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.

Feel free to send any and all hate mail to the author at Jackson.o.martin@gmail.com, just know that it will be republished and made fun of.

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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.

Feel free to send any and all hate mail to the author at Jackson.o.martin@gmail.com, just know that it will be republished and made fun of.

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Week 3 SEC Power Rankings: Sick Day

Each week I rank the teams in the SEC 1-14. This week, I’m not going to because nothing really changed and I have some horrible illness. While a Power Rankings column written under the influence of a buttload of sudafed is a promising idea, it’ll have to wait for another day.

Note: please do not give sudafed to Marshall Henderson

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Week 2 SEC Power Rankings: Todd Gurley is Unfair

Each week I rank the teams in the SEC 1-14. This week, Georgia and Texas A&M had statement wins, Todd Gurley is absolutely terrifying, Florida loses to weather, and damnit, Vanderbilt.

1. No. 6 Georgia

It is absolutely unfair that Georgia has a guy like Nick Chubb as the third or fourth-string running back when he can do things like this:

What is even more unfair is that Georgia has a guy like Todd Gurley as the starting running back when he can do things like this:

Georgia is absolutely terrifying because their murder (yes, that’s the proper term for a group of UGA running backs) of tailbacks this year allows Mike Bobo to do things like “Only give Todd Gurley four touches in the first half so he has fresh legs at the end of the game” and “Let Todd Gurley set the all-time UGA all-purpose yards record for a single game over some guy named Herschel Walker despite only having 15 carries”.

Pray for your local SEC defense of choice, because an interventionist deity hell-bent on denying Mark Richt a national championship may be your only hope to contain the Georgia run game this year. That, and Mike Bobo.

2. No. 9 Texas A&M

So, uh, the offense looked okay despite losing three first-round draft picks. Putting up 52 points on South Carolina isn’t bad, if you’re into that kind of thing. The defense still looks shaky, and will probably cost the Aggies a game or two this season, but if Kenny Hill can put up 50+ points a game they don’t really need to play any defense at all.

3. No. 5 Auburn

Arkansas isn’t anything special, but let’s all just be in awe that Gus Malzahn got his backup quarterback (who started Saturday because of Nick Marshall’s suspension) to throw for 243 yards in a half of play. Malzahn may actually be the preeminent offensive genius of this era, but he still looks like a dork wearing an Under Armour shirt under a sweatervest.

4. No. 2 Alabama

Alabama’s weakness this year may be its secondary, which you can put on the list of “Things I never thought I would say about a Nick Saban team” right behind “Hired Lane Kiffin”. The corners showed a real inability to compete with the West Virginia receivers, letting Clint Trickett (not a NASCAR driver, shockingly) throw for 365 yards. That’s the most yards any quarterback not named Johnny Manziel has thrown for against a Nick Saban Alabama team. The offense hummed along nicely for 538 yards, though Kiffin would be well served to give the ball to his Norse God running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon more and throw less than the 33 passes Blake Sims attempted Saturday. Just run the dang ball, Kiffin!

5. No. 12 LSU

ESPN play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough accurately described the Wisconsin offense in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game when he said, “Every pass attempt is an act of desperation”. The Badgers were able to run the ball efficiently the entire night on the Tigers – even with potential Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon out for most of the second half – but converted safety Tanner McEvoy looked completely out of sorts throwing the ball, leading to 21 unanswered points from LSU to close the game. We honestly didn’t learn much about the Tigers in this game. We already knew that they were inconsistent with tons of elite athletes and that Les Miles has some kind of dark magic allowing his teams to win games in the most befuddling ways possible.

We still don’t know if Anthony Jennings is the answer at quarterback, and that’s a question that needs to be figured out before the Sept. 20 game against Mississippi State’s elite defense.

6. No. 15 Ole Miss

Is this the most Bo Wallacey game of Bo Wallace’s career? 387 yards passing with four touchdowns and three awful interceptions against a good, but not great, Boise State defense is vintage Dr. Bo. Realistically, Wallace was the best offensive weapon Boise State had. The Rebel defense is electric again this year and could be good enough to let Ole Miss compete for the SEC West this year as long as Wallace stops handing the ball to the other team.

7. No. 21 South Carolina

Yikes. The Gamecock secondary got abused by Kenny Hill Thursday, and it doesn’t exactly get easier with East Carolina’s high-powered offense coming to town this week.

