Monday, October 29, 2018

The Week In College Football: Tennessee Isn't Close, Georgia Is Back, And Bobby Petrino And Louisville Are A Train Wreck

Another Saturday, another Tennessee loss. My god. Hell, let’s just start there…
Tennessee lost to South Carolina for the third straight year and to Will Muschamp for the 7th straight time
You want a stat to tell the story of how far the Vol program has fallen? From 1903-2004, these two programs played 23 times and South Carolina won only twice. Two times in 100 years, but since 2005, the Gamecocks beaten them in eight of the 14 matchups. South Carolina! A program that’s won one conference title (the ACC in 1969) and is only 29 games above .500 in their entire history as a football team.
I wrote about this on Saturday, but the Vols had the game in their control, up 12 with twenty minutes to go, before they got outscored 18-3 down the stretch and committed a gaggle of errors, specifically on the offensive line and in the front seven. Jarrett Guarantano had rushers in his face on almost every drop back, while the Vol defense literally tackled like they all had broken arms. I made this point on Saturday night, and I think it's worth repeating that this program isn’t close to regaining the status that the fan base wants or expects, and it’s arguable that they’re in worse shape now than all the other programs in the SEC East. Georgia was in the national championship game last year, has beat the hell out of the Vols the last two seasons, and have won 24 of their last 28 games with Kirby Smart as their head coach. Florida has beaten Tennessee 13 of the last 14 years, and has arguably the second best coach in the conference in Dan Mullen, who hasn’t had any trouble pulling them out of the dumpster fire that Jim McElwain turned them into last season. South Carolina is coached by a glorified middle school coach in Muschamp and they’ve still beaten the Vols three years in a row. Vanderbilt has two straight wins against Tennessee, and with the matchup between these two happening in Nashville this year, they have an excellent shot to beat the Vols for the third straight year for the first time since 1926. Kentucky has one loss this season, and if they beat Georgia next week in Lexington, they’ll win the SEC East for the first time ever. Maybe you’d rather be Tennessee than Missouri? Maybe? That’s a four loss team that’s about to lose their NFL quarterback and has Derek Dooley as their offensive coordinator.
The point is, the Tennessee program is in as dark a place as it’s ever been, and the light at the of the tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train. There is no end in sight to the torment. The program is in embarrassing shape. Sure, I get it, they’ll have the entire starting offense back for next season, but that also means they’ll bring back the same Swiss cheese offensive line, full of guys that haven't blocked anyone since they've been in Knoxville. So why would I feel good about that? And sure, they’ll lose some guys from their defense that can’t tackle, but what does it tell you about the backups that the guys who can’t tackle are starting over them? Which means they could play a ton of freshmen AGAIN next season, and when they get blown out at Florida next year, everyone can hop on the internet and talk AGAIN about how they’re too young and still need experience and "don't know how to win yet". It’s the same damn thing every year with this program. Next year is a big one for Pruitt. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, since the conference implemented the SEC Championship Game back in 1992, every coach that’s won the SEC had at least 9 victories by his second year at the school. Meaning if you’re a conference-championship level coach, you get the damn thing turned around quickly. We’ve got 25 years of evidence of this now.
Kentucky won a rock fight against Missouri
The Wildcat offense scored only one offensive touchdown the whole day, but it was a biggie on the last play of the game as they came back from down 11 in the final 5:18 to stun Missouri. Kentucky used a punt return and a miraculous, out-of-nowhere TD drive in the final 1:24 to pull off the 15-14 miracle.
Their defense was incredible though, particularly in the second half, when they kept Mizzou from getting a first down the entire final thirty minutes. Here’s the Tiger drives in the second half: 3 plays, 1 yard, punt; 3 plays, 8 yards, punt; 3 plays, -6 yards, punt; 3 plays, 9 yards, punt; 3 plays, -2 yards, punt; 3 plays, 7 yards, punt; 3 plays, 9 yards, punt; 3 plays, 8 yards, punt. My god. Either Drew Lock shouldn’t sniff an NFL roster, or Derek Dooley is the worst offensive coordinator in the history of the SEC. Because that’s abominable. Yeah, Kentucky has a good defense, but the Tigers couldn’t even get a first down? They weren’t playing the ’85 Bears!
