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SEC mailbag: Can LSU go unbeaten?

9/9/2011

The real season starts Saturday with a pair of key SEC games -- South Carolina at Georgia and Mississippi State at Auburn.

Before I hit the road to Athens, Ga., I thought I’d see what’s on your mind:

Dale in Pell City, Ala., writes: Am I crazy? Am I missing something? LSU is as good as anyone in the country, but their schedule this year is BRUTAL. I just can't see them getting through it without a couple of losses. I can't see them in the SEC championship game. But even if they make it, no way they make it this year to the national championship game.

Chris Low: I’m with you on the Tigers’ schedule. It’s a killer, and the odds are against them making it through the whole way unbeaten. That said, did you watch the same team play I did last Saturday, the team that took apart Oregon at a neutral site? LSU has all the components of a national championship-caliber team. The Tigers are talented. They’re committed to the running game. They’re downright nasty on defense and make big plays on special teams. The passing game still needs to come around, but I think it will once Russell Shepard gets back out there and Jarrett Lee settles into a groove. LSU obviously won’t have any trouble this week at home against Northwestern State, but the remainder of this month will be a load. Going on the road in a short week is always tough, and this is Dan Mullen’s best team yet at Mississippi State. After that comes the trip to West Virginia. I’ll say this: If the Tigers get out of September unbeaten and that passing game does indeed improve, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see LSU end up in New Orleans and playing for the national championship. It’s hard to predict that right now when you see what the Tigers have in front of them, but they’re one of the few teams nationally that’s talented enough to travel that treacherous road and come out on the other side unscathed.


Arnie in Houston, Texas writes: Based on the first week, is there any doubt that LSU has the best defense in the SEC?

Chris Low: I’m hesitant to base anything on one week of football. And to be fair, most of the SEC teams weren’t even challenged last week, so it’s difficult to make comparisons. What I will say is that LSU is spilling over with talent and depth on defense. That defensive line is even better than I thought it was going to be, and everywhere you look in that secondary, there’s speed on top of speed. So right now, LSU would definitely get my vote. But to truly judge a defense, you have to evaluate it over time. What does it do in key conference games? What happens if it loses a player or two? Does it play well with its back to the goal line? These are questions we’ll answer as we go forward. If you’re asking me for my top three defenses in the league right now, I’d go: 1. LSU, 2. Alabama, 3. Arkansas. It’s no coincidence that my top three in the SEC power rankings this week looked the same way.


Brent in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: I hope this Sharrif Floyd matter doesn't fade into the background. I don't understand how (Terrelle) Pryor gets a five-game suspension that wasn't imposed immediately and he was able to go virtually unpunished and Floyd gets almost half that, imposed right away. Most football fans have seen “The Blind Side” and they can better understand what it was like for Sharrif and how backward the NCAA can be. I hope you will take a stand here and point out how sad this decision is.

Chris Low: You’re preaching to the choir. The NCAA loves to say that each case stands on its own, but the inconsistency of some of their decisions is maddening. Simply, it’s the reason most fans (a lot of coaches and administrators, too) don’t trust the NCAA. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know the ins and outs of every case. But knowing what I do about Floyd’s background, it’s shameful that he would have to sit out two games, especially when you compare his supposed transgressions with some of the ones you note. You’re exactly right. There’s no rhyme or reason to some of these punishments. The NCAA is going to be fleeced for a long time to come, and deservedly so, for allowing those Ohio State players to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season. Let’s face it. College football has been one big scandalous mess recently, from the pay-for-play scam involving Cam Newton’s father last season to what’s going on at Miami right now. I agree wholeheartedly with Florida coach Will Muschamp. What Floyd went through to get to where he is now at Florida is one of the real success stories in college football. He should be applauded, not punished. Muschamp says he’s disgusted. Well, he’s not the only one.


Brandon in Trenton, Ga., writes: I know both of Alabama’s quarterbacks are good players, but one needs to be declared the starter. I think this is hurting the chemistry of the offense. Also, with both being sophomores, could one transfer to another program if they don't get the lead position and could this be a reason for such a long battle for the position?

