminish the value of a good punter, go back and watch the way Christy flipped the field time and time again against South Carolina. He punted seven times, and all seven were 51 yards or longer. He’s not only a good punter. He’s the best punter in college football and averaging 47.9 yards per kick.
Georgia’s run defense: The Bulldogs are suddenly a pushover to run the ball against, and that’s inexcusable when you consider the talent in the Bulldogs’ front seven on defense. Kentucky rushed for 206 yards Saturday against Georgia, including 98 yards in the first quarter. The Bulldogs were gutted for 230 rushing yards against South Carolina and 197 rushing yards against Tennessee. That’s 633 rushing yards in their past three games. A year ago, they gave up only 1,417 rushing yards in 14 games all season.
Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham: Spearheading Vanderbilt’s defensive effort in its 17-13 win over Auburn, Garnham had 3.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks. The Commodores have one of the more underrated defenses in the SEC, and Garnham is one of the more underrated players in the league. In three of its five SEC games this season, Vanderbilt has held its opponents to 17 points or fewer.
Garbage-time field goals: When is tacking on a few extra points even more embarrassing than not scoring at all? When you’re getting clobbered and elect to kick a field goal instead of going for a touchdown late in the game. South Carolina and Tennessee were both guilty Saturday. Steve Spurrier had his team kick one on fourth-and-10 from the 12 with 7:17 remaining and the Gamecocks trailing 37-8. The Vols’ garbage-time field goal was even more embarrassing. They kicked a 21-yarder on fourth-and-goal from the 3 with 3:57 to play and trailing 44-10.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill: It’s taken a while, but LSU has found its most consistent and most explosive offensive threat. The freshman turned in his second straight 100-yard rushing performance in LSU's 24-19 win over Texas A&M. He had 127 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. Just like he did against South Carolina in the fourth quarter two weeks ago, he delivered the decisive blow with a 47-yard touchdown run. He’s big (235 pounds) but can also run away from people.
Alabama’s drama: It’s almost as if No. 1 Alabama has been playing in its own league this season, and some of the coaches who’ve had to face the Crimson Tide would argue that they are in their own league. Alabama’s “close” game was a 19-point victory over Ole Miss back in late September. The Crimson Tide’s other six wins were all by at least 27 points. They’ve only trailed for 15 seconds this season, which occurred in the second quarter of the Ole Miss game. It's not supposed to be this easy.
Florida’s coordinators: Will Muschamp gets the nod as SEC Coach of the Year to this point and deservedly so. But look at the job his coordinators have done -- Brent Pease on offense, Dan Quinn on defense, D.J. Durkin on special teams and Jeff Dillman in strength and conditioning. The entire Florida staff has pressed a lot of the right buttons with this team, and that goes all the way back to the offseason program.
Mississippi State’s respect: The Bulldogs are 7-0 for only the second time in the 113-year history of the program, own the third-longest winning streak in the country and are No. 11 this week in the BCS standings. But when they travel to No. 1 Alabama this weekend, they’ll do so as more than a three-touchdown underdog. Even Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than that.
Hope on Rocky Top and the Plains: Between them, the once-proud programs at Auburn and Tennessee have lost 19 of their past 21 SEC games going back to last season. Auburn has lost seven in a row and eight of its last nine in the conference. Only three of those losses have been under 17 points. Tennessee has lost five in a row and 11 of its past 12 in the conference. The Vols have given up 41 or more points in each of their past three league games and have given up 30 or more points eight times over their past 12 SEC games dating back to the 2011 season. As you might expect with those kind of numbers, both coaches are in trouble. Both coaches also have steep buyouts. Gene Chizik just won a national championship two years ago and would be owed $7.5 million if Auburn fired him after this season. Derek Dooley, in his third season, would be owed $5 million if the Vols sent him packing.