Tiger-Eye Review—Fear of the Dark Edition
We have heard the chimes at midnight – Falstaff, Henry IV
A full two-thirds of the season is behind us here in the Southeastern Conference. The preseason hopes and dreams for many teams are on the brink of fulfillment for a lucky few who are still in the hunt for division and conference championships. For the majority, the season has turned into a nightmarish trial for their fans as they struggle through the remaining games, calculating their likely destination during the coming bowl season. For another few teams, they are greeting the end of October with the sure knowledge that they’ll be sitting at home in December.
Speaking of sitting, after a flurry of games in the month of October that gave the West Division a clear leader and a lone challenger, most teams are taking a late October break. Four of the the seven teams have a bye this week in preparation for a November packed with decision games. In a curious quirk of scheduling, the SEC East race is usually decided by the start of November while the SEC West is usually not decided until late November. This is mostly due to out-of-conference rivalry games: Georgia–Georgia Tech, Florida–Florida State, Kentucky–Louisville and South Carolina–Clemson. The West has the Egg Bowl, Golden Boot and, of course, the Iron Bowl to finish the season.
However, this season might be the exception. With Georgia’s loss, there is a fascinating three-team race going on that will for once NOT be decided by the Jacksonville Temperance Classic (wink,wink). That annual game has in many years past been the title crowning event for the Eastern Division, but the real game in the East might just be the next week when Georgia travels to Lexington to face a resurgent Kentucky team that is, indeed, dreaming big this year.
Funny thing is, even that game might not be the deciding factor. For a week later, Auburn travels to Athens to complete a three-game stretch that will either make or break the Dawgs. If they swing for the fences, Georgia can repeat gaining a CFP berth just like last year. But, this nightmare scenario is still possible: for Georgia to lose three in a row and be sitting home in early December, nursing a fall from grace that will have it howling at the moon.
Likewise, the nightmares are still not absent in the West. Suppose the conference is represented in Atlanta by a two-loss Texas A&M team facing a two-loss Kentucky team with no chance for either to reach the CFP? It could happen. Even for a Tua-lead Tide on a tear, the future games still require a 60-minute contest, and the pigskin bounces any number of ways.
Halloween is a good time to practice Auburn’s ground and air attack
SEC West Offense
Alabama is still going strong, but curiously, so is Mississippi. In the game with Auburn, the Rebel Bears still moved the ball, but in the red zone the Tigers fought hard and left the home team frustrated. In other games, LSU sank even further offensively, despite its win. Four field goals and a sole touchdown on a gifted turnover disguised a rather punchless Tiger offense that had 50 fewer yards than the team it shut down. Mississippi State continues to fall into mediocrity on offense as Nick Fitzgerald’s numbers rise and fall from week to week. Texas A&M continues to plod along without showing as much dash as earlier in the season, an average offense without a signature win since September.
SEC West Defense
On defense, Mississippi State is still on top of the division, despite three losses. A pivotal game is on tap this week as State’s strengths might just fit the weaknesses of Texas A&M. Auburn and Alabama rest this week along with Mississippi and LSU. Arkansas has long since almost abandoned hope of a winning schedule, but does have a good chance in its cross-conference games, starting with Vanderbilt this weekend.
SEC East Offense
In the East, the Florida-Georgia Classic will be a meeting of near equals on both sides of the ball. Both teams have shown promise, but have shortcomings that have arisen in their two losses that give one pause before declaring one or the other as a favorite in this game. Kentucky and LSU actually look remarkably similar—a sometimes capable offense with a good running back, but overall is less than dynamic and sputters often enough to question if they’ll make it through November. But, the fact they are still competitive is a victory in itself, as the odds were long even to reach this point with a single loss.
SEC East Defense
Again, Georgia and Florida are neatly matched, giving their upcoming game an interesting perspective as to which team will gain the advantage with a win. With the Kentucky game ahead, there is still a chance of a three-way tie of two-loss teams at the end of the season. Kentucky’s defense is actually leading the conference in scoring, bettering Alabama by a field goal per game, which is quite an accomplishment when you consider it.
The last time Kentucky lead the conference in this way? 1950, when a man by the name of Paul Bryant was their head coach. That same year, Auburn went winless and fired its head coach, hiring a man named Ralph Jordan the following season.
State of the Conference
It’s a scary time of year for the Southeastern Conference. With just one championship caliber team and only two above-average teams (with four losses between them), the odds of repeating having two teams in the playoff are getting awfully long. Also, the nightmare scenarios are still with the conference as the vast majority of teams are playing remarkably average ball. Three teams are scoring well, and three teams are defending well, but only one team in the conference is doing both.
Is the SEC still the toughest conference in the land? I’ve been arguing for some time that moniker is getting harder and harder to defend. Right about now I can safely say that it is not the case. Despite the national rankings in which six SEC teams are in the top 15, I’m just not seeing it reflected in their achievements on the field of play. The conference has deeply flawed teams from nearly top to bottom.
I think the next three weeks will bring some clarity to this, but I fear there will be no drastic change in the numbers you see above. There will be wins and losses, some surprising, but most not. They will reflect what I show above. One team or another will succeed or fail by the tendencies they have shown all season.
The grand days of the SEC as the premier conference in college football are passing. One or two teams might continue to compete nationally, but the rest of the conference is mired in mediocrity. I believe the current lofty rankings are about to evaporate rather quickly in the coming weeks.
And then, darkness.
Fun as it will be to watch this game, the Wildcats will still get their say in November