Previewing the World Series with Ben Weinrib of the Knuckleblog

Francoeur vs. Francoeur

Just like last year, we’ve brought on resident nerd/stat boy Ben Weinrib from The Knuckleblog to preview the World Series with us. This year’s Fall Classic is not Red Sox-Cardinals (thank God), and instead we take a look at a really fun matchup between the Royals and the Giants. Ben’s thoughts on the series are in normal text, my snark/contempt/general dissatisfaction is in italics.


The Royals led the majors in stolen bases this year with 153, and their 81 percent success rate on steals was also third in the league. The Giants, on the other hand, were second-to-last with 56 steals on the year, and their 67 percent success rate was fifth to last on the year. That’s a pretty stark difference, but when you look at how smart each team’s baserunners are as far as taking extra bases on hits and tagging up, they’re much closer. Using the advanced stat BsR, the Royals were 12th in the league at 1.1 and the Giants were 21st at -2.2, so the gap in baserunning isn’t nearly as far as one would think by just looking at the base stealing numbers.

To expand on that, the Royals have continued to run wild in the playoffs. They’ve got 13 stolen bases already this postseason, with no one else notching more than four. the Giants have three, but have also been caught stealing three times — the same amount as the Royals. Baserunning isn’t only about stolen bases, as you alluded to, but all those extra runners in scoring position have sure helped the Royals thusfar in winning their first eight games of the postseason.

I don’t have much data to substantiate this, but neither Bruce Bochy nor Ned Yost are known for being very good tactical managers by the sabermetric community. Bochy has a reputation for keeping his (starting) pitchers in for a couple batters too long, while Yost does way too many bunts and really botched this year’s Wild Card Game. Despite their negative reputations, though, Bochy has had much better results with a .539 winning percentage and two World Series titles in the past five seasons compared to Yost and his .482 winning percentage.

You’re mostly right, though Bochy is definitely in the upper tier of managers by almost anyone’s definition (dirty little secret — every manager is awful tactically by sabermetric standards, even Joe Maddon). A big reason his teams have done so well in the playoffs is his flexible use of the bullpen in the postseason. While he might have a reputation for leaving his starters in too long, he is also willing to use his closer in situations many aren’t — non-save situations and multiple-inning saves. In other words, he’s willing to use his best bullpen arm in the biggest situations of the playoffs and not just the ninth inning.

Yost sucks though, for sure.

So it turns out that Zack Greinke trade is looking really good for the Royals. The Kansas City picked up Lorenzo Cain (second on the team and 29th in the league in WAR with 4.9), Alcides Escobar (third on the team with 3.5 WAR), and Jake Odorizzi (who they later traded for James Shields along with Wil Myers; we’ll discuss that trade in a second).

Can’t argue with results: 

I know we’ve talked about this trade before, but most of the baseball media (myself included) did not like the Wil Myers-James Shields trade at the time. The Royals were far from contention and traded the #4 overall prospect in baseball (according to Baseball America) for two years of a very good (but not #ELITE) pitcher. While I still don’t think it was the right decision at the time, it’s certainly paid off, since they made it to the World Series.

I didn’t love the deal at the time, but it’s also the type of trade teams make when they think they’re on the verge of the playoffs. We’ve proven over and over that everyone who makes the postseason has just as good a chance at winning the whole thing as anyone else, so doing whatever it takes to make it to the dance just makes sense. 

Hindsight being 20/20, Myers hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire with the Rays. Prospects are never a sure thing, so a team like Kansas City might be smart to go ahead and deal them for proven talent when possible. No, I’m totally not still jaded by the ghost of Jeff Francoeur, shut up.

Fun fact: the Royals were the only team in the majors to not hit 100 home runs and were also last in the league with a .113 ISO. Not a single player on the team hit 20 home runs and only three players even reached double digit homers.

Isn’t that what Billy Butler is there for? Wait, I had something for this:

Is it time to give up on Billy Butler

I made that back in July, and I just knew it would come in handy at some point.