The offense at least looked semi-competent, and the huge receivers A&M has were always going to be an enormous matchup problem. Those are the good things. More bad things: Todd Gurley and the murder of Georgia running backs visit Columbia next week, and they’re a bad matchup for anyone.

8. Mississippi State

Beat Southern Miss, which is nice. What was really nice was the mascots of the two schools recreating one of the best college football photos of all time.

9. No. 24 Missouri

Did what they were supposed to do and dispatched South Dakota State. The Tigers are somehow only favored by 6 points over Toledo this week. If gambling were legal I would strongly advise you to bet the Tigers this week. Gambling is not legal, so I’m not advising you to do that, but just imagine if it was. Free money.

10. Tennessee

#FeelsLike98
#EvenThoughItWasJustUtahState

11. Florida

Lightning prevented the Gators from playing the Idaho vandals this weekend, meaning FLORIDA COULDN’T EVEN BEAT IDAHO, PAWWWWWLLLL.

The Florida athletic department announced yesterday that the game will not be rescheduled, and will be ruled a “No Contest” because someone paused the game then pressed A+B+Z+R.

No contest

12. Kentucky

UT-Martin uses the exact same uniforms as Auburn does, so if you squinted really hard it kind of looked like Kentucky beat the defending SEC Champs 59-14.

“WE’LL TAKE IT!” –the three Kentucky football fans

13. Arkansas

Showed some fight in the first half against Auburn, which is a nice improvement from last year. Unfortunately, their coaches getting stuck in the elevator at halftime may be a bad omen for the rest of the year. A good omen? Quarterback Brandon Allen completed more than half his passes, which is an improvement from last year’s season total.

Sun Belt. Vanderbilt

A lot of weird things snowballed into an ugly, ugly game for the Commodores – losing to Temple in any capacity is an automatic No. 14 sentence, getting blown out by the Owls at home means you skip all the way to the Sun Belt Conference relegation zone.

No, that one game does not mean that “Same Old Vandy” is back, and we can reasonably expect the Commodores to look slightly more competent on Saturday – seven turnovers likely will not happen again, even against a very good Ole Miss team – but the pressure is now on Derek Mason to markedly improve his team just one game into his head coaching career.

Feel free to send any and all hate mail to the author at Jackson.o.martin@gmail.com, just know that it will be republished and made fun of.

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A Wildly Optimistic Vanderbilt Season Preview

 

 

Football season starts today in Nashville, so let’s kick it off right by taking a look ahead at each game on Vanderbilt’s schedule.

We call this series the Wildly Optimistic Previews because, well, that’s exactly what they are. Past previews — which have been scrubbed from the Vanderbilt Hustler’s website, so sorry for the image links — have had Vanderbilt going 9-3 (2013), 11-1 (2012), and winning the national championship in basketball (2012). This will border on delusional at times, so bear with me as we take the Pollyanna perspective on the Vanderbilt 2014 football season.

Honestly, this column gets easier and easier to write every year as the talent level on West End improves and 2014 is no exception. Every game on the schedule is winnable for Derek Mason’s team, and the best quarterback the Commodores will see is probably Bo Wallace (Dak Prescott is not an acceptable answer, no matter what Saturday Down South tells you).

While there is an expected drop-off with the loss of Jordan Matthews, this figures to be the most talented team Vanderbilt has put on a football field and there’s only a few no reasons why it wouldn’t be going to a fourth-straight bowl game. With Will Muschamp still the head coach in Gainesville, Georgia and South Carolina breaking in new quarterbacks, Tennessee perennially “a year away” and Missouri completely retooling after last year’s championship run, the SEC East is wide open. The Commodores have as easy an SEC schedule as anybody, with the Western opponents coming exclusively from the Magnolia State, meaning Derek Mason’s promise of an SEC Eastern Division title could come true sooner rather than later.

Let’s take a look at the schedule.

August 28 vs. Temple Owls

Temple quarterback P.J. Walker is really a fun player to watch. As a freshman in 2013 he threw for 20 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions while also being an effective runner. The Owls were unlucky last year, losing all five of their one-possession games — which suggests they were actually better than their 2-10 record would lead you to believe. Ok, that’s about all the nice things there are to say about Temple.

