Posted on: September 15, 2011 2:24 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:
Mississippi State: can you finally avoid losing an SEC West game with turnovers and/or special teams breakdowns? More than a few wags skeptical of Dan Mullen's burgeoning reputation in Starkville have noted that he has yet to beat any division opponent other than downtrodden in-state rival Ole Miss, dropping to 0-9 after last week's loss in Auburn. But that agonizing defeat wasn't the first time Mullen has come tantalizingly close to making the breakthrough, and never has he been closer than LSU's last visit to Starkville.
In that 2009 meeting, the Bulldogs outgained the Bayou Bengals 374-263, held LSU to one (1!) yard per their 31 carries, and enjoyed a first-and-goal at the Tiger 2, down six, with under three minutes to play. But that possession ended with quarterback Tyson Lee tackled at the 1 on a botched option play (sound familiar?) and the Bulldogs fell 30-26. While much of the postgame chatter focused on that late goal-line failure, the larger story was State's four critical turnovers (one of them an interception returned for a touchdown) and a punt that bounced inside the 10 and was somehow still returned by LSU's Chad Jones for a backbreaking touchdown.
Those kinds of breakdowns have been a recurring theme for the Bulldogs, as last week's performance proved again. Chris Relf maybe could have scored on the game's final play, but the Bulldogs wouldn't have even been in that situation if Relf hadn't bounced a first-quarter pass off a defender's helmet (a pass eventually picked and housed), or if the Bulldogs hadn't allowed Auburn kick returner Tre Mason to repeatedly set his team up in excellent field position. Even in last year's 29-7 loss to LSU, the Bulldogs played the Tigers to a dead heat in the box score ... except for the 5-to-1 negative turnover margin that broke the game open.
With LSU's offense again unimpressive statistically in their week 1 win against Oregon (273 yards total, 3.9 yards per-play), Jarrett Lee unlikely to make major headway against a veteran Bulldog secondary, and State getting a boost from what should be a rabid Thursday night home crowd, the Bulldogs seem a good bet to once again play an SEC West opponent to a statistical stalemate ... or better. But if they once again lose the turnover and special teams battle that Les Miles's team specializes in winning, it's not going to matter any more than it did the first nine times.
Tyler Bray: can you do to the Gators anything like what you did to Cincinnati? Let's be up front about this: Florida is going to score points against Tennessee Saturday. The injury-ridden, inexperienced Vol front seven gave up an incredible 6.4 yards per-carry against Cincinnati, and the combination of a revitalized-looking Gator offensive line and the Jeff Demps-Chris Rainey tag-team is far more fearsome than anything the Bearcats had to offer. And the Vols likely won't be able to answer with a strong ground game of their own; despite having faced Cincy and FCS Montana their first two weeks, Tennessee ranks dead-last in the SEC in yards-per-carry. Facing the Gators' loaded defensive front -- now including the newly-reinstated Sharrif Floyd -- is hardly going to be the cure for those issues.
Which means whatever hope the Vols have of keeping pace rests firmly on the shoulders of Bray. But to look at his remarkable performance last week -- 34-of-41, 405 yards, 4 TDs, no INTs -- he might be capable of fulfilling that hope all the same. It won't hurt that the matchup of dynamic sophomore duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers against a Gator secondary starting two true freshman is one that overwhelmingly favors the Vols.
Attempting to win a shootout on the road with a one-dimensional offense isn't the typical recipe for victory in the SEC. But if Bray comes out as on fire as he has been the first two weeks of this season, we're not going to put it past him.
Auburn's defense: are you actually improving? Ask any Auburn fan (or coach, or maybe even player) about the team's defense before the season, and they'd have told you that with just two starters back and underclassmen all over the two-deep, it was going to be a work-in-progress. But no one expected it to be quite as much "in progress" as it's been through two weeks; the Tiger D ranks last in the SEC in yards allowed per-game by nearly 100 yards over next-to-last-place Georgia.
