THIS WEEK’S STORYLINES
A hot seat for Richt?
There’s been some degree of disgruntled-ness in Georgia Nation over coach Mark Richt’s performance in recent years, and I can understand why. Florida’s been down since 2009, and Tennessee, for the better part of the last decade, the Eastern Division’s been there for the taking, and yet the Bulldogs have been to the Southeastern Conference title game just twice since 2005, those coming in 2011 and 2012, and the Bulldogs won neither.
A 28-3 loss to Florida was the latest blow in a disappointing 5-3 season and now, Richt seems to be on shaky ground, according to this tweet from Fox Sports’s Bruce Feldman:
Hearing that #UGA power brokers & big dogs now asking questions/talking about potentially moving on–unlike ever before in Mark Richt era.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 2, 2015
Let’s look at this both ways.
Things working against Richt obviously include the aforementioned issues. There’s also the fact that the program seems to be slipping; if UGA finishes outside the Top 25 this year—that seems likely—it’ll be the fourth time in seven years that’s happened. With the recruiting base in Georgia, the Bulldogs should be a perennial Top 25 team.
Plus, the Bulldogs, at their height, have been really good rather than elite. This year will mark the seventh time in eight years that Georgia’s finished outside the top five in the final AP and Coaches’ polls.
So, I get it. Richt’s left a lot of meat on the bone in recent years, and fans are unhappy.
But consider this: Do Florida and Tennessee’s struggles not at least make some argument for Georgia retaining Richt? Florida, after Urban Meyer’s 2009 Sugar Bowl team that went 8-0 in SEC regular-season, was an unthinkable 21-19 in its next five SEC seasons. Nor did Tennessee fans dream, after the Eastern Division title year of 2007, that their Vols would go 14-34 in their next six conference campaigns.
Under Richt, Georgia is 87-40 in SEC play (68.5 percent), and 151-54 (73.6 percent) in all games. In the 15 years of Bulldog history with someone else as coach, the ‘Dawgs have won 64.2 percent of all their games, and 58.3 percent of their league contests.
In other words, history suggests that Georgia would likely be worse off without Richt, and the struggles of UF and UT point to the fact that the floor for a big-time program can be below what anyone suspects.
As for this year, don’t forget that the loss of All-American running back Nick Chubb on the first drive against Tennessee changed the Bulldogs’ fortunes considerably.
Throw in the fact that Richt runs a clean program and is one of college football’s all-around good guys, and UGA fans might think twice before they clamor for change.
Oh yes, that game in Tuscaloosa
It’s not being touted as the Game of the Century this time, but there are a few parallels to the 2011 regular-season match-up between Alabama and LSU, which LSU won by a 9-6 count.
Both teams are loaded with NFL talent. This game may decide the winner of the SEC West. Both may again meet again in the postseason, since each appeared in Tuesday night’s initial College Football Playoff top four, though an Alabama loss (that would be two) could potentially eliminate the Crimson Tide from that. Finally, the game is in Tuscaloosa, which, one would think, would benefit Alabama. However, the road team has won 24 of the 34 regular-season meetings (there’s been one tie), including that 2011 contest.
Oh yeah, we’ll also get to see Leonard Fournette against a standout Alabama defense.
No doubt, this is appointment TV.
Gators can clinch
I never thought that Florida could win the East in 2015, and yet the Gators can not only do it, but do it this weekend with a win over Vanderbilt. Should the Commodores pull an upset, a Florida victory at South Carolina would still do the trick.
It’s quite the debut year for coach Jim McElwain, who’s done it with a patchwork offensive line and a suspension to his top quarterback. Unless the Gators falter, we’ve got an easy choice for SEC Coach of the Year.
POWER RANKINGS (Overall record, SEC record)
- Alabama (7-1, 4-1): Crimson Tide defense on pace for over 40 sacks, which would be the most in the Nick Saban era.
- LSU (7-0, 4-0): Tigers’ Fournette is still the overwhelming Heisman favorite.
- Florida (7-1, 5-1) Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and defensive end Johnathan Bullard were named as two of the 20 finalists for the Badnarik Award, given to the top defender in college football.
- Ole Miss (7-2, 4-1): Rebels got left tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive end C.J. Johnson back, and then won their next two. Now, All-American safety Tony Conner may be back this week.
- Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2): Freshman quarterback Kyler Murray joined Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks in SEC history with 100 yards passing and rushing and one touchdown each way in their first starts.
- Mississippi St. (6-2, 2-2): Bulldogs have the fifth-toughest remaining schedule in the country, according to ESPN’s FPI.
- Tennessee (4-4, 2-3): Vols’ return game continues to shine, with Evan Berry (kickoff) and Cameron Sutton (punt) returning kicks for scores; UT averages an astonishing 40.4 yards per kickoff return, and 19.1 on punts.
- Arkansas (4-4, 2-2): Razorbacks gave up a shocking 519 yards to UT Martin, yet still won by 35.
- Georgia (5-3, 3-3): The loss of Chubb seems to have cut the heart out of the Bulldogs, who’ve not managed a touchdown in two full games without him.
- Auburn (4-4, 1-4): Standout defensive end Carl Lawson returned from a six-game absence to face Ole Miss, but the Tigers gave up 558 yards in a loss even with him.
- Kentucky (4-4, 2-4): The Wildcats, out-gained 327-117 in the first half by Tennessee, have now lost three straight.
- Missouri (4-4, 1-4): Less than a week after quarterback Maty Mauk is reinstated to the team, he’s kicked off again.
- South Carolina (3-5, 1-5): Quarterback Perry Orth threw two crucial picks in the loss to Texas A&M, but remains the starter even though Lorenzo Nunez is now back.
- Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3): Turnovers—Vandy had four of ‘em in loss at Houston—seem to doom ‘Dores every week.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
OFFENSE (rushes-yards-YPC-TDs; receptions-yards-TDs, completions-attempts-yards-TD/INT)
- Leonard Fournette, LSU, RB (176 – 1,352 -7.7 -15; 7 – 58- 0)
- Dak Prescott, MSU, QB (173 – 260 – 2,048 – 14/1; 72 – 445 – 5.2 – 7)
- Derrick Henry, Alabama, RB (180 – 1,074 – 5.8 – 14; 8 – 69 – 0)
- Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, WR (61 – 870 – 6)
- Christian Kirk, TAMU, WR (47 – 662 – 4; 524 return yards and two TDs)
DEFENSE (tackles(solo)-tackles for loss-sacks-interceptions-forced fumbles)
- Vernon Hargreaves, Florida, CB (23 – 0 – 0 – 4 – 1)
- Myles Garrett, TAMU, DE (44 – 15.5 – 10.5 – 1 – 5)
- Kentrell Brothers, Missouri, LB (103 – 7 – 5 – 2 – 0)
- Reggie Ragland, Alabama, LB (71 – 5 – 2 – 0 – 2)
- Robert Nkdemdiche, Ole Miss, DT (21 – 5.5 – 1.5 – 0 – 0)
THIS WEEK’S PICKS (55-17 overall, 31-35 vs. the spread)
Ole Miss 27, Arkansas 24 (Ole Miss -11): Excepting Alabama, Rebels’ quality run defense hasn’t been tested like it will be on Saturday. Ole Miss had better take care of the ball or could find itself an upset victim.
Alabama 31, LSU 24 (Alabama -6.5): LSU’s given up at least 19 points in every game, while just two of ‘Bama’s eight opponents have scored that many against the Crimson Tide. When in doubt, bet on who can best stop the other guy, though it’s worth questioning whether you throw the rules out the window when Fournette’s involved.