Posted by Jerry Hinnen
WINNER: Atlanta ticket brokers. Not that there's ever any shortage of demand for the SEC championship game, but with the A-T-L's biggest college football team (sorry, Georgia Tech) officially on their way to the Georgia Dome, that hometown demand should drive prices clean through the roof.
Wait, whaddya mean, "not officially"? The only thing standing between Georgia and their trip to Atlanta is a home game against Kentucky, the same team that spent its Saturday getting drilled 38-8 by Vanderbilt. It's more likely some sort of bizarre last-minute eligibility scandal -- Bacarri Rambo busted for selling prime Sanford Stadium hedge clippings, or something -- keeps the Dawgs from the East crown than the Wildcats do. Arrange the days off, book the hotels, scalp the tickets--for the first time since 2005, Georgia's going to play for the SEC title.
LOSER: The ghost of Willie Martinez. So why have the Dawgs made the leap? The friendliest possible league schedule has had a lot to do with it -- if Georgia goes to Arkansas and it's South Carolina who gets to visit Ole Miss, the Gamecocks are booking their tickets today -- but it's also true that as much hand-wringing as there's been over the Dawgs' struggles since 2005 at quarterback, the offensive line, running back, play-calling, etc, their biggest problem has always been on the defensive side of the ball. And in his second season after replacing the exiled, despised Willie Martinez as Georgia's defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham has those problems nearly solved. His unit ranks in the national top 10 in rush defense, pass defense, and total defense, and showed why vs. Auburn. Clint Moseley got no time to throw, Michael Dyer found precious little room to run, Rambo made the biggest play of the game with a pick-six, and the bottom line was that a Tiger offense that had scored 41 points two weeks earlier got none after their opening drive.
After that performance, it's safe to declare the specter of Mr. Martinez's failures fully exorcised.
WINNER: Hangovers. You play the Game of the Century one week, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise you don't quite play with your hair on fire the next. So even though they're LSU and Alabama, LSU and Alabama still took their leisurely time putting away outmatched opponents in Western Kentucky and Mississippi State, respectively. (The Hilltoppers a little more outmatched than the Bulldogs, obviously.) No one's immune to the week-after effect, apparently.
LOSER: The Rematch Resistance. Hangovers or no hangovers, though, LSU-Alabama II: Rematch of the Century took a big step closer to reality Saturday with both Stanford and Boise State falling from the ranks of the unbeaten. With Oregon unlikely to be any more palatable a rematch opponent for the Tigers than the Tide is, the only hurdle for Alabama to clear appears to be whichever team wins Bedlam: Oklahoma State would be undefeated and home-free, of course, but Oklahoma might also stake a claim with plenty of computer power and the voters' aversion to a sequel. But with that Texas Tech loss looking less and less explicable by the day, the educated guess here is that a Sooner win would send the Tide on for a second crack at the Tigers.
WINNER: Joe Adams. Because seriously:
LOSERS: Ole Miss supporters. Facing a substantially less-talented Louisiana Tech squad at home Saturday, the Rebels had a terrific opportunity to 1. rally for their fired head coach Houston Nutt 2. snap their six-game losing streak 3. show some kind of pride in their program and themselves regardless of the off-field distractions and coaching turnover. Instead they lost to the visitors from Ruston by three full touchdowns in what has to go down as the worst, most embarrassing nonconference loss for an SEC team this season. The Rebels still have two games to play this season -- at home to LSU and at Mississippi State -- and we don't envy anyone from Oxford compelled to watch either one.
WINNER: Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks won't be going back to Atlanta. They won't make any kind of dent in the national title race. They won't go down in history as some great team gone unrewarded, not having now won three SEC games in which they scored 17 points or fewer and having been the only SEC team to host Auburn and not blow the Tigers out of the water. Marcus Lattimore won't win the Heisman, Alshon Jeffery won't be named All-American or even All-SEC (today's tally: 2 receptions, 17 yards), and the less said about Stephen Garcia the better.
So on many, many levels, this 2011 season is a disappointment ... and on the other, even for all of those struggles, the Gamecocks have just won 6 SEC games for the first time ever. As Spurrier noted, they've gone 6-0 the past two seasons vs. their main East rivals at Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. And in players like Jadeveon Clowney, Brandon Wilds and tackle Cody Gibson, there's still plenty of young talent to groom. The specific goal was to win another East title, and Spurrier failed at that. But maybe the larger, more important goal was to prove that 2010 wasn't a fluke -- that the old annual November swoon, perpetual also-ran Gamecocks were gone for good -- and on that count Spurrier has succeeded, without question. If he wasn't already the best coach in the Gamecocks' history, this 2011 season means he is now.
LOSER: Derek Dooley. Any talk of removing the second-year head man at Tennessee is wildly premature; if Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter are still healthy, who knows what the Vols' record is? And Dooley of course had nothing to do with a schedule that handed his team LSU, Arkansas, and Alabama out of the west. But it's one thing to lose a lot of games -- even SEC games, even six such games in a row -- and another to look as hopeless as the Vols did in their drubbing at Arkansas. Dooley's already been more good than outstanding on the recruiting trail, and if he loses next week to James Franklin and Vandy, the knives are going to really come out among the Vol faithful ... and that recruiting job is only going to get harder.
(Gene Chizik isn't in the same boat, but he deserves a mention here all the same. The 4-3 SEC record isn't bad, but in the non-Ole Miss portion of the schedule, those three wins have come by a total of 21 points and the three losses by 97. With a defense that Chizik has a major hand in the main culprit, those blowouts suggest last year's national champion has a lot of work to do between now and 2012.)