Actually, no it isn’t. Hall and Oates went to Temple, and I freaking love Hall and Oates.

Ok, that’s all the nice things to say about Temple.

I fully expect Vanderbilt to blow the doors off of Temple in this game. We will get a look at all three quarterbacks at one point or another in the game — despite Patton Robinette’s appointment as the starter, this quarterback battle is still going on — and Coach Mason expects to play as many as 40 players.

Verdict: Easy win. 1-0.

September 6 vs. Ole Miss Rebels (LP Field)

This is likely the game that the success of the season swings on. Of course, we said that exact same thing last year and that turned out pretty well despite a loss to the Rebels. Watching Hugh Freeze’s spread offense take on a Derek Mason defense designed specifically to stop spread offenses is going to be wildly entertaining.

Of course, the Rebels are stocked with talent after two phenomenal recruiting classes and return just about every key player — the exception being last year’s villain Jeff Scott — while Vanderbilt has to replace Jordan Matthews, who accounted for 42% of Vanderbilt’s yards in the 39-35 loss.

The key here is going to be quarterback play. Bo Wallace is a talented dual-threat for Ole Miss — if he can get out of his own way. Wallace consistently shot himself in the foot last season with bad turnovers and wound up with just a 18-10 touchdown-interception ratio. Vanderbilt, well, Vanderbilt doesn’t know what it’s getting this year. Many Commodore fans (myself firmly included) want to see Johnny McCrary under center in this game because of his tremendously high ceiling. Patton Robinette is a capable read-option quarterback, but he just doesn’t throw the ball all that well (4 td, 5 int, 52% completion percentage) and takes too many sacks (12% of all dropbacks). With Robinette at quarterback, the offense becomes rather one-dimensional and cannot throw downfield at all. Ole Miss has a very good defense against the run (they’re pretty good against the pass too) and the Commodores will have to find balance in the attack to win this game.

Of course, it’s a balance that Vanderbilt was able to find with Robinette at times last year. He has the ability to produce first downs at a decent rate, and showed some explosiveness with 14 yards per completion. Despite the high sack rate, he was also excellent at getting positive yardage when he left the pocket — gaining at least five yards on 26 of his 59 carries. If the sophomore can avoid turnovers and the ground game is established early, there’s no reason to believe the Commodores can’t put up a buttload (technical term, I know) of points in this matchup again.

Verdict: Leaning towards a loss, but this is probably a close game that comes down to one weird play, just like the last two seasons. Ole Miss got Jeff Scott last year, Vanderbilt takes the toss-up this year. 2-0. 

September 13 vs. Massachusetts Minutemen

UMass is very possibly the worst team in the FBS. A new coach and a new quarterback will do wonders for the team in Amherst, but this is just a bad football team. The Minutemen wouldn’t have had a winning record in FCS last season and we can’t expect for them to be that much better this year, especially early in the season.

Verdict: Blowout win. 3-0.

September 20 vs. South Carolina Gamecocks

There was a time, not too long ago, when Vanderbilt had a two-game winning streak against the Gamecocks. South Carolina was ranked in each matchup, as the No. 24 team in the country in 2008 and all the way up at No. 6 in 2007, and those wins — along with the Music City Bowl team in 2008 — foreshadowed the success that Vanderbilt would have after the departure of Bobby Johnson.

That time seems to have passed, as Steve Spurrier’s team has topped the Commodores in each of the last four meetings between the division rivals. The last two iterations have been close, well-fought games with Vanderbilt falling short each time. It’ll be tough to break that streak this year as the Gamecocks are arguably the team to beat in the SEC East.

South Carolina lost four of its five best players from last season — Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Bruce Ellington (this also helps the Vanderbilt basketball team) — but return basically everyone else, including running back Mike Davis. The Gamecocks also bring back quarterback Dylan Thompson, who got 89 pass attempts last season in filling in for an injured Shaw.

Thompson is likely the key cog in whether South Carolina can win the East this year. That’s a somewhat frightening thing to say about someone whose numbers were pretty similar to Patton Robinette last year. Thompson completed 52 of 89 passes (58%) for 783 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while taking 3 sacks. Robinette completed 46 of 88 passes (52%) for 642 yards with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but took 12 sacks. Thompson played a lot last year, but those aren’t exactly encouraging numbers.

