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With Alabama's loss to LSU, all of the posers in Division I-A have been eliminated and we are down to the two teams who seemed destined since about the second week of the season to face each other in the BCS championship game: Southern Cal and Texas.
Neither team is home free, of course. The Trojans still have games against Fresno State and UCLA, two above-average teams, each with but one loss. The Bruins, especially, could pull off an upset because of their high-scoring offense and the fact they'll be playing Southern Cal as an end-of-the-season traditional rival. But I'd be surprised if the Men of Troy lose to either team.
Texas has their season-ender against Texas A&M, a 5-5 mediocrity this year, and a Big 12 championship matchup probably against Colorado, who the Longhorns already have beat by a 42-17 margin.
Look for Texas to play Southern Cal, which I think will be a very, very watchable game.
One team that will be nowhere near the Rose Bowl, alas, is our own Georgia Tech Yellowjackets, who blew their last realistic chance to finish with seven wins this season when they fell apart and lost to Virginia.
This one especially hurt because Tech and Virginia are both in that middle tier of ACC teams who aren't quite good enough to beat Miami or Virginia Tech. The Jackets had a chance to rise above that tier and, just as importantly, keep Virginia from going to a bowl game this year if they had taken care of business against the Cavaliers. That's an important factor because the worse Virginia does, the better for Tech.
This was truly a lost opportunity because Virginia was one of two very winnable games on the schedule (the other was N. C. State) that Tech could have - and should have - won. Virginia Coach Al Groh had suspended several key defensive players. On top of that, because of suspensions and injuries, Virginia was without both of its starting safeties for most of the game, suggesting that the Cavs would be vulnerable to deep passes thrown to a receiver like Calvin Johnson.
So what happened? Tech came out looking flat and uninspired in the opening half, just as they did against N. C. State. The offense was sluggish in both games (Tech scored only 14 against the Wolfpack, 17 against the Cavaliers). The special teams made big mistakes in both games, and Tech ended up with two losses that could easily have been wins to put the Jackets at an 8-1 record right now. Tech will be heavily favored to lose the last two games on its schedule, which brings the Jackets back to a 6-5 record. Again. Which apparently is just fine with Dave Braine.
There are a couple of things about Chan Gailey I've never really understood. He has spent most of his coaching career at the NFL level. Two things that every successful NFL head coach stresses are special teams play and the importance of exploiting one-on-one mismatches as they occur in the ebb and flow of a game. I've been harping on this all season, but I'll get on my soapbox again: Tech's special teams play has been inconsistent at best and downright awful at worst. Every game, it seems, we see a breakdown on special teams that results in a long kick return (which nearly lost the Clemson game) or field goal misses at crucial moments (which killed Tech's second half comeback against Virginia). Has anyone among the Hive faithful ever heard Gailey say anything critical about our special teams coach, or give any indication that he might be looking for a new one?
As I mentioned above, Virginia was playing without either of its starting safeties for most of the game. Chan Gailey is the one who coordinates the offense and calls the plays. It sure didn't look to me as if he was trying to exploit Virginia's weakness against the deep pass, with the exception of Reggie Ball's touchdown toss to Damarius Bilbo. What were Calvin Johnson's stats? Four catches for 41 yards, an average of 10.3 yards per catch, with his longest reception going for all of 13 yards. Tech spent most of the game throwing short passes to the running backs, who couldn't even hold on to many of them. Why didn't they challenge the inexperienced players at the safety positions?
Tech threw 39 passes during the game, but gained only 207 yards passing. That's an average of only 5.31 yards per pass attempt, which is very inefficient. A productive offense will average seven or eight yards per pass attempt. If you're only averaging 5.3 yards per attempt, you've got a very sluggish offense going for you - as can be seen by the fact that Tech scored only 17 points against the Cavs. I don't blame this on the quarterback, Reggie Ball. He was just calling the plays that Gailey sent in. Why didn't Gailey put more pressure on Virginia's deep defense?
Even more disappointing than the offense, however, was the lackluster performance of the defense. With the exception of the Virginia Tech game, Jon Tenuta's guys have been the backbone of the team this year. They certainly deserve all the credit for winning the Clemson game. With a seventh victory so close at hand, I assumed that the senior leadership would make sure the defense was fired up and playing hard the entire game. They didn't come through.