Jake Peavy, the Giants’ Game 2 starter, has been a revelation since being acquired from the Red Sox at the Trade Deadline. His ERA dropped from 4.72 to 2.17 in large part because his walk rate dropped from 3.34 to 1.94 BB/9 and his home run rate dropped from 1.45 to 0.34 HR/9 (admittedly these aren’t drawn from the biggest samples). Who would have guessed that going from a hitter-friendly AL park to a pitcher-friendly NL park would make him look better?

So, it took you six whole talking points to work the Red Sox into this? That might be a new record, Ben. 

Ready for me to ruin a (sort of stupid) nickname?

It can’t be a worse nickname than “Xander Bogaerts Frozen Yogurts”. I’ll never forgive you for that one.

Big Game James Shields has a career 3.72 ERA in the regular season and 5.19 ERA in the playoffs. Now he only has 50.1 career innings in the playoffs, but if you run a 1-tail Z-test, you get a p-value of 0.0209, which means there is a significant difference between the two ERAs. Math!

Yeah, I don’t know what that means.

I think this World Series is another great time to appreciate just how weird Hunter Pence is. Who taught him out to swing and throw? He still managed to be 31st in the league in WAR (4.7) despite looking completely uncoordinated. Let’s just appreciate this great video.

Nothing for me will ever top this fake scouting report written by Grant Brisbee over at SBNation, mostly because I think this was the actual reaction of any poor soul sent to see Pence in action:

The Royals bullpen led the league in WAR (5.9) and the Giants were 28th (0.5), but don’t be fooled. The Giants actually had a better ERA (3.01 vs. 3.30) and those WAR numbers are skewed because the Giants play in a better ballpark for pitchers, so they are held to higher expectations.

Uh, aren’t you supposed to be the advanced stats guy? What the hell is this? You’re favoring ERA over WAR? Stick to your role, Ben.

When the teams travel to San Francisco, I’d assume Billy Butler or Eric Hosmer will play first depending on if Madison Bumgarner is starting, but they’ve both been equally disappointing this year. The real question to me what the Giants will do at DH. It’s going to be a real black hole. Andrew Susac? Juan Perez? Mike Morse? That’s a cornucopia of suck.

Ban the DH.

Prediction: Royals in 6

Damnit Ben, I’m also going with the Royals in 6. So congratulations on your World Series championship, San Francisco Giants.


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Stick, Gloves, Shirt Fight of the Week: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins vs Dan Hamhuis

Some of the most fun fights in the NHL come when two guys who rarely throw gloves go at it with each other. Daniel Hamhuis has been in four fights in his career, one for each season he’s spent in the league, but hasn’t been in one since 2010. Meanwhile, this was the first time Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has ever been in a fight in his NHL career.

Both guys came out swinging, making for the best fight of a down week. Hamhuis takes this one because his uppercut was the only heavy punch that landed on something other than a helmet or visor, but Nugent-Hopkins was more than game for his first fight.

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Week 8 SEC Power Rankings: O Bo Wallace, Where Art Thou?

Each week we rank the teams in the SEC 1-14. This week we pay homage to the dominance by the Mississippi schools the only way we know how: giving every team a quote from our favorite movie not named Space Jam. Yes, “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is set in Mississippi and the two Magnolia State teams are your paterfamilias.

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Listen to CVS Bangers Pt. 3 Immediately

You should have already listened to part one and two. If not, you’re welcome.

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Stick, Gloves, Shirt Fight of the Week: Zach Sill vs. Clayton Stoner

It’s the opening week of the NHL season and we’ve already got a classic fight in the books. It’s got all the elements for a great showdown: late in the third period of a blowout, two guys known to drop the gloves (especially Stoner, who got into 8 fights last season), a classic matchup of Nova Scotia and British Columbia, and it starts with them circling up right at center ice. Not much else you could ask for.

Zach Sill comes away with a pretty decisive victory here despite giving up 4 inches and 48 pounds to Stoner. His neck-punch to drop Stoner at the end is especially vicious. Hell of a fight.


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Week 7 SEC Power Rankings: Chaos


Each week I rank the teams in the SEC 1-14. This week was chaaaaoooooosssssss, the numbers don’t add up in the state of Mississippi, an old dog learns a new trick, and Kentucky is a thing.

