Wow, that was a heartbreaker. With a late drive back home from the game last night and some time to recover from the punch to the gut that was the nature of last night's defeat, I certainly have a lot of thoughts on our team, the season, and where the season is as a whole, both for us as well as college football more generally. I'm certainly glad it took til our 8th game to have to write about a loss, but that doesn't make it any easier. With that in mind, here's your Week 9 edition...
1. Opportunity knocked, and the Tigers didn't answer the door. Every once in a while, there is one of these games that comes along where you have every opportunity to win a game, where it is actually harder to lose it than to win it, but somehow you find a way to do just that. Last night was one of those games. Some, of course, will focus on the missed 23-yard field goal, and that was certainly frustrating and there is no excuse (laces aside) for missing such a chip shot. That said, there was no guarantee we'd win it in a third overtime, and that miss should not overshadow the fact we never should have been put in that position to have to force a third overtime. 4th and 15 -- the one time I really felt we'd win it -- stands out the most. Others can analyze the catastrophic nature of our defense on that play, but suffice it to say a WR should not be that open on a "do or die" play 15 yards out. There was also the fact we were down 3 and just needed 6 to win it, yet ended up short...I felt the play calls were questionable in that situation. Or the fact we let them back in the game, up 17-0, to begin with. It just was a frustrating game from that vantage point.
2. We need James Franklin back. Don't get me wrong, Maty Mauk has the makings of a good college quarterback and played well enough to keep us competitive. There are aspects of his game I enjoy, but I strongly feel that we are missing James Franklin and if we have hopes of making this a truly special season (greater than 9 wins), we need him back. That's not a criticism of Mauk, it's just a realization that experience and certain talent matters. I think we win yesterday with him, and I think we can only win at Ole Miss or beat Texas A&M if we have him. Specifically, there were some short yardage situations where we simply needed a first down and the "Tank" aspect of Franklin's game would have been very helpful. The good news is it appears we'll get him back soon; if not next week then for Kentucky.
3. DGB needs to step up. Just going to say it because others are saying it and at this point in his career, it needs to be said. Dorial Green-Beckham needs to emerge quickly or he's going to be cast as a bit of a disappointment, long term. He had a couple balls yesterday that were difficult but certainly catchable, but he did not reel them in. Interestingly, given it's his sophomore year, there is still time for him to blossom, but of course, expectations were rightfully higher for him than for others given his recruitment status. Right now, we have targets like Washington and Lucas but as we go into next year and the following year, DGB needs to show up.
4. It's mostly all still out there for us. We only dropped to #9 and #10 in the Harris and Coaches and it seems the BCS will have us there, as well -- which means that we still have an ability to recover to a Top Ten finish, even if we have largely blown our chance at playing in the National Championship. We certainly have every ability to win the SEC East and that should be the goal, as we can't control the rest now. Going 4-0 cements the division outright and probably puts us in the 5 or 6 range before the SEC Championship Game. Going 3-1, as long as the loss is to Ole Miss or A&M, possibly still get us the division but in a tiebreaker if Georgia wins out and/or South Carolina loses. 2-2 and you're 9-3 -- a good season but more in line with what we thought at the year's outset. My heart says 4-0, my brain says 3-1. If I had to predict, I'd say 10-2 and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma.
5. Tennessee is a perfect opponent to play next. If we were to play Kentucky next and win, people would wonder if we had recovered or if Kentucky was bad enough it wasn't a good measure. If we played someone like LSU, it might be too difficult to really be fair to judge. That we play Tennessee, a talented team who we are better than but has proven they can be pesky, is perfect in my mind. They are seemingly headed for a 6-6 type season, and so we represent an opportunity game for them -- but it's still a game we should win, whether it's with Mauk or Franklin. I think we do win it, 31-17.
As for college football as a whole...
6. It's Alabama/Oregon/Florida State and everybody else. At #9/10, with a month to play, it seems on the surface lik the Tigers and teams near them could climb into the national title hunt. This year, I'm not so sure. Florida State really only plays Miami (who isn't that great) on the way out. Oregon has one test game vs. Stanford, but I don't see them losing to Arizona or Oregon State or whoever they play in the Pac 12 title game (at home). Alabama actually is the team I could see losing (LSU, at Auburn, SEC title game), but they have looked unbeatable. I think any of these three have shown consistently they have separation from the rest, including Ohio State, whose schedule is weak and has had some close calls against teams they shouldn't. So, I think that Mizzou could climb to as high as 4 or 5, but no higher, barring something strange happening.
7. This season shows why the College Football Playoff is a welcome addition. It's silly, to me, that a 2OT loss to South Carolina should end our dreams of a national title. Yes, it should make it more difficult, but it should not end it. In the new playoff system, we'd have a decent (still very difficult) chance of getting back to #4, and the selection committee would be able to look at things more analytically. It would still make a loss like yesterday heartbreaking, but it wouldn't be season-ending in terms of a national title.
8. Baylor rolls along but now will finally be tested. The Baylor Bears, who could be a potentially intriguing team in the BCS picture by year's end, rolled again yesterday by destroying Kansas. However, as much as I think they are for real, I can't remember a "big five" league team less tested come November 1 than Baylor is this year. The best team they've played is Kansas State. But, now, they will have to face Oklahoma in Waco, Texas Tech (in Arlington), at Oklahoma State, at TCU and Texas. I still believe they will run the table.
9. Speaking of running the table, we could be looking at 7 undefeated teams by year's end. I know that is unlikely, but Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, Baylor, Ohio State, Fresno State, and Northern Illinois could all end up undefeated without much of a stretch. I'm having a hard time pointing to losses in any of their schedules. Fresno and N. Illinois are more afterthoughts, but they will be battling for a BCS berth, and the other five would likely end up 1-5 with only two having a chance at the national title. Crazy!
10.Arizona State will win the Pac 12 South. Though they still have more than half the conference season to play, they sit at 3-1 with a favorable schedule ahead of them...and they are really putting up big numbers, even in losses. Even if they would lose at UCLA, I think the Bruins lose other games, as well. So, if you're looking for a team to upset either Oregon or Stanford in the Pac 12 title, you might look at the Sun Devils.
That's it for this week...
Tik's Top Ten: 1) Oregon; 2) Alabama; 3) Florida State; 4) Baylor; 5) Stanford; 6) Ohio State; 7) Auburn; 8) Missouri; 9) Clemson; 10) Miami