Some of that is the quick pace of the Auburn offense, but much more of it is the Tiger defense's near-total inability to get off the field. Utah State converted a mind-boggling 13-of-20 third- and fourth-downs, and Mississippi State wasn't far behind after going 12-of-21. The result? Auburn's D has been on the field for 181 plays already this season, the highest total in the nation. Until the Tigers start getting some stops on third down -- despite the presence of pass-rushers Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae, Auburn has just two sacks on nearly 70 opponents' dropbacks -- the defense isn't going to get legitimately better, and eventually an opponent is going to make the Tigers pay for that weakness.
Clemson may or may not be that opponent; the South Carolina-bred Tigers have flashed issues of their own in sluggish wins over Troy and Wofford. But Chad Morris's Gus Malzahn-like offense should provide a good measuring stick regardless.
Also worth asking: Is Ole Miss, Vanderbilt or Kentucky the SEC's worst team? (With the Rebels and Commodores battling in Nashville and the Wildcats taking on a reeling Louisville team, someone is going to be a definitive No. 12 by the weekend's end.) What does Arkansas look like against an opponent that almost-sorta has a pulse? (Troy isn't great, but they're better than Missouri State or New Mexico. The Hogs should break a sweat, at least. Anything more could spell trouble down the road.) What on earth is Georgia going to do at inside linebacker? (Coastal Carolina won't be anything more than cannon fodder, but the Dawgs have to figure out what they have at their injury-gutted ILB positions.)
Tags: Arkansas, Auburn, Auburn, Chad Jones, Chad Morris, Chris Rainey, Chris Relf, Cincinnati, Clemson, Coastal Carolina, Corey Lemonier, Da'Rick Rogers, Dan Mullen, Florida, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Jarrett Lee, Jeff Demps, Jerry Hinnen, Justin Hunter, Kentucky, Les Miles, Louisville, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri State, Montana, New Mexico, Nosa Eguae, Ole Miss, Oregon, SEC, Sharrif Floyd, Tennessee, Tre Mason, Troy, Tyson Lee, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Wofford
Posted on: September 6, 2011 4:28 pm
Edited on: September 6, 2011 7:17 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to its bottom, and what it means.
LSU. The Tigers were this week's big SEC winners in the balloting, moving from fourth in both polls to third in the Coaches and leapfrogging Alabama for second in the AP. It's something of a surprising move by the media, given that the Crimson Tide were hardly disappointing in defeating Kent State 48-7. But as long as you're not a Tide fan, it's a welcome one; the more voters are willing to pay attention to strength-of-schedule over rote preseason positioning and cupcake victories, the better.
But it's possible Les Miles will wind up wishing the voters hadn't noticed that was Oregon his team was whipping Saturday night. If Oklahoma falls to Florida State in two weeks and the Tigers survive their Thursday night trip to Starkville that same weekend, LSU could move all the way up to No. 1--just in time for a potential ambush at West Virginia.
ALABAMA. Tide fans will no doubt be livid at the media's LSU bump, but in the end, it doesn't much matter. The Tide will have ample opportunity to leapfrog the Tigers themselves this Saturday, when they travel to Penn State for one of the week's highest-profile matchups. LSU? They'll be busy getting a light workout against FCS Northwestern State, a team the Tigers have outscored 417-0 in 10 all-time meetings.
If Alabama can put together its own dominating performance against a name-brand opponent while the Bayou Bengals are off the radar, it won't be surprising if the Tide regain the No. 2 slot in both polls. (As for overtaking the Sooners, it won't happen for either team until at least OU's trip to Tallahassee; the margin in No. 1 votes seems far too wide still for either team to make the top slot without an Oklahoma loss.)
SOUTH CAROLINA. The Connor Shaw experiment is over, but it may not have passed by without costing the Gamecocks some standing in the polls; Carolina was jumped over by Virginia Tech, overpowering winners over FCS power Appalachian State. Voters may have been punishing the Gamecocks for their slow Shaw-led start against East Carolina, one that led to a 17-0 deficit before a 56-14 gave SC a comfortable 19-point victory.