Mike Davis is a dark-horse Heisman contender, but if Thompson can’t find a rhythm the Vanderbilt defense can focus on him and stop up the Gamecock offense. Last year the Carolina offense was able to create lanes by utilizing the super-efficient Shaw-to-Ellington connection on intermediate routes that stretched into longer gains — Ellington averaged 15.5 yards per catch — and Thompson must be able to recreate that success to give Davis space this season. If he can’t, then the Gamecocks will struggle to put points on the board.

Verdict: A hot start gives Vanderbilt an overwhelmingly favorable home crowd that the defense uses to its advantage. A low scoring affair is decided by a turnover (or a bad pass-interference call) and Vanderbilt steals a win. 4-0.

September 27 at Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has done a good job of bringing talent to Lexington, with a top-20 recruiting class in his first year. That talent didn’t make much of a difference on the field last season, as the Wildcats still finished 2-10. It’s year 2 now, though, and the Wildcats are more settled at quarterback and OH MY GOD LOOK AT FRESHMAN MATT ELAM.

That’s a big dude.

Verdict: A closer win than Vanderbilt fans would like, but a win nonetheless. 5-0.

October 4 at Georgia Bulldogs

This is the toughest game on Vanderbilt’s schedule. A road date with a conference power that boasts a true Heisman contender in Todd Gurley does not bode well for the Commodores. There are a lot of ways to draw up a defensive scheme to combat particular offenses. That’s Derek Mason’s specialty, after all, in stopping high-powered scoring attacks. There are not a lot of ways to tackle a runner like Gurley, however, and that opens lanes for the other stars Georgia boasts at the skill positions. Georgia will score points in this game, and it will be up to Patton Robinette (or Johnny McCrary or whomever is the starting quarterback at this point) to keep pace. That probably won’t happen. The last time Vanderbilt played in Athens was one of the worst games I’ve ever seen in person. Aaron Murray and the No. 5 Bulldogs got out to a fast start en route to a 48-3 blowout that marks the only time I have ever left a Vanderbilt game in the third quarter because of the score. Please, please don’t let this game end up like that one.

Verdict: Almost certainly a loss. This isn’t the UGA team of last season that was missing half its starters, and the targeting rule won’t bail the Commodores out this year. 5-1.

October 11 vs. Charleston Southern Buccaneers

It’s really important to get this bye week before the actual bye week before the Missouri game. That’s an important turning point for the season

Verdict: Blowout win. 6-1 and bowl eligible for the fourth straight season.

October 25 at Missouri Tigers

Will the Tigers be able to replace the production of James Franklin, Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, the Notious DGB and Henry Josey? Almost certainly not, but quarterback Maty Mauk was a huge part of the Tigers’ SEC East title last year and is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, even as a sophomore.

Of course, Mauk won’t have any of his three leading receivers from last season — DGB, Marcus Lucas or L’Damian Washington — and his best returning threat out wide is someone named Bud Sasser. We’ll find out this year if Mauk truly is a star, or if his 16 yards per completion last season was a mirage brought on by having three uber-talented wideouts. I’m as a big a Maty Mauk fan as there is, but he will struggle this year. The strength of the Mizzou offense when he played was big plays, and without the quality and size of last season’s receivers that success will be tough to duplicate.

That’s not to mention the defense, which must replace a devastating pass rush that totaled 41 sacks in 2013 — good for fourth-best in the country. Kony Ealy and Michael Sam put up two of the better defensive seasons we’ve seen in the SEC recently, and the Tigers also lose two starting linebackers and three of the four most productive members of the secondary. While offense is Gary Pinkel’s strength, the improved play of the defense rightfully takes a lot of credit for last season’s stunning run to Atlanta. Without the star power on either side of the ball this season, Mizzou likely regresses to 8-4ish while still threatening the powers of the SEC East.

Verdict: Two years ago Zac Stacy carried the Commodores to a win in Columbia. Look for Jerron Seymour (or Ralph Webb) to do the same in 2014. 7-1.

November 1 vs. Old Dominion Monarchs

Seeing as we’ve already passed 2,000 words on this mental exercise, let’s not waste any more time and just skip this game.

Verdict: Blowout win. 8-1.

November 8 vs. Florida Gators

Oh boy. Is Florida going to be any good this year? I don’t have any idea, and neither do you. The Gators have all the talent in the world, but a head coach that even UF fans openly despise.