Here's the funniest thing about the 2018 Wildcats; somehow, freaking no tradition Kentucky had better hire before the 2013 season than either so-so tradition Arkansas or Top Ten All Time In Wins Tennessee. Butch Jones never had the Vols at 7-1 and one victory away from a division title like Mark Stoops has the Wildcats now, while Bret Bielema made sure to always have the Razorbacks eliminated from anything substantial by the fourth game of the season.
Kentucky’s best shot this weekend against Georgia would be if they can turn the game into into a brawl, control the tempo and time of possession, and keep the score in the teens. Not sure they’ll be able to do that. But still, it’s been a great year for the Wildcats! I didn’t think they’d be able to do it with a head coach that looks like a 40+ year old guy who hasn’t quite given up on his dreams of making the WWE.
Georgia took apart Florida in the Cocktail Party and appear to have fixed their rushing woes.
The ‘Dawgs had 189 rushing yards, with 104 of them coming on 12 carries from DeAndre Swift. Of course, their biggest ally was Florida’s quarterback, Feleipe Franks, who realistically shouldn’t be starting for any SEC team. The Gators had no confidence in him throwing the ball down the field or making any important decisions on second and third and longs, and it completely limited their offense.
I don’t think Jake Fromm is a great thrower of the football, but Georgia has been able to cover up for that by running the ball week to week the last season and half, and they’ve really only been exposed as a team when they’ve been unable to do so. If they’re going to get almost 200 yards a game on the ground the rest of the season though, then I don’t see them losing another game until… Alabama in the SEC Title Game. But still.
Here’s a question my Angry Old Man asked me on Saturday that I thought was worth thinking about: if you could only have one of these coaches going forward for the next ten years, Kirby Smart or Dan Mullen, which one would you take? Mullen was the best coach in the history of Mississippi State, and that program has completely collapsed since he left (though they did dominate Texas A&M on Saturday). Meanwhile, Kirby has far less experience, and won a ton of games last season with players recruited by Mark Richt. Then again, Richt never came within overtime of winning a national title while at Georgia, and also went his last ten years in Athens without winning an SEC Title. So Kirby should get some credit for stepping in there and quickly elevating the program. I’d like to see where they are in two years when the program is only full of guys he's recruited. Mullen is probably the safer pick, but he’s had some trouble recruiting at UF so far….. I think I’d take Mullen, but what’s really disheartening is that Jeremy Pruitt might just lose to both of them every year and get fired after the 2020 season and the Tennessee downward spiral will never end. It’s a damn curse. Are we sure Phillip Fulmer didn’t make a blood sacrifice to the football gods on the sidelines at Arkansas in 1998 so Clint Stoerner would fumble that ball? Did he trade a miracle and a national title for like 40 years of torment thereafter? Or were the football gods so horrified by Sean McDonough’s voice crack that they decided to punish the team that was the subject of his euphoria?  

Dammit, why am I talking about Tennessee again?
Texas eliminated themselves from the playoff race by getting torched by a mediocre Oklahoma State team
The Cowboys gained 502 yards and their quarterback Taylor Cornelius threw for over 300 yards and averaged 9 yards per attempt. Games like this one just prove my point about the Big 12; it’s a pillow fight conference where players sometimes inadvertently run into each other, and on even rarer occasions, perform this archaic technique called “tackling”. It’s why no team from that league is going to win a national title anytime soon; Oklahoma is a great offense with a fantastic quarterback in Kyler Murray, and yet, there’s no way in hell they could win a national championship playing the kind of defense they do. Think about all the top ranked teams right now; Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, LSU; they all bring something to the table defensively and don’t get torched every week. And don’t give me the pace of play argument; I don’t buy the “our defense sucks and can’t get stops because they’re on the field a million times throughout the game because our offense scores too quickly” because Alabama has put up a million points this season, and oftentimes rapidly, and yet, they have no problem getting stops defensively. The same thing goes for Notre Dame, or hell, even Clemson. When there’s a competent defensive team in the Big 12 again, we can talk about them as realistic contenders. Otherwise, I don't want to hear about it.
Side note: what a horrendously cold take from me here. I thought Texas would blow them out, and even joked that it would get so bad that noted OK State donor T. Boone Pickens would reconsider his loyalties. The lesson, as always; I’m an idiot.
