A mid-week thought exercise to keep us on our toes
Welcome to the first edition of To the Contrary, a feature where we'll throw some counterintuitive ideas out there not simply to be contrarian, but to try to make sure nobody's missing something. It's not necessarily that we fully believe all these things, but it's another way of looking at what's happening in an effort to avoid groupthink.
Alabama's offense isn't any better than it was last year. A series of sluggish games in the middle of 2008 and the disappointment of back-to-back losses in the SEC Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl make us forget that Bama looked really explosive at the start of last season. In fact, Alabama's not averaging that many more points a game this year, putting up 162 (34, 40, 53, 35) through its first four as opposed to 144 (34, 20, 41, 49) by the same point last year. Alabama has yet to play any of the teams (Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU and Florida) that held it below 30 points last year. When it comes to scoring offense, the Tide is ranked third in the SEC this year; at this point in 2008, it was ranked second.
Vanderbilt isn't really any worse than in 2008. This year has been a major regression for Vanderbilt from the 7-6 breakthrough campaign last season, right? No. So Vanderbilt lost to Mississippi State two Saturdays ago. They did the same thing last year. The loss at LSU was to be expected and would have been expected even in 2008. The Commodores still have two wins and winnable games at Army, vs. Kentucky and possibly even at Tennessee. Sweep those and pull an upset -- perhaps by winning a third straight against South Carolina -- and they're back in the postseason.
Florida is off to a great start. For one thing, they have yet to lose a game -- something that had already happened last year when Ole Miss defeated them in the Swamp. Sure, they had a disappointing game against Tennessee; just like last year, when they were slightly outgained by the Vols and came away with a less lopsided victory than the 30-6 final score would suggest. Through its first grou games in 2008, the Gators ranked fifth in total offense in the SEC. This year, they're in first.
Ole Miss is still a player in the SEC West. There's no reason to write off the Rebels, who still get Alabama and LSU at home. Win those games and avoid laying any more chicken eggs this season and Ole Miss will be assured of the SEC West crown. The rest of the conference slate isn't exactly intimidating: at Vanderbilt, vs. Arkansas, at Auburn, vs. Tennessee and at Mississippi State. The Rebels still look good enough to be favored in every non-Alabama, non-LSU game except maybe the one in the Greater Opelika Metropolitan Area.
Mississippi State is still terrible. They beat Vanderbilt ... just like last year. They play LSU closer than expected ... just like last year. While the offense has looked better in conference play, there's nothing to suggest that the Western Division Bulldogs are actually any better compared to their opponents than they were in 2008. And, really, how could the offense have been any worse? Last year, they were 11th in the SEC in total offense after Week 4; this season, they're 10th. And the passing offense has regressed from seventh in 2008 to 12th in 2009. That's progress?