That’s Spencer Hall, the best college football writer in the world, who actually followed through on tweeting sections of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian during the second half of the UF-Vanderbilt game. That’s what Will Muschamp football does to people. Given that, Muschamp may have been fired already by this point in the season.

Regardless, the Gators will have an excellent defense and a mediocre-to-unwatchable offense. Jeff Driskell, the bane of Vanderbilt’s existence, returns this season but whereas the read option has been a major weakness for the Commodores under Bob Shoop, it figures to be a strength under Derek Mason.

Florida will struggle to put up points no matter the opponent, so it will come down to the Commodores offense. I trust whoever the quarterback is at this point to be able to give us 14 points, which is all that we need against this tire fire of a Florida offense.

Verdict: An ugly win, hopefully by way of an absolutely abysmal excessive celebration penalty. That’s right, I still haven’t forgotten 2005. 9-1.

November 22 at Mississippi State Bulldogs

Somehow, Mississippi State has become a popular dark horse pick to win the SEC West, with Dak Prescott becoming a sleeper Heisman candidate and I just don’t get it. The Bulldogs went 7-6 last year (including the bowl game). Their wins came against Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Arkansas and Ole Miss before a blowout victory over Rice in the Liberty Bowl. Think about that. Besides a rivalry win that was quite literally fumbled to them by Bo Wallace, the Bulldogs’ best win was against… Rice? So while it’s great that the team returns 18 starters, are we sure that those are 18 good starters? And Prescott, I really don’t get the hype about Prescott.

Even his season stats that include games against lesser competition don’t stand out. 10 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 58% completion percentage and 6.8 yards per attempt are average numbers (at best). Dak can run well, but until he proves that he can successfully pass against above-average defenses there is absolutely no reason to bring him up for award consideration.

The State defense is very good, especially against the run, and only lost three starters while returning the rest of the two-deep. You can grind it out against the Bulldogs — they ranked 73rd in the country in stops behind the line of scrimmage — but they don’t give up big plays. Don’t buy the hype about the offense, but believe that this defense will be one of the best units in the country.

Verdict: The Bulldogs are worn down after seeing Alabama, and looking ahead to Ole Miss the week after. Even though the game is in Starkville the Vanderbilt running game takes control early and lets the defense for Prescott into risky throws. Vanderbilt wins by 10. 10-1.

November 29 vs. Tennessee Volunteers

The Commodores won a blowout in 2012, and survived an ugly game in 2013. They’ve now won two in a row against the Volunteers for the first time since 1926. Win one more and…

Verdict: Winning streak. 11-1.

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ATLiens is old enough to buy cigarettes today

 

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A Corgi’s SEC Power Rankings: Preseason

Corgia preventing its owner from watching a football gameThe offseason has been tough on all of us. We’ve been reduced to reading arrest reports, praying that star wide receivers stay healthy during aggressive stretching drills, and even watching The Bachelorette. And that’s just Georgia fans.

With only a few weeks left until the football season, we need someone who will guide us in our never-ending quest to properly rank the teams of the SEC. Someone to generate ten times as many clicks as correct the clearly-flawed power rankings I wrote on Wednesday. So — with apawlogies to ActionCookBook, who absolutely did this first and I’m stealing his brilliant idea — we turn to Charles Barkley, my Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

Chuck is only a year old, and has never known a world in which the SEC had fewer than 14 teams or one where Florida has been to a bowl game. His impressions of the SEC teams are therefore horribly flawed and lacking almost any relevant context. Also, he is a dog and doesn’t know what football is. That said, these rankings are as likely to be correct as anyone else’s, given the Charlie Foxtrot nature of the SEC.