Chris Low: I’d say Alabama coach Nick Saban is getting pretty close to making that decision. Remember, the Crimson Tide have only played one game, and Saban’s rationale in not making a decision before the season was that he wanted to see how they performed in games. AJ McCarron was more productive, but you know the stat that jumped out at Saban was that McCarron and Phillip Sims each threw two interceptions. Sims is actually a redshirt freshman, which puts him a class behind McCarron. And, yes, I think Saban was careful to play it this way because he didn’t want to take any chances on losing the guy who was branded No. 2 to a transfer prior to this season. I think we’re all going to know who Alabama’s quarterback is by the time Arkansas comes to town on Sept. 24.


Anita in Greenville, S.C., writes: I missed the Herschel Walker story on ESPN. When will it be aired again? Yes, Herschel is a class act.

Chris Low: The next airing is Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU, and the “Herschel” documentary is a fascinating look at one of the SEC’s true legends. If I were sculpting an SEC football Mount Rushmore, Walker would be one of my locks along with Bear Bryant. I think you have to include Steve Spurrier in that group, too. As for the fourth member, let the debate begin. But, yes, Walker was the best I’ve ever seen play in this conference and really became almost a mythical figure. Hard to believe that it’s been almost 30 years since he played his last college football game. … “He’s running over people. Oh you Herschel Walker!”


Ben in Macon, Ga., writes: It appears that Texas A&M will join the SEC, although we don't know when. I’m wondering how the SEC plans to operate if the conference is lopsided (13 teams). I’m more specifically worried about the conference championship. Would the SEC look for another team for an even 14 teams?

Chris Low: At some point, the SEC would definitely go to 14 teams and possibly even 16 teams depending on what happens around the rest of the country with conference expansion. I can’t see any scenario where the SEC would remain at 13 teams for any extended period of time, maybe a season at most, and I doubt that would happen. West Virginia sounds like one of the most likely candidates at this point. I wouldn’t rule out Missouri. The SEC would love to have Virginia Tech, but I can’t see the Hokies leaving the ACC. A long shot might be Maryland.


Shawn in Charlotte, N.C., writes: Last December in Atlanta I met Chris Low at a Pappasito's. It was great to talk to the person that writes the stuff I read every day. I'm only 23 and most of my memories as a child were and still are watching SEC football. I can remember most of the special moments in this league since about 1995. I love the SEC and the passion that comes from fans around this league every Saturday. I grew up being a Gamecock and I hope this is finally the year that we win 10 games again. I hope to see Mr. Low in Atlanta again this year! My question is: What are your favorite memories about the SEC?

Chris Low: Shawn, I enjoyed meeting you as well. Sorry the game didn’t turn out better for you. If the Gamecocks can win Saturday at Georgia, I think you’ll get a return trip to Atlanta that first weekend in December. I have so many rich memories from the SEC that I could fill up the blog from now until the end of the season. Right there at the top is Herschel Walker’s debut in 1980 in Knoxville when he ran over Bill Bates. I was only 14 at the time, but knew I was watching greatness. Seeing Bear Bryant carried off the field by his players after winning his final game in 1982 at the Liberty Bowl still resonates with me. I was in Tempe, Ariz., covering the Fiesta Bowl in 1999 when Tennessee won its first national championship in 47 years. Being a Tennessee alum, that was special. Seeing Steve Spurrier win four straight SEC championships at Florida from 1993-96 and change the way football was played in this league remains one of the most incredible accomplishments I’ve seen. Some of my all-time favorite players in the SEC include Herschel Walker, Tim Tebow, Al Wilson, Major Ogilvie, Eric Moulds, Lionel “Little Train” James, Jacob Hester, Derrick Thomas, Willie Gault, Lawyer Tillman, Patrick Peterson and Randall Cobb. Hey, thanks for taking me down memory lane.