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Monday, October 13, 2008

On Second Thought...

I haven't had a chance to write up a mailbag in a while, but rest assured, I still read every comment posted and attempt to respond to any of them that require a reply. Brett, however, posted a comment yesterday that actually related pretty well to something I already wanted to write:

Says Brett: "hey whats your take on lsu now? j/w, looks like lsu's 5 point win over auburn is less impressive now and lsu giving up 24 points to miss. state. Now I dont know what to think of the gators...ha"

First off, let me just say that I enjoy all lower-case comments far more than people who write in all caps.

Secondly, this brings up a good (and maybe interesting) point.

For the entirety of the preseason, there were two comments repeated over and over and over: a.) Georgia was good, and b.) Georgia couldn't win the national title because the schedule was too tough.

In the first six weeks of the season, plenty of people seem all too happy to argue theory A, but I think the better question is how true theory B turned out to be.

Georgia's 12 opponents this season sport a 49-24 (.671) record so far, which seems somewhat impressive, but it belies the under-performance of the Dawgs' opponents. Alabama (6-0), which Georgia lost to, and the bevy of early-season pushovers Georgia's opponents have played skew the numbers. In conference games, Georgia's opponents are just 22-18 this season. Georgia will face just one team this season currently ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense (Florida).

The Bulldogs' big non-conference game against Arizona State has turned out to be less than impressive in retrospect. The Sun Devils are 2-4 and lost to UNLV a week before playing Georgia. They've lost two straight since the Bulldogs thumped them.

Central Michigan didn't figure to be a major stumbling block, but coming off a bowl bid and MAC title last season, more was expected. The Chippewas are 4-2, but are 10th in the MAC in total defense, making Georgia's offensive explosion less than impressive by comparison.

Alabama certainly turned out to be tougher than most people figured, but Tennessee was far worse.

Looking ahead, it's fair to wonder just how good LSU is -- as Brett suggested. The Tigers are just ninth in the SEC in total defense, despite the fact that they have wins over Mississippi State and Auburn -- two of the country's worst offenses.

In fact, while I'm not ready to call the SEC a bunch of underachievers, the conference has five teams ranked among the 25 worst offenses in the county, (and only one -- Georgia -- in the top 25) including last Saturday's opponent, Tennessee, which is 104th and this week's adversary, Vanderbilt, which ranks a dismal 117th out of 120 Division I teams.

Speaking of this week's opponent, Vandy -- the Commodores rank last in the SEC in total offense and 10th in the league in total defense. Yes, the 5-1 record looks nice, but there's a reason they lost to Mississippi State.

South Carolina and Kentucky both seem to have strong defenses -- but could that be as much a product of the SEC's dismal offenses? Neither look to be Top-25 caliber teams, which lessens the impact of Georgia's slim win over the Gamecocks earlier this season or a potential win over the Wildcats in Lexington in November.

I think we can all agree that Auburn is downright terrible. Fans on the plains should get as many last-minute insults about that six-game Iron Bowl winning streak in as possible before the two teams play this year.

Georgia Tech is better than most people expected, but haven't sniffed the top 25. More over, the Jackets play in a weak conference, beat Gardner-Webb by just three (albeit with a third-string QB) and I think it's fair to ask if their success has been as much about having a DIFFERENT offense as having a good one.

So what does that leave? As always, Florida.

Like Brett, I'm not sure what to make of Florida right now. The Gators rank third in the SEC in offense, averaging more than 400 yards per game, but outside of their dominance of LSU last Saturday, Tim Tebow and company haven't exactly looked impressive.

Their win over Tennessee was as much about big special teams plays and UT's inability to cash in in the red zone as it was about Florida's success. They struggled against Arkansas early before pulling away late -- and Arkansas is a BAD team. Same is true of their game against Miami. And the Gators' pass defense is far from great, as evidenced by the loss against Ole Miss.

The long and short, I think, is that Florida is a very good but not great team. Yet the Gators will clearly be the second-toughest team Georgia plays this year, and it's not close. Georgia's season then, once again, rides on whether they can beat the Gators in Jacksonville.

At the beginning of the year, it seemed like if any team could lose two games and still have a title shot, it was Georgia. But that schedule just doesn't seem as impressive now, and for most outside observers (i.e. voters) the overriding memory of this season thus far was that the Bulldogs fell behind 31-0 to the only really good team they have played.

