Tiger-Eye Review—Covering the Spread Edition
While the East battled, the West rested. While the outcomes were for the favored team in nearly every case, it seemed the victor in nearly every contest struggled to make the margin large enough to satisfy Las Vegas. While this was seemingly unexpected, especially in some of the lower tier games, it does illustrate an interesting feature of this year’s Southeastern Conference.
Namely, there is a lot more parity than in previous years. For instance, last year there were at least three teams vying for a legitimate shot at the playoff. Then there were a couple of above average teams followed by at least seven teams playing just awful football, well down at the bottom statistically.
This year, however, what we’re seeing is one championship-level team, a host of average teams, and three or four poor teams. No fewer than five teams have identical 5–3 records, and six teams are sporting two conference losses. Statistically, I count well over half the conference as “average” in capability, with one or two more on the cusp depending on how they play the rest of their schedule.
What has changed? I’m not really sure. What I’m seeing is a general regression on offense and a resurgence on defense across the board. However, since five of these teams also have out-of-conference losses, that may be an indication that they’re not playing all that well, and the numbers among the SEC teams are slanted. The worry I have is this may only be determined during the bowl season.
Met my wife 38 years ago this evening at Auburn. Cheers, Dear!
SEC West Offense
Not much has changed, since only three teams were active in the West. You would think that Mississippi State’s win over Texas A&M would be illustrated by a significant change, but it just wasn’t. Both teams played just about as well as their numbers showed. The Aggies struggled on third down and in the red zone, and the Bulldogs moved the ball better in both cases. Not significantly better, but just about typical for their season. Arkansas tried to make a comeback, but a first quarter interception put them behind and a late fourth quarter one kept them there.
SEC West Defense
Again, Mississippi State’s defense showed why it is the best in the conference, while Texas A&M could find no answer for Nick Fitzgerald having a good day. Arkansas struggled to stop Vanderbilt, and that statement alone sums up the depth and breadth of the woe that engulfs the Razorback Nation. There’s not much that can be said about your program when you voice that line. Only that next year will definitely show improvement, as (Little) Rock Bottom doesn’t have a basement.
SEC East Offense
The Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville left the Gators out of the division race, but it wasn’t as easy as the final score would indicate. Along the way, both teams struggled a bit on offense. Georgia tightened down on the Gator passing attack and managed to grind out a win with a final drive on the ground. Kentucky needed a lucky break or two to get by Mizzou as the Wildcat offense continues to sputter late in the season. South Carolina outlasted Tennessee, and Vanderbilt was able to pad its offensive numbers with a spirited late game rally.
SEC East Defense
This is the Achilles heel of the SEC East this year. Defensively, only Kentucky is showing signs of a high caliber defense. Georgia’s can be described as “good” but not really great. The same could be said of Florida. The rest of the East is showing severe issues with defense this season, which seems strange because they seem to be holding their own with cross-division play (Florida over LSU, Kentucky over TAMU, etc.).
State of the Conference
Overall, we’ve got two above average teams, a champion-caliber team and a wealth of average teams with either good defenses (West Division) or good offenses (East Division) and some troubling issues on the opposite side of the ball.
What this means is still up to what November brings us. I stated in my first article this season that the morning of Veterans Day may reveal a very different landscape in the Southeastern Conference that we have been accustomed to in the recent past. A whole new world of possibilities may rise out of the turmoil the conference has experienced in the last four years, and I’m wondering what that might be.
Will a new East Division champion arise? I personally am rooting just a little bit for Mark Stoops and his Wildcats this year. That team has improved so much over the last two years and is on the verge of a truly remarkable season.
Even so, it isn’t the most dynamic improvement in that division. Florida and South Carolina have also shown remarkable increases on both sides of the ball, and their rankings are beginning to show it. Georgia has actually regressed slightly from last year.
In the West, the changes are all downward, with only LSU showing slight improvement. As exceptional as Alabama has been on offense, that has masked a marked regression of the Tide defense from what Nick Saban has always had. Auburn’s offensive regression is clearly evident, the worst change in the conference in that respect, but a slight uptick in defensive play is also evident. As I’ve stated, LSU and Auburn are almost mirror images with a couple of lucky breaks keeping the Bengal’s hopes alive.
At least until November 3rd.
Don’t we all, Aubie. Don’t we all.