One Man's Opinion...
With about 1/3rd of the season now in the books it's report card time. That's the equivalent of the first semester--with the understanding grades can go up or down in the next one.
But as the report cards stand today after the games of October 2 here's what the respective schools are sending home to their respective fans.
Georgia, Grade A: It wasn't just that the Bulldogs beat LSU. It was how they beat them. Only ten completed passes but five of them went for touchdowns. Defensively the Dogs took a bite out of the LSU Tiger that left the big cat wounded and helpless. This is the same Georgia defense that won their earlier games against Marshall and South Carolina while waiting for the offense to find itself. Now that it has, who's going to beat them before the Auburn game of Nov. 13? Tennessee? Perhaps. Florida? That's an anything could happen game. But chances are the matchup between Auburn and Georgia will be to settle division championships with a second between the two on December 4 for the overall SEC title and the automatic BCS bid. These guys and Auburn are the Phi Beta Kappas of the SEC this season.
Auburn, Grade A: Top of their Western Division class. There's nobody even close to them. Now that they've walloped Tennessee all that stands between them and the Georgia game are Louisiana Tech, Arkansas, Kentucky and Ole Miss. None of them are in Auburn's class. After Georgia they finish it off with Alabama. The Tigers are almost guaranteed a 10-1 season at the least and possibly 11-0. Give them a doctorate in football this year. They've earned it.
South Carolina, Grade B+. This could turn into an A- if the Gamecocks keep progressing the way they have through their first five games. At the start of the season after watching USC against Vanderbilt and the next week in their Georgia game, I wrote a rave revue about their offensive line play. The column said they were physical, energized, skilled and capable of handling anyone on their schedule. My opinion hasn't changed a bit--in fact it has expanded to Carolina's defensive play as well. The Gamecocks have two capable quarterbacks with slightly different skills in senior Dondrial Pinkins and Syvelle Newton, both talented, and a running back who is among the top five in the league in Demetris Summers. In addition Lou Holtz is coaching hell out of them, unlike the past two years during which he more or less stood aside and delegated decisions to others. It is also obvious he is having fun and as Lou goes so goes the attitude of his team. Nine and two is a strong possibility with Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson in the way and, if they can beat either Florida or the Vols,even if they lose to the other one, 8-3 seems to me to be the worst they can do.
Florida, Grade B. The Gator's problem is they really haven't played anybody yet. Yes, they've beaten Middle Tennessee, Eastern Michigan, Kentucky and Arkansas while losing by a whisker and a referee's whistle to Tennessee. But ahead lies a wounded LSU Tiger, Georgia, South Carolina nd Florida State, along with weaklings Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. We may downgrade them to a C in the future or upgrade them to a B+ but I don't expect to see an A on their report card with four very losable games still to be played.
LSU, Grade B-. Part of that grade is in anticipation they will do their homework in the months ahead. With the exception of Florida this week, the hard part of their schedule is over. After the Gators the Tigers have only Troy State, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas remaining and four of those games are in Baton Rouge. Only Arkansas is on the road. In actuality it is easy to see LSU was overrated. We should have known after they struggled with Oregon State and lost to Georgia, but we know that for sure now after the pounding they took from Georgia. Nick Saban may be a coaching genius as some people say but even geniuses need material with which to work and it's obvious graduation hit the Tigers harder than most of us realized.
Tennessee, Grade B-. One thing I do know is that it is almost impossible to win consistently in the SEC if your quarterbacking isn't comparable to your opponents. This who-shot-John about the two freshmen quarterbacks for the Vols, their talent level and how if one can't get it going the other one can put the offense in gear, goes in one of my ears and right out the other. They weren't SEC quarterbacks in the Auburn game. They were two lost little boys asking themselves "What's happening to us out here?" Erick Ainge started and threw four interceptions and lost a fumble. Fellow freshman Brent Schaeffer also threw an intercemption. That's five for the game. Yes the Vols went into the game undefeated but look who they had played, UNLV, Florida and the officiating crew and Louisiana Tech. They have Georgia at Athens this week, then two probable wins in Ole Miss and Alabama followed by South Carolina at Columbia. If 8-3 is considered a bad year in Knoxville their fans had better be prepared for a bad year--or worse.