We’ve brought Chuck inside from his daily routine of hunting butterflies in the backyard to write these, so here is his first crack at the SEC Power Rankings:

1. Auburn
“Did you know that Charles Barkley played basketball at Auburn? I’m too short to play basketball, but they do call me ‘The Round Mound of Rebound’. Because I steal food. Like that piece of bacon. Give me that bacon.” corgi wants a piece of bacon

2. Alabama
“The Tide should be fine as long as they stick to running the dang ball, Pawwwlll.” corgi at the beach

3. Georgia
“If they can just avoid injuries, they should be able to win the SEC East!” corgi in a neck brace   “Alternate joke: Look, I’m a Georgia football player!”   corgi in his cage

4. South Carolina
“This is my hawaiian shirt. It’s not really relevant, but I feel like Coach Spurrier owns a shirt just like this. We should be friends.” a corgi in a hawaiian shirt

5. LSU
“Much like Les Miles, I also enjoy a nice patch of grass.” corgi rolls in the grass

6. Ole Miss
“I am a kindred spirit to Ole Miss fans, as I also enjoy solo cups. Someone get me a tent at the Grove.” A corgi chews on a solo cup

7. Mississippi State
“A real sleeper pick this year!”   sleeping corgi

8. Missouri
“Got to some pretty great heights last year. The question is if they can take the next step with Maty Mauk at quarterback. Now please carry me down these stairs.” corgi on stairs

9. Vanderbilt
“Sometimes I get in trouble when Vanderbilt loses football games. Please don’t lose football games, Vanderbilt.” a corgi is in trouble

10. Texas A&M
“We’ve been writing this list for awhile now. Please feed me?” corgi begs for food   “Ok, better. I like Kevin Sumlin, but losing Johnny Football and Mike Evans might neuter that offense.” corgi in a cone

11. Florida
“No! Please don’t make me watch any more Florida football games!” a corgi tries to escape

12. Tennessee
“They have two tough road trips at the beginning of the season, going to Oklahoma and Georgia, but this could be a good team by the end of the year.” corgi driving a car

13. Arkansas
“Bret Bielema says he wants his defensive plays to have ‘an incredible, incredible ass‘. Sign me up, coach.” a corgi butt

14. Kentucky 
“I do not like horses, and therefore do not like the state of Kentucky. You deserve every loss you get for enabling horses, as well as being named the Wildcats.” a corgi meets a horse

Thank you again to ActionCookBook for having this wonderful idea that allowed me to post pictures of my corgi on a sports website.

Charles Barkley is a dog, and therefore will not read any responses to this article. Negative comments will be printed out for him to chew up. You can follow Chuck on Instagram over at @TheSoundAndTheFurry.

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2014 SEC Power Rankings: Preseason

Each week I rank the teams in the SEC 1-14. This week, we present the preseason estimation of where each team will end up and it definitely won’t end up being hilariously wrong at the end of the season nope not at all.

1. No. 2 Alabama
You have to kind of wonder if Alabama is losing its edge. First the Tide lose to Auburn, then to Oklahoma and Bob Stoops in the Sugar Bowl, and then a petition on change.org claiming Chris Davis was out of bounds in the Iron Bowl and overtime of that game needed to be played only got 697 signatures. Frankly, that’s embarrassing for the once-proud fan base of the Crimson Tide.

As public shaming for that embarrassment, let’s all watch hundreds of Alabama fans run across the Bryant-Denny field to get in line for Nick Saban’s autograph – fondly known as the Gump Run – set to the Auburn radio call from the Kick Six.

2. No. 5 Auburn
The Tigers lose three important pieces from last year’s miracle season in defensive leader Dee Ford, running back Tre Mason – who broke Bo Jackson’s single-season rushing record – and Kick Six hero Chris Davis. That said, Nick Marshall looked far more comfortable passing the ball in spring practice, which could add yet another threat to an already dynamic offense.

Given how tough the West will be every this year, the Tigers could easily fall back to the pack and finish with four or five losses. Gus Malzahn is also a damn wizard in a sweatervest, so expect the Tigers to run for 320 yards a game and win 10 games with no regard for human life whatsoever.

3. No. 12 Georgia
A-aron is gone, but it might not matter if Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are healthy. The Bulldogs have already celebrated one major championship this year, and another one could be around the corner if Bobo would just run the dang ball.

The secondary is going to be a huge concern for the Bulldogs, but new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is one of the best DB coaches in the entire country. At the very least, we probably shouldn’t expect anything like The Miracle at Jordan-Hare to happen again. Right?

Disclaimer: I am a fan of both Georgia and Vanderbilt, and these rankings will probably reflect those biases given my delusional optimistic nature.

4. No. 9 South Carolina
Steve Spurrier is fresh off a summer filled with golf and disparaging comments about Clemson, which are my favorite things Steve Spurrier does.

