Saturday Lessons: November 14

Florida and Alabama just keep doing their thing.

This was probably the last realistic chance for Florida to lose prior to the showdown with Alabama, given that its game was on the road and South Carolina isn't a bad team. It would have been the irony to end all ironies for Steve Spurrier to spoil the Gators' attempt at an undefeated season, but UF just won the way its been winning all year: adequate offense and (mostly) stifling defense. Florida completed its third perfect SEC record ever, after 1995 and 1996, and they have just FIU and FSU (who plays less defense than Georgia does most days) to go before heading up to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide made sure there would be no cowbell magic for Mississippi State. Mark Ingram was his usual great self (149 yards on just 19 carries), and Greg McElroy found his early season form once again as he was efficient and didn't turn it over. The defense was brilliant as usual, holding the Bulldogs to just a field goal and snaring three interceptions in the process. A pit stop with Chattanooga and the Iron Bowl remain for the Tide before they pack for Peachtree City.

No one dominates without help, and USC's help is about gone.

I've said this before: no team dominates a conference without the teams around it being subpar. FSU dominated in the 1990s in part because the ACC was terrible during that time. Miami had a great run in the early part of this decade thanks to the Big East not being very good. Florida and Alabama now are dominating the SEC (a combined 30-1 the last two years) thanks in part to regimes getting stale and/or falling apart in at Auburn, Tennessee, and Georgia. There is no exception to this rule. You can't dominate without weakness around you.

USC dominated the Pac-10 for much of this decade thanks to a lot of lousy coaching elsewhere. The conference didn't have a lot of coaches that could stare down the titan on a consistent basis. Jeff Tedford and Mike Bellotti did occasionally, but without any consistent threat, USC ran roughshod over the league. UCLA went nowhere with Karl Dorrell, as did Arizona State with Dirk Koetter. Oregon State took some time to get going under Mike Riley. The Washington schools fell apart after Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price left. Stanford went through several bad coaches. Arizona has only recently done anything under Mike Stoops.

Teams are upgrading now though. Oregon with Chip Kelly is 2-1 against USC. Stanford under Jim Harbaugh is 2-1 with two wins in L.A. Oregon State is hitting its stride under Mike Riley and is 2-2 since the Pac-10 went to the round robin format. Washington at least hired someone who knew all the secrets in Steve Sarkisian, and UW is 1-0 under him. Sure this was going to be a down year for USC, but this big of a crash was not inevitable. The rest of the conference is catching up, and it's because it's getting smarter about coaching hires.

LSU is not the same without Jordan Jefferson.

An eight point win over Louisiana Tech is not impressive in any way this season, and Jarrett Lee completed just 7 of 22 passes for 105 yards and a 4.8 yards per completion average. Keiland Williams had a good day in relief of the injured Charles Scott, but really, without a functional passing game, LSU's offense is seriously hampered. The Tigers didn't put up as many points on LA Tech as Auburn (36), Navy (32), Nevada (37), Idaho (35), and Boise State (45) did. For a home game where they didn't turn it over, that's not good.

Regrouping is not part of Lane Kiffin's master plan, apparently.

I will grant pretty much any team a distraction-fueled mulligan the week that three players get arrested for armed robbery. However the Vols practically didn't make the trip to Oxford, mailing in a pathetic 42-17 loss to Ole Miss. Some slippage would be expected without starting safety Janzen Jackson, but they allowed Dexter McCluster to serially kill them for 282 yards on the ground. Tennessee normally doesn't give up that much yardage to entire teams, much less single players. UT is still without a sixth bowl-clinching win, but fortunately for the Vols' postseason hopes, they still have Vandy left to play.

Good luck figuring out the Rebels. Again.

Ole Miss, meanwhile, played like we would have thought they would in the preseason. I'm not about to get all that excited over it since I said the same thing after the Rebels' win over Arkansas, and they lost to Auburn the very next week. A win over LSU would give them the tiebreaker for second in the SEC West, something that seemed out of the question not that long ago. That does assume though that they don't find a way to lose the Egg Bowl, which given the inconsistency from the team this year is not 100% out of the question.

TCU may have a point.

A lot of folks assume that if a major player from a major conference played in a non-BCS conference, they'd win pretty much all the games by blowouts. Well, that's exactly what TCU has been doing, with its only close wins being at Clemson (who's not so bad) and at Air Force (who's going bowling). The Horned Frogs are basically doing what we might expect any other titan might do with the same schedule, and two close wins over decent or better teams can be excused. It's hard to give too many more reasons for keeping TCU out of the national title game with their three wins over ranked teams, even with Texas (one win over a ranked team) undefeated.

Georgia won't finish under .500 in the SEC.

I'm not sure how much more we can gather about UGA after its win over Auburn since few elements of it have been repeatable for the Bulldogs throughout the season. If you're wondering if this game saved Willie Martinez's job, your answer is a hearty laugh and a "no." The 17 offensive points that Auburn scored was more than Kentucky gave up to the Tigers, and you still have to look at the bigger picture. Georgia has allowed as a total team 30+ points nine times since the start of the 2008 season. That's more times than than Florida, Alabama, Penn State, Ohio State, and TCU have allowed 30+ in the same span (seven times). Not all of that is on the defense, what with special teams and defensive scores, but it's still a bad relfection on that unit.

Auburn's position as the high variance team of the conference remains unchallenged.

I am not really sure what to make of Auburn. The Tigers can beat Tennessee and Ole Miss, but they find a way to lose to Kentucky and Arkansas too. Now, they can't beat Georgia either, though UGA is the fourth best team in the conference by record. There's no consistency there from week to week, which I supposed could be expected since they are in the first year of a system that requires extreme levels of conditioning.

Kentucky is going bowling.

It's hard to think about football among the bluegrass this time of year, but the Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt to score their sixth win of the season. Like last year, UK is sitting on six wins and just two of them in-conference, but the Wildcats can put a nicer record up with an upsets over Georgia and/or Tennessee in their final two games. Given that Kentucky has already defeated Auburn, Georgia's been wildly inconsistent, and that Tennessee might be going into a late season tailspin, it could happen.

Few teams can torch cupcakes like Arkansas can.

Missouri State: 48-10 win

Eastern Michigan: 63-27 win

Troy: 56-20 win

It's too bad the Hogs couldn't play in the Sun Belt or MAC. Throw out their SEC record, add a few more scores like that, and keep their 47-19 win over Texas A&M, and they might be looking like Boise State is right now. Okay, not quite as good since Oregon's much better than TAMU, but you get the picture.

Minnesota should stop playing teams from the Dakotas.

The Golden Gophers needed a field goal late in the fourth quarter to hold off South Dakota State 16-13 on Senior Day (!). They only outgained the Jackrabbits 231-229. In 2006 Minnesota escaped North Dakota State 10-9, but the very next year the Bison beat the Gophers 27-21. It may be time to find a new area to scout for I-AA opponents, don't you think?

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