Some random observations from the ’09-’10 bowl season for your Sunday afternoon:
— And your winner of the 2010 Preseason Magazine Cover Award, given to the SEC team can grab the most media momentum with a dominant bowl performance and head into 2010 hopelessly overrated–won by such past luminaries as 2002 Auburn, 2007 Georgia, and 2008 Ole Miss–is … (envelope please) … no one?
No one. So far we’ve had two SEC performances that rated any better than “sloppy”–Florida’s and Georgia’s–and it’s hard to put too much weight on either one when a) the Gators were taking on a totally overmatched team with all the focus of a 10-year-old on Mountain Dew b) the Dawgs had to rely on a bevy of special teams gifts from a 6-6 team to get any kind of separation, despite the final score. Neither of those teams fit the “everyone returns” model of past Preseason Magazine Cover Award winners, anyway–both will have to replace their starting quarterbacks, several key members of their defenses, and major parts of their coaching staff.
So here’s your silver lining to a potential Tide blowout in the national title game: someone’s got the be horribly overrated going into next season, right? May as well be the team at preseason No. 1.
— Overall I’d say the quality of SEC quarterbacking improved this season, thanks to Todd, late-season Crompton, and Relf turning the Auburn, Tennessee, and Miss. St. situations from “total, absolute freaking disasters” to “OK, even ‘good’ on occasion.” But there’s a staggering lack of real top-end performance at the position, as evidenced by the league’s consensus second-best QB and likely preseason 2010 All-SEC selection–a Mr. Mallett of Arkansas–putting up an absolute howler against the C-USA champ.
You couldn’t ask for any better evidence of how the light has simply not come on for Mallett than the Hogs’ next-to-last possession of regulation, when on 3rd-and-1 Petrino dialed up a perfect play-action pass that left D. J. Williams wide, wide open for the easy first down … only for Mallett to look square at Williams, pull the ball down, then try to find a different receiver pinned to the sideline 20 yards downfield. Incomplete, punt. Until Mallett decides to make the easy play over the difficult one–a problem he’s had all season long–he’s going to continue to be absolute murder against poor defenses and a bigger liability than strength against good ones.
— Of course, Mallett looked like Johnny U. compared to Jevan Snead, who combined with backup Nathan Stanley and Oklahoma St.’s Zac Robinson to create the single worst-quarterbacked game I have ever seen at this level. Ever. The stats are staggering: a collective 28-for-61 (46 percent) for 289 yards (4.7 per-attempt) with zero TDs and eight interceptions. And the numbers don’t even reflect the dropped snaps, forehead-slapping inaccuracy (you knew it would be a long day for Snead when he air-mailed a simple three-yard swing on third down of the Rebels’ opening drive), or general lack of anything resembling leadership. Ye gods, it was horrible.
And so while it’s never a good idea to count out Houston Nutt, it’s still awfully hard to see how this isn’t the high-water mark for the Rebels for at least a couple of seasons. McCluster and Hodge accounted for a whopping 341 of the Rebels’ 364 total yards (94 percent!) and it’s not hard at all to imagine what the Rebel offense will look like without McCluster–that’s what we saw the first half of the season, right? Either Snead is going to have to pull off a well-nigh inconceivable amount of improvement for a) a senior b) a QB coached by Nutt and Co., or the 2010 Rebels are going to be awfully punchless.
— On one hand, it’s only fair to note that South Carolina has not been done any favors with their bowl matchups the past two seasons: in ’09 they got a rugged, underrated Iowa team that was only a few scarce points away from a league championship and felt like it had something to prove against an SEC opponent, and in ’10 they got … wait for it … they got a rugged, underrated Connecticut team that was only a few scarce points away from a league championship and felt like it had something to prove against an SEC opponent. You could easily excuse the ‘Cocks for losing both halves of their now two-year bowl losing streak …
… if the manner in which they lost them wasn’t so eye-gougingly ugly. I think it’s fair to ask how much Spurrier really has the ear of his team when he not only can’t them ready to play an admittedly mostly-meaningless bowl game, but can’t even get them to show up. It’s one thing to play with a lack of emotion; it’s another to completely flatline the way the ‘Cocks have done the past two years. When the 2009 season started, I frankly expected it to be Spurrier’s last; given how little experience he had to work with, even after the pukefest yesterday it’s still his best coaching job in Columbia. But it’s so, so hard to see the ceiling of his tenure raising beyond its current 8-5/7-6 level after yesterday, I’m now thinking those 2009 swan-song expectations were just a year early.
— Thanks in large part to the quarterbacking fiasco described above, the SEC has, frankly, been just one level above dreadful despite the 5-4 record; Auburn and Arkansas were both one kicking meltdown away from losing to heavy underdogs, Carolina was embarrassed, Ole Miss beyond fortunate to be taking on a team in as much disarray as Okie St. Against the spread, the SEC is 3-6, and one of those wins belongs to the Rebels. Spread records aren’t a perfect gauge of performance (how Auburn wound up -9, I’ll never know), but it just hasn’t been the best bowl season for the league.