I'm not saying things can't change as the season progresses, and LSU certainly won't be a pushover, but the schedule isn't exactly shaping up how we thought it would in August, and that strength of schedule may not do Georgia any favors in December.

Addendum: Just to clarify my point here -- I'm not bashing the SEC (although the offenses are not good). What I'm saying is, Georgia's best argument to make the BCS title game with one loss was its brutal schedule. Only now, that schedule doesn't seem so brutal. Is it tough? Yes. But it's not historically tough, like it seemed at the beginning of the season.

At this point in the season, if you are a voter who hasn't watched every game closely, what will you remember about Georgia? The close win against South Carolina? Failing to cover the spread against a bad Tennessee team? The 31-0 halftime deficit to Alabama? Voters don't appreciate subtlety, so it really doesn't matter how good Georgia looked against the Vols. It matters what the final score is. It's not fair, but it's how things work.

The point is, simply getting through the rest of the schedule without another loss may not be enough for Georgia anymore because of how bad teams like Arizona State, Auburn and Tennessee have turned out to be. They'll likely need to make a statement at some point, which means either thumping Florida or earning redemption against Alabama in the SEC title game.


Anonymous said...

i dont think i quite understand. you are saying that the sec isnt as strong as it was at first glance, which i might agree with you on, but how can you say that there is any stronger conference out there? what the big 12? how many big out of conference wins have you seen? they have only beaten one another. did you know that the big 12 was something like 0-5 vs the acc as of last week? that's the weak conference gt plays in. sure, they beat a terrible team barely last week, but teams usually only play up to the competition. see uga vs uab a few years ago. what other conferences does that leave? the big 10? yeah ohio state looked really good vs usc, not to mention the powerhouse that ohio is. what about the pac10. i dont even need to go into that one. so, according to your logic, we might as well just let byu and ball state play for the national championship, seeing as how many wins they will have by the end of the season, since it seems that you care more about how many you win instead of who you beat.

btw, i like your blog, good stuff, just dont really like it when people bash the sec or the acc, and seem to always let conference like the big 10 and big 12 get away with playing no one in their ooc schedules. name a big 12 or big 10 team that has beaten a decent team out of conference? ohio state sure hasnt. penn state hasnt. neither has texas, ou, mizz, or especially texas tech.

Anonymous said...

book it - if OU, USC and UGA all have 1 loss and it is between one of those three teams to play in the NC, it will not be UGA. The 31-0 halftime will be held over our head the rest of the way. Unless we just destroy UF and Alabama in the SEC Champ game, it will be the same reason VaTech was eliminated from consideration last year.

Consider this - that after OU's loss they only dropped to #4. And while USC dropped to #9(?) after their loss, they just jumped something like 3 or 4 spots while we remained in the same position. That is showing that the pollsters are giving much more respect to OU and USC than us (deservedly or not is another debate).

David Hale said...

That was my point. I'm not bashing the SEC in any way -- and ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you my feeling on the Big 12 -- but what I'm saying is, Georgia's schedule is not looking as strong as it was at the start of the season and that could hurt them. What will likely be remembered is the 31-0 halftime deficit to Bama because those other supposedly tough games (ASU, Auburn, Tenn) turned out to be not so tough.

Listen, fans get caught up in what they think and feel about the team and the conference -- which they watch week in and week out. But what matters in terms of who plays for the national title is what the voters think -- and they don't watch the games.

So my point is not to bash the SEC -- it's to look at the reality that Georgia's biggest argument to get in with one loss -- it's schedule -- is not such a strength any more.

Anonymous said...

At this point, who do we really know that is strong? Texas Tech is in the top 10 on nothing. Most of the top 15 is guesswork at this point.

By the way, the spread was 12 and 1/2 against Tennessee and we beat them by 12. So we didn't "beat" the spread. Isn't that spliting hairs?

David Hale said...

Again, I'm not telling you what I think, I'm telling you what the average voter -- who may live in California or Colorado or Ohio -- thinks.

Splitting hairs? Yes. But guess what -- that's exactly what the voters do.

Texas Tech hasn't beaten anyone, I agree, but that's not who you should be worried about. At year's end, there's a good chance that Texas, Oklahoma, USC, Ohio State, Penn State, Missouri, Alabama, BYU and Georgia could all have one or no losses. So who do you pick to go to the title game? If Georgia's schedule had been as impressive as it looked at the start of the year, I'd have said you pick Georgia. Now? It's hard to like their chances.

I'm not saying they don't DESERVE it, I'm just saying you need to ask whether or not it's going to happen.