How absolutely batcrap crazy is the SEC East this season? A Georgia blogger (yours truly) and a Tennessee blogger (Aerobab of Rocky Top Talk) agree that we both covet the starting quarterback at Kentucky. When was the last time you could have gotten that consensus? Probably when Bear Bryant was in Lexington coaching up George Blanda and Babe Parilli.
This all came up of course because agray of SI.com's fannation says Erik Ainge is one of the most overrated players in the country. He cites the same beef I cited in panning Ainge in the "Traitor's Draft" a while back. Namely, Ainge's mediocre performance against SEC competition, including a fairly high number of interceptions to touchdowns. AB (not to be confused with UGA Alum and food science meister Alton Brown) rightly points out that Ainge was actually no more turnover prone than Florida quarterback Chris Leak, whose team apparently did OK last year (or so I've heard. After October 28th I wasn't really paying attention). He also wonders what's so bad about a 7/5 TD to interception ratio.
That got me thinking, and my response would be that interceptions are more significant on a 1 to 1 basis than passing touchdowns. Every pick your QB throws is not only a drive in which you don't score, it is an opportunity for the other team to score/flip field position/ crush momentum, etc. In short, TD/Int. is the best stat (even better than the broader QB rating, I would argue) for measuring a guy's game management skills.
An additional problem for Vol fans and Dawg fans alike last year was that neither of us had the world's (or even the SEC East's) best running games. In fact, Vandy and South Carolina rushed for more yards per game than either the Dawgs or the Vols. As a result, we both often put our fortunes in the hands of quarterbacks who were nearly as likely (Ainge) or even more likely (Matt Stafford) to throw a drive killing pick than a gamesaving score when the game was on the line in the conference.
That said, I tend to think that Ainge is going to be fine even with the loss of his top three receivers. He'll progress in his decision making. He'll throw for a boat load of yards and complete a high percentage of passes in Cutcliffe's scheme. The major area in which the Vols will have to get back on track offensively is in the running game, a phase that they once dominated but which, for the past 4-5 years, has been less impressive.
As regards the Dawgs, I believe there's a mild misconception among some Georgia fans that Mike Bobo's ascension to the Offensive Coordinator's chair will usher in some sort of 5-wides, trickeration filled offensive mayhem. My prediction (and my sincere hope) however is that we'll see the opposite. That is, that Coach Bobo will commit to the ground game which we seemed to get away from at times last year, even in games where we were clearly dominating up front. I doubt this offensive line will be as physically dominating as last year's, but I still believe you have to be able to run the ball north/south to win in the SEC.
So while I'll defend Erik Ainge, and I'll defend Matt Stafford, I'm also pretty certain that Georgia's and Tennessee's hopes of playing in the Georgia Dome in December will rest largely on the shoulders of the guys in front of and behind our respective signal callers.