Frankly, we'll take a 19-point win over a potential Conference USA bowl team over a victory over an FCS team by any margin, even one as respected as Appalachian State. But the voters feeling otherwise hasn't done any real damage to the Gamecocks; they maintained their No. 12 spot despite the Tech preference, thanks to the Ducks falling all the way to No. 13.
ARKANSAS. Our personal opinion is that the Hogs are too low at No. 13 (Coaches) and No. 14 (AP), and having them ranked behind Oregon after the Ducks' relatively meek performance vs. LSU seems particularly shortsighted. But Arkansas also can't have any complaints about not moving up when their opener came against hapless FCS opponent Missouri State.
MISSISSIPPI STATE. The Bulldogs were another big mover for the SEC, leaping from 20th in each poll to 16th in the AP and 17th in the Coaches. That (and ranking higher than a Baylor team with TCU's scalp already on its wall) seems like quite a reward for beating a terrible Memphis team, but when you score 58 points and put up a school-record 645 total yards, some commendation is certainly in order.
FLORIDA. The Gators moved up four places in the AP and a full five in the Coaches to rank No. 18 in both--as with the Bulldogs, quite a bump for dismantling a Sun Belt also-ran like FAU. Teams like Baylor and South Florida have no doubt accomplished more. But even after the 8-5 disappointment of a year ago, clearly the Gators' cachet remains mostly intact. Then again, after seeing Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey run wild against the Owls, Florida's ceiling does seem high enough to justify a top-20 position.
AUBURN. The Tigers paid for their stunningly close call against Utah State by dropping out of the AP poll entirely, and slipping three places to No. 22 in the Coaches. On the one hand, this seems like a stunning amount of disrespect for a team that's won 16 straight games and won the national title less than nine months ago. On the other, the Tigers simply didn't look anything like a top-25 team against the Aggies, and when teams like USC (in the AP) and USF (in the coaches) remain unranked, at least they've got good company.
On top of that, only one more week will solve the pollsters' dilemma of what to do with the Tigers. If Auburn beats Mississippi State Saturday, it will certainly -- and justifiably -- return to both polls. If the Tigers lose, they will certainly and justifably be unranked in both.
GEORGIA. The Bulldogs naturally dropped out of both polls after their comprehensive defeat against Boise State; that they're still receiving a smattering of votes in each poll is surprising, and not particularly sensible. Beat Carolina, and the Dawgs can bark.
EVERYONE ELSE. Tennessee received a tiny handful of points in both polls. It makes sense, but they're getting fewer than Georgia; Montana or not, we'd still take the Vols' convincing W over the Dawgs' deeply worrying L.
Tags: Alabama, Appalachian State, Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Boise State, Chris Rainey, Connor Shaw, East Carolina, FAU, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Jeff Demps, Kent State, Les Miles, LSU, Memphis, Mississippi State, Missouri State, Montana, Northwestern State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Poll Reactions, SEC, South Carolina, South Florida, TCU, Tennessee, USC, USF, Utah State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia
Posted on: September 4, 2011 2:53 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. LSU isn't going anywhere, even with Jarrett Lee at the controls. The expectation is that one of these years, one of these games, putting out a quarterback scarcely more competent than your average Sun Belt starter is going to finally catch up with Les Miles and the Tigers. Saturday night's 40-27 thumping of Oregon wasn't that game, though, and this may not be that year.
As my collegue Bryan Fischer wrote, Lee didn't do anything to lose the Tigers the game; the flipside is that he barely did anything to win the game, either, putting together a 10-for-22, 98-yard effort that we promise you'll see referred to in the dictionary next week in the entry for "pedestrian." Aside from one well-thrown fade to Rueben Randle for his only touchdown pass of the evening, Lee's primary instruction for the night was just to stay the hell out of the way.
