The Super Bowl needs two weeks to hype its championship game, so it’s only fitting that the SEC—which, according to some Southerners, is essentially the NFL without mics in the helmets—gets two weeks to hype an important regular season game.
LSU/Alabama—the match-up is upon us whether we’re ready or not.
The credentials of these two programs are impressive this season. Neither have been in a close game. Both have punishing defenses and sufficient offenses. Both have charismatic and eccentrically famous coaches. Blah, blah, blah.
Are these teams truly 1A and 1B in the nation? Do we have to buy the hype? The answers are “no.”
Why? 2006 comes to mind. Ohio State ran the table as No. 1. Michigan was No. 2 since late October. They played an epic game in Ohio Stadium (which Ohio State won), and fans clamored for a rematch.
Then, Ohio State got handled by LSU, and Michigan was thumped by USC in the bowls. The Big Ten’s downturn began, and it turned out to be just a bunch of hype for No. 1 and No. 2. No one saw it coming at the time though.
So, if history repeats and the onslaught of media hype we’re about to be consumed by surrounding LSU and Alabama, what are the signs that we’ll look back it and lament having missed? I’ll take my shot.
The Crimson Tide were the pre-season No. 1 or No. 2 in everyone’s poll, mainly because of a sick defense chocked full of future pros. Their defense hasn’t disappointed. Giving up double-digit points just three times in the first eight games, the defense has hidden any possible deficiencies on offense.
Did you say “deficiencies” in regard to Alabama? Blasphemer!
Statistics-wise Alabama has been fine (Richardson near 1,000 yards, McCarron almost completing 70% of his passes), but the offense has needed a jump-start from the defense on occasion. They rely almost fully on their future first rounder Trent Richardson, and A.J. McCarron wakes up nightly in a cold-sweat after dreaming that Richardson goes down (to injury or NCAA violations).
Not only that, but they haven’t faced adversity yet. Don’t tell SEC fans this, but Penn State—even with a horrendous QB rotation and without a scholarship kicker at the time–has given the Tide their toughest game to date, and not some ballyhooed SEC foe.
The running tagline for the Tigers pre-season was “if they can get an offense, watch out.” Well, defense and special teams have been so good, that they haven’t needed an offense. Jarrett Lee has turned into a fine game manager in the place of absentee Jordan Jefferson.
But LSU’s vaunted schedule may prove to be a bit overrated. The teams who were so lauded when LSU squared off with them have since fallen off the map. West Virginia, Florida, Mississippi State, and Auburn all are unlikely to be in the top 25 come December but were top 25 at the time. Oregon—the one foe which seems to be a legitimate top 10 contender—is frequently stymied by solid defenses with oodles of time to prepare. Think of Boise State in the 2009 opener, Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, and Auburn in the 2011 BCS title game. (And did I mention LSU’s home field advantage in that opener with the Ducks?)
Alabama and LSU both
In the same way that critics began to scoff at the overall strength of the Big Ten after 2006’s bowl collapse, I can foresee the experts looking back at the SEC in 2011 and thinking the same thing. It’s universally acknowledged that Florida and Tennessee and Auburn are worse this year than last, but just how bad are those teams? After ‘Bama and LSU, Arkansas is the next best SEC team. How good are the Razorbacks? Well, Arkansas needed an Aggie meltdown to survive that game 42-38, and Texas A&M might only be the 4th or 5th best team in the Big 12. The Hogs certainly looked shaky against pathetic Ole Miss last week.
Even after the “showdown” at Bryant-Denny Stadium in two weeks, we might not know how tough the SEC is this season. Alabama only has Auburn left on their schedule (Auburn of the 4-point win over Utah State and 7-point win over Mississippi State, both at home). LSU has just Arkansas left, but that’s in the friendly confines of Death Valley. Regardless of the outcome of LSU/Alabama, we might not truly know how good these teams are until bowl season.
But as 2006 showed, that might be too late for us to realize we were foolish for believing the hype.