1. No. 2 Auburn Tigers (5-0, 2-0 SEC)

Don’t be alarmed, but Auburn’s defense is legitimately good this year. Opponents are averaging just 14.4 points per game against the Tigers, or “the first quarter” as Gus Malzahn’s offense calls it.

The No. 2 Tigers take on No. 3 Mississippi State Saturday. Of course, the last time these two teams had a 3-2 matchup Auburn came out on top.

2. No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels (5-0, 2-0)

Yeah, yeah, beating Alabama at home was cool and all but the biggest upset of the weekend was how the hell Ole Miss students managed to fit one of the goalposts into an apartment.

I had to quite literally break a box spring in half to get it out of my last college apartment because it wouldn’t fit out the door. These guys getting a 30-foot steel bar into their place is nothing short of a miracle, brought on by an interventionist Hugh Freeze to celebrate the win.

hugh freeze jesus pancake


(Yes, that’s Hugh Freeze with Jesus hair on a pancake. No, I don’t know how I found it or why a bunch of LSU fans wanted to make it.)

2. No. 3 Mississippi St. Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0)

Yes, we have two teams tied for second this week. Leave it to Mississippi to screw up the math.

The Bulldogs have a better two signature wins than anyone in the country, but the optimism only continues if they can upend Auburn this weekend. Given the nature of the schedule, this feels like a must-win for State to win the SEC West.

Obligatory gif of Miss State mascot Bully on an underwater treadmill:


4. No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide (4-1, 1-1)

Alabama essentially lost because it fumbled away a kickoff with the score tied 17-17, and kicker Adam Griffith was just 1/3 on field goal attempts. Nick Saban probably wishes the Ole Miss students had torn the goalposts down before the game.

5. No. 13 Georgia Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1)

Todd Gurley had another excellent game and he can pass the ball too, apparently. That’s the good news for Georgia.

The bad news? This was Georgia’s longest pass completion of the season:

Unless Mike Bobo decides to make Gurley the full-time quarterback, Georgia still has a gaping weakness on offense with Hutson Mason under center. With the clearest path of anyone to the SEC title game (a win over Missouri this weekend would give Georgia the tiebreaker over the Tigers and only Kentucky looking to threaten otherwise), the Bulldogs have an excellent opportunity to get into the playoffs if they can get anything from the quarterback position.

6. No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies (5-1, 2-1)

Still put up 31 points against an elite defense despite three interceptions by Kenny Hill. The offense continues to hum, but the defense looked like a mess. Good thing they only have Ole Miss and Alabama in the next two weeks, so the whole playing defense thing shouldn’t be a problem.

7. Arkansas Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2)

Serious question: Should Arkansas finish the season 6-6 (assuming a win against UAB, this would require winning two of their remaining games against Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, or Missouri), would they be the best .500 team in the history of college football? I have no intention of looking up other contenders, so let’s just all agree the answer is yes.

8. No. 23 Missouri Tigers (4-1, 1-0)

Good week to have a bye.

9. LSU Tigers (4-2, 0-2)

I’m now pretty thoroughly convinced that LSU just isn’t a good football team this year. I’m also thoroughly convinced that they will still do something to shake up the SEC West. Les Miles’ weird brand of voodoo is going to produce one insane upset this year.

10. Kentucky Wildcats (4-1, 2-1)

Kentucky is a missed delay of game penalty from being undefeated. Think about that for a minute.

11. South Carolina Gamecocks (3-3, 2-3)

Steve Spurrier has been telling us for weeks that his team isn’t any good. Maybe it’s about time we started listening.

12. Florida Gators (3-1, 2-1)

How low can we set the over/under point total for the LSU-Florida game? Personally, I would say 9. And bet the under.

13. Tennessee Volunteers (2-3, 0-2)

It now feels pretty safe to assume that Tennessee won’t be making a bowl for the fourth-straight season. However, the door is still open for the Vols to beat Chattanooga this week and Vanderbilt later in the season to be able to claim being the second-best team in the state behind Memphis.

14. Vanderbilt Commodores (1-5, 0-4)

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Week 6 SEC Power Rankings: #ATLast

Each week I rank the teams in the SEC 1-14. Outkast played three incredible concerts in Atlanta this weekend, so we’re giving every team one of their songs. Think of it at the Stankonia East point Conference power rankings. #ATLast

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Week 5 SEC Power Rankings: Go West, Young Man.

