It's good to be back on the winning track. Here are my ten thoughts from this week -- with hoops season starting on Friday, a couple basketball thoughts are included this time around.
1. No Signs of a Hangover. As I discussed last week, Tennessee was the perfect opponent for the Tigers to play this past Saturday after the loss to South Carolina. Tennessee, an improving team but a team we are better than, was what we needed - someone we should beat, but not automatically roll. Yet we did roll, with an offensive showing that was methodical even if not overwhelming and a dominant defensive performance that was the very definition of bend but not break. As I walked out of the stadium, to say I felt a "sigh of relief" would be too strong, as I thought we would win -- the proper word would be reassured -- a feeling of renewed confidence that the 7-0 start was not a fluke, that we are as good as we thought we were, that nearly everything is indeed still on the table for us.
2. Thank you, Maty. With James Franklin coming back next week in all likelihood, I want to take some time to recognize Maty Mauk and thank him for the performance in Franklin's absence. While the South Carolina loss was disappointing, to come out and go 3-1 vs. Georgia (he closed out that win for us), Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina is truly something Tiger fans should not forget. While I'm certainly delighted Franklin's back, Maty did his job as best he could given the position he was in. With Printz and Mauk, I feel that our outlook for the future at QB is certainly positive, even if highly competitive.
3. On the road, again. After three straight home games, now the Tigers head on the road towards Lexington and Oxford. Much like I thought Tennessee was a perfect opponent last week, I'm glad Kentucky is the opponent this week. While no game on the road is ever a gimme, Kentucky is a team we should beat and so it presents a chance for Franklin to shake off any rust before we head into the bye and the last two games, which should be considerably more difficult. That said, Kentucky has shown signs of life this year, and in their eyes this is an opportunity game for them. I think we win, however, and do so quite handily, 45-13.
4. Looking ahead. At Ole Miss and home against Texas A&M (can you imagine that atmosphere, particularly if we're 10-1?) loom beyond Kentucky, and represent a gateway to what could possibly be the best Mizzou football season in recent history, 2007 included . Ole Miss, who is in the middle of a stretch of six consecutive home games, will likely be 8-3 as they play Arkansas and Troy before their game against Mizzou. Texas A&M plays Mississippi State next Saturday, then a bye, before traveling to Baton Rouge to play LSU, so they'll be at least 8-3 if not 9-2. Both games will be enormous challenges -- I, for one, can't wait!
5. Tigers Tip-Off Friday and a quick thought on Booker. I simply refuse to panic too much regarding the performance against Central Missouri, but I must admit I'm a little nervous going into the basketball season and am certainly glad we start off with several winnable games, starting off with SE Louisiana Friday.. We certainly seem to have the tools to score, but I'm concerned about defense and just the overall identity of the team, at this point. Some of that is natural due to the incredible amount of turnover we have had, and there is certainly time for them to gel. It's hard to make a prediction for them, given we really haven't seen them play much. My goal, however, is a tournament berth -- where that puts us in the SEC standings is hard to tell. I'm looking forward to the season starting officially on Friday.
On Booker, this one hurts and is quite disappointing given the amount of effort we put into it. It's just discouraging. In all candor, I have not been and am not sold on Frank Haith as a coach, and this is another example of my doubt regarding his abilities to create a long term high-success program. I like some of what I see, but other things concern me, which I'll address in more detail in a future edition.
On to college football as a whole...
6. Zzzzzzz. What a boring week of games. Honestly, when Michigan - Michigan State and Florida State - Miami lead the docket of games, you know it's a boring week and that only increased when those games turned into blowouts. Usually, the only drawback to actually going to home games is that I miss all the great games on TV -- not so much this week. But, for what we didn't see this week will be made up next week, when several high profile games are on the docket -- Oklahoma-Baylor, Stanford-Oregon, LSU-Alabama, not to mention other games that I think could be interesting -- Auburn at Tennessee, Penn State at Minnesota, Nebraska at Michigan, Arizona State at Utah, and Houston at UCF. However, this week's weaker slate of games didn't mean we didn't learn anything including...
7. The Buckeyes' roadblock to 13-0 is Michigan State. The Spartans have a great defense and their offense, though nothing exciting, has quietly improved week to week, getting the job done. They are now 8-1 and 5-0, and if they can win in Lincoln in two weeks, it would be hard for them to lose the division. I think they have the defense to slow down Ohio State and could very well be the roadblock for Ohio State to go 13-0. My wife is a Spartan fan so they are one of my "second teams" I cheer for after Mizzou.
8. The ACC is still as weak as ever. I do think Florida State is as good as anyone in the country and still think Clemson deserves to be Top Ten and Miami perhaps in the Top 25. But, beyond that, the drop off to the rest of the league is steep. The fact Duke, Georgia Tech and Boston College could all have cases to be 4th best in the league is evidence of this reality. In my view, if we're truly going to look at schedule strength, this should take some luster off Florida State, even though I do think FSU is in a class by itself and has proven as such by crushing their ACC competition.
9. TCU and West Virginia played, and no one cared. It really is hard to look at the Big 12 and not have a little bit of schadenfreude when looking at the standings and the TCU vs. West Virginia matchup. The once proud football conference now is left to have to promote such a contest as at all compelling. I understand the cycle of college football and that WVU and TCU are on the downside of that cycle, but it is nonetheless rather pathetic, even if a bit humorous. I hold no ill will towards either program, but they really are indicative of a failed conference and the sad state of affairs the Big 12 finds itself in. They may be fine revenue wise, in the short term, but I actually don't think the long term outlook it is at all positive for that league. I'm relieved we escaped, even if I'm also sad about what has become of a league I used to love.
10. Finally, where will the head coaches of the future come from? I've written before about the amazing level of mediocre football being played and the degree of parity that is leading to. Setting aside those top 8 or 9 teams, you have hoards of average teams, with some competing to be just above average. Whether this level of parity is a good or bad thing perhaps requires a much deeper discussion, but one of the consequences of this seems to be a lack of obvious choices for coaching vacancies that might emerge among the nation's elite or even for BCS-level schools looking at the others. With the exception of 2 or 3 schools, the 40+ or so schools that make up the Sun Belt, MAC, Mountain West, and Conference USA are all all basically at the same level. Just above those across most of the BCS-level conferences, you see the same thing - a great deal of "average" teams with no one really that stands out as "wow." As such, it will be interesting to see the degree to which there is coaching turnover this offseason, and where the new hires come from. Will we see more assistants hired without first having head coaching experience? Will high-success programs at the FCS level, like North Dakota State, have their coaches purged instead? It will be interesting to watch.
That's it for this week
Top Ten: 1) Oregon; 2) Alabama; 3) Florida State; 4) Baylor; 5) Ohio State; 6; Stanford; 7) Auburn; 8) Missouri; 9) Clemson; 10) LSU