Tiger-Eye Review—Searching For Answers Edition
The midpoint of the season is upon us, and we’re still looking for answers to some very tough questions.
Have the schedules, games, teams and coaching staffs of the Southeastern Conference shown us the real quality and play of the league so far? We still have four teams in the top-ten rankings, and two more among the top-25 ranked teams in the nation. A third of the top fifteen in college football belong to the Southeastern conference. No other conference in America has more than three teams in the top fifteen, and at least one of those “Power Five” conferences has just a single team represented.
But after that? There isn’t much to be said about the SEC. Over half the conference has already proven “beatable” by outside opposition. No fewer than eight SEC teams are sporting an out-of-conference loss so far, and we’re nowhere near bowl season. When this pans out, the highs and the lows of this 2019 season will likely show a severe drop off in production after the top six teams are accounted for. I have seen this in the numbers as conference play has unfolded. There is a sharp and sizable gap forming between the top teams and the rest of the conference, and it is widening, not shrinking.
My hope is that we’ve had some varying amounts of raw data against inferior opponents for the higher ranked teams and some underappreciated data from some unranked out-of-conference opposition that has been overlooked. But that is only a hope. How that plays out as the conference schedule heats to boiling is still to be determined.
I expect that some of these numbers will begin to normalize after this weekend and next weekend’s games are resolved. We should have a much better picture of how teams are going to end up and how well they are playing. Our search continues.
The standard of champions
It’s still a long road ahead before our search is through.
SEC West Offense
With the Auburn–Florida game now in the rearview mirror, only two offenses in the West show championship numbers. Both of those may show some different numbers come Saturday. Auburn’s offensive statistics took a dive after meeting three ranked teams so far, as did many of the other teams in the division. LSU faces the same Florida defense that Auburn struggled with, and Alabama visits Kyle Field.
This will likely be a sizable test for both teams. The more consistent play on Saturday will illustrate which of those two top teams has the better offense.
SEC West Defense
Surprisingly, Auburn’s defensive numbers didn’t fall that much from last week. Except for the two long scoring plays, the Tigers did much the same they have done all year—stopped the run, limited 3rd downs and kept teams from scoring touchdowns in the red zone. LSU and Alabama both sport far superior numbers, but this is more a measure of their opponents so far in the season.
Watch this space after Saturday and into next weekend. It will be interesting to note how the Aggie and Gator offenses impact those two this week. The rest of the division is still doing fairly well on defense, considering their records. They are being outscored but still playing hard on third down. Very interesting.
SEC East Offense
Take a good look at the difference between this week’s number for the Gator offense and last week’s numbers. There was a seven-point efficiency drop across all categories. This is what facing a top-ten defense does to those glitzy early-season numbers as conference play heats up. I expect Georgia to keep its numbers up until the Dogs hit the meat of their schedule in late October and into November.
Again, watch out for the Missouri Tigers. They are slowly gaining ground on offense and confidence as the season progresses. I still say they have a very good shot at tipping the apple cart for the two division leaders.
Evidently, no one in the media has seen this as I haven’t heard a whisper about their chances. But I still say they are just one upset away from being in Atlanta with the division title in hand.
SEC East Defense
Three good defenses, one average, and three dismal defenses define the East division. Kentucky, Tennessee and Vandy aren’t going to stop anyone from scoring. Florida, Georgia and Missouri are playing at tip-top performance levels, and South Carolina is just doing the best it can. Trying to anticipate how this will play out for the next six games is going to be interesting.
Matched with their dismal offenses, the bottom three in the East are going to struggle to retain bowl eligibility. It is still deeply in doubt that any will crack .500 by season end. It’s looking like a very cold winter north of the Tennessee river.
State of the Conference
There are still six teams up and eight teams down, but there is now a second distinct separation between the very top and the next set of challengers. There are still only two losses in the top six teams, and now twenty-four losses among the bottom eight teams. Two of those top six teams meet head to head as the Gators travel to Baton Rouge. But three others will be tested against conference foes this week, and the results should prove decisive in setting the tone for the remainder of the season.
This is actually my favorite time of the year for writing this column. The numbers begin to adjust to their proper levels during October, showing their most active corrections as the interconference play begins to normalize what has previously been skewed by nonconference opponents of variable quality. The numbers will start to crystallize into measurable trends between teams within the divisions and inside the conference as a whole.
Are we really down to just three good teams, three above-average teams and then a mire of mediocrity? The next two or three weeks will likely answer that question with firm statistics that point out how this will end. The search for the soul of the conference will begin to show promise.
It’s a good time to take a break, sharpen our skills and be ready for the final push.