And, as it always seems to for Miles, that instruction worked to perfection. The Tiger defense and special teams forced four turnovers, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford combined for nearly 200 yards on the ground, the LSU secondary held Darron Thomas to a miserable 4.4 yards per his 54 attempts, and only a last-second Duck touchdown prevented the final from being a three-touchdown rout ... even though Oregon finished with more total yards than the Tigers.
We still don't think it's likely LSU wins an SEC championship with Lee at the helm and completion percentages just over 45 percent in the stat book. But looking at what the Tigers did against one of the nation's best teams Saturday, you can't rule it out, either.
2. Florida will have a say in who wins the East. First, the caveat: FAU is bad. Really, really bad. As in, "may finish dead last in the Sun Belt" bad. But still: the casual ease with which the Gators brushed the Owls aside -- scoring 24 points over the first four possessions, holding FAU to 30 rushing yards on 30 carries, outgaining the Owls by 331 yards -- was the farthest of far cries from last year's opening-week wheeze past Miami (Ohio). Bad team or not, Florida pounded the Owls the way an SEC contender ought to pound them.
Meanwhile, the two teams expected by many to top the East standings had less-than-comfortable Saturday nights. Georgia, of course, began 2011 looking for all the world like the same team that ended 2010. South Carolina spotted East Carolina a 17-0 lead by starting Connor Shaw, then ran off 56 of the game's next 70 points behind Stephen Garcia. Still, there's little doubt that being caught in a four-point game late in the third quarter and outgaining the Pirates by all of six yards wasn't what Steve Spurrier had in mind.
It's still too early to anoint the Gators East favorites, or even on even footing with the Gamecocks. (As for the Bulldogs, well, maybe if they'd just kept things close ...) But it's not too soon to recognize this as a three-team race until such time the SEC standings say otherwise.
3. Auburn should be happy, but it shouldn't be confused. Somewhat lost in analyzing the rampant flaws that led to the defending national champions' 38-28 deficit to Utah State has been the resolve and determination that led to their stunning comeback; for Gene Chizik to hold his senior-laden 2010 team together in the face of staggering deficits is one thing, to do so with his all-but senior-free 2011 team another. Going back to the 2009 Outback Bowl, Chizik has now won nine straight one-possession games, a testament to his team's remarkable fourth-quarter focus and resilience.
But being a resilient team is nice. Being a good team is better, and even the cardiac-inducing Tigers of last year didn't bother to let the likes of Utah State take them to the wire. Thrilled as Auburn fans have a right to be with the comeback, it also shouldn't make them blind to the kind of major issues that result in needing a borderline-miraculous comeback against a 4-8 WAC team in the first place. Much as the aforementioned Miami (Ohio) struggles proved an accurate foreshadowing of 2010's Gator troubles, so it's now safe to say Auburn will not challenge for the West title ... and against their brutal schedule, might need every ounce of that resilience just to make a bowl.
4. Jacksonville State didn't show up to this year's party. The three SEC-on-FCS matchups Saturday were every bit as lopsided as the SEC might have hoped, with Arkansas blasting Missouri State, Tennessee handling Montana by an impressive 26-point margin, and even Vanderbilt getting into the act with a 45-14 thumping of Elon in James Franklin's debut. Exactly how much these victories mean is a matter of conjecture -- FCS schools, after all -- but at the very least the conference avoided the kind of egg on its face Ole Miss's infamous loss to JSU's Gamecocks produced in last year's opening week. (That egg is perhaps being saved for Jacksonville State's visit to Kentucky.)
5. Speaking of the Rebels, they still don't have a quarterback--or an offense. There's no shame in losing to a solid-enough team like BYU by a point, even at home. But totaling barely more than 200 yards and averaging all of 3.6 yards per-play, 2.2 yards per-rush, and 5.1 yards per-pass ... there's some shame in that. And the quarterback issues that have plagued the Rebels for years showed no signs of abating; Houston Nutt turned to JUCO pocket-passer Zack Stoudt for the bulk of the second half, and Stoudt rewarded him by fumbling the game away on the goalline. The road back to relevance for Nutt and the Rebels still looks plenty long.
