Sunday, October 4, 2009

Your Travel Agent Presents: Ridiculously Early Planning for Atlanta - December 5, 2009

Five weeks into the season is way too early to try to predict which teams will be playing for the SEC Championship in Atlanta on December 5, 2009. No wise prognosticator would even try. Lucky for you, no wise prognosticator here. King Football presents: a ridiculously early team-by-team look at who has a chance to get to Atlanta, and how to plan accordingly.


Florida (4-0, 2-0) – Florida was the pre-season favorite to dominate the ostensibly weaker division of the SEC. They’re undefeated with conference wins over division rivals Tennessee and Kentucky. But, the last two weeks have exposed two potential Achilles’ heels for the Gators: (1) the performance of UT’s D in holding them to 23 points showed that, without Percy Harvin, UF’s O is somewhat one dimensional and (2) the aforementioned One Dimension suffered a concussion against UK and no one is certain when he will return and if he’ll be back in Heisman form when he does. And their remaining SEC Schedule isn’t a cakewalk. Even if the Gators escape Baton Rouge next week