Monday, November 18, 2013

Twelve Weeks In

My Auburn Indulgence
Obviously, the Auburn-Georgia game had a "helluva ending," one that will be remembered many years from now. But it's time to rain some reality down on the revisionist history that began circulating about the game almost as soon as its final second ticked off the clock.

"The Prayer at Jordan-Hare" is the moniker that has been given to Nick Marshall's 73-yard, 4th-and-18 heave that ended up being taken to the house in the hands of Ricardo Louis -- and it is a very apt one, because there is no denying that it took some good fortune for that play to end the way it did. But to hear the media folk describe things, you would think luck was all it was and Auburn had no business winning that game. And if you'll pardon the grammar, that just ain't true.

Auburn and Georgia did not play only one snap. They played an entire football game, which means they went at it for 60 minutes of playing time, and Auburn completely dominated Georgia for 49 of those 60 minutes. They ran the ball down Georgia's throat seemingly at will. They moved it successfully through the air, giving the lie to a recently arisen outsiders' claim that they are "one dimensional" and "can't throw."

I do not mean to take anything away from the Herculean effort Aaron Murray expended bringing the Bulldogs back from a 37-17 deficit between the twelve- and one-minute marks of the fourth quarter, but it also took some good fortune for them to be down only 37-17, and it annoys me that no one in the national media is acknowledging that.

If Cody Parkey, AU's normally unflappable placekicker, had not blown what would have been an easy field goal in the first half, when he errantly booted the ball right into the line -- then UGA would have still been behind after scoring their three fourth quarter TD's.

If Marshall had not missed on a 3rd-and-goal throw during the third quarter, when he threw low and behind the towering (and open) tight end C.J. Uzomah -- then UGA would have still been behind after scoring their three fourth quarter TD's.

Had both of those plays gone the way it looked like they would, UGA's final scoring drive would have started with them trailing 44-31 instead of 37-31 -- assuming they would have mounted their rally at all after opening the fourth quarter trailing by four touchdowns rather than three.

And about that play called the "Prayer at Jordan-Hare," very few commentators have bothered to mention that it was an excellent catch on the part of Louis. Yes, the ball deflected up off of the defenders, but when it did so it was behind Louis's back and travelling past his outside shoulder. It took tremendous wherewithal and concentration for him to look back against the momentum of his body, detect the ball, extend his left arm, and make the catch in merely a fraction of a second. It may have been a Hail Mary, but it was made to happen by his diligence and force of will, not by luck alone.

When you consider the way the game as a whole was played, the Hail Mary did not represent the outcome being swindled. It represented the outcome being steered back to what was proper.

Gonna be interesting
The eyes of the southeastern chunk of America, if not America as a whole, will be focused on the upcoming Iron Bowl because it is a winner-take-all showdown for the SEC West. However, those eyes should be focused just as sharply on the Missouri Tigers because both of their remaining games are, in a way, winner-take-all for the SEC East.

This will not be an easy pair of wins for the Tigers to pull off, for both opponents are ranked and both have a chip on their shoulder: Ole Miss has gotta be annoyed that the media is discounting the quality of their win over LSU and treating them like a middling team, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the only three teams to beat them have all spent part of the season in the Top Ten...while Texas A&M is frothing at the mouth to score a "signature win" before the season comes to a close, in order to assuage the sting of their only losses having been by slim margins to the apparent top two teams in the nation's number one conference.

Bring on Paul
In my last post, I observed that the Wisconsin-Minnesota battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe is America's longest running major rivalry. But I also threw some salt on "major" being an adjective for it when I pointed out that the two teams are never good at the same time.

Perhaps I should have said "except for this year." Don't look now, but the Golden Gophers are 8-2 and riding a four-game winning streak during which they have improved with each game while dropping double-digit defeats on Nebraska and Penn State.

I believe in my heart that Wisconsin is good enough beat any team in the Top Ten -- including Alabama -- on a given Saturday. I don't think that is true of Minnesota, but for the first time in living memory I believe they are capable of beating a few of those teams on a given Saturday. Their rivalry dates back to 1890, and when they kick off Saturday afternoon it will be the 123rd meeting between the two schools. I expect the Badgers to win -- with difficulty. And I intend to watch.

Remember when...
...all the pundits were saying that the SEC is weak this year? Not only was the claim wrong, it now seems to be hilariously wrong...Five of the top twelve teams in the BCS standings are from the conference, and with two weeks remaining in the regular season, there is a chance that four teams from the conference will finish with ten victories...The middle of the SEC has never been this strong, with Vanderbilt capable of beating anyone; Ole Miss on the verge of being a national power; and Mississippi State just two or three plays from having defeated both Alabama and Auburn, who right now are among the top six BCS squads...Traditional juggernauts Florida and Tennessee are slouching toward possible losing seasons, yet the SEC as a whole has not been this strong in half a decade, perhaps ever.

And without further ado... is the Stanton's Space Top Twenty based on what has happened this season:

1.    Alabama
2.    Florida State
3.    Ohio State
4.    Baylor
5.    Auburn
6.    Missouri
7.    Oregon
8.    Clemson
9.    Stanford
10.  UCLA
11.  South Carolina
12.  Wisconsin
13.  Oklahoma State
14.  LSU
15.  Texas A&M
16.  USC
17.  Michigan State
18.  Northern Illinois
19.  Ole Miss
20.  Louisville

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