Tiger-Eye Review—Ride, Boldly Ride Edition
“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied,—
“If you seek for Eldorado!”
Edgar Allen Poe—1849
Now comes the final quarter of the regular season. For most teams there are just three games remaining to establish what their postseason will look like. There still are a lot of key games remaining to be played before we can clearly see who will play for the Southeastern Conference championship in Atlanta. While it looks like this might be determined by Saturday, I’m still not convinced we’ve seen the last of surprise endings to the remaining games.
For those outside of the race for the division and conference titles, there are still the golden New Year’s Day bowl games that normally define successful seasons in the SEC. And for some teams, any bowl game is a necessary step in both team morale, fan support and the ever important recruiting trail that immediately follows the season.
But stop right there and consider the deep division that I’ve been illustrating as the season has progressed. I’ve spoken before of the top six and the bottom eight of the 2019 season. However, after reviewing the games remaining on the schedule, I’ve come to yet another dreaded division among the SEC teams—those going somewhere and those going nowhere in December and January.
Picture this: the Southeastern Conference has about 9 or 10 slated postseason bowl games that it tends to fill every year. 2019 might be a couple shy due to the new College Football Playoff, especially in the case of two SEC teams attending the playoff.
Have you looked at the standings lately?
Granted, no one expected Vanderbilt or Arkansas to go bowling this year, and Ole Miss with six losses and three remaining games is also not much of a surprise. But three other teams have five losses each, with significant games against either ranked opponents or highly charged rivalry games remaining on the schedule. Even Kentucky with four losses and Missouri with only three aren’t out of the woods yet when you look at whom they play in November.
While it’s great that the SEC has five teams in the top eleven slots of the CFP rankings, we could be looking at a year when up to half the conference fails to be bowl eligible by the end of November. Or to put it more gravely, the American Athletic Conference could send more teams to the postseason than the vaunted Southeastern Conference.
And they have two fewer teams (12 total) to choose from.
Still the standard of excellence
You can win against the bottom eight, but they won’t feel it
SEC West Offense
The showdown of the season is upon us with two of the three best offensive powers set to play. On the surface, they look very similar. But a surprising underline for the LSU offense is this: they’ve played no fewer than three ranked teams with outstanding defenses that are some of the best in the conference and the country. And it hasn’t marred the Bengal offense in the least. Alabama has played good teams but not a lot of decent, tough and skilled defenses. I’m not saying Bama’s offense isn’t good, but the LSU offense is by far the best in the conference and possibly the best of the last five or six years.
Auburn and Texas A&M are almost equal offensively. Both teams have solid offenses capable of moving the ball, but with some inconsistencies that keep them from rivaling the top two. But the real surprise are the two Mississippi teams. Ole Miss is young but has solid talent. State has veteran players that are just underachieving on every level and at all points of the compass. I expected better from the Bullies.
Arkansas? Yeah, better luck next season/decade/coach/athletic director.
SEC West Defense
This is where I believe the game hinges on Saturday. Alabama’s defense has had both the Florida and Auburn tapes to review, and the gap between defenders and the LSU receivers is a study of how to defend against the Bengals. Auburn played incredibly tight, allowed its excellent line to pressure, and forced Burrow to leverage his efficiency to the limit to keep drives alive. It almost worked. Florida by contrast gave up the short pass and got burned deep from time to time, losing by two touchdowns when its offense couldn’t compete in a shootout.
Bama has both a good defense and a powerful offense. LSU has just one of these items. The numbers above will be the difference in the game. I expect a shootout in which LSU will have to be perfect on offense to compete, and any negative turnover margin will spell defeat.
Other than Auburn, there isn’t much hope for the rest of the division on defense. There are just too many problems across the board to hope that the two Mississippi teams will see a postseason game. One can’t rely on just a knife with this many opposing guns.
SEC East Offense
Well, last weekend was fun, wasn’t it? Georgia’s offensive numbers improved after the Florida game, and the Gator numbers plummeted. The Florida offense stalled repeatedly against a very efficient Georgia defense, and the Georgia offense hummed like it has all season except in Columbia. Go figure.
Not much to say about the rest of the division, either. Missouri’s season is already in a tailspin with both Georgia and Florida still to play, and South Carolina’s brutal schedule will ensure its bowl chances are as thin as possible until it plays Clemson. Maybe the Gamecocks can pull the upset and reveal just how sloppy cousin Clem can play, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
SEC East Defense
Georgia’s defense is the best in the SEC. I hate to say that, but after nine games, I can’t point to anywhere the Bulldogs have shown weakness. They have a good rush, good secondary and their linebackers seem to be on every single play. Tennessee has shown improvement, and South Carolina is not too bad, but I doubt if those squads will save either team. I fully expect that three and possible four East teams won’t make the postseason this year.
State of the Conference
I wish it were otherwise. I really do. The bottom seven teams in this graphic should have played much better as the season progressed, but I’m not seeing much to write home about for any of them. Each has major flaws, shortcomings and for some of these programs, fan flight is reaching truly frightening proportions. If this translates to what I fear in the postseason, offseason recruiting may prove even worse.
When Sun Belt or AAC teams can show pictures and trophies of the 2019 bowl games they either played in or won, and half the SEC teams can only whisk past the display cases at breakneck speed to show the new recruits the weight and fitness rooms, it will have an impact.
But this seems to be who we are and where we are as a conference. Don’t get me wrong, as an Auburn fan, I’m excited at where the team is in the rankings and have been just as frustrated as anyone else as we seemed to get so close to the golden standard but are not quite there yet.
Then I look over my shoulder at the lower end of the SEC and shudder. It has gotten so much worse for so many teams in recent weeks, and it could be catastrophic by season’s end.
Time to ride, boldly ride before it’s too late.
After a much needed coffee break, that is.