Perception vs. Reality

Slinging_the_rock_medium

Chris Todd is slinging the rock!

 

     War Eagle, everybody! We're now officially through the first third of the 2009 college football season, and every team in the SEC has now played at least 4 games. It's been an eventful season so far, and one of the more prevalent themes this year, has been "perception." How is Auburn, (or any team) and the league perceived, around the country? The answer for the league in general, of course, is "pretty darned well." With three teams in the top 4, and 7 in the top 25, the pollsters are showing the SEC some love!

 

     There has been widespread griping from many corners, till this week, about Auburn not being in the top 25, but I think it's been understandable. After last season's melt-down, Auburn wasn't really on anyone's radar. Auburn's early schedule, with the exception (possibly) of West Virginia, was not impressive, to the national voter. The Mountaineers haven't helped matters, by playing down to the level of every team they've faced, so far. Auburn got the attention of the pollsters by beating Tennessee in Knoxville. "Wait," you say! "Tennessee isn't that good!" Tennessee, as the second-best SEC team over the past 20 years, has a reputation. Yes, this is a down year for the Vols, but UT did slow the Florida juggernaut down. That made Auburn's win, and continued offensive fireworks notable to voters nationwide. The game being on the main ESPN channel didn't hurt, either!That's why Auburn vaulted all the way to 17th "I tellya, we don't get no respect!" As bad as some folks think Auburn had it this year, 5-0 Wisconsin STILL isn't in the AP top 25! If the Badgers played 2-2, 19th ranked Oklahoma right now, I'd sure pick Wisconsin!

 

     Another widely held perception is that "Arkansas/Houston Nutt has Auburn's number." A trip to Fayetteville always elicits worry from the Auburn fan base. I suppose that the 34-10 beatdown in 1999, and the 42-17 meltdown in 2001 are indelibly etched in Tiger minds. Those WERE two of the worst performances in the Tuberville era, but the idea that we always struggle in Fayetteville is just plain wrong! Auburn has 5 wins, 2 losses in Fayetteville, all time. In 1993, in the ice and snow, Auburn rode fullback Reid McMillon to a 31-21 win. In 1995, the teams played in Little Rock. In 1997, Auburn dominated the Hogs for a 26-7 4th quarter lead, before Clint Stoerner and Arkansas came roaring back. Auburn still won, 26-21. 2003 saw Gene Chizik's defense choke the life out of Matt Jones and the Razorbacks, 10-3. In 2005, Kenny Irons ran wild, and Auburn won going away, 34-17. In 2007, it was the Will Muschamp D shutting Darren McFadden and Felix Jones DOWN, for a 9-7 win. See? Auburn doesn't do that badly, in Fayetteville! The only game that wasn't competitive was the 1999 one (Tuberville's first year, Ben Leard concussion, no running backs, etc.), in which our doors were blown off. The 2001 game went into the 4th quarter at 21-17, and was a dogfight. Unfortunately, we could do nothing but turn the ball over in the 4th quarter, directly leading to 21 Razorback points. I certainly think Auburn will be competitive, this year in Fayetteville!

 

     With most SEC teams having now played a couple of league games, let's revisit my net yards per pass statistic, and see how it correlates to the standings. That stat subtracts 50 passing yards for each interception, as you'll recall. Below are the SEC teams, as they are currently ranked in the standings, along with the starting quarterback. It's amazing how relevant that number is, so far.

 

SEC Eastern Division

Record

Record

Starting

Net

Team

SEC

Overall

Quarterback

Yards per Pass

Florida

2-0

4-0

Tim Tebow

8.7

Georgia

2-1

3-2

Joe Cox

6.3

South Carolina

1-1

4-1

Stephen Garcia

6.0

Kentucky

0-2

2-2

Mike Hartline

3.1

Tennessee

0-2

2-3

Jonathan Crompton

3.3

Vanderbilt

0-3

2-3

Larry Smith

3.5

 

 

SEC Western Division

Record

Record

Starting

Net

Team

SEC

Overall

Quarterback

Yards per Pass

LSU

3-0

5-0

Jordan Jefferson

6.4

Alabama

2-0

5-0

Greg McElroy

8.7

Auburn

2-0

5-0

Chris Todd

8.6

Ole Miss

1-1

3-1

Jevan Snead

4.6

Mississippi State

1-2

2-3

Tyson Lee

Chris Relf

4.4

4.3

Arkansas

0-2

2-2

Ryan Mallett

8.5

 

     Generally, teams with a quarterback who has a rating of 8 or better have done very well. Guys with a 6.0 or so are OK, and those in the 3-4 range haven't done so well. The biggest anomalies in this table are LSU and Arkansas. LSU is still unbeaten, despite Jordan Jefferson's mediocre rating. And Arkansas is currently last in the west, despite Ryan Mallett being ranked among the leaders. Mallett was well ahead of everyone else early, but playing Kirby Smart and Joe Kines defenses has brought his number down. By this metric, Auburn's Chris Todd is currently ranked 3rd in the league, slightly behind McElroy and Tebow. We'll revisit this statistic several more times this season, and see how well it matches up with team success.

 

     One perception that I had last Saturday night amazed me. How long has it been, since Auburn forced a good defense to play cover-two, most of the game? We've had at least one safety camped out in the box against our offense, for over a decade. Saturday, Tennessee respected Auburn's deep passing threat, and kept both safeties back most of the game. Those bombs to Zachary, Adams, and Fannin in earlier games, paid dividends against the Vols. It is a WHOLE lot easier to move the ball, if the opponent has to double cover both of your wideouts! Hats off to Terrell Zachary and Darvin Adams! They occupied 2 Tennessee defenders each, and allowed us to move the ball underneath. With 7 blockers, a quarterback and a runner, you can get a LOT done against 7 defenders.

 

     This Saturday, I think everyone is looking for a big offensive day for both Auburn and Arkansas. The weather should be sunny, with a high in the upper 50s. Arkansas has brand-new artificial turf in Reynolds-Razorback stadium, and it should be a fast track! We'll have an open thread up early Saturday morning, here at TrackEmTigers.com! War Eagle, and let's beat the Hogs!

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