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The Weekend: all kinds of thoughts

This post isn’t particularly Auburn-related; sorry. But there’s some stuff I have to get off my chest, and the SEC title game is obviously an item of interest.

I’m naturally going to address the Auburn men’s hoops’ team 81-77 loss to Troy last Friday, but with Auburn hosting Virginia tonight in the final men’s nonconference game at Beard-Eaves with any kind of profile, I’m going to hold off and see if there’s any trends the discuss from the Troy loss to tonight’s performance. I will say this: by itself, the loss to the Trojans isn’t that big a deal. Last year’s team lost to Mercer, you’ll remember. But coming off of the Missouri St./Central Florida losses? Yeah, Auburn better win tonight.


Time for yours truly’s annual playoff rant. Some things you should know about Texas:

— The Longhorns never played a team that finished in the top 15 of the final BCS standings. Their highest-ranked opponent was No. 19 Oklahoma State, followed by No. 22 Nebraska. Against the former Texas was outgained by 2 yards, 277-275, and won 41-14 with the help of two interception returns for touchdowns; against the latter Texas totaled 202 yards, turned the ball over three times, allowed nine sacks, and as you all know by now, won by a single point.

— Against the other four bowl-bound Big 12 teams on the schedule, Texas was outgained twice (311-269 vs. Oklahoma, 414-340 vs. Texas Tech) and gave up 532 yards and 7.3 yards-per-play to Texas A&M. The ‘Horns did dominate Missouri, but if you’re keeping track, that made them 1-for-6 in dominating bowl-bound conference opponents.

— Texas’s nonconference schedule–and overall schedule–was weak enough that Cincinnati outranked Texas in four of the six BCS computers.

— For the season, Texas averaged an even 5 yards a play against conference opposition and 4.7 against teams with winning records. If sustained over the course of the entire season. that 5.0 mark would tie the Longhorns for 96th nationally with Northwestern (see that, Auburn fans?), Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, etc. As is, per-play, Texas is tied for 47th with Wake Forest, UConn, Middle Tenn. St., etc.

— Texas deserves credit for co-leading the nation in yards-per-play allowed. (They’re third in total defense overall.) But per-play, despite the Big 12’s reputation as an offensive free-for-all, only three of Texas’s Big 12 opponents (Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Missouri)  rank in the nation’s top 50 in offense.

You get the point: Texas is an utterly mediocre offensive team that’s made a living off of return TDs (they lead the nation) and a weak schedule. Against the best teams on their schedule, Texas has been better-than-even money to be a) outgained and outplayed down-to-down or b) give up more yards and points than any BCS champion has ever given up before or c) taken to the absolute last-second wire by a team that lost to Iowa St. with everything on the line.

You probably also get where I’m going with this. I’m not going to bother with detailing the ways that TCU has outdone the above performance or how Cincinnati has equaled it; if you watched Saturday night’s game and can look at the season-long profile described above and still make yourself to believe that Texas is not only more deserving of a national championship shot than TCU or Cincy but so much more deserving that TCU and Cincinnati don’t deserve that shot at all, I don’t know what to tell you.

Certain levels of unfairness and injustice in college football I can live with; I don’t really see what the problem is with the Gator Bowl taking Florida St., for instance, when that decision is so clearly in their best financial interests. But this isn’t about random bowls or media coverage or NCAA transgressions or any of the other assorted flotsam that people often worrying about being “unfair”–we’re talking about how to decide our sport’s champion. This is one place where fairness isn’t optional. And instead teams are chosen for this playoff system* (yes, it’s a playoff, just a two-team one) based not on strength-of-schedule, strength-of-performance, strength-of-anything-you-can-point-to-that’s-even-remotely-related-to-actual-football, but on what the front of their jersey says and what a bunch of coaches, SIDs, and old Harris fogeys believe that jersey is worth back in mid-August.

The system is a disgrace.

So, yeah, I like the Tide come January. How I wish could say otherwise. But there’s two season-long trends to pay attention to here:

1. Texas is crap against good defenses. Nebraska and Oklahoma each held them to less than 3.5 yards per-play and made McCoy a bumbling idiot. Alabama is at least as good as those two defenses, and with Saban having as much timeto prepare as he’ll have, quite possibly better.

2. The Tide offense is lethal when focused. The three biggest games of the year for Alabama in terms of hype, preparation, etc., were Virginia Tech, LSU, and Florida. The Tide offense gained 498, 452, and 490 yards, respectively, against defenses ranked 14th, 28th, and 4th in total defense.

That Texas will be able to play the combination great defense/heavy underdog card that works so well in these games will keep it from being a bloodbath. But a Longhorn win? Barring a whole series of long ‘Horn kickoff returns, forget it.

We can put this theory to rest, right? Not that RBR‘s Todd wasn’t right about a lot of things in his pre-Iron Bowl Q&A guest spot, but his assertion (one I’d say without question represented the consensus of Tide fans) that there was “not even a little chance” of the Tide overlooking Auburn for Florida doesn’t look so accurate now, does it?Against the Tigers Alabama comes out sloppy and so lifeless even Saban admits he “can’t explain it”; against the Gators they storm to a 9-0 lead and never look back. Certainly the respective performances of Auburn and Florida had something to do with it … but after watching the Tide these last two weeks, I also don’t think you can argue that they were a little more worried and a little more fired up to play one of those teams rather than the other.

The point: the coachbot is a terrific coach, no doubt about that. (In addition to being a first-class thief of Toys for Tots donations. He’s also that.) But his teams are as guilty of looking ahead as anyone’s, unless you think it’s total coincidence the Tide’s worst two performances of the season (vs. UT and AU) came the weeks before LSU and Florida.

Not to blame. The storyline all season for Florida has been the sputtering Addazio-led offense getting bailed out by Charlie Strong’s defense, but man, the offense really was not the problem Saturday. Florida had eight drives with the game still in doubt; four of them covered 55 yards or more, three resulted in points, and the fourth would have if not for Tebow’s brain-lock end zone interception. Against a defense as good as Alabama’s, to bat .500 like that is kind of impressive.

The problem: when there’s only nine total possessions in the entire game because your defense is busy giving up drives of 8, 9, 12, and 17 plays and two other scoring drives that cover 70-plus yards in only two plays, that’s still not good enough. You have to wonder: did the Louisville talk throw Charlie Strong off his game?

Bowlin’. Looking over the SEC’s bowl prospects, it’s going to be hard-pressed to match the records of its past couple of seasons. I like the two BCS teams and Arkansas, but past that, LSU may have a hard time scoring on Penn St., no one knows what the hell’s going to happen between Auburn and Northwestern or Ole Miss and Oklahoma St., Georgia and South Carolina are both going to be facing teams with waaaaaaay more motivation than they’ll have, Virginia Tech could stuff Tennessee if Crompton’s not on his game, and Kentucky’s going to be a big underdog against Clemson.

Of course, no one expected LSU to whip Georgia Tech last year, either, so none of those games are exactly out of reach. Still, matching the combined 19-7 mark (and accompanying .730 winning percentage) from the past three bowl seasons looks like it’s going to quite the challenge.

*If you’re interested, my playoff proposal is here. In a nutshell: the bowls stay exactly as they are, with championship participants chosen in two national semifinals in mid-December. No room for bracket creep, the logistics are doable, and the TCUs of the world get their shot. Simple.

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