Saturday Lessons: November 21

It's hard to argue against a late-season pseudo bye week.

I am philosophically against teams playing patsies this late in the season, but it's understandable why teams do it. Florida and Alabama got functional equivalents of bye weeks against FIU and Chattanooga, getting to rest the starters for a good bit and getting a breather after a long season. They also got an extra week to prepare for their in-state rivals before taking off for Atlanta to face each other. If I was a coach, I'd love it. As a fan who was deprived of good football on TV, I didn't love it. But, fans don't run the joint; we only pay for it.

Ole Miss replaces LSU as the No. 3 in the conference.

The Rebels survived LSU's comeback attempt (or benefited from Tigers' coaches trying to lose at the end; take your pick) and now stand as the third best team in the league. Sure LSU beat Auburn, and the Tigers from the Plains in turn beat Ole Miss. However, LSU has lost to the three best teams on its schedule and escaped against Mississippi State and Georgia. That about evens out Ole Miss' close loss to South Carolina, and the Rebels have the head-to-head edge. It's messy, but I think the guys from Oxford come out ahead.

The SEC is definitely down.

Two teams are undefeated in conference play, and the worst Alabama can do is 7-1. That's dominance, and it's a nice sign for the top of the league. What's not a good sign is that we're upset wins by Miss State and Arkansas over Ole Miss and LSU away from having no one else finish better than 4-4. Yeah, we've got 10 teams that are bowl eligible, but we got it largely in the same way the ACC gets nine or so every year: weak out of conference opponents and chaos that spreads the wins around within the conference.

The dearth of good teams out there means that most other conferences are like that too. The two juggernauts at the top help keep the SEC in the discussion for toughest conference, but the best out of conference win anyone has is Alabama's win over Virginia Tech and Bama's already one of the juggernauts. A South Carolina win over Clemson would help, but that only asserts the SEC as being better than the ACC, and that's never been in doubt. A lot have been assuming the Pac-10 as the best, but the best wins anyone has besides USC's victory over Ohio State out of conference are wins over teams like Central Michigan, Utah, and Minnesota. Hardly inspiring stuff.

Oklahoma is definitely down too.

It's one thing for OU to lose games to good teams with Sam Bradford out. That much is forgivable. However, Bob Stoops almost always shuts down Texas Tech because he used to employ Mike Leach and knows how the Cap'n thinks. Well, it didn't quite work this year with the Red Raiders smoking the Sooners 41-13. Bradford doesn't play defense, and that's a mighty bad loss.

Georgia probably had its back breaker.

After mumblings about whether Willie Martinez saved his job in UGA's win over Auburn, I think we can safely put them to bed. Kentucky didn't rack up a ton of yards, but the Wildcats had three sustained touchdown drives and the Bulldog defense couldn't force field goals when put in bad spots. And that offense... I know it's tough without A.J. Green, but committing four turnovers when you lose by seven is inexcusable. Once you start losing to Kentucky when up 20-6 at the half, the status quo can't remain.

We've been here with UGA though. In 2006, the Bulldogs went 4-4 in conference including a loss to Kentucky. However, that was with a promising freshman quarterback and against a far better Wildcats team. Georgia's 2006 non-conference schedule also supplemented its I-AA team with UAB, a sucky Colorado team, and a Chan Gailey-led Georgia Tech squad. They got to 9-4 that year. Things change when you supplement the I-AA team with a top ten Georgia Tech team under Paul Johnson and a top 15 Oklahoma State team. They're staring down the barrel of 6-6 now.

LSU might not have, but it could be close.

I can't honestly say that I follow the internals of the LSU fanbase on places like TigerDroppings.com and all, but I don't think Les Miles is quite in the same predicament that Richt is in over at Georgia. Richt is losing games handily from Sunday through Friday right now before his staff has the chance to make bad in-game decisions; Miles' teams haven't been blown off the field quite in the same way. Sure he lost the game with poor clock management, but every coach does every so often and Miles' team is still doing no worse than the Outback Bowl this year.

I guess the difference is that Richt is falling down from a peak he set, whereas Miles took over at the peak from someone else. That's a substantive disparity in the two men's positions. Safe for a year or not, ol' Les certainly doesn't look worth the clause in his contract that makes him the highest paid guy in the SEC. Barring a stunning turnaround, the only way this ends nicely is if Miles goes off to Michigan next season if UM fires Rich Rodriguez.

Arkansas makes the scoreboards sing.

The Razorbacks went for 40+ points for the seventh time this season, going 6-1 in those games. They're streaking to the end of the season after putting MIssissippi State away for good in the second half of Saturday's game. It's also true that the best wins Arkansas possesses are over teams that currently reside in fifth place of the East and West divisions, respectively. Still, they look like they have a good chance at beating LSU next weekend, and that would put them at a solid 4-4 in the SEC.

We'll see on that, but eight wins and a Cotton Bowl bid (UF and Bama to BCS, Ole Miss to Cap One, tiebreaker over LSU puts them in Dallas) would be significant progress over last year. It also sets them up nicely for next year if Ryan Mallett stays (and he should; he still needs some refining) and someone figures out the defensive problems.

Tennessee at least didn't lose to Vanderbilt.

The Vols of mid-October would have put 50 on the Commodores I think, but these are now the Vols of mid-November and they're not quite as good. Such is the life of a team in Year One of a coaching regime, especially when your roster is wracked by injuries and disciplinary casualties. You have highs. You have lows. You better hope you don't lose to the Vandys of the world, which Tennessee did not.

It's back to bowl territory for them, but they need to beat Kentucky week to finish in the top three of the East. Tennessee needing to beat Kentucky to avoid the bottom half of the division? Welcome to life in a down year of the SEC.

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