Tiger-Eye Review—Inside-Outside Edition
Are we in or out? It depends on perspective.
In 1944, legendary West Point head coach Earl Blaik began two successive national championship seasons in three years with the help of two remarkable players—speedster Glenn Davis and bruising fullback Felix “Doc” Blanchard. The duo was nicknamed “Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside,” and behind their superb and remarkable play on both sides of the ball (Blanchard at linebacker, Davis at safety), Army amassed a scoring mark for the season that stands to this day as an NCAA record (56 points per game for a season). Notre Dame coach Edward McKeever said after losing to West Point 59–0 that year, “I’ve just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears number 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard.” Later both players would be awarded the Heisman trophy, Doc Blanchard in 1945 and Glenn Davis in 1946, after amassing undefeated records for three straight years (27–0–1; the tie was a famous 0–0 game in Yankee Stadium against Notre Dame in 1946). The scoring average of 56 points per game in a nine-game season in 1944 has stood the test of time for nearly three quarters of a century.
Davis eventually moved on to the NFL, but after a season of remarkable play suffered a career ending injury, ironically while filming a tribute film playing himself in his West Point football uniform (The Spirit of West Point). He later fulfilled his military commitment by serving in the Korean War. Blanchard was also offered a NFL career but instead went on to fly fighter aircraft in the Army Air Corps. Later, he joined the new Air Force and participated in combat missions throughout the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, retiring as a full colonel in 1971.
We lost both these fine gentlemen earlier this century. Glenn Davis passed away in 2005 and Doc Blanchard in 2009. Currently, the US Army All American Bowl pays tribute to these men by awarding two players the Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis awards for community service, education and athletic excellence. A lasting and appropriate tribute to both exemplary players.
How is this at all applicable to the Southeastern Conference? More on that in minute. Suffice to say, that with this latest series of conference games, there are a number of teams with an inside chance of participating in the conference championship and, potentially, the College Football Playoff, and a number of teams are on the outside looking in with only the slimmest possible chance of seeing Atlanta while in uniform.
Several teams had a rough outing last Saturday. In fact, when I looked at the numbers this week I found to my surprise that not a single team improved its numbers in any appreciable way. Only three teams kept pace with their previous statistics, meaning that their output was unaffected by wins or losses, but every other nonbye team dropped in efficiency, even in multi-touchdown victories in some instances.
Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside in their heyday
Here is the point where that 1944 record is relevant. Take a good look at Alabama’s scoring in the first six games this year. With the relatively weak defenses of Missouri and Tennessee up next, and LSU at the start of November, we could be looking at an unparalleled achievement that is well within the grasp of this team’s offense—to exceed each and every past NCAA team in scoring within a nine-game stretch since the first organized intercollegiate football game was played 147 years ago (1872, Columbia–Rutgers). Alabama has currently scored more touchdowns (46) in games this season than six SEC teams scored in all of 2017 (LSU, UF, USC, Vandy, UT, UK) and equal to a seventh team (Ark).
I’m afraid I don’t have a color code for that level of statistical ranking.
In any case, the rest of the numbers on offense tell a rather bleak story. There simply isn’t any competition on offense with Alabama this year from the rest of the division. Every other team has issues, some severe, some less so, but the odds are incredibly steep against winning a shootout against the Tide, and no one so far has even slowed them down all that much. We’re looking at a once-in-a-lifetime level of offensive capability in this team.
Defensively, despite two losses, Mississippi State is still on top, and Nick Saban’s rant about how his defense played last weekend is fairly accurate. They DO have some issues allowing big plays, including inside the red zone. But don’t be fooled by his anger. That Tide third-down conversion rate is still an indication of a very capable defense. Auburn’s defensive number took a slight tumble with the loss, as did LSU’s. But the rest of the division is hurting badly on that side of the ball, meaning don’t expect many surprises on the outcome of the division prior to November.
In the East statistically there is Georgia and then everyone else. However, even with the loss in College Station, don’t be too quick to count out Kentucky just yet. The ‘Cats could still win easily these next few weekends to earn a winner-take-all showdown at home in Lexington on November 3rd. It might even get interesting, depending on the outcome of the Florida–Georgia classic the week prior.
Everyone else? Little to no threat to anyone or anybody. Missouri might prove a spoiler to Florida’s or Kentucky’s season, but there isn’t much expected or anticipated from anyone else.
There is a clear divide in the East between the inside and outside tracks to Atlanta on defense. The leader, Georgia, is comfortably ahead, the two dark horses, Florida and Kentucky, are in position to upset, and everyone else is on the outside, way back. Again, the separation is simply too great to expect much from that portion of the division. The division is Georgia’s to lose but with greater risk than Alabama in the West.
State of the Conference
The in-out divide is most striking in this table. Mississippi State’s two losses and the relatively paltry numbers by the SEC West one-loss teams mean that Alabama may remain unchallenged, even with the remote chance of a surprise upset. The numbers are steeply against any other team making it to the end of the season with one conference loss. In the East the race is still on with Georgia leading, but in reality that is merely a measure of better chances for the two teams trailing them. There’s no conviction that those teams will actually achieve that goal, only that the race is somewhat closer than the abyss behind Alabama in the West.
What does this all mean?
Alabama is on a championship run that is just incredible in statistical scope and depth. The team has already outscored Nick Saban’s first Alabama team (2007) for the regular season in just six games and half of last year’s conference teams for the entire 2017 season. At this rate it will surpass most historic SEC teams by the tenth game of the season. Even with a hiccup upset, I can’t imagine any voter keeping this team out of the playoff selection, and barring injury, I believe Tua Tagvailoa will be a large-margin favorite in the Heisman voting. Benny Snell might get a seat at the event, but if things keep going like they are, I think Tua will walk with the prize.
Only Georgia stands as a viable rival to Alabama, but I think it will take a regular season hiccup AND an SEC Championship loss to keep the Tide out of the CFP selection. Once in the bowl games they will be a heavy favorite in every betting shop in Las Vegas. Unless the numbers change in an appreciable way, I really can’t see this going any other way.
So is it time for a classic Iron Bowl upset? Oh, hell yeah!
If you’re going to be blue, at least be Big Blue!
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