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Monday, October 13, 2008

On Second Thought...

I haven't had a chance to write up a mailbag in a while, but rest assured, I still read every comment posted and attempt to respond to any of them that require a reply. Brett, however, posted a comment yesterday that actually related pretty well to something I already wanted to write:

Says Brett: "hey whats your take on lsu now? j/w, looks like lsu's 5 point win over auburn is less impressive now and lsu giving up 24 points to miss. state. Now I dont know what to think of the gators...ha"

First off, let me just say that I enjoy all lower-case comments far more than people who write in all caps.

Secondly, this brings up a good (and maybe interesting) point.

For the entirety of the preseason, there were two comments repeated over and over and over: a.) Georgia was good, and b.) Georgia couldn't win the national title because the schedule was too tough.

In the first six weeks of the season, plenty of people seem all too happy to argue theory A, but I think the better question is how true theory B turned out to be.

Georgia's 12 opponents this season sport a 49-24 (.671) record so far, which seems somewhat impressive, but it belies the under-performance of the Dawgs' opponents. Alabama (6-0), which Georgia lost to, and the bevy of early-season pushovers Georgia's opponents have played skew the numbers. In conference games, Georgia's opponents are just 22-18 this season. Georgia will face just one team this season currently ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense (Florida).

The Bulldogs' big non-conference game against Arizona State has turned out to be less than impressive in retrospect. The Sun Devils are 2-4 and lost to UNLV a week before playing Georgia. They've lost two straight since the Bulldogs thumped them.

Central Michigan didn't figure to be a major stumbling block, but coming off a bowl bid and MAC title last season, more was expected. The Chippewas are 4-2, but are 10th in the MAC in total defense, making Georgia's offensive explosion less than impressive by comparison.

Alabama certainly turned out to be tougher than most people figured, but Tennessee was far worse.

Looking ahead, it's fair to wonder just how good LSU is -- as Brett suggested. The Tigers are just ninth in the SEC in total defense, despite the fact that they have wins over Mississippi State and Auburn -- two of the country's worst offenses.

In fact, while I'm not ready to call the SEC a bunch of underachievers, the conference has five teams ranked among the 25 worst offenses in the county, (and only one -- Georgia -- in the top 25) including last Saturday's opponent, Tennessee, which is 104th and this week's adversary, Vanderbilt, which ranks a dismal 117th out of 120 Division I teams.

Speaking of this week's opponent, Vandy -- the Commodores rank last in the SEC in total offense and 10th in the league in total defense. Yes, the 5-1 record looks nice, but there's a reason they lost to Mississippi State.

South Carolina and Kentucky both seem to have strong defenses -- but could that be as much a product of the SEC's dismal offenses? Neither look to be Top-25 caliber teams, which lessens the impact of Georgia's slim win over the Gamecocks earlier this season or a potential win over the Wildcats in Lexington in November.

I think we can all agree that Auburn is downright terrible. Fans on the plains should get as many last-minute insults about that six-game Iron Bowl winning streak in as possible before the two teams play this year.

Georgia Tech is better than most people expected, but haven't sniffed the top 25. More over, the Jackets play in a weak conference, beat Gardner-Webb by just three (albeit with a third-string QB) and I think it's fair to ask if their success has been as much about having a DIFFERENT offense as having a good one.

So what does that leave? As always, Florida.

Like Brett, I'm not sure what to make of Florida right now. The Gators rank third in the SEC in offense, averaging more than 400 yards per game, but outside of their dominance of LSU last Saturday, Tim Tebow and company haven't exactly looked impressive.

Their win over Tennessee was as much about big special teams plays and UT's inability to cash in in the red zone as it was about Florida's success. They struggled against Arkansas early before pulling away late -- and Arkansas is a BAD team. Same is true of their game against Miami. And the Gators' pass defense is far from great, as evidenced by the loss against Ole Miss.

The long and short, I think, is that Florida is a very good but not great team. Yet the Gators will clearly be the second-toughest team Georgia plays this year, and it's not close. Georgia's season then, once again, rides on whether they can beat the Gators in Jacksonville.

