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SEC MIDseason, Joe Auburn style

October 13, 2009

This seemed about as good a time as any to update my preseason prognostications. Auburn just came home from the Ozarks with their first loss of the season, Alabama and THE FLORIDA are atop the polls and honestly, I just don’t want to talk about Kentucky (yet).

The excitement I wrote about in August carried through the month of September on the Plains. Auburn went undefeated for the month and I don’t think any of us were prepared for just how many points and yards Coach Gus Malzahn’s offense would put up. I similarly don’t think any of us were prepared for just how suspect our defense would be, or worse still, how poorly special teams would fare. The enthusiasm of the coaches, the swagger of the players, the weather delays – again, all things uncharted and unplanned in August.

My preseason order of finish in the West read: UAT, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

My preseason order of finish in the East read: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Where do we stand today at the mid-point?

West: Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi and Miss. State.

East: Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Vandy.

In the west, Arkansas holds the advantage over Auburn by virtue of the monkey stomping we took in Fayetteville. Meanwhile, in the east, Tennessee claims the edge over Georgia in their Rocky Top faceoff.

The West (updated) expected order of finish….

UAT. Statistically, Alabama is a top 10 team across both sides of the ball. Their defense is simply suffocating, making first Ryan Mallett and then  Jevan Snead look like also-rans. They stuff the run, harry the passer and pick off errant throws and loosely controlled footballs with increasing veracity. QB Greg McElroy began the season like a Heisman Trophy contender, but has cooled the past two weeks. Julio Jones is finally hitting stride and Javier Arenas works like an infomercial dream come true. Alabama sadly will run through the rest of the schedule and await THE FLORIDA in Atlanta the first weekend in December.

Log Jam. LSU, Auburn, Arkansas and Ole Miss will all tie for some version of #2 or #3 behind UAT. LSU simply has to be the luckiest team in America, but coupled with the skill players they have and the above average coaching (ridiculous as the Hat is, he can still coach), they’ll probably beat Auburn but take a loss against Arkansas or Ole Miss. Alabama is an almost certain loss for them.

Arkansas will play desperate for the remainder of the season and the performances we saw against a previously unbeaten Texas A&M and Auburn will likely become the norm. I don’t see them beating THE FLORIDA, but the remainder of their schedule is certainly in their favor (with the possible exception of facing LSU in Baton Rouge to end the year).

Ole Miss was the preseason darling for everyone but Joe. They did in fact choke against Spurrier and then looked ridiculously bad against Alabama in all but red zone defense. I still say Auburn can beat them and there are no guarantees on their schedule to close out conference play.

Auburn is in the spot Joe predicted, just two weeks earlier than predicted. The offense really sputtered against Arkansas, the special teams were simply atrocious and the defense visibly demonstrated its lack of depth. Defense has become the ever present concern for this team. Players like Eltoro Freeman on defense, and Blake and Denson on offense have sadly turned out to be recruiting stars and game day duds. By virtue of the fact that the offense can score points in bunches, Auburn stays competitive with everyone on the schedule except Alabama. There are certainly four wins left on the schedule for this team (Kentucky, Ole Miss, Furman and Georgia), but Joe wouldn’t be surprised if we tank against Ole Miss and Georgia to finish 7-5. The time to beg walk-ons to try out for defense and special teams, was yesterday.

Mississippi State. Say one thing for Dan Mullen: he’s gotten his men believing again and they play hard for an entire 60 minutes. If he recruits the players he needs, then the Bulldogs become dangerous next year, and certainly the year after.

The East, and yes I’ll talk about someone other than THE FLORIDA….

Florida. Anyone else heard the rumor that Dan Brown’s next novel about religious symbols and signs will take place in the village of Gainesville? What about the one where sculptors are being sought for renditions of Tebow to adorn the top of Ben-Hill-Griffin Stadium? Or, better still, Tim Tebow teaching illiterate children all over the world to read, write and speak, “It’s great to be a Gator” via holographic broadcasts in the atmosphere? Joe predicted big blowouts along the way. Joe hasn’t been exactly correct, but don’t read anything into the less than expected blowout wins against Tennessee and LSU. What Joe saw was as calculated as Florida’s athletic department budget. This is another team that looks to run through the remainder of their schedule and meet UAT in Atlanta.

South Carolina and Georgia. These two will likely end in a tie by the time the year ends. Tennessee could figure into this log jam equation as well. South Carolina faces the more brutal test based on schedule, but unless Georgia and Tennesse start finding answers on offense and shore up question marks elsewhere, USC could find themselves alone behind Florida. No one predicted UGA would fall so hard replacing Moreno and Stafford, but plummet they have. The home loss to LSU appears to have decimated morale between the hedges, but look for them to bounce back against guess who? Auburn of course. UT is still the paparazzi favorite off the field, but they could still round out a break even season or even sneak into the #2 spot after embarrassing the ‘Dawgs.

Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Kentucky faces an already up-hill battle without a somewhat proven QB, but with Vanderbilt holding up the walls of the cellar like a true wall flower, they’ll languish just out of the bottom spot.

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