I attended last Saturday's Georgia game with a good-sized group of family members that included my brother-in-law, Travis Rice. Naturally, the subject of our conversation on the way over, while there, and on the way back was football, except on those occasions when Trav's attention drifted to Chinese food and graham crackers.
I almost think Peter Bean was listening in on our discussion, because the questions posed by Peter in the latest BlogPoll roundtable tracked almost exactly the course of Travis's and my conversation. Well, except for the one about making your favorite team a character from a children's fable.
Peter Bean . . . the Aesop of the blogosphere!
Here are Peter's inquiries and my answers:
1. Handicap your team's chances to win your conference championship. If your team is not the favorite, who is?
Any attempt to determine the length of the odds facing the 'Dawgs would be too depressing to undertake.
The Red and Black are 0-1 in league play and only one of the Bulldogs' next five S.E.C. outings will be played between the hedges. Kentucky and Vanderbilt, each of which defeated the Classic City Canines last season, are much improved, as evidenced by their impressive wins last weekend, so there no longer is any such thing as a pushover game on the conference slate.
"It would take a miracle!"
To top it all off, the defending national champions are the one division rival Mark Richt has proven unable to beat with any consistency. I wouldn't even want to start thinking about scenarios for winning the East at this stage of the game; let's just say we need lots of help and hope that, three weeks from now, we'll still be in a position to consider a fourth division crown in six years a realistic possibility.
The favorites in the Southeastern Conference have gone from probable to prohibitive in just a few weeks: Florida and Louisiana State not only are the two best teams in their respective divisions, they're two of the four best teams in the country. Barring an upset that would be nothing short of shocking, the S.E.C. title---and maybe the national championship---will come down to two meetings between the Fighting Gators and the Fighting Tigers on October 6 and on December 1.
2. Outline the (realistic) best case and worst case scenarios for your team.
The easy games are over for the 'Dawgs. Troy's win over Oklahoma State made it abundantly clear that every game remaining on Georgia's slate is both winnable and losable. Accordingly, the best case scenario is 11-1 and the worst case scenario is 2-10.
Realistically, I expect neither stellar success nor a disastrous collapse; 2007 is not likely to produce a better record than 10-2 or a worse ledger than 7-5, and the most probable result would be an 8-4 or 9-3 campaign.
Remember when going 9-3 was always the best case scenario?
3. We're only three games in to the season, but teams and storylines are starting to take shape. Compare your team to a character or theme from a fable or children's tale.
The sarcastic side of me wants to liken the Red and Black to the Grasshopper and the Ant, only with offensive linemen being stockpiled, vel non, instead of winter provisions. The hopeful part of me looks to the Little Engine That Could. I think they can . . . I think they can . . . I think they can . . .
4. Imagine you're the coach of your team. Give three specific changes you'd implement immediately which you think would have the biggest impact on improving the team.
A little less than a year ago, I had three very specific suggestions, two of which since have been implemented, to the manifest betterment of the Bulldogs. This year, my concerns are not nearly so severe and most of the problems come down to experience and execution, both of which come from practicing and playing. Nevertheless, my top three changes would be these:
Give Knowshon Moreno more carries. 34hawk is right. Although Thomas Brown is the better blocker, Moreno has the moves and he has the potential to be one of those guys who gets stronger in the fourth quarter if you give him 20 or 25 touches per game. Although the talent differential is by no means as stark, the process of transition from Brown to Moreno mirrors the gradual passing of the torch which we saw a year ago, as Joe Tereshinski gave way to Matthew Stafford. I would do what I could to hasten that process.
Sorry, Joe T., but the analogy just worked.
Call plays with less finesse. Mike Bobo has proven to be a more unpredictable play caller than Mark Richt, but my only major quarrel with the Bulldogs' new offensive coordinator is his penchant for calling time-consuming plays. Many of these maneuvers worked against Western Carolina, but this was due chiefly to the Classic City Canines' superior speed, an advantage they will not have against most of their remaining opponents.
