Tiger-Eye Review–Home of the Tigers Edition
It’s important to remember as the season progresses that the numbers I show are not the be-all, end-all of prediction. Scheduling, key moments in games, players, dynamic play and improved performance over time also have a way of influencing the end result in a manner that defies the steady progress of my analysis week to week.
For instance, I know my numbers didn’t predict the course of the 2017 season with a late surge by Auburn that resulted in its sudden rocketing to the College Football Playoff discussion before a disappointing game in Atlanta scotched that all too soon. Neither did they point out the results of last year any differently than a host of other prediction models based on little more than eye-candy, wishful thinking and preseason notions of ability. Those just happened to coincide with what my numbers showed.
What I find fascinating year by year is much more granular in terms of predictive/reflective behavior throughout the season. I find individual statistics on specific teams interesting as they arc through the season, both for those that change incrementally and some that do not. I’m usually intrigued by how much certain teams and squads improve, fall short or simply reveal that what they did in the first few games was a rock steady indication of what they did all year.
This year, I’m fascinated by all three Tiger teams in the Southeastern Conference because they represent statistically some really interesting impacts that might just throw everything out of kilter this year.
First, of course, are my own Auburn Tigers. There are a freshman quarterback, lights out defense and a vague mystical sense that something special is going to happen this year. It might be a false impression as the numbers aren’t showing it just yet on offense, but there are indications like 3rd down percentage that give me hope.
Second are the LSU Bengal Tigers. Ed Orgeron has hired a pair of offensive minds and has his team racking up offensive numbers that I have not seen in his entire coaching career. This is something new, exciting and a little terrifying, and not just for Auburn’s future visit to Baton Rouge. But that plays into the fact that this LSU team might just kick the Tide out of any CFP consideration and make the Iron Bowl absolutely irrelevant. Yes, they are tracking THAT well, statistically.
Last on my watch list is the dark horse candidate in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference–the Missouri Tigers. But wait, you say, didn’t they just lose to Wyoming? That they did, but if you look at both their numbers this week and their upcoming schedule, they are poised just like LSU to overturn the prevailing logic of the SEC with just a single upset of the winner of the Florida–Georgia Classic. With a little luck they might even do it twice, in which case you might find a one- or two-loss Mizzou Tigers team representing the East Division in Atlanta. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they pull this off.
The standard of excellence.
Gotta watch out for the clan marking. Those are Cheyenne Dog Soldiers.
SEC West Offense
There is a whole lot of numbers for LSU and Alabama, nearly identical in scope and scale, but deceptive in the fact that only a small fraction was against a ranked team and less than half were generated against even winning programs. It’s hard to say if that efficiency will hold up over time.
Auburn and Texas A&M provide the middle tier in the West, and the remaining teams are clearly in distress offensively. None are moving the ball very well on third down, and red zone touchdowns are as rare as hen’s teeth. I’m not sure these numbers will improve as the conference schedule progresses, especially with what is on the other side of the ball in the West.
SEC West Defense
This is still the strength of the West, even in the case of Ole Miss, with the only exception being Arkansas. The West still plays defense fairly well. I doubt if the Rebels will do much against the cream of the Division, but I’m expecting you should see a downward trend of those high flying offensive numbers as conference play progresses.
Third-down production seems to be the key statistic in the West. Against these defenses I think drives will stall and scoring will be affected. That is, except for the big-play downfield strikes from those same dynamic offenses. But there will be fewer long soul-killing drives than you would expect.
SEC East Offense
In the East, Georgia and Florida seem to be the only offensive powers this year. Georgia’s numbers fell a little after the Notre Dame game but are still far above the rest of the Division. I don’t see much happening to change these as the season progresses as most of the out-of-conference schedule has been completed by the Division except for a couple of rivalry games late in the year.
But do watch the Tigers of Missouri. They are showing improvement since Wyoming, although much of the press dismissed them because of that loss. A scheduling fluke in which they play the worst two SEC West teams this year (Ole Miss, Arkansas) means that they have the potential to upset the East in a way that Florida and Georgia simply can’t as both have to play Auburn and another significant Western team (LSU, TAMU). With that advantage, Missouri can almost coast into the SEC Championship with one choice upset game either Florida or Georgia.
What put that in my mind was the following.
SEC East Defense
Guess who has the most statistically significant defense in the East? After a third of the season, it is those same Missouri Tigers. The race in the East is getting interesting. Sure, gear up for that Florida-Georgia Classic, but there are some tough games both of those teams have to negotiate to make that game the deciding factor for the division title. A timely upset by the Eastern Tigers (with the help of some Tigers in the West) could send Mizzou all the way to Atlanta.
At that point, anything could happen: a fluke play, a key turnover, what have you. I guess what I’m saying is don’t be too sure that these mid-season statistics or rankings are insurance for where a team will be late in the year. They are important, but they are not as sure a bet as their fans and the media would have you believe.
It might indeed be the Year of the Tigers in the SEC, both East and West
State of the Conference
The split is widening significantly between the programs at the top and bottom of the SEC, and we have yet to reach the mid-point of the conference schedule. One thing for sure, the whittling at the top will surely reduce those teams competing to reach Atlanta. But I’m not so sure there will be any upward movement from below.
The teams in the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference have a long road ahead, and it only gets tougher going forward as the top teams start to play within their divisions. They may even have some company going forward.
The problems I see among the basement teams are systemic. They don’t play very well in any statistic or on either side of the ball. I see very little to indicate forward improvements or developments as they seem to play the same level in every game. Nothing good will come of this going into the offseason. Expect a dramatic fall off in recruiting and, potentially, coaching staff/administrator turnover, perhaps before the season ends. Tennessee’s loss of five athletes to the transfer portal is just the tip of the iceberg if these trends continue.
Such is the state of the modern Southeastern Conference. I wish it were otherwise, but I can’t argue with a player whose limited college playing career is tied so closely with his chances in the NFL draft. He’s just making the best economic choice available to him. The end result is the richer teams get richer in athletes, and the poorer teams get desperate for talent, not only on the recruiting trail but also in retention of players already in uniform.
Is this a sea change for Tiger talent?