Due to popular demand (well, not really, but I do appreciate the positive feedback), I'm back with another edition of my thoughts on Mizzou and college football. And what an exciting week it was, with compelling matchups across the country as well as a surprisingly competitive game for the Tigers. As always, I encourage and love feedback on any of the points below.
1. Fire Pink...or maybe not. I have to admit, in the early parts of the 3rd Quarter as Arkansas State pulled ahead, I had visions of coaching hot boards dancing in my head. Maybe not quite that far, actually, but I was thinking about how awful it would be if we lost and what it would mean. But, we didn't. As a mature team, led by a senior quarterback and a veteran coach, should do when challenged, the Tigers responded and outscored the Red Wolves 27-3 on the way out the door for a margin that was nearly equivalent to the spread (which was 21 1/2 in Yahoo College Pick 'Em -- I got the point, yes!). Now certainly, we don't want to come out this slow, but my basic reaction was that perhaps the 3-0 record, the decisive win at Indiana, the Arkansas State loss at Memphis, and the fact the SEC schedule loomed a week later combined to give us a little false confidence and look ahead problem, that was quickly resolved in the 2nd half when the light bulb finally went off that the game was in doubt. Then, boom, it was over in about three possessions. Looking at it in retrospect, I actually think the first half may have taught us a bit of a lesson, which is that...
2. Winning's Hard! To borrow a phrase that Gary Link often uses in the Tiger Wrap Up Show, winning is hard in college football. Often us fans, me included, make the mistake of assuming that because of a result or results in the first few weeks of the season, therefore X should definitely occur in the game you're playing. In this case, Arkansas State was smoked by Memphis and Auburn while we handled our opponents, and so folks assume we would simply run right on past Arkansas State without any trouble. What we forgot, of course, was that Arkansas State did win 10 games last year, seemed to have some talent, and perhaps was equally as motivated to come out and correct their own mistakes from those losses. Now, that doesn't excuse poor play, it's just that there are 11 guys on the other side of the ball and many of those guys have real talent. I think we saw that talent tonight and credit goes to Arkansas State for taking it to us for a while. We've seen this in other cases too - this game was not dissimilar to the Georgia - North Texas game. Yes, we'd love to roll teams week after week but only a few teams (Oregon, etc) do that each and every week. So, unlike some I've noticed posting places, I don't think we should be "expected" to beat Arkansas State 49-6. I'll take 41-19.
3. If you want someone to thank, think Frank the Tank! James Franklin is the steady force that continues to be the steady presence we always wanted him to be. As I noted in my first edition, the man is not perfect, but very few are in college football. But, when healthy, this guy can basically do it all, and I sometimes wonder if sometimes when things aren't clicking it's less James and more the play calling sequence. Whatever the case, it really seemed like about mid third quarter a light went off in the Tank and from then on the game was over. He's really a great player and I'm just going to say it now -- I think he's better than Blaine Gabbert.
4. Good job, fans -- and yes, price matters. Last week I noted that this week would be a bit of a test for fans to deliver with a nice crowd, with the discounted GA ticket offering by the AD for just $17. And, wow, they did, 62,000 strong. For those of you who weren't there, the GA section (the hill) was absolutely jam packed. And that was after a day of rain, too, with it still threatening at game time. What that tells me is that one, we do have a solid group of fans following our Tigers who would like to attend more games, even after a 5-7 season and even though they are unranked -- and that yes, PRICE MATTERS. You make it affordable and people show up -- not a hard concept. So, thank you to the Athletic Department for recognizing this economic reality -- and you were rewarded with an impressive crowd. Here's hoping they take this into account in future matchups against "non sexy" teams (next year we have Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Indiana, UCF, and South Dakota State, for instance, with only Georgia and Arkansas really being guaranteed crowds), in its overall pricing structure, and particularly when they price the new 2nd deck next year.
5. 4-0 is dandy, but let's go beat Vandy. Well, we did what we needed to do -- we went 4-0 in the non conference, which means that everything is still on the table for the Tigers. Looking at it realistically though, I think we all know that Vanderbilt is perhaps *the* game of the season, as I wrote about last week. 3-2 Vanderbilt is a good team that looked solid against Ole Miss and clobbered UAB today. However, we sense they're perhaps not quite as sharp as last year, either. Either way, they need a win as much as we do, even more than perhaps we do. They're hungry, we're hungry. I think this is a completely fascinating game and one I've had circled in my mind since the beginning of the year. It not only means a lot in itself (getting to 5-0, answering last year, it's the kind of game we need to win if we're really going to belong in the SEC, etc.) but it also is now representing a gateway to possibly even greater things this season. I personally consider Alabama, LSU, Georgia and A&M the elite of the SEC, and think we have every capability of being 5th best, even better than South Carolina. This game is a game we must win if we hope to declare ourselves, at least in 2013, belonging in the 'top half' of the SEC. My prediction, by the way, is that we win -- something like 35-24.
