Usually at this time I run the Initial Impressions piece, but quite frankly the Tennessee-Chattanooga game was all of the uneventful blowout that the UA administration hoped it would be, and I really don't think enough is there to have a good piece on the subject. So, in its place, before Iron Bowl week kicks off with full force, I offer a few random thoughts from around the SEC:
- The Les Miles time management fiasco was the worst coaching meltdown I have ever seen in my life. Even worse than Hallman against Auburn in 1994. And it's not just one bad decision, either. One mistake happens, but this is like eight mistakes all rolled into one. It was dumb to (1) throw the football on first down following the LaFell screen, (2) throw the football on second down that led to the sack, (3) throw a bad screen on third down, (4) not calling timeout with 26 seconds left, (5) not having the field goal team ready, (6) not having another play called beforehand, (7) having absolutely no contingency plan in place if you caught the ball short of the end zone, and (8) trying to spike the ball with one second left. Again, one bad decision happens, but eight bad decisions in the final minute of a game? I'm not kidding... that was the worst coaching meltdown I have ever seen in my life. And then throwing gasoline on the fire, apparently Miles lied about the whole thing afterward. At one point in the postgame he said that he didn't know who called the spike at the end, but apparently at the end video shows him calling the spike. If I hadn't seen this whole fiasco with my own eyes, I would have never believed it.
- Readers of the meltdown piece will love the LSU meltdown this week, as it is arguably the greatest meltdown I've ever seen. Truthfully, though, every bit of that meltdown is completely and totally justified. It's not so much a stupid meltdown as it is an appropriate response. I tell you, had an Alabama coach pulled that stunt, I would have literally gone through the roof.
- Now, as dumb as that decision was, that's not really what LSU fans should be concerned with moving forward. The real problem moving forward is that team continues to dramatically underachieve relative to its talent level, something that it has been doing for more than two years now. Since the 2007 Florida game, this team is now 10-10 in conference play and there is far too much talent on this team for them to be only a .500 team. And that was exactly what we saw against Ole Miss... outgained by 200+ yards, needing last-minute touchdown drives, two-point conversions, and onside kicks just to try to force overtime against a team with a fraction of the top-end talent and quality depth that LSU should have. In the grand scheme of things that is the real problem for the Bayou Bengals. Having a coach with a complete lack of time management skills is merely a secondary problem relative to that.
- On a macro level, the worst coaching decision of the year has to go to Mark Richt. Joe Cox should have been benched weeks ago in favor of getting one of his highly-touted young quarterbacks but it never happened. Instead, Richt tried to win now -- but didn't -- and now he still has to break in a green quarterback next year. It's simply the worst-case scenario. And making matters even worse, A.J. Green will probably turn pro after the 2010 season, and the Dawgs will never be able to take full advantage of his incredible abilities.
- Is there a more improved team in the SEC than Arkansas? I don't think so. With a win over LSU this weekend, the Hogs will move to 8-4 with likely a berth in the Cotton Bowl, despite playing arguably the toughest schedule in the entire conference. And not only have these guys improved relative to a year ago, they have also improved over the course of the season. I'm telling you, Arkansas is going to be a major threat in the coming years.
- It's a shame that it took Houston Nutt more than half of the season to figure out how to properly use Dexter McCluster. If Nutt figures that out at the beginning of the season, Ole Miss is probably a 10-1 team right now and McCluster is likely the favorite to win the Heisman. Even so, it's hard to believe that after all of the Ole Miss criticism through most of the season, Ole Miss should nevertheless finish up at 9-3, the #3 team in the SEC, and with a berth in the Capital One Bowl. And, realistically, that is about as good as it gets for Ole Miss.
- Is there a more underrated coach in the modern history of the SEC than Rich Brooks? As if three consecutive bowl appearances at Kentucky wasn't enough, he follows it up with a fourth consecutive bowl appearance. And even more impressive -- after road wins this year against both Auburn and Georgia -- Brooks can get his team to 8-4 and second place in the SEC East with a win over Tennessee. And oh yes, he's doing this with a true freshman at quarterback. Again, is there a more underrated coach in the modern history of the SEC than Rich Brooks?
- Bowl selection in the SEC is going to be an absolute nightmare. The winner of the Alabama v. Florida game in Atlanta will play in the BCS Championship game, the loser will play in the Sugar Bowl, and Ole Miss will play in the Capital One Bowl. But the other seven SEC teams that are bowl eligible? Who really knows? You are looking at having about five or six teams that finish up at either 6-6 or 7-5. Good luck sorting that one out.