Monday, November 06, 2006

And Round and Round We Go...

Doug over at Hey Jenny Slater provided the questions; what kind of Blog buddy (wow, there's no way that doesn't sound bad) would I be if I didn't answer?

1. We're just a few weeks away from the end of the regular season, so everybody should have a pretty good handle on how good their teams are and what sort of records they can expect to finish with. Looking back over the season, which was the game where your team really defined itself in 2006, for good or ill? Or to look at it another way, which game, win or loss, was most representative of your team's attitude and style of play this season?

It was a nightmare I had the misfortune of witnessing first-hand, it was one of the worst performances in Sanford Stadium history, and renewed my utter ill-wishing towards the Vols, and worse, Georgia’s public defenestration from the land of perennial top ten teams was synecdochic of the entire season.

At times all three phases of the game showed flashes of greatness: the defense started the game bowing up, pressuring Ainge and clamping down on the run; the special teams ran not one but two kicks back for TDs, one return setting a school record, and the offense, much maligned entering the game, posted a shocking 24-7 lead (albeit 7 of those 24 coming on a return, but I digress, and you should be used to that by now). And sadly, at times all three phases disappeared, mainly at the least opportune moments: the defense’s confusion of the red zone with laying out a red carpet starting with UT’s last drive of the first half, the 7-8 yard cushion offered to opposing WRs, coupled with the “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” approach to bringing pressure; the inability to make an adjustment that worked on D; the drive-killing INTs; back 7 defenders not named Tony Taylor not wrapping up and tackling; mistakes on special teams (both fielding kicks and coverage…I’m sure there was a missed FG in there somehow too); dropped passes; the head-scratching abandonment of a working running game to start the second half; the second-half woes in general (right down to a really momentum-swinging opening drive); and the finally unsetting feeling that Ol’ Lady Luck is just plain ignoring the Red and Black this year.

(The security guards are to protect you. From being eaten.)

The UT game was a loss, which is what we expected, much like this season is a “rebuilding” year, like many of us expecting at prior to the start of the year, but neither unfolded quite in the manner we expected, and both wound up being much, much worse than expected. Suffice to say I will be pulling very hard for Arkansas…win one for Clint Stoerner boys.

2. Are there any teams you think are still hugely overrated? What about underrated?

Hugely overrated? I’m not sure about that. USC has a few more loseable games (notably the Cal and Notre Dame games) but I’m not that sold on Notre Dame either (giving up the highest point total UNC has scored all season isn’t the way to inspire confidence in your defense) and all signs point to the PAC-10 returning to their Pre-USC Dominance days of no one really playing defense, so if USC gets the ball last, I could see JD Booty leading them to a W.

(I'm not saying anything; you make your own joke here...)

Outside of the Men of Troy, there are some moderately overrated teams out there that I shall now pick on: While I was a big fan of the SEC being really good this year, it’s pretty clear that there a lot of really good teams, but no great teams. Auburn’s offense is 3 INTs/game from being as inept as Georgia’s, Florida has a senior QB and all kinds of talent, but can’t put up points or the yards that you’d think they’re capable of, and Arkansas has a defense that was picked apart by Blake Mitchell, whom even UGA’s maligned D was able to hold in check.

However, there’s still a good chance that the SEC can get two teams into the BCS this year: Auburn, as woeful as they look on offense, has the even-more-woeful duo of Alabama and Georgia to end the season, and likely finish with one loss, but no SEC championship trip. Meanwhile, either Florida or Arkansas wins the SEC title and trots off to the Sugar bowl. Ideally, Arkansas, keeping Florida’s streak of not winning the SEC, ever, with a coach not named Spurrier alive.

Underrated: I’ll agree with Doug about Wisconsin (easily the Big 10’s third best team), and I’ll throw Louisville in there too. Sure, lots of teams seem to be beating Miami this year, but Louisville is the only one to really beat them down. Yes, they gave up 540 yds to West Virginia, but it is possible that Rich Rodriguez just knows a thing or two about offense, and that Steve Slaton, Pat White and Co. are pretty good. These guys have scored at least 28 points since White took over at QB, and at least statistically that’s USC-with-Bush-and-Leinart scoring consistency. And how fun would a Troy Smith-Brian Brohm shootout be? Ok, not as good as USC-Texas last year, but far more fun that the 4-2 game that would inevitably happen if Auburn played Michigan.

3. Did your team play any Division I-AA opponents this year? If so, do you think it benefited your team at all? If you were a coach or an NCAA official, what policy would you have toward scheduling D-IAAs?

Georgia played I-AA Western Kentucky and it wasn’t really as impressive a win as the score indicated in retrospect (points were scored, but yards were tough to come by, and JTIII, Dawg Bless Him, looked bad. Oh, and passes were dropped). It got the team a W (likely the difference between 6-6 and 5-7) so they can write thank-you notes to WKU and Dennis Felton from the frozen tundra of Shreveport this December. Whether or not that’s really a benefit, I’m not going to say.