Each week I rank the teams in the SEC 1-14. This week, the SEC West is ridiculous, Mississippi State enters the title race, Auburn escapes from Manhattan (Kansas) despite a questionable fashion choice, and damnit, Missouri.

1. No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies (4-0, 1-0 SEC)

The most exciting thing that happened to the Aggies this weekend was one of the cadets throwing a shoulder into an SMU receiver running towards A&M mascot Reveille. BUT PAWWWWLLL, THAT UGA DOG OVER IN ATHENS DON’T NEED NO PROTECTION HE TAKES CARE OF HISSELF, JUST ASK ROBERT BAKER IF Y’DON’T BELLEE ME PAWWWWLLL. THAT SISSY COLLIE MASCOT AIN’T E’EN ESS-EEE-CEE.

2. No. 5 Auburn Tigers (3-0, 1-0)

Let’s not pretend that beating a good Kansas State team on the road in an ugly game is something that should count against the Tigers. They continue to play the best field goal defense in the country, and that’s for sure definitely absolutely sustainable, but K-State may have given the blueprint to SEC defenses on how to slow down the Tigers. You’re not stopping this offense, Gus Malzahn’s black magic voodoo mock turtleneck won’t allow it, but the Tigers will need more than 20 points to beat the conference powers.

On a more important note, what the hell was Malzahn wearing Saturday? It’s a short-sleeve mock turtleneck under a Ditka sweatervest. Do you even realize how ridiculous that is? Gus Malzahn: offensive genius, early 90s Chicago accountant fashion icon.

3. No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0)

At some point we’re just going to have to admit that Lane Kiffin is an excellent coordinator. But, you know, not just yet. His offense piled up 645 yards and 42 points on an actually pretty good Florida defense but turned the ball over 4 times, which let the Gators hang around way longer than they should have.

4. No. 14 Mississippi St. Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0)

Absolutely dominated LSU this weekend, no matter what the final score might lead you to believe. Of course, the vaunted Bulldog defense started to struggle once a capable quarterback took the field for the Tigers, but that’s a problem for another day. Or, you know, the very next game when the Bulldogs see Kenny Hill and Texas A&M.

Also, this is already a thing in Starkville:

5. No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs (2-1, 1-1)

Georgia’s top three running backs are all averaging better than 9.5 yards per carry. Through three games, the Dawgs have already gone for 912 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Hutson Mason has failed to impress so far in Athens but as long as he doesn’t do anything stupid, he won’t really have to. Georgia fans are already calling for backups Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta to get more snaps, but complaining about quarterbacks is like their second-favorite hobby behind golf. Seriously, these are the same people who wanted Mason to get more playing time while Aaron Murray, all-time SEC passing leader, was still in Athens.

6. No. 10 Ole Miss Rebels (3-0, 1-0)

I think that Ole Miss is really, really good. I also don’t think that we’ve seen them play anyone good yet. Or have they just made everyone they’ve played look bad? Honestly, I have no idea at this point, and we really won’t learn anything new on Saturday when the Rebels play Memphis.

Bo Wallace still leads the country in completion percentage. Just keeping you updated that we’re still living in bizarro college football world.

7. No. 13 South Carolina Gamecocks (3-1, 2-1)

Presented without comment, Steve Spurrier’s postgame press conference after Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt:

8. No. 17 LSU Tigers (3-1, 0-1)

570 yards. That’s the most a Les Miles team at LSU has ever given up. LSU was physically dominated on both sides of the ball until backup quarterback Brandon Harris came in and very nearly led a miracle comeback in Baton Rouge. He might not be the answer at quarterback for the Tigers, but Anthony Jennings definitely isn’t.

9. Arkansas Razorbacks (3-1, 0-1)

With the Hogs’ win over Northern Illinois, we can be fairly certain that the SEC West won’t lose a non-conference game all year. That’s, um, ridiculous. So is this:

Let’s go one more step. Hypothetically, if Arkansas were to beat Texas A&M this weekend and nothing else ridiculous happens, all seven teams in the SEC West would be ranked — the first time any division could claim that. The SEC West is good at football.