The ACC is abominable
Outside of Clemson, which program is currently trending in a direction where you could see them making the playoff in the next five years? It certainly isn’t FSU and Willie Taggart; the ‘Noles lost by 49 at home to Clemson, their largest home defeat in program history. Miami and Mark Richt are 5-3 this season, the Turnover Chain is dead, and they just lost by double digits to Boston College. Maybe Virginia Tech? Maybe, though that program hasn’t finished ranked in the Top 10 since 2009 and hasn’t seriously contended for a national title since Michael Vick was the quarterback almost twenty years ago. Otherwise, it’s full of a bunch of programs like Virginia, who has never finished a season in the entire history of its program ranked in the Top Ten; Boston College, which hasn’t had a ten win season or finished ranked since 2007; and N.C. State, who just got destroyed by Clemson and then lost to Syracuse. Syracuse? That’s one of the worst Power 5 jobs in the country and the fact that Dino Babers has them at 6-2 and ranked for the first time in 17 years is a miracle and shows just how good of a coach he is. But they aren’t ever going to seriously contend for the playoff. Duke hasn’t won the ACC since the 1989 and probably won’t ever again, North Carolina is 12-20 the last three years, Wake Forest is Wake Forest and not close to contention, Pittsburgh hasn’t won more than 8 games in any season this decade, and Georgia Tech runs a 1950s offense in a passing age and is 21-23 the last four seasons. It’s why I’ve said that the ACC is the only Power 5 conference that should have its teams eliminated from playoff contention after their first loss; that league is terrible! Clemson is going to finish the season, probably undefeated, and their best win will be over a three or four loss Texas A&M team and Syracuse, who is an okay squad that will have an inflated record thanks to all the creampuffs they got to play through this season.
Ah yes, there’s one ACC team I left out here…
What the hell has happened to Bobby Petrino and Louisville?
The Cardinals are 10-14 in their last 24 games under Petrino, are 2-6 this year, and have lost five games in a row, four of them coming by 18 points or more. They went from losing by a few yards to the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers in 2016 to being unable to stay within 22 points of WAKE FOREST on Saturday. Wake Forest! In the process, Petrino has removed himself from the “edgy, but maybe we’ll roll the dice on him” at a bigger program list to “No, we can’t even consider the guy who had his mistress on the payroll AND lost to almost every ACC team by three scores” list of irrelevancy. I had him on every “Who should replace Butch Jones at Tennessee” list I did back in 2016, but the prospect of him ever getting a better job than Louisville is laughable now; hell, it’s far more likely he gets fired there and fades away into obscurity.
The only thing that won’t ever go away? This glorious picture!

Teams still alive for the playoff
Like always, teams from the Power 5 conferences are eliminated if they have more than one loss, with the exception of the ACC, a league that has been so awful that a single loss should knock you completely out of contention. And also like always, there’s no teams from the Group of 5 here, because none of them are worthy or good enough of making it, because it’s laughable to consider any of them one of the four best teams, which is the standard that the committee has been tasked with figuring out. I count 11 teams still alive (* by the undefeated teams).
SEC: *Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Kentucky
Alabama and LSU will meet in Baton Rouge this weekend, while Georgia travels to Kentucky, meaning there’s a shot we could have two teams eliminated from playoff contention out of the conference by this time next week. Here’s a fascinating question though; what if Alabama loses this weekend to LSU, but then wins the rest of their games, and finishes 11-1, while LSU wins out, makes the SEC Title Game out of the Western Division, and plays 11-1 Georgia. The winner of that game would obviously make the playoff, but what would you do with Alabama? Would the Tide make it over a one loss conference champ from another league? Sure, they didn’t make the SEC Championship Game last year and still ended up in the playoff, but that had more to do with Ohio State, their other competition for the fourth spot, going on the road to Iowa and getting their doors blown off, giving them their second loss of the season. The committee has not left out a single loss conference champion since 2014, when they kept both Baylor and TCU, the Big 12 “champions” out, after the league refused to crown either of them the official champs even though Baylor won the game between the two of them in the regular season. But even then, the committee still took four conference champs, three of whom had one loss. I think the committee values the conference title as being a tie breaker between one loss teams from difference leagues, so if the Tide were unable to win this weekend, and LSU ended up making the SEC Championship Game, they’d probably need some help to get in, probably something like the the Big 12, Pac 12, and Big Ten champions all having two losses. Of course, the Tide can take care of any questions like this by just winning the rest of their games, which is something I think they’ll do. Not that I want that to happen, of course.
