Wow, it is hard to believe that the college football season is already three weeks old. It's really a shame how short this wonderful sport's duration is each year, as it always seems like it's over too quick. Baseball goes on for 8 months with real games -- college football three and then a couple weeks around New Years. It really is the best sport in America, with so many meaningful simultaneous games going on across the country each weekend, which is why Saturdays are sacred in my household. For someone like me, every Saturday is like the Round of 64 in March Madness. It's one reason why I wish that they'd extend the season to 13 or 14 games, but that's a separate discussion.
As for the weekend that just passed us, here are my thoughts on the Tigers and the broader world of college football...
1. We do what we do. 14-10 at halftime was not exactly a huge margin, yet it didn't bother us. I think this is what an experienced coach gets you who, dare I say, "does what he does". There was no panic, no worry, we just methodically took care of business and ended up with a margin of victory that let us put the backups in. This is an early sign of strength -- we'll see if it continues in two weeks when the tougher games begin.
2. This Bud's for you. I am liking the continued emergence of Bud Sasser as a major threat in our offense. While his yardage total was not as big Saturday as it was against Toledo, his 5 catches and 2 touchdowns prove he's consistently going to be a force for us this season. Any preseason fears about our offensive weaponry are starting to weaken.
3. Mauk gets it done. Maty isn't perfect -- there are sometimes when his passes are a bit off in accuracy , but overall, the man just gets it done. He's not as "powerful" on a short yardage run as Franklin was, but he can certainly scamper for a first down in a way that's important in our offense. He seems to have a confidence about him that I think will help carry us in some of the tougher games coming up. Still room for improvement, as always, but the results speak for themselves.
4. The Saturday attendance is Exhibit A of why not to dramatically expand the stadium...and it was concerning. We had about 60,000 for Saturday's game, which wasn't bad on the surface. I understand it was an early game, but that excuses late arrivers, not total attendance. Central Florida was a decent opponent. The weather was just fantastic -- maybe just a bit warmer in the morning would have made it perfect. The point is, this is the type of game that is going to be the norm -- not home games against teams like Georgia or Alabama. We may have a game like that once, maybe twice a year, but the rest of the schedule will be predominantly filled up -- even in conference -- with good opponents, but not sexy opponents. Even the Tennessees and South Carolinas will get "normal" after a few cycles - LSU, Alabama, and Auburn (once every 12 years, each) and maybe Georgia (when they are good) will be the automatic draws. The fact is that there were vast areas of the new deck that were empty Saturday, and that will be normal. On that note, I was pleased to hear that Alden seems aware of this -- he mentioned on his radio interview that they are aware they are competing against HD TV's and that they are conscious that the experience needs to be excellent or fans will stay home. I like hearing that -- and I hope that on everything from price to parking, they heed that, because I think that a team coming off a 12-2 season, which was a whisker away from a national title, should expect more than 60K on a beautiful Saturday. Just a hint of concern on that one.
5. Deja Vu? Is it just me, or does this season seem like last season, in the way it is shaping up? In 2013, we were nervous early on and yet each game, expectations built as we realized we had something, even if we weren't sure the non-conference really demonstrated that much. I think these wins -- at Toledo and home against a solid UCF team that was in the BCS last year -- really show that again, the Tigers are going to be reckoned with in 2014. Speaking of that...
6. The SEC East is up for grabs. Georgia and South Carolina already have a loss. Florida nearly lost to Kentucky and plays at Alabama next week. Tennessee has to play Alabama plus at Georgia and South Carolina. The Tigers are going to have a chance at a repeat, even with a loss at some point along the way. Obviously there is an upcoming three-game stretch where we'll learn a ton about our Tigers, but I am actually optimistic about it -- all three games will be tight but all three games are winnable -- but also loseable. At the beginning of the season, I said we'd lose to South Carolina --now I'm not so sure, but I will predict we go 2-1 in that stretch.
7. The National Championship is also up for grabs. Are there truly any elite teams that you know will win week to week, without fail? I actually don't think so. Georgia was everyone's sexy Top 5 pick after the first week, but they lost. USC looked great vs. Stanford, but they lost at Boston College. Notre Dame looked solid the first two weeks but looked quite average against a terrible Purdue team. Yes, some teams are quite good or even great, but "elite" -- I think no one fits that bill yet, including FSU, Oregon, and Alabama -- meaning there are a whole slew of teams that , at this point, who could get into the Top 4.
8. The SEC dominates again. Eight teams are ranked in the Top 20, and I think deservedly so. I thought for a time the Pac 12 might compete with us, but I'd say that is far from happening. USC, UCLA, Stanford, Washington, and Arizona State are not nearly as good as Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia. I think Mizzou beats everyone in the Pac 12 besides Oregon, in fact. I understand the College Football Playoff will just take four teams and that might only involve one SEC school because the Big 12, Pac 12 and ACC Champ may all get in above a second SEC school -- but the "big six" bowls should be dominated by SEC schools overall, if this continues, even if this means matching up some teams in the same conference.
9. East Carolina has the early lead for the Group of Five spot. With a competitive game against South Carolina and by beating Virginia Tech, East Carolina has an early lead to be the Group of Five representative in the big six bowls and can cement that position further by beating North Carolina on Saturday. Cincinnati, their fellow American competition, also has a solid shot -- with a game at vulnerable Ohio State in two weeks and a game against Miami-FL later to get wins against Big Five schools, which to me is the key measurement along with winning your conference. The Pirates and Bearcats matchup later in the season may determine that spot. The fact other AAC teams (UCF vs. Penn State and Memphis vs. UCLA) have played quite competitively tells me their league champ will have a leg up with the committee.
10. I want more interesting non-conference games. I thought the slate this past Saturday was underrated -- USC at Boston College was compelling, in my mind, for instance, as was Oklahoma-Tennessee -- and I would like to see more games like that in the future. A game need not be "marquee" (Michigan State vs. Oregon) to be great either -- but I thought those games were as interesting as say, Missouri vs. Ole Miss would be. For instance, I like our non-con this year a great deal. So, in the debates over scheduling, I always object to those who demand 9-game conference slates -- I would rather see Central Florida than Vandy, for instance, particularly in an era where the Selection Committee needs contests like that so they can compare the quality of conferences. Perhaps I'm weird like that, but I like the variety a lot -- and if you're in a year where the division of your conference is down, those extra interesting non-con games can help you.
TiK's Top Ten: (Just a gut feeling, not enough information yet for a true ranking)
1. Oregon; 2. Oklahoma; 3. LSU; 4. FSU; 5 Texas A&M; 6. Alabama; 7. Baylor; 8. Auburn; 9. Ole Miss; 10. Michigan State.
Games I'll be keeping an eye on in Week 4 along with Mizzou:
Auburn at Kansas State -- Interesting matchup, see #10 -- this is a perfect example of such a game.
Virginia at BYU -- BYU looks great early, Virginia beat Louisville and nearly beat UCLA
Oklahoma at West Virginia -- WVU has surprised early with some strength, OU has looked great.
Mississippi State at LSU -- Intriguing early test of LSU's youth and Mississippi State's improvement.
Clemson at FSU -- Will the Tigers give the Seminoles a fight?
That's it for this week...