The game of the century is over and the results couldn’t have been more monumental, considering the pre-game hyperbole concerning who would be chosen for the College Football Playoff in the collective editorials last week. The general consensus was how a one-loss LSU team’s resume should still include them in the selection process.
Only that’s not what happened.
Now the uproar among the various pundits is that Alabama with one loss is looking in from the outside, with the one-loss Georgia being included as the forth best team by the College Football Playoff selection committee presumably as per strength of schedule. Of course, this is conveniently forgetting the fact that the one loss by Georgia was to an un-ranked South Carolina team currently with a losing record and that Alabama lost a game by less than a touchdown to the #1 ranked team.
But relax, Southeastern Conference fans, the season isn’t over yet. No playoff slots will be earned until at least the second week in December, and there is a critical month left before the conference championships and plenty of tough games are ahead for all teams. While you can say that there is little chance of LSU being tripped up with its three remaining games against the bottom half of the SEC West division, there are several other highly competitive games for the remaining one-loss teams that could significantly impact where they will all play in December and January. This story isn’t over by a long shot.
Many have been quick to point to a sea-change in both reputations and impact within the league in the aftermath of this week’s games. The rise of Florida, LSU and even Tennessee (forgetting the early season, evidently) and of course the fall of Chad Morris and the re-initiation of a coaching search for the Razorbacks have all be discussed. But it’s important to remember that reputations are rarely made on a single game. LSU’s rise has been electric, and I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to the fact that a good coach made sound staff changes and is now reaping the benefits of that decision.
But if the be-all end-all of a newly earned ‘top team’ were made in a couple of 60-minute contests, then 2013 would have placed Gus Malzahn well out of reach of possible turmoil, fan disapproval or questioning of his plans, coaching staff or players in the following years. It’s nice that LSU has that shiny new offense, but don’t think for a moment that Ed Orgeron will become as well-respected, appraised and appreciated by the LSU faithful beyond the immediate winning cycle. Let that team take a unfortunate turn and all that good will and euphoria will scatter with the wind.
It has happened before. Just ask the head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks.
The passing of name and reputation? Not so fast, son.
SEC West Offense
Both Alabama and LSU proved entirely potent on offense this last weekend. LSU prevailed, but despite the first half miscues, Alabama proved it still had surprising punch late in the game in Tuscaloosa. But LSU’s performance was nothing less than perfection as they shredded the Alabama secondary the likes of which have not been seen in a long time, least of all within the confines of Bryant-Denny stadium.
Auburn and Texas A&M’s numbers are steadily improving, don’t expect them to be able to sustain those level through their last three games the Aggies have South Carolina at home, but face Alabama and LSU on the road. Auburn plays at home, but faces two of the best defenses in Georgia and Alabama.
SEC West Defense
Alabama’s defensive numbers tell the story of the Joe Burrow’s effect on teams. LSU’s offensive and defensive numbers reflect pretty much what they’ve done in every game this year. But Alabama’s defense was playing their first ranked team on their schedule, and displayed several weaknesses that had been overlooked and obscured by their dynamic offense. This doesn’t mean the Bama defense is bad, but just not to the level that many fans have grown accustomed to. Expect this to play out in both of their remaining conference games.
Auburn’s defense will be challenged this weekend against Georgia, but it is evident now that the season closes that this is the most capable defense in the SEC West, if not the conference in general. Both scheme and talent are deep and well coached and scoring on the Tigers in the Red Zone remains the most challenging task in the Southeastern Conference. We’ll see if that is still the case after this weekend, as the most capable offense of the East come calling to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
SEC East Offense
Defeating Missouri last weekend solved only one problem for Georgia, as it reduced the field of contenders by only one. Despite the loss to Georgia, Florida is still in the race with two conference games to go for both teams. It’s a long shot, but stranger things have happened before. Georgia still has to get by Auburn on the road and hosts Texas A&M at home only a week later. Both of those teams present the challenge of excellent defenses coupled with good but not great offenses, much like Florida and South Carolina posed earlier in the season. A couple of timely miscues and this Georgia team might be missing out on a trip to Atlanta.
Florida can definitely win out as I doubt they’ll find much difficulty in their remaining games. However, Missouri is winless on the road and undefeated at home this year – and the Gators travel to this weekend’s game. That could be interesting as well.
The rest of the division is concentrating on trying for bowl eligibility and the most surprising result is that left-for-dead Tennessee might just pull it off,… unless they face plant again. I’m not betting either way.
SEC East Defense
The story this weekend is going to be Georgia’s defense against the Tigers attack. Barring turnovers and big plays, how the Dawg defense performs will likely be the difference in this game and the next for Georgia. Missouri gets to show if that defense is real in the face of the Gators coming to town this weekend.
Not much can be said for the rest of the division. The hope for Kentucky is they are able to survive long enough to win two more games down the stretch, with that Anchor Clanker defense in the way this weekend. Lose that game and they’ll have to win against an equally desperate Louisville team in the same boat – holding on to just five wins and a chance to save the season for a bowl bid.
State of the Conference
With the passing of the torch this weekend, LSU takes top billing away from Alabama and becomes the target for every other team in the College Football Playoff mix. Even the game in Atlanta isn’t likely to phase this team as they’ve already dominated just about everyone they’ve played. The only surprise this last weekend was how late Alabama stayed in the game through lucky big plays and special teams.
When was the last time anyone has stated that about Alabama?
In any case, a one loss Alabama has an outside chance of getting in the CFP, but not a two-loss Tide. Nor will a three (or four) loss SEC East team get in after becoming road kill in Atlanta if Bengals sweep the conference. As much as the hope is there for late season chaos and Auburn getting in on strength of schedule and answered prayers in the Amen Corner, I doubt if a two-loss SEC team will make the cut over the other conference’s best teams.
At that point the elephant in the room is not Big Al, but the collective records at the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference, now sitting at 25-43(!!) with sixteen games remaining to be played among those same seven teams that are averaging worse than six losses apiece. This can still get ugly when it comes bowl season and during the height of recruiting. I still say we’ve crept awfully close to the cliff face that drops down to the deep chasm of irrelevancy currently occupied by the ACC and PAC-12.
That more than Alabama losing at home to LSU is what is by far the most compelling story of the 2019 season for me.
The Tigers are now at home? Bring em on!
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