For an illustrative example of the potential consequences of plays that take too long to develop, we have but to look to the hidden ball play against South Carolina, which was absolutely blown up by an attentive Gamecock who had watched enough film or read MaconDawg's preview.
I realize some misdirection is necessary to slow down aggressive defensive fronts while Georgia's offensive line gels, but I would prefer to see a larger percentage of the Bulldogs' pass plays reliant upon three-step drops and a greater proportion of the Red and Black's running plays premised upon sending Knowshon Moreno behind the fullback and between the tackles. This team simply is not ready for excessive complexity at this stage.
Aim for the sideline on kickoffs. There is no one I would rather have kicking field goals for the 'Dawgs than Brandon Coutu. Except maybe Billy Bennett. Or John Kasay. Or Kevin Butler. Say, we've had some pretty good kickers, haven't we? Anyway, Brandon Coutu is a first-rate field goal kicker.
At Georgia, the formula is simple: Strange Name + Bad Haircut = Great Field Goal Kicker!
However, Coutu lacks the leg to get kickoffs into the end zone consistently, particularly under the new rules. Although the Georgia placekicker has done a better job for the last game and a half of putting the ball into the hands of a return man who has his heels on the goal line rather than on the 10 yard line, the Bulldogs have tallied no touchbacks in three games and Georgia is in the bottom half of the league in kickoff coverage.
On the other hand, the 'Dawgs rank third in the S.E.C. in scoring defense, third in rushing defense, and second in total defense. Rather than risk giving up the big return that will put the Georgia D in a deep hole, the Red and Black special teams should kick away from the return man, try to pin them in, and accept the consequence of letting the other team have it on the 35 a fair amount of the time as being better than the probable alternative.
5. USC, LSU/Florida, and Oklahoma have established themselves as the frontrunners in the early going. Which other team or teams are you eyeballing as potential BCS party crashers?
If you're talking about genuine B.C.S. busters like Utah in 2004 or Boise State in 2006, the answer is "not applicable." Air Force and Hawaii simply don't play tough enough schedules to have a shot at being invited to a major bowl.
Sorry, guys, but I ain't buying what you're selling.
If you're talking about the B.C.S. championship game, the gap between the Gators, the Sooners, the Tigers, and the Trojans on the one hand, and everyone else on the other, seems like a vast chasm at this point. Whichever team is No. 5 is a distant fifth behind those four.
I don't think even an undefeated A.C.C., Big East, or Big Ten champion has a chance of getting into the title game---or even into the conversation---if two of the aforementioned foursome go undefeated. Fairly or unfairly, signature setbacks tarnish the reputations of those three leagues, as Louisville's loss to Kentucky, Miami's loss to Oklahoma, and Ohio State's loss in last year's national title tilt will remain millstones around the necks of those conferences' champions. The A.C.C. and the Big East don't have vast reservoirs of street cred and the only team capable of using a win over Michigan as a springboard for a national championship run is Appalachian State.
If Florida and L.S.U. go 1-1 against one another, both may be eliminated, although the winner of the neutral site rematch might still have a shot. If Texas beats Oklahoma and runs the table, or if Cal or Oregon beats U.S.C. and finishes undefeated, the Sooners' or the Trojans' spot would go to the team that got the better of them.
If Oklahoma, Southern California, and the S.E.C. champion all go undefeated, O.U. will be, and ought to be, the odd man out this year. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the heartland, but beating the winner of the Big 12 North will and should count for less than going unbeaten through a true round-robin Pac-10 slate or defeating either the Bayou Bengals or the Gators twice in one autumn.
No, Urban, not once . . . twice!
Besides, the Pac-10 champion got hosed in 2003 and the S.E.C. champion got hosed in 2004, so it's the Big 12's turn . . . particularly since Oklahoma, quite frankly, stunk it up substantially in the Sugar Bowl against L.S.U. and totally in the Orange Bowl against U.S.C. We should have seen Southern California take on the S.E.C. champs in the national championship game twice in the last four years and, this time, the people will get their wish.
Of course, that's just my opinion. Go ahead and set me straight in the comments below.