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Friday, October 5, 2012

Previewing the battle for the SEC east, the performance implosion in Auburn, kickers (good, bad, and really bad), and, of course, Tulane Watch 2012

Georgia travels to South Carolina for one of three games that will decide the SEC East (the other two involve these teams and Florida). This game has become infinitely more important because Bobby Petrino likes younger women on bikes he can't handle, and because the Honey Badger likes to ingest things that make him feel happy. Georgia's advantage over South Carolina in the division was supposed to come from scheduling - South Carolina plays Arkansas and LSU while Georgia does not. But Arkansas is the worst team in the SEC (literally one spot below Kentucky in the power rankings) and LSU is downright mediocre. Georgia might have to earn its way to Atlanta.

Speaking of Arkansas, the worst team in the SEC, they play Auburn this weekend. This game is significant because 1) these programs have generated elite products recently, 2) this game could represent the worst football in the country when Auburn has the ball - just terrible - and 3) item #2 could lead to a violation of the fundamental laws of physics. Let me explain: Arkansas has allowed 349 passing yards per game, 121st in the country; Auburn throws for 145 yards per game, 118th nationally. If Auburn does throw a pass, it just might end up suspended in midair, incapable of falling incomplete on account of Arkansas being so bad they couldn't cover Yellow Submarine, but incapable of being caught by an Auburn wide receiver (because Frazier couldn't hit the broadside of a Yellow Submarine). The fabric of space and time could be torn asunder.

Tulane Watch 2012: I am being disingenuous when I say that Arkansas/Auburn could be the worst football in the country when Auburn has the ball. Regardless of their opponent, the worst football is wherever, whenever Tulane has the football. The Green Wave face a La-Lafayette squad that is allowing only 3 yards per carry. Fortunately for Tulane, the Ragin' Cajun pass defense is rather porous. This should allow them to get in range for kicker extraordinaire and offensive MVP (on four plays) Carlos Santos to knock a couple through the uprights. Expect Tulane to explode for double digits in this one, but they won't be padding the rushing statistics.

Speaking of kickers, Northwestern plays Penn State tomorrow. No team in college football has gotten more producitivty out of field goals than Northwestern. No team has suffered more at the hands of the kicking game than Penn State. To put this in perspective, Northwestern's kicking game has been worth four extra points per game compared to Penn State; the model (and Vegas) has Penn State favored by 3, so were we to remove the kicking game, Penn State would be favored by 7 and their chances of winning would improve from 59% to about 70%.

I finish with two games that the model and Vegas see going very differently. In Vegas, LSU is favored by a couple over Florida, but the model likes Florida but 6. Texas is favored by a touchdown, but the model likes the Longhorns by 14. We know the West Virginia defense is bad and LSU's offense is less than stellar, and we can all agree on that. The source of the disagreement must be 1) the model does not think LSU's defense is elite and 2) the model does not think Geno Smith is unstoppable. On both accounts I agree with the model and not Vegas and for the same reason: Baylor and Washington have a talent for making opponents look much better than they really are.

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