Incompetence Becoming The Norm

Phillip Marshall writes about SEC football as the Tigers remain in the race for the league title.

I thought early in the season that Southeastern Conference officiating might have improved from last season's woeful performance. I was wrong. Watching referee Terry Brown and his crew stumble around during Auburn's 31-24 victory at Ole Miss on Saturday was enough to convince me that, barring a major change of attitude in the league office, we're never going to return to the days when officiating was just one more thing at which the SEC led the nation.

Right off the bat, they called a facemask penalty on Auburn's Karlos Dansby on a sack of Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning. Replays showed Dansby never touched Manning's facemask. Oh, those pesky cameras. What do they know? Ole Miss later intercepted an Auburn pass, but it was ruled incomplete. There were other calls, both ways, that defy explanation. Sadly, incompetent officiating has come to be accepted as part of the game.

But what is getting out of hand in games across the country is holding. It is epidemic. Auburn defensive end Bret Eddins knocked the ball loose from Manning on Saturday, but he couldn't recover it because someone had him by the jersey. He looked like he was running in place. There was no flag. I just happened to see that one, though the officials apparently didn't. I have no doubt that, sometime during the game, Auburn was guilty of a flagrant hold that wasn't called. Just about everybody is in just about every game. The old explanation that you could call holding on every play is worn out. It's time for those who are in positions of power in college football to step forward and do something about it before it damages the game. I believe it's that serious.

There needs to be a meeting of the minds on just what holding is. Once it is defined, it needs to be made clear to officials that they are to call it EVERY time they see it. Players would quickly adjust and the amount of holding in games would decline dramatically. Is that going to happen? No chance. It makes too much sense. What fun would it be to enforce the rules?

SEC RACE HEATS UP

Three teams in the West and two in the East still have legitimate chances to earn sports in the SEC Championship Game. LSU, with one conference loss, controls its own destiny in the West. But the Bayou Bengals still have games against Kentucky, Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas. There are scenarios, none of them all that far-fetched, that could send LSU, Auburn or Arkansas to Atlanta.

LSU, of course, just needs to win out. If it loses one and Auburn wins out, Auburn will go to Atlanta. If Auburn loses one, LSU loses two and Arkansas wins out, Arkansas will go to Atlanta. If Auburn loses one, LSU loses two and Arkansas does not win out, Auburn will go to Atlanta.

Georgia could have won the East Division championship Saturday night, but its 20-13 loss to Florida made it a race again. The Bulldogs can still guarantee themselves a spot in Atlanta with wins over Ole Miss and Auburn. If they lose to either and the Gators beat South Carolina and Vanderbilt, the Gators go to Atlanta.

BEST QUARTERBACK?

In terms of sheer talent, Eli Manning is surely the best quarterback in the SEC. Manning is a clutch player who almost pulled off a miracle against Auburn, but if I was building a football team, I believe I'd want to start with Rex Grossman. The man is a warrior.

You can intercept his passes. You can knock him down over and over again. But he always comes back. Florida played, for the most part, an awful game against Georgia on Saturday night. But in the end, the Gators won by the sheer force of Grossman's will.

BROWN KEEPS ON RUNNING

They'll never say it publicly, but Auburn coaches had no clue that Ronnie Brown would be the force he has become since Carnell Williams was lost to injury against Florida. Brown had run the ball well early in the season, but nothing he did in games or in practice gave a hint of what would happen when he got tailback job full time. Hard as is it might be to believe, if he keeps running the way he has, it might be very difficult for a healthy Williams to beat him out next season.

With Brown, Williams, Tre Smith, Chris Butler and remarkably talented junior college commitment Brandon Jacobs, running backs coach Eddie Gran could have a very nice problem next season.

HOME NOT ALWAYS SWEET

Saturday was not a good day for home teams in the SEC. Auburn won 31-24 at Ole Miss. Alabama won 30-8 at Vanderbilt. Kentucky won 45-24 at Mississippi State. Tennessee won 18-10 at South Carolina. In fact, the only home team that managed to survive was Arkansas. That wasn't much to be proud of. The Razorbacks gained 125 yards and made six first downs in a 23-0 win over Troy State. Until next time…


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