Tags: AJ McCarron, Alabama, Auburn, BYU, Connor Shaw, Darron Thomas, Elon, FAU, Florida, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Houston Nutt, Jacksonville State, James Franklin, Kentucky, Les Miles, LSU, Miami (Ohio), Michael Ford, Missouri State, Montana, Ole Miss, Oregon, Rueben Randle, SEC, Spencer Ware, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Tennessee, Utah State, Vanderbilt, What I Learned, Zack Stoudt
Posted on: July 25, 2011 12:49 pm
Edited on: July 25, 2011 1:05 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The last thing in the world Tennessee needed on the eve of opening its fall camp was a member of the team's dwindling linebacking crew putting himself in suspension jeopardy with off-the-field trouble.
Guess what, Vols? A member of your dwindling linebacking crew has put himself in suspension jeopardy with off-the-field trouble. Senior Austin Johnson was arrested sometime around 3:50 a.m. Sunday morning and charged with disorderly conduct and public intoxication. Johnson posted a total $1,000 bond and was released some nine hours later.
A Tennessee spokesman said the school was "aware of an incident" it was "in the process of investigating ... for additional information."
After a junior year in which he recorded 44 tackles in his substitute's role and saw the field in every quarter of the season (one of only four Vols to do so), Johnson was slated to enjoy his first starting role at middle linebacker. But with outside linebacker Herman Lathers injured and possibly gone for the season, Johnson could now be forced outside.
Either way, a front seven with just one returning starter -- defensive tackle Malik Jackson -- can sorely afford to have one of its most experienced members miss any time through suspension. If Johnson (pictured back in his days as a fullback) misses the season opener against Montana, it's likely no harm done.
But anything further than that (much-improved Cincinnati visits Knoxville in Week 2), and a linebacking unit already lacking any returning starters will have its hands very, very full.
UPDATE: Vols beat writer Austin Ward provides some details of Johnson's arrest on Twitter:
At sometime after 3 a.m., we'll remind you.
Posted on: February 9, 2011 6:55 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Notre Dame has a bit of a logjam at quarterback next season, with Dayne Crist expected to battle Tommy Rees for the starting job in 2011. Behind those two there are also Andrew Hendrix, Luke Massa, Everett Golson and Nate Montana. That's a whole lot of quarterbacks for a limited supply of reps, so it wouldn't be all that surprising to see one of them leave South Bend.
And it appears that the one on the way out would be Montana, son of former Notre Dame quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana. According to the Montana student newspaper (via the Chicago Tribune) Joe Montana was at Montana on Tuesday to talk to the school's coaches. It seems that Joe is doing some ground work to see if there'd be any interest in having his son transfer to the FCS powerhouse.
Joe's son, Nate Montana, 21, currently is a backup quarterback at Notre Dame. On Wednesday, [Montana head coach Robin] Pflugrad neither confirmed nor denied that the meeting surrounded Nate Montana's possible transfer to UM.
"(Montana) has four kids and we talked about them all," Pflugrad said of the meeting, adding that he is aware of Nate's situation at Notre Dame but declined to comment further.If Montana did transfer, it'd be the perfect situation for him. First of all, since he'd be transferring from an FBS school to an FCS school, he wouldn't have to sit out a year. Secondly, Montana is just not going to get a chance at Notre Dame, so there isn't much reason to stay if he wants to play football. Finally, his name is Nate Montana and he'd be playing for Montana.
If your name is Johnny Connecticut you don't play for Massachusetts.
