The Georgia Bulldogs will not be playing a college football game this weekend. For once, that may be good news. I for one am looking forward to watching some college football that is guaranteed not to rip my heart out.
There's still plenty of football to be played. But we are a shade past the halfway point of the college football season. So, with no Bulldog game to look forward to, it seems like a good time to reflect on the SEC football season so far. I thought I'd set out a few "SEC's Best & Worst" categories and see what the collective wisdom of the group says about what we've seen so far. Feel free to include your selections in the comments below.
Biggest positive surprise. Missouri. I don't think anyone expected Missouri to be undefeated and ranked #5 in the country at this point. Sure, they've had some luck, catching horribly depleted Georgia and Florida squads back-to-back in order to essentially wrap up the SEC East. But it's worth remembering that the Tigers suffered a similar rash of imjuries last season, which may have caused some of us (read: me) to underestimate how good they could have been in 2012.
Biggest negative surprise. I'm torn on this one. I don't think anyone expected LSU to have two losses. Or Georgia to have three. Florida has looked bad in losses and not great in their wins. In the end, I think Georgia and Florida's performances could have been forecast if we'd known what their injury situations would be. And Georgia obviously looked a lot better before losing most of the 'Dawgs offensive weapons. I have to give the nod to the Bayou Bengals for the reason that there's not really an excuse for them to be down two games before having even played Alabama or Texas A&M.
Biggest surprise player. This may seem like an odd choice, but I'm going to go with Johnny Manziel. I pegged Manziel to take a huge step back this season as coordinators schemed better to stop him and his offseason galavanting came home to roost. However when he's been healthy he's been just as effective as last season. I still get the sense he's an insufferable punk, but he's an insufferable punk who's playing good football.
Biggest disappointment. This one's easy. It's Jadeveon Clowney with a bullet. His impact for the Gamecocks has been minimal, on those occasions when he has deigned to participate in college football games. Steve Spurrier has been obviously frustrated with his "injuries", and you don't have to watch a lot of film to see that the guy has treated this year as an afterthought, just wanting to preserve his draft stock.
This awards goes to the nonplayer, nonteam which will go down in history as the biggest story of the season. The answer unfortunately has to be the targeting rule and its rampant mis/overapplication. It's unfortunate that a rule designed to promote player safety has instead altered the outcome of games and created confusion among players and coaches about exactly what they can and cannot do on a football field, including the outlawing of what have been legal hits for players coming up through high school.
The fact that almost every football coach in recent memory (including youth coaches taking part in the NFL's youth safety training program) has taught players to "see what they hit" while the NCAA is encouraging players to apparently throw themselves prostrate at opponents' knees and flagging them for "getting fit" (i.e. putting a facemask on the player being tackled) is inconsistent, nonsensical, and dumb to the point of tragedy. This rule will be changed, and we will look back on it as a stupid mistake made with good motivations.
As usual, feel free to disagree strongly in the comments, and to use this as your open comment thread for this evening's sports action, including the Boise State BYU game at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Until later . . .