Arkansas, Grade C+. This team is young and the talent has yet to mature but they have an outstanding quarterback in Matt Jones who can be a wizard either running or passing plus coach Houston Nutt has them playing with great enthusiasm. A bounce here and a bounce there and the Razorbacks can beat people they are not supposed to beat. Jones proves every game how much an experienced and talented quarterback can mean to a team. Their big problem is the schedule. All their tough games, except for Texas, are backend loaded. The Razorbacks get this week off, then play Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina in a row. That is really tough. They then get Ole Miss in Fayetteville followed by Mississippi State, both games they are likely to win, and close the season with LSU at Little Rock. They are 3-2 right now, need six to qualify for a bowl but I don't know where they are going to get that sixth one--unless they get some of those bounces we were talking about. If they get that bounce game than their C+ is a fair grade.
Alabama C-. That may be too generous. I have been watching SEC football for 50 years and Alabama's quarterbacking against South Carolina was the best example of frightened deer in the headlights I have ever seen. It was impossible to feel anyway but sorry for quarterbacks Marc Guillon and Spencer Pennington, both of whom were in so far over their heads they could only have praying not to win the game, but to just get it over with. The grim look on Mike Shula's face told the same story. Two interceptions each. Only one touchdown and 13 points in the last two games since Brodie Croyle went down with his knee injury against Western Carolina. I'm giving them a C- rather than a D only because the Tide has already won three games and has two more wins possible, Kentucky and Mississippi State. But Southern Mississippi, Tennessee, :LSU and Auburn should all be more than 'Bama can handle.
Ole Miss D+. Speaking of young quarterbacking, this has been a merry-go-round for the Rebels this year but admittedly Ethan Flatt is improving. The defense, however, has not, and the Rebels are still giving up an average of over 25 points per game. Coach David Cutcliffe is playing mind games when he says things such as "Arkansas State has a really good football team and I want to commend them on how hard they played. They have played well over the last couple of weeks." Perhaps, but that sort of thing isn't said to compliment the opponent. It is designed to attempt to convince your own players they have really accomplished something in winning. If Arkansas State is that good how come they are 1-4? From this point on, things are going to be very difficult for Ole Miss. They have South Carolkina, Tennessee and Auburn with an open date before Auburn, and a win over any one of the three would be considered an upset. Then it's Arkansas and LSU, both on the road. UM finishes the season with Mississippi State at Oxfordm a game they should win, but if this group of Rebels cannot find themselves we could be looking at a 3-8 season. At this point with five games down and six to go it's up to them.
Vanderbilt Grade D+. Here's another team that was overestimated at the start of the year. I expect them to win three more games, Rutgers, Eastern Kentucky and Kentucky but Georgia, LSU, Florida and Tennessee should be too much for them. The main hope they should have is that Tennessee collapses to the point where the Vols have no incentive to motivate them in the final game of the year while the Commodores certainly would be motivated to beat their traditional rival. Vandy still has a lot of young talent that should grow better as it grows older so pull out the "wait 'til next year line" and wait.
Kentucky Grade F. The feeling at the start of the year was that Kentucky didn't have much and subsequent events have proven that feeling was right. The one time I saw them on television I thought they played hard and with enthusiasm but without much talent. The Wildcats have always been a basketball school, they are today and they will be tomorrow. I have to laugh when Tennessee or Florida fans complain about an 8-3 year. Wildcat fans would kill to go 8-3.
Mississippi State Grade F. Possibly the worst SEC football team in years. It must be totally frustrating to coach Sylvester Croom who is accustomed to being with winners such as Alabama and Green Bay. It must also be frustrating to Mississippi State fans who believed that Croom could pull off a miracle in his first year under the mistaken belief that Jackie Sherrill had left something in the cupboards. Well, now they know just how bare those cupboards were and are. Unless they slip up on UAB this Saturday, I don't see them winning another game against the likes of Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. The Dogs may slip up on Kentucky, another bare cupboard team but three wins is the best they can hope for this season. Which come to think about it would be 50% better than last year when they only won two.
So there you have the report cards but remember only the first semester has gone by. We'll grade them again when November comes. Remember, like with school classes these grades are flexible and a little high powered studying can change them. We'll see.
One man's opinion
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