At the beginning of the year, it seemed like if any team could lose two games and still have a title shot, it was Georgia. But that schedule just doesn't seem as impressive now, and for most outside observers (i.e. voters) the overriding memory of this season thus far was that the Bulldogs fell behind 31-0 to the only really good team they have played.

I'm not saying things can't change as the season progresses, and LSU certainly won't be a pushover, but the schedule isn't exactly shaping up how we thought it would in August, and that strength of schedule may not do Georgia any favors in December.

Addendum: Just to clarify my point here -- I'm not bashing the SEC (although the offenses are not good). What I'm saying is, Georgia's best argument to make the BCS title game with one loss was its brutal schedule. Only now, that schedule doesn't seem so brutal. Is it tough? Yes. But it's not historically tough, like it seemed at the beginning of the season.

At this point in the season, if you are a voter who hasn't watched every game closely, what will you remember about Georgia? The close win against South Carolina? Failing to cover the spread against a bad Tennessee team? The 31-0 halftime deficit to Alabama? Voters don't appreciate subtlety, so it really doesn't matter how good Georgia looked against the Vols. It matters what the final score is. It's not fair, but it's how things work.

The point is, simply getting through the rest of the schedule without another loss may not be enough for Georgia anymore because of how bad teams like Arizona State, Auburn and Tennessee have turned out to be. They'll likely need to make a statement at some point, which means either thumping Florida or earning redemption against Alabama in the SEC title game.


Anonymous said...

Great points. It does like like the traditionally dominant teams are not this year. At the same time, the lower end of the SEC is a little better this year, perhaps.
In fact, thinking about what you talked about, I'm betting that even if UGA wins out without any dominant performances, the voters will look at the schedule and pick a better looking 1-loss team over UGA. That 31-0 first half of Alabama will bite us in the butt.

David Hale said...

That's really my point. I'm not bashing Georgia's schedule -- it's still tough. It's just not as insane as we all thought. So then you have to ask yourself, what will the voters remember at the end of the year? What stands out? At this point, you'd have to say it's the 31-0, and it probably will be unless a.) Georgia thumps Florida or b.) Georgia gets revenge against Bama in the SEC championship game.

Robert said...

Nice work DH, thanks for all you do.

I really think that LSU's lack of QB play finally caught up with them. They eeked one out in Auburn after being down at the half, and that win looks less impressive every week that Auburn plays.

Florida looked pathetic against Ole Miss, and lost. They are beatable.

I hope the Gators ranked above us when we play will look that much better if we win. Just as long as we don't punt to Demps.

Go Dawgs!

meat said...

The thing is we aren't going to see the Gators that played Ole Miss or Arkansas. After last years game the Gators circled 2008's first week of November on their calender's. We will get their best game of the season.

Dawgfan1307 said...

It doesn't help that the teams we are playing happen to lose the week before we play them; it makes the win not as impressive (ie. Arizona St. being a top 15 team before losing to UNLV, Vandy possibly being in the top 10 if they won Sat, and LSU possibly being #1 if it had won against UF). This season will work itself out, but with the nature of the BCS its a beauty contest and the fact of the matter is, we're not pretty.

Anonymous said...

I don't think strength of schedule will come in to play if the dawgs win out. IF they beat Florida and whoever in the conference championship then that's two marquee nationally televised wins and that's two more than USC and at least one more than Penn state (who is primed to get knocked off by the buckeyes). I can concede whoever wins the conference that I could throw five touchdowns a week in, to make it to the dance.

LSU at home is always a big win too.

brett said...

Ha nice post David. Florida blows my mind, Ole Miss beats them and LSU looks terrible. I think LSU had a horrible game plan though which led to this. I was looking at the game stats and if I remember right they threw 38 times with a very inexperienced QB and they were a team that resembled Alabama with a hard nose running attack (also think Scott led the SEC in rushing) and they throw that much. That really doesn't make much sense to me. If LSU would of stuck with the running game and tried to wear down Florida it MIGHT of been different but who knows. LSU's lack of inexperienced QB showed and I hope Georgia can key on that in a few weeks.