However, given the advent of 12-game schedules, and lucky teams like UGA getting to play 11 games in a row with no bye week, I’m not going to join those saying replace the cupcakes with Texas. If anything, see if we can squeeze the cupcake in later. A late September game (or even later in the season if possible) with East-Podunk U might be the closest thing to a scheduled bye week you can get.

Beyond that, I’d like to see the Div-1AA have some ties (and yes, I know, Felton coached at WKU, but it’s stretching things). So UGA-Georgia Southern should continue. UGA-Furman or UGA-App State (App State doing a good job of sending transfers UGA’s way coed-wise too, possibly a second to GA Southern) get the thumbs up, wheras the really tiny directional schools from several states over get the thumbs down.

4. Which not-a-typical-national-powerhouse team (i.e. no Ohio States or USCs) has played well enough this year to set themselves up for a breakout season in '07?

Scary thought for the SEC West folks: Arkansas is 8-1 with no conference losses, and almost all their top players will return next season. The Hogs should easily have the best backfield in the SEC and could have back-to-back multiple 1,000-yd rushers between Felix Jones and Darren McFadden. Mitch Mustain will be a sophomore and likely much improved. Even without freakishly tall WR Marcus Monk, that’s a dangerous offense, and it seems like Houston Nutt made a pretty good move spiriting away NC State’s DC a few seasons back.

And over in the land of Mediocrity, aka the ACC, Xavier Lee may just be the catalyst for Bobby Bowden to pull a JoPa/Penn State 2005 type season. Old coach, his retirement being called for by boosters, turns over his offense to a mobile athletic QB (not named Chris Rix) and the team comes back with a vengeance? It could happen…and if they get an early start on it by beating Florida I will be doubly pleased. I hate Florida. And Tennessee. And Auburn.

5. Take a look at your team's bowl prospects this season. Which bowl(s) do you think you have a reasonable shot of ending up in? Of the teams you might likely face in a bowl, which team would you most want to play and why (maybe you've always wanted to see how your team would match up with them, maybe there's an old score you want to settle, or maybe you just want to finish the season with an easy win)? Conversely, which potential opponent would you really like to avoid in a bowl game?

Ugh. Do I have to? You do know it’s Monday right? And that my car overheated, died, and left me luckily catching a ride into work from a co-worker? And now I have to think about the Independence Bowl and the Liberty Bowl? Or worse, the Smurf-Turf Bowl?

Ok. I think any debate about not going to a bowl is moot at this point. The coaches aren’t going to turn one down, and they players aren’t going to want the perception of quitting on the season, no matter how beat-up they are. It’s just that this will likely be the least interesting bowl I can think of for Georgia (sure, the Hawaii bowl wasn’t exciting, I mean we had just played UVA in the Peach two years before, but there were the nice subplots of Donnan’s last game, the fun of Hawaii etc.) The Music City was disappointing, but at least we know something about Boston College. UGA-Tulsa is about as inspiring as a William Hung Vocal Lesson. On the other hand, possibly playing in frigid Shreveport against Texas Tech is even more nausea-inducing because A. Willie-Mart’s “give the WR a 7 yard cushion” vs. Mike Leach’s “eat them alive with short passes” is a Fulmer-Ritchie-eating-contest level miss-match, and B. 6-7 just plain sounds bad. Boise I won’t even mention at this point (and it’s bad enough that I don’t even know or care where the Liberty Bowl is played.)

I just don’t care, and I swear I won’t watch, but I may get forced into watching anyway. Maybe it’ll snow, because that MSU-Texas A&M game was fun to watch. At least then our WRs would have an excuse for dropping passes.

(There's "snow" excuse for the Dawgs' season. Sorry.)

6. In a roundtable question during the off-season, we were asked whom you'd pick if your current coach fell deathly ill and you had to select another coach to lead your team to victory. Let's turn this around and imagine that you've somehow schemed your way onto the search committee to select your biggest rival's next head coach. Which rival would that be, and which coaching sooper genius would you try to stick them with?

Ladies and Gentlemen: Lou Holtz, the new head coach at the University of Tennessee.

For starters, it gets his spittle-spraying, half-baked analysis off ESPN, which is something I long to see (well, unless he starts saying “thath dithspithable” to Mark May). Plus, as evidenced by his total lack of discipline or control of his final Gamecock teams, coupled with UT players’ general proclivity towards law-breaking, it’d be a nice marriage of players breaking the law, and a coach that doesn’t discipline them. It’d be a lot like Larry Coker and Miami this year, only with poorer coaching.

And last but not least, let’s not forget that when Lou leaves a program, whether for retirement or “retirement” (aka, hey Lou, it’s not working out, and this is South Carolina talking, you know it’s bad to not even keep us happy) he always leaves a special present behind: probation. UT’s dodged that bullet many times, but if Lou can Tarnish the Golden Dome, he could finally dislodge the anti-probation Teflon UT’s been ensconced in for the past decade or so (and Vol fans everywhere say in unison “thanx Roy!”)

(Hair styles by Lou.)

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