Tech's usually stout run defense was nowhere in sight. Wali Lundy and Jason Snelling didn't have flashy stats, but they ground out the yards at the right time. Quarterback Marques Hagans converted the important third downs and was able to run down the clock at the end of the game without giving Tech another shot at scoring. It was a disheartening performance to watch, especially when you've come to expect so much more from a defense. I just cannot figure out why there was no fire or enthusiasm out there.
Anyway, another opportunity blown for the Jackets to have a breakout season. I hated to see that.
We'll take one question this week.
Q. Is Mark Bradley really a sportswriter?
A. I've answered this question many times before but I'll gladly answer it again with a loud, resounding NO! Make that, HELL NO! Bradley is an absolute embarrassment to real sportswriters who actually try to provide honest analysis of the games they view. In fact, it would be hard for anyone to argue that Bradley is even a sportswriter anymore, since his goal in life is obviously to be a cheerleader in print for Mark Richt and the University of Georgia's athletic department. I would expect this shameless level of suck-uppery from someone like Larry Munson. Larry's a pathetic old fart who can barely keep from drooling Metamucil into his microphone, and he knows his salary depends upon his being a one-man cheering section. There's no pretense that you're ever going to hear any honest analysis or criticisms in the mush that flows from Larry's mouth. From someone employed by the state's largest newspaper, however, you would expect much more - but you don't ever get it.
I could cite examples for the next 72 hours to back up my evaluation of Bradley, but his column in the Nov. 10 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution will more than suffice. The headline was "Bulldogs reach top of SEC" and the column revisited a topic Bradley has written about many times before: Mark Richt is the greatest coach for the greatest school in the greatest conference in America.
The column, of course, is written on the assumption that Georgia will easily handle Auburn and wrap up its slot in the SEC championship game. Bradley gushes: "If Georgia beats Auburn, the Bulldogs will cease being an up-and-coming program and will have become something more: The SEC's new flagship. And that would make Mark Richt the fleet admiral."
Mark, I hate to break the news to you, but Georgia didn't beat Auburn. In fact, Georgia blew the game in the final two minutes and now has a 7-2 record with two consecutive losses, which isn't bad but isn't exactly flagship status. How can you be a flagship program in the SEC when you can't even beat the SEC teams that you play? And if you aren't the flagship, then what does that do to the rank of "Fleet Admiral" Mark Richt? I guess we should call him "Swabbie."
Of course, there's much more to ponder. Bradley then writes: "He mightn't be the greatest offensive coordinator and he might be a spotty disciplinarian, but there's no question that Mark Richt is a splendid head coach. He has taken Georgia into the Top 10 every year since the first, and nothing suggests the string is about to run out."
Oh, really? The loss to Auburn dropped Georgia to a number 14 ranking in USA Today and AP. They're barely in the Top 15 and aren't close to being in the running for the BCS championship game. And that's quite a clever euphemism, to call a coach a "spotty disciplinarian" when half his starting lineup has been either in jail or on suspension for rules violations. By Bradley's standards, Idi Amin would have been a "picky eater."
Bradley then writes: "Nick Saban is gone. Steve Spurrier has relocated. Urban Meyer is struggling to beat the likes of Vanderbilt . . . Richt is winning big every year now."
Urban Meyer might be struggling to beat the likes of Vanderbilt, and his team certainly did lose to South Carolina, but he sure didn't seem to have much of a problem beating Mark Richt and the mighty Bulldogs. And yes, Spurrier has relocated, but he's relocated into the same division as Richt and has put South Carolina in a position to start beating Georgia consistently, which they would have done this year if not for a missed field goal.
Bradley then writes: "There are no wild mood swings about the Georgia program anymore, no week-to-week wooziness. The Bulldogs take their lead from Richt, who's nothing if not even-tempered, and they play hard for him every time out."
No wild mood swings? Then how do you explain Georgia losing to a team (Auburn) that had already lost two games this year? How do you explain Georgia blowing leads of 10-7, 20-14, 27-21, and 30-28 to Auburn? If Georgia's athletes "play hard for him every time out," then how do you explain them giving up 506 yards in offense to Auburn? How do you explain the fact that Auburn's running backs went hog wild against the Georgia defense? How do you explain them allowing Auburn to complete a 62-yard pass on fourth and 10 late in the game to set up the winning field goal? How do you explain them losing to a Florida team that can't even beat South Carolina?