Georgia has a tall task here. They need to win out to avoid having two losses, and that could mean having to get by Alabama in the SEC Title Game. Otherwise I don’t think an 11-2 ‘Dawg team would get any real playoff consideration here.
ACC: *Clemson
Clemson’s path is easy here; win the rest of their games and they’ll be in. Lose one and things get a bit dicey; I think they’d need some of the other conference champs to finish with two losses to make it in, even though in reality I think any one loss ACC team should be eliminated immediately. If you can’t run the table against that creampuff schedule, you shouldn’t be in the playoff.
Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State
Both these programs have losable games on the schedule before they meet the weekend after Thanksgiving. Michigan has been inarguably better the last month; Ohio State can’t run the ball, tackle anyone, and Urban Meyer constantly looks like he just got halfway drawn and quartered on the sidelines. I think the Wolverines take care of Penn State this weekend, beat Ohio State on the road, and head into the Big Ten championship with only one loss. Win that and there’s no way a one loss conference champ from the Big Ten gets left out.
Big 12: Oklahoma, West Virginia
West Virginia could knock themselves out this weekend by losing at Texas. But if they get by that one, they’ll play Oklahoma at home in the final week of the season in what could be a playoff elimination game. But here’s the even crazier thing; depending on how the rest of the season shakes out, these two teams could play each other in the conference championship game the next weekend if they finish first and second in the conference standings. So there’s a chance OU could hand WVU their second loss of the season after Thanksgiving, and then lose their second game of the season to the Mountaineers in the Big 12 Title Game the next weekend. I actually think OU will run the table (their offense and Kyler Murray are incredible), but with as bad as their defense is, it’d be pretty easy for them to have a game where they give up 600+ yards, can’t get off the field, and lose.
Pac 12: Washington State
The Cougars have some scheduling breaks! Here’s their last four: home against three loss Cal, at Colorado, who just blew a 31-3 second half lead to Oregon State (my god), home for 5 loss Arizona, and home for Washington, who just lost for the third time in a game where they scored just 10 points. They could very easily be 11-1 and headed to the conference championship game against probably Utah, a team they already beat back in late September. The question for Washington State, assuming they go 12-1 and win the Pac 12, will be whether or not the relative lack of strength in their conference keeps them out. So if we have an undefeated Alabama, undefeated Clemson, undefeated Notre Dame, and one loss Michigan, whose only loss was on the road to undefeated Notre Dame by 7 points, what is on Washington State’s resume that makes them better than any of the four of them? Remember, their loss is a bad one, to a four loss USC team that’s struggled at times to score. Why would they have a better resume than a one loss Oklahoma team that wins the Big 12? So I think they’ll need a lot of help to make it.
Independents: *Notre Dame
The final four of the Irish schedule looks a bit tougher than it did a month ago. At Northwestern this weekend will be a tough one with as well as the Wildcats have played the last month, and Syracuse in Yankee Stadium won’t be a push over either. Home for FSU and USC won’t be too difficult I don’t imagine, but both of those games are on the road and thousands of miles from the Notre Dame campus. Sure, I think the Irish should win all those games, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they got tripped up in one of those. I think 11-1 Notre Dame would still be one of the four best teams, but I’d be interested to see how the committee would deal with them, considering the Irish really haven’t been in the conversation for a playoff spot yet this late in the season.
My Top 4
The first playoff committee rankings come out tomorrow; I don’t think they’ll agree with my top four, but here’s how I’d rank them if I was the czar of football.
The Tide were idle this week and look to continue their streak of dominance at LSU on Saturday.
The Wolverines were also on bye, and have a tough game at home against Penn State this weekend. 2018 Michigan is one of the best college defenses I’ve ever seen in my entire life. And yes, I realize the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame back in Week 1, but if the teams played tomorrow on a neutral field, I think Michigan would win. So that’s my rationale.
Notre Dame
The Irish took care of Navy on Saturday, and now travel to Northwestern to face a Wildcat team that’s won four games in a row.
I don’t think the Tigers will be in my Top 4 for the rest of the season once they get dismantled by Alabama this weekend, but I’ll leave them here for now because I don’t think there’s more than three teams out there that should be favored against them, based solely on how everyone has looked so far.
I’d have Georgia fifth, Oklahoma sixth, and… if you’re going to twist my arm, Clemson seventh, even though they’re in a cupcake league and I’m pretty sure they’d have two losses by now in either the Big Ten or the SEC.

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