Posted on: February 5, 2011 1:40 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Now that the recruiting carousel has stopped spinning for the most part in 2011, former Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier has a better idea of what schools will be interested in his services, and it seems he begins to plan visiting schools on Monday. According to a tweet from Joe Schad on Saturday morning, those schools are Kansas State, Washington, Arizona, Miami and Montana.
Schad tweeted later that the visits will start with Kansas State or Miami first.
Interestingly enough, two of the schools on Forcier's list are Washington and Miami. The same two schools who just lost out on Jacoby Brissett to Florida. Though it should be pointed out that Washington may have an edge on the other schools. Forcier comes from San Diego and has worked with quarterback guru Steve Clarkson in the past. Clarkson has ties to current Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, which you would think works to the Huskies benefit.
Though what will matter the most to Forcier, who will likely have to sit out a year before playing again anywhere, is the chance to play on Saturdays.
Posted on: November 23, 2010 11:26 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
These are dark times indeed for the WAC and commissioner Karl Benson , who have seen every step forward they've tried to take in the conference expansion wars followed by a giant step back. They thought they had forged a deal with BYU ; the Mountain West responded by poaching Nevada and Fresno State to push BYU into independence. They invited UT-San Antonio and Texas State to maintain their basic viability as a football league; then Hawaii responds to the two extra trips into the Central Time Zone by taking their ball and -- probably -- joining the MWC , too.
That maneuver has left the WAC with just seven football schools again, one short of the mandated FBS minimum. The league's profile has sunk to the point where not only is the league looking to poach schools from the Sun Belt , the FBS's weakest, most tradition-deficient conference ... those schools are barely giving the WAC the time of day :
North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal told WAC commissioner Karl Benson that the school has no interest in joining the league late Monday night, just hours after Benson called to gauge the school’s interest in leaving the Sun Belt Conference.Keep in mind that that it's hardly like UNT is a pillar in the current Sun Belt; the coach-less Mean Green have been one of Division I's sickliest programs since a run of SBC titles in the early aughts. As the Sun Belt's only Texas team, they should theoretically also leap at the chance to forge natural rivalries with UTSA and Texas State, and there's little question that with strong programs like Utah State and New Mexico State around, the WAC would represent a substantial step up in quality for UNT's improving men's hoops team.
And still North Texas barely even considered the WAC's offer before publicly shooting them down. When the Sun Belt isn't just seen as the better option but the definitively better option, for a team that makes some geographical sense for the WAC, Benson has some major, major troubles. If they can't convince slow-moving Montana to make the leap to the FBS sooner than anticipated, the WAC may truly, finally be finished as a conference.
HT: GTP .
Posted on: November 1, 2010 1:47 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2010 2:07 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
After the Mountain West 's smash-and-grab of Nevada and Fresno State foiled their plans to add BYU and left them with only six football-playing members, it was common knowledge that the WAC was going to have to make a desperate move to remain a viable Division I league.
How desperate? According to this report from the San Marcos Daily Journal , home newspaper for the Texas State Bobcats, this desperate:
Consider it a done deal.If you're keeping track, that's two football programs in TSU and Texas-San Antonio with FCS records of 4-4 (1-3 in the Southland Conference ) and FILE NOT FOUND , respectively. Why no record for UTSA? Because the Roadrunners don't even have a football program yet . They're scheduled to begin FCS play in 2011. (Their head coach is former Miami head man Larry Coker , so they've got that going for them.) The one potentially known quantity on the FCS level, former I-AA national champion and Big Sky powerhouse Montana , is apparently taking a pass for the time being.
So yes, the WAC will be able to continue playing FBS football. But if this report is accurate, the teams involved appear to bring so little to the table that that's the only bare-bones positive they'll be able to find in this entire expansion mess. (Though geographical odd duck Louisiana Tech might also be happy about exchanging two cross-country trips for relatvely short jogs into Texas.) The bottom line is that come 2012, the Sun Belt is going to have a serious challenger for the "honor" of being the FBS's weakest conference.
HT: Cowboy Altitude