Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Two events last weekend made tonight's Georgia-Tennessee game (nationally televised in prime time on ESPN2) suddenly very important. SEC East favorite Florida lost their starting quarterback to injury in a blowout loss to Alabama...and defending SEC East champion South Carolina was upset at home by Auburn.
That put the division back up for grabs in a way that may save Mark Richt's job...and may put Georgia back on the map (for awhile at least) in terms of college football importance.
Here's a quick review of important developments.
Georgia started the season highly regarded in the national polls. A great recruiting class and a developing quarterback made them a challenge in the SEC East. They were ranked only behind South Carolina in the polls (and that's always a flaky team that gives its fans heart attacks). Georgia was slightly ahead of Florida in the numbers.
The bubble seemed to burst very quickly on the 2011 season when Georgia lost its season opener to Boise State. They were badly outclassed in the Georgia Dome. Instead of a return to greatness, the program was once again on a course for doom. Richt was back on the hotseat after a poor 2010. The good news was that this was a non-conference game. And, it's not like Boise State was a cupcake or anything. You win the SEC East...post a 9-3 or 10-2 mark...and nobody's going to hold a loss to Boise State against you.
What was left of the bubble fizzled out the next week, when Georgia lost at home to South Carolina 45-42. If you watched the game, you know it was a nailbiter coin flip that could have gone to either side. Georgia didn't get the job done when they needed to...and a 0-2 start put the Athens campus under a dark cloud.
Georgia did win its next three games, taking out Coastal Carolina, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State as favorites. The first two wins didn't mean much because Georgia was a double digit favorite and was expected to coast. The 24-10 win over Mississippi State made more of a statement...though it could turn out that the Bulldogs aren't going to be as good as expected this year.
Georgia was 2-1 in SEC play after the Mississippi State win.
Florida's loss to Alabama dropped them to 2-1 in the SEC...and the injury to Brantley made it very likely that the Gators would also lose this week on the road at LSU. How long will Brantley be out? How effective will he be when he returns? The Gators have become vulnerable for the time being.
South Carolina's loss to Auburn dropped them to 2-1 in the SEC as well. They will hold a two-team tie-breaker edge over Georgia because of a head-to-head victory. But...there's still time for the Gamecocks to lose again if Georgia runs the table.
Here are the SEC East standings entering play today:
South Carolina 2-1
It's important to note here that the East is the weaker of the two divisions. Each of these teams will play three games against the stronger West through the course of the season. Georgia, blessed with the gift of a lifetime this year (dodging Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas in the rotation) only has one of those left.
SEC EAST REMAINING GAMES VS. WEST:
Florida: LSU, Auburn
South Carolina: Mississippi State, Arkansas
Tennessee: LSU, Alabama, Arkansas
Florida not only had the awful luck of drawing Alabama and LSU when the others didn't...but the sequence of Alabama-LSU-Auburn fell in consecutive weeks on the schedule! Then, their quarterback got hurt in the first game!!
That's why tonight's Georgia/Tennessee game is so important to the Bulldogs. If they win, they go to 3-1 just as Florida is falling to 2-2. And, remaining schedules clearly favor Georgia no matter who you compare them too. We can't quite say that the Bulldogs control their own destiny. South Carolina still has that honor. It's just that South Carolina's destiny includes a road trip to Arkansas and a home game vs. Florida that doesn't come until November...meaning the Gators may be settled back into a rhythm.
The bubble didn't burst. It's rebuilding. Georgia has a legitimate chance to salvage its season and win the SEC East.
Or, they might lose again tonight and start sending out feelers for a head coaching replacement Monday morning.
Georgia-Tennessee certainly isn't a game anyone would have circled before the season started as a must-see game in the SEC. Well, beyond the avid fans of both teams. Now, it's actually one of the most important games of the day (behind Texas-Oklahoma) in terms of shaping a major conference division and impact the eventual national rankings.
Florida-LSU was going to be huge until Brantley's injury. How will a team that couldn't score at home against Alabama score on the road at LSU?
Ohio State-Nebraska was a game everyone circled before the season started. Both were so embarrassed last week that you're wondering how much drama will be left in the Big 10 season outside the Wisconsin-Michigan State game down the road.
Miami of Florida at Virginia Tech would normally be a showcase game. Miami isn't even ranked after losing to both Maryland and Kansas State. Virginia Tech fell to 21st after a woeful home effort vs. Clemson last week.
Iowa at Penn State? Iowa lost to Iowa State and should have lost to Pitt. Penn State should have lost to Temple. Yawn for now...though either team could surge to importance in the second half of the season.
If you're wondering why we're previewing a game like Georgia-Tennessee in the NOTEBOOK...THAT'S WHY! Georgia's looked pretty good since the 0-2 start (that was almost a 1-1 start with a huge conference win). There's a chance the Bulldogs are about to become important once again.
Here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, we may or may not be playing Georgia-Tennessee in our popular TV Triple Crown or as a major release. You'll have to sign up to find out! Game day selections always go up a few hours before the first game starts right here at the website. You can test the waters for a few days at reasonable prices with credit card purchases. Or, get more bang for you buck and sign up for the whole weekend or whole season. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on postseason baseball when you call. League Championship Series get under way this weekend in both the AL and the NL.
Additional interesting matchups (besides the big early kickoff on ABC featuring Texas/Oklahoma) that may show up in our TV Triple Crown:
Air Force/Notre Dame on NBC
Louisville at North Carolina on ESPN2
Missouri at Kansas State on ABC/ESPN2
Auburn at Arkansas on ESPN
Michigan at Northwestern on the Big 10 Network
Texas A&M at Texas Tech on FX
Our BIGGEST release today is a COLLEGE BLOWOUT that projects to be a double digit cover. Then we'll have a major release Sunday in the pro's that's just as strong...an NFL SHOCKER (possibly in a big TV game like Philadelphia/Buffalo, NY Jets/New England, or Green Bay/Atlanta). The best dogs...the best favorites...the best colleges plays...the best pro plays...and the very best in Major League Playoff action is always available for you quickly and easily courtesy of UNDISPUTED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!