10. Florida Gators (2-1, 1-1)

Two actual comments from a Florida website during Saturday’s 42-21 loss to Alabama:

Florida receivers are so surprised when Driskel throws an accurate ball they don’t even know what to do.

Jeff Driskel I want to cut the brake lines on your fucking scooter.

Yep, that sums it up nicely.

11. Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-0)

Butch Jones has been building his program “brick by brick”, and it looks like we’ll get an answer to the question everyone has been asking this weekend: could Todd Gurley run through a literal brick wall?

12. Kentucky Wildcats (2-1, 0-1)

Kentucky is favored by 14.5 points this weekend against Vanderbilt. The last time the Wildcats were favored by that much was in 2010, when they were 15-point favorites over… Vanderbilt. Randall Cobb led the Wildcats to a 38-20 victory and covered the spread that year, rushing for two touchdowns.

13. Vanderbilt Commodores (1-3, 0-2)

We have a pulse in Nashville! Vanderbilt looked much closer to the team everyone thought it would be this season in competing with South Carolina through the fourth quarter. A bowl game still feels like a reach, but Darrius Sims will provide some excitement on West End regardless.

14. Missouri Tigers (3-1, 0-0)

I don’t care what else you’ve done this year, I don’t care that you won the SEC East last year. Losing to Indiana will always move you to No. 14 in these Power Rankings. I don’t have many rules, but that is one of them.

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Frank Wren Fired

You’re my boy, Frank.

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Week 4 SEC Power Rankings: We Need to Talk About Mike Bobo

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 8.40.09 PM

Each week I rank the teams in the SEC 1-14. This week, we’ve got a new number one, Georgia fans want Mike Bobo to run the dang ball, Kentucky nearly topples Florida, and Arkansas asserts the dominance of the SEC West.

1. No. 6 Texas A&M (3-0, 1-0 SEC)

The offense is absolutely terrifying. The turf at Kyle Field has played better defense than anyone else on the Aggies, holding them to just 38 points in the rain against Rice. Next up for Kevin Sumlin’s team: 0-2 SMU, whose coach retired after the second game this season. They’re going to score a thousand points.

2. No. 5 Auburn (2-0, 1-0)

The matchup with Kansas State on Thursday night may be the most genuinely intriguing non-conference matchup of the entire season. It’ll essentially be a matchup of Gus Malzahn’s spread wing-t offense against Kansas State’s spread power-I offense. We’re basically watching 1960s football from the shotgun on both sides, and it’ll be entirely too much fun to watch. This is just the first of seven matchups against currently ranked teams for the Tigers, so we’ll learn a lot about their SEC title defense in this game.

SEC fans should be rooting for Auburn to prevail in that game and maintain the SEC West’s perfect nonconference record. The division is currently 16-0 with wins over Wisconsin, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Boise State among others, not to mention a thrashing of current SEC East frontrunner Souther Carolina on opening day. This SEC West division could be the best we’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot considering the 2009 (two non-conference losses, both by Mississippi State) and 2010 SEC West (one nonconference loss, when Ole Miss lost to Jacksonville State).

3. No. 3 Alabama (3-0, 0-0)

Continues to “struggle” in defending the pass. The Crimson Tide gave up 13 first downs to Southern Miss on Saturday and let quarterback Nick Mullens complete 12 of his 17 passes. That said, Alabama has won its games by a combined score of 126-35, and the rushing defense has only allowed 141 yards on the ground in the entire season. The Tide are so consistently good that all we can do is pick at minor flaws.

4. No. 8 LSU (3-0, 0-0)

I’m inclined to say that LSU has the best defense in the country. A date with “Heisman hopeful” Dak Prescott, averaging 43 points per game, on Saturday is the first conference test of that theory. If Anthony Jennings and the offense can produce any points, expect the Tigers to roll this weekend.