Finally, Bradley concludes with this big wet kiss to the man he adores: "The figurative lid that Richt and his men dislodged when they won at Auburn in 2002 hasn't been allowed to re-form. That was the year the Bulldogs got going again, and they're still gathering speed."
Yep, they're gathering so much speed they've fallen back to a 7-2 record and dropped out of the Top Ten. Here's something else to consider: Georgia's biggest traditional rivals within the SEC are Florida and Auburn. In his five years at Georgia, Richt is 1-4 against Florida and 2-3 against Auburn for a combined 3-7 record against his team's most important conference rivals. That doesn't sound like much of a "flagship" to me - it looks more like a leaky lifeboat.
That's a long answer to your question and I apologize for going on at such length, but it's important to point out the sheer incompetence embodied in the work of Mark Bradley. When you consider the self-evident truth that he's a cheerleader, not a sportswriter, you get to the bigger question of why Cox Enterprises still keeps him on the payroll.
Here are this week's picks -
Georgia Tech at Miami. Imagine how much everybody would have been talking about this game if Tech had taken care of business against N. C. State and Virginia. The Jackets and Miami would both be 8-1, and while the Hurricanes would surely be favored, a victory by Tech wouldn't seem out of the question. It would be the kind of high-stakes game we haven't seen Tech play since they upset Virginia back in 1990. The Hive message board would have been exploding from the tension and the anticipation. But of course, it is not to be, and I'm resentful that Tech fans have been deprived of such a great matchup. We are left with this hard reality: if not for a botched field goal in their season opener against Florida State, Miami would be 9-0 right now and arguing, with some justification, that they deserved to be in the mix for the BCS championship. I don't see how Tech can beat them, and I don't even think the Jackets can beat that 17-point spread. Dammit.
Boston College at Maryland. Coach Ralph Friedgen needs to win either this game or the season-ender against N.C. State to make the Terps bowl-eligible. With Maryland playing at home, I think the Fatman wins.
Duke at North Carolina. I really do feel sorry for Duke Coach Ted Roof. He was a valiant linebacker for Georgia Tech and he deserves better than being stuck in this dead-end program. North Carolina should win - and cover a spread of 25 points - to keep its bowl hopes alive.
Kentucky at Georgia. As much as we'd like to see it happen, there's no realistic way Kentucky can upset Georgia in this one, or even beat a 27-point spread. Still, it has to be embarrassing to Georgia fans that they don't already have the SEC championship berth wrapped up. Georgia had to rely on the man they hate the most, Steve Spurrier, to beat Florida - otherwise, the Gators would already be making reservations in Atlanta. Georgia will actually be forced to break a sweat against the Wildcats, or else South Carolina sneaks in as the Eastern Division representative. What a comedown for a team that was supposed to have won Mark Richt's third national championship by now.
LSU at Mississippi. The Bengal Tigers should wrap up their SEC championship invitation with a win over the Rebels. Take LSU and lay the 16.5 points.
Vanderbilt at Tennessee. Vanderbilt opened the season with a four-game winning streak and it looks like they'll close the season with a seven-game losing streak. The Vols should win, but Vandy will keep it closer than 13, especially if Phil Fulmer keeps flipping his quarterbacks.
Ohio State at Michigan. If the Buckeyes win as expected, Michigan will finish the season with four losses. It's been a long time since that's happened to the Wolverines. Take Michigan and the three points.
Central Florida at Rice. If George O'Leary's Golden Knights beat a 1-8 Rice team - they should be able to do it and cover the 10.5 points - then Big George clinches at least a tie for the Conference USA east division title and finishes with an 8-3 record. Not bad for a guy who came into the season riding an 11-game losing streak. I wonder how many times he's called Central Florida fans "flappers"?
Alabama at Auburn. Coach Tommy Tuberville deserves the SEC coach of the year award for the way his Auburn team recovered from that season-opening loss to Tech and came all the way back to smack down Georgia. I think Auburn wins the Iron Bowl, but not by the seven points the oddsmakers are giving.
Clemson at South Carolina. Win or lose, Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks have had a helluva ride this year. I'll ride them one more time to win this pick 'em game.
Virginia Tech at Virginia. Now that the Cavaliers have won that sixth game and become bowl-eligible, the pressure is off. Look for Virginia Tech to run roughshod over both Virginia and the seven-point spread.
Dr Football's Miami Week Column (part deux)
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