We can basically copy and paste the preseason capsule for the Gamecocks from the last few years here: Lot of talent, lost a few playmakers but should have the depth to put out another 10 or 11 win season. Will probably miss out on the SEC Championship Game by some inane tiebreaker to Georgia, giving Spurrier something to bitch about the rest of the summer.

Did I miss anything? Oh, right, no Jadeveon Clowney this year. Whoops.

5. No. 19 Ole Miss
Is Bo Wallace the best returning quarterback in the SEC? No, stop laughing, he really might be. Dr. Bo has thrown for 6,340 yards, 40 touchdowns and 27 INTs in just two seasons, and he’s got a whole mess of talent surrounding him in Oxford.

The Rebels start out the year with “neutral” games in two NFL stadiums – against Boise St. in the Georgia Dome and the SEC opener with Vanderbilt at LP Field – that will tell us early on if Hugh Freeze’s team is ready to make a leap and contend for its first SEC West title ever.

6. No. 13 LSU
Freshman Leonard Fournette is scary. Usually reports calling freshmen running backs “the next Adrian Peterson” are unfounded and hyperbolic, but when the guy listed on the depth chart ahead of him spends his time at SEC Media Days marveling at the rookie it might be time to take notice.

7. Missouri
Losing quarterback James Franklin, wide receiver Notorious DGB, defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, and running back Henry Josey means the Tigers return probably only one player you remember from last season’s march to the SEC Championship Game.

Fortunately, that guy you remember is sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk, who took over while Franklin was injured and might have even played better during his four starts. Mauk rightfully earned a spot on the Freshman All-American team last year, and should build on his legacy this year, even without his favorite receiving threat in DGB.

8. No. 20 Texas A&M
Didn’t even have a spring game this year. They s’posed to be ESS-EEE-CEE, Pawwwwwllllll. Roll Tide.

Kevin Sumlin got a huge contract extension this offseason. Let’s see if he’s worth it in Year One after Johnny Football. Oh, and also without Mike Evans or Jake Matthews. Good luck, coach.

9. Vanderbilt
This is probably too high a spot to put the Commodores, but someone has to put them up here after the deluge of media projections this year saying Vanderbilt will be lucky to make a bowl game. Look at the schedule. The Commodores are going bowling for the fourth year in a row and the rest of y’all are just going to have to get over it.

10. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs have somehow become the popular sleeper pick in the West, and I just don’t get it. Wins last season came against Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Arkansas and Ole Miss before a blowout victory over Rice in the Liberty Bowl.

A big part of this newfound hype surrounds quarterback Dak Prescott. Some writers have gone as far as comparing the junior quarterback to (one-time Bulldog commit) Cam Newton. I shouldn’t have to tell you how ridiculous that is – Newton’s one year at Auburn was the best single-season performance by a college player in my lifetime — but remember that Prescott was the guy getting kicked in the shins by Miss St. students randomly on campus last season. Also, against the three good defenses he played last year – Oklahoma State, LSU, South Carolina — Prescott completed just 55% of his passes with 0 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

11. Florida
There is a ton of talent on Florida’s roster, making the Gators a threat to reemerge and contend for the SEC East crown much like Auburn did last year. Of course, the Gators had just as much talent on the team last year, and went 4-8.

Auburn had the advantage of having a brilliant offensive coach in Gus Malzahn to spur last season’s transformation. Florida has Will Muschamp, a coach so out of his depth that people openly wonder if he’s a spy for his alma-mater, UGA, sent to sink the Florida program.

12. Tennessee
The only team in the country that is replacing every single starter on the offensive and defensive line. Is that bad? It sounds bad.

13. Arkansas
The good news: Arkansas will definitely be better this season!

The bad news: It’s really hard to be any worse than the Hogs were last season. Quarterback Brandon Allen didn’t have much competition for his starting job in the spring, which isn’t a great thing to hear about a guy who completed 49% of his passes last season.

14. Kentucky
The Wildcats have some talent in Lexington this year thanks to a sterling recruiting effort by new head coach Mark Stoops. Now, let’s see if he can do anything with that talent.

Feel free to send any and all hate mail to the author at Jackson.o.martin@gmail.com, just know that it will be republished and made fun of.

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Gone for Graduation

Finals are about to start at Vanderbilt, and then graduation (fingers crossed) is after that so the DSSR is taking a break for awhile. Don’t worry, we’ll be back in time for football season.

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