Tiger Eye Review – Week 3
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Negro Baseball Leagues flourished as a venue for talented athletes barred by color bans from participating in Major League Baseball. They developed their own style of play, and audience participation/entertainment was inherent in everything they did. As such, the players would often conduct an elaborate exhibition that thrilled the crowd before the start of the actual games. This was “Shadow Ball” in which they pretended to pitch, hit, field and throw in the infield without an actual ball being used. Even the umpires would join in to stage true masterpieces of performance that delighted the crowd.
But it was all showmanship and sleight of hand. No real balls were used, and however intricate the show, it had no impact on the actual play of the game. It was just an entertaining pregame show that gave the appearance but not the substance of an actual game.
In a way, that is what the Southeastern Conference has done for the first quarter of the 2017 season, only it has been far less delightful than the quality of athleticism and skill that entertained those fans of yesteryear. All the pieces are there: the athletes in uniforms, the crowds, the field judges and umpires, even the ball is in play.
But it’s not even a ghostly semblance of the quality of play Southeastern Conference fans have been accustomed to viewing year after year. Only one SEC team is currently ranked in the top ten. Auburn committed 5 turnovers in a game against an FCS team. Tennessee and Florida played three quarters of a rivalry game like they had forgotten how to play offense. Then in the fourth quarter both teams actually did forget how to play defense. Purdue (PURDUE!!), a team that went 10–40 in its last 50 NCAA games since 2013 hung 35 points on Missouri. Ole Miss lost to California—a team that has had one winning season in the last five. In fact, other than Vanderbilt defeating Kansas State, no SEC victories were recorded against anything but ACC teams in the other 9 games played against Power Five conference foes. If these were end of the year bowl games, the SEC would have gone 4–6 against some mid-tier Power Five representatives.
Shadow Ball at its finest.
Worst of all, the numbers reinforce this observation. Here are the standards that SEC Champions have played to in the last eight years.
The SEC West
Here are this week’s numbers:
Offensively, all the West teams but one slipped dramatically. Alabama is still having issues on third down, even against lesser quality teams. Ole Miss is slowing down, and all teams other than Mississippi State are having significant problem areas in their offensive production. It isn’t just Auburn stumbling out of the gate this season.
Defensively,the bar is still being held high by MSU and Auburn, but Alabama is starting to show cracks. That Crimson Tide “players only meeting” after the Colorado State game? This is the reason. When your formerly championship level defense lets a mid-tier Mountain West team score three touchdowns (after Colorado allowed zero by the same team two weeks ago), it’s time for some soul searching at the player level. The LSU defense was flat out OWNED by Mississippi State in its first conference game, and the rest of the division is slipping down to Texas A&M level at an alarming rate. What happens now that we’re starting conference play is anyone’s guess.
The SEC East
<sigh> The East numbers.
To say the East is suffering on offense is too kind. It’s more like writhing in uttermost agony. To see these numbers after the departures of Old Ball Coach Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt, Gary Pinkel and even Urban Meyer is a shocking indication of just what the league has lost in the last five to ten years. The once proud tower of offensive excellence for the conference is now a burned out hollow shell of its former glory.
Defensively, other than the surprising Kentucky and Vanderbilt squads, only Georgia is playing anywhere close to its historic prowess, and the Mississippi State game this week will be a true test for the dawgs. A great deal now rides on that game. After the LSU match, I have my doubts about how the East Bulldogs are going to cope with the West Bulldog offense. The same goes for (dare I even say it?) the Alabama–Vanderbilt game. The shock waves of a Vandy victory would resonate across the entire NCAA firmament. Not saying it will happen, but that there is even a viable question about the game is a telling indication of where we are now.
The State of the Conference
All I can add is if the numbers above hold true, the sun will dawn on an entirely different conference on Sunday morning. We have one championship-level team and two above average teams floating in a sea of mediocrity and crisis. This is indeed troubling. But in a larger sense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise given the departures of head coaches in the five years since Gus Malzahn was hired. Or even in the ten years since Nick Saban coached his first season at Alabama. Take a look at the following statements concerning the experience and quality of coaching in the SEC since 2007.
At the end of the 2007 season:
The average SEC East Coach had 14 years of experience as a head coach, and was in his 7th season with his team. The average SEC West Coach had 7 years as a head coach, in his 4th season in the SEC West. Seven of those coaches had recently won an SEC Championship game (Tuberville, Richt, Meyer, Fulmer, Spurrier, Saban, Miles).
This was the experience level of coaching in the SEC when Nick Saban was hired at Alabama.
At the end of the 2012 season: The average SEC East coach had 7 years of experience as a head coach and was in his 4th season with his team. The average SEC West coach had 6 years as a head coach and was in his 3rd season in the SEC West. Four of the active coaches in the league had recently won an SEC Championship game (Chizik, Saban, Spurrier, Miles).
At the end of this season (2017): The average SEC East coach will have just 4 years of experience as a head coach and will have just finished his 2nd season with his team. The average SEC West coach will have 9 years as a head coach and be in his 5th season in the SEC West. Only two active coaches in the league would have recently won an SEC Championship game (Saban, Malzahn).
And if if Nick Saban and Butch Jones suddenly retired?
The average SEC East Ccoach will then have just 2 years of experience as a head coach and will have just finished his 2nd season with his team. The average SEC West coach will then have 5 years as a head coach and be in his 3rd season in the SEC West. The only active coach in the league who would have recently won an SEC Championship game would be Gus Malzahn (assuming Alabama takes it again this year—not a sure bet by any standard at this point in the season).
The SEC-dominated era of college football will then officially be ended. Sad to say, if the above numbers hold true for the remainder of this season, we might be there already.