Acker Assessment – Week Nine
By: Charles Acker
The “word” for week nine in the SEC, and every subsequent week through week 15, is cannibalization. Another unbeaten team, Ole Miss, went down at the hands of a rival SEC team, LSU, jeopardizing the dream season of the Hotty Toddies. That leaves only Mississippi State as the only unbeaten and now four one-loss teams (Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Auburn). These five teams play amongst themselves five times, meaning these teams will possess at least nine total losses.
Alabama still plays at LSU, Ole Miss plays at Arkansas and Mississippi State plays Arkansas at home, all of which are not givens. So there are between nine certain losses and twelve potential losses for these teams, which, if evenly distributed, could be disastrous for the conference in getting teams in the playoffs.
The latest polls, AP and Coaches, both have the same top four: Mississippi State, Florida State, Alabama, Auburn. So, again, three of the four are SEC West schools. Ole Miss dropped to 7 (AP) and 9 (Coaches). Georgia, however, rises to 9 in the AP and 8 in the Coaches. These polls mean nothing, though.
The one that does matter will be released Tuesday, as the playoff committee reveals their first top-25 ranking, uncovering their collective judgment on who is deserving of the playoffs at this time and signaling to teams with playoff aspirations the challenges that lie ahead. Tony Barnhart, Mr. College Football, on the SEC Network said that he was part of a mock committee that went through the exact process the real committee is supposed to follow to rank teams recently. He claims conference affiliation was NOT a consideration. I only hope that is the case with the real committee.
Here are some thoughts throughout the SEC from week nine.
Glaring defense deficiencies were exposed with Mississippi State and Auburn. Auburn gave up a staggering 416 yards of passing to South Carolina, who had previously averaged only 265 a game. It was the same at State, who gave up 401 yards of passing to Kentucky who had previously averaged 247. That Ole Miss Landshark defense was also gouged for over 400 yards by LSU, despite four Tiger turnovers.
That game, to a degree, saw the return of “Bad Bo” as Wallace completed 14 of 33, well-under 50%, with a TD and a pick. Statistically, Mississippi State continues to lead the conference in offense, averaging 531 yards per game, but also continues to be dead last in defense giving up 440 yards each outing.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- that does not bode well for State. Alabama is third in offense in the league averaging 506 yards per game, while leading the conference in defense giving up only 277 yards per game, of which 78 is rushing and the only team in the league to give up less than 100 rushing on average. That will not bode well for the Bulldogs when they come to Tuscaloosa.
Across the country, week nine didn’t produce many big surprises, but a number of little ones did pop up that could indicate trouble ahead for some teams. Oregon seems to be back on track offensively, but gave up 41-points to Cal and 560 yards of offense. Oregon still plays Stanford, Utah, and a potential PAC-12 championship game where they could stumble due to that porous defense.
Urban “The New Bear Bryant” Meyer’s team blew a 17-point lead and needed two overtimes to beat middling Penn State. This was a game I pegged Meyer to do all he could to run-up the score, yet he barely escaped Happy Valley with a win, which doesn’t help the perception that OSU, or any Big Ten team, is deserving of a playoff spot.
West Virginia had a very impressive win in Stillwater, taking down Oklahoma State 34-10. That game weighs very heavy for two teams vying for the playoffs— Alabama who beat West Virginia by 10 and Florida State who beat Oklahoma State by 6, both back in week one at neutral sites.
Week nine was another bad week for the Los Angeles schools. UCLA needed two overtimes to beat hapless Colorado, while USC lost at Utah.
The Tide passed a big hurdle this past weekend- one which I feared since Lane Kiffin was named offensive coordinator. We are all familiar with ‘Bama’s struggles outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium this season. This contest showed progress, but still a failure to put together a complete road game. ‘Bama stormed out to a 27-0 lead and then failed to put the Vols away. Scoring just seven points in the second half is unacceptable, including none in the fourth quarter.
Alabama has two weeks to find the solution as an even scarier road game looms in Baton Rouge on November 8. That game may actually be the Tide’s toughest test left since Auburn and Mississippi State are home games for the Tide.
So what lies ahead in week ten? There are four top-25 matchups. The biggest matchup of the weekend is Auburn (4) at Ole Miss (7). This is one of those cannibal games I talked about. The loser of this game is likely out of the SEC West race and out of any chance at the playoffs.
What seems to be the two best teams in the Big 12 at the moment play, TCU (10) at West Virginia (20). Tide fans need to keep cheering on the Mountaineers to bolster their schedule strength.
Then there are two PAC-12 matchups: Arizona (14) at UCLA (25), and Utah (18) at Arizona State (15). However, a third PAC-12 game should not be overlooked- unranked Stanford at Oregon (5). That is a rivalry game and given Oregon’s woes on defense could indicate trouble in Quackville.
Don’t forget- Tuesday evening on ESPN- the first committee rankings will be released. I’m already on my couch waiting for it.
Jon Acker is the Coordinator for Student Assessment at The University of Alabama and also assesses sports for us here.