On to college football as a whole...
6. Georgia will Bulldog their way to an SEC East title. At least, they now have a very clear path having taken care of the two most difficult conference games on their schedule in South Carolina and LSU. Hats off to Murray for proving he can indeed win the big game, and now the coast is clear, though there are a few potential speed bumps. I think the toughest match-up for them could very well be Missouri in two weeks, who if we can beat Vandy will be undefeated and looking for the upset with a "nothing to lose" mindset that can be quite dangerous. Georgia's other conference games are at Tennessee, at Vandy, at Auburn, Kentucky and Florida. Auburn is interesting too as I suspect they're going to be pretty good as the year rolls along. However, I think Georgia does run the table and will play Alabama -- or maybe a rematch with LSU -- in the SEC Title game.
7. The Ducks are ridiculous. Okay, I know that Tennessee, Virginia, and Cal are not the greatest teams in the BCS, but they're not bottom feeders either. And to put up 59, 59 and 55 against them is completely insane, as is the fact they really didn't give up any points in the process either. I don't even like Oregon -- I don't like their uniforms, the fact they started the ugly uniform trend, the fact they are basically owned by a corporation, or their two-tone field, but they dominate week-to-week against decent clubs and that's something you can't ignore. This is why I have them slightly above Alabama at the moment, though I know Oregon hasn't played anyone like A&M yet, either. This trend of 50+ offensive games will continue next week, as Oregon will play Colorado before they finally get a bit of a test the following week at Washington. Oregon's real tests will come in a two week sequence in about a month when the play UCLA and Stanford.
8. Five weeks in, we still have a lot to learn. It's amazing to say that 1/3 of the way through the season, we still don't know that much about a whole slew of teams, making them difficult to rank. Baylor, for instance, has only played three games and though they've actually outpaced Oregon in their scoring, they have played Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe and Wofford -- so that's really hard to measure. UCLA seems great this year, but their big win was at a Nebraska team that nearly lost to Wyoming, plus Nevada (who lost to Air Force) and New Mexico State -- we'll learn more about them when they play at Utah Thursday. Florida State, who most people have in the Top Ten, is a question mark at this point after they had trouble with Boston College. Even our beloved Tigers, at 4-0, due to the nature of our competition, are still quite a mystery. This all said, we'll learn quite a bit more in the next two weekends as conference play begins.
9. The rankings are really thin this year. I addressed this last week but things really drop off after the first 15 or 17 teams. Oklahoma State, who has beaten no one of substance and just lost to West Virginia, is somehow still ranked. Michigan, though undefeated, has barely beaten bottom feeders in Connecticut and Akron, and is still ranked. The question is, though, who would you replace them with? A look at "others receiving votes" doesn't produce much to excite you initially, though I will say our Tigers are beginning to make real noise, and may move in with a win at Vanderbilt -- but you've seen the shakiness we've had, at times. It may also be time for the pollsters to start looking a bit deeper, as I could certainly make a case that UCF, who looked really good vs. South Carolina, beat Penn State and dominated Akron, should be ranked. Illinois is one to watch in their next two weeks at Nebraska and vs. Wisconsin. Auburn, depending on the result of their game vs. Ole Miss (I think Auburn wins) is certainly worth a look, too. Even Iowa, who lost to Northern Illinois and hasn't exactly run over teams, is 4-1 and has a schedule that looks good as they face the most difficult teams at home in Iowa City. Certainly this is a year where teams can move up quickly.
10. Where are the big upsets? West Virginia over Oklahoma State qualified (though we don't know how good Ok State is), and that game's result certainly got me thinking about the lack of early upsets so far this year. South Carolina seemed ripe for the picking but ended up getting it done. Still plenty of time for more to occur, but I consider a big upset as someone in the Top 10 or 15 losing to someone they shouldn't, and it's hard to see where that might happen. Missouri or Tennessee over Georgia? Maybe Washington over Oregon (though Washington is ranked)? Syracuse over Clemson? Utah over Stanford? Maryland over Florida State? We'll see. Those are the games worth watching.
My Top Ten: 1. Oregon; 2. Alabama; 3. Clemson; 4. Georgia; 5. Stanford; 6. LSU; 7. Ohio State; 8. Texas A&M; 9. UCLA; 10. Louisville
That's it for this week!