5. No. 13 Georgia (1-1, 0-1)

You probably asked yourself on Saturday “Hey, why didn’t Georgia just run the ball up the middle with Todd Gurley on 1st and goal from the 4? He’s the best running back in the country.” The answer to that question is that everybody else watching the game, including South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, had the exact same idea. The much-maligned Mike Bobo, knowing that everybody was expecting a run, dialed up a playaction pass WHICH IS SOMETHING THAT SMART FOOTBALL COACHES DO ALL THE TIME IN THAT SITUATION.

The real problem was that Hutson Mason was flagged, for whatever reason, for intentional grounding. Look at the .gif below. Why is that a penalty? The ball would have landed at the feet of Quayvon Hicks if the pass isn’t deflected.

The penalty moved what should have been a 2nd and goal from the four, where UGA has three more opportunities to run Todd Gurley, into 2nd and goal from the 14 with little chance for the best running back in the country to impact the most important drive of the game.

This, this just isn’t that hard. Football isn’t a binary thing. It’s not either Georgia scores or Mike Bobo sucks. That’s not how it works. I would have given the ball to Gurley on that play, but it doesn’t make the playaction a bad call. There are multiple ways to score a touchdown from first and goal, no matter what Finebaum Show callers would have you believe. Georgia fans complaining about the play are the guy who stands behind you at the grill and tells you not to flip the steak more than once to “lock in the flavors”. Science says you’re wrong, guy, and that’s why you don’t have the spatula. Never let Georgia fans tell you how to cook a steak.

6. No. 10 Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0)

Bo Wallace leads the nation in completion percentage. Seriously. Dr. Bo has only had 19 passes hit the ground this year. What kind of witchcraft did Hugh Freeze do over the offseason to make that happen?

(Note: Don’t Google “Hugh Freeze Witchcraft”, because it’s just a bunch of message board allegations that Ole Miss pays recruits, which they do. So does everyone else.)

7. No. 14 South Carolina (2-1, 1-1)

So this is the one where people are going to be mad, and I get that. But I find it hard to rank the Gamecocks over a Georgia team they beat at home by literal millimeters and two missed field goals from the SEC’s most accurate kicker when they pissed their pants against Texas A&M in the first game of the year. Sorry, but people don’t forget.

8. No. 18 Missouri (3-0, 0-0)

Could the Tigers repeat as SEC East champions? I mean I guess so. I haven’t actually watched them play this year. Neither have you, if we’re all being honest about it. It’s okay, this is a safe place. Let’s not pretend we’re going to watch them eviscerate Indiana this weekend either, deal?

9. Mississippi State (3-0, 0-0)

Beat up on USA this weekend. Bunch of communists out there in Starkville, I guess, but what else is new? Dak Prescott led all players in the game in both passing and rushing, which isn’t bad. The next three games for the Bulldogs: at LSU, then home dates with A&M and Auburn. Yikes.

10. Arkansas (2-1, 1-1)

Don’t look now, but Arkansas is a good team. The Hogs dominated Texas Tech on the ground Saturday, preserving the SEC West’s undefeated record outside the division. Advanced stats place them somewhere around the 30th best team in the country right now, and firmly last in their own division. We really need to appreciate just how good the SEC West is. Woo pig.

11. Florida (2-0, 1-0)

Continuing this week’s edition of “SEC refs aren’t very good at their jobs”, Florida should have lost to Kentucky by failing to snap the ball in time on its game-winning 4th and 7 play Saturday.

It’s a tough call to make, and plays like this go unflagged every week, but there needs to be a better mechanism for this than the current system. Why isn’t delay of game a reviewable call?

12. Tennessee (2-1, 0-0)

Didn’t get beat as badly by Oklahoma as we originally thought they would. Congratulations?

Freshman running back Jalen Hurd has been a bright spot, but the offensive line can’t keep Justin Worley upright and that’s going to stifle an offense with a lot of potential all season long. The Vols still have to win three conference games to make a bowl, and despite looking improved from last season you wonder where those wins are going to come from.

13. Kentucky (2-1, 0-1)

Patrick Towles is the real deal at quarterback, which immediately makes Kentucky dangerous to every team on their schedule. The Wildcats will steal at least one win from the better SEC teams this year, and should have on Saturday.

14. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1)

Just watch Adam Butler hug the UMass kicker after he missed a game-tying field goal on repeat. It’s the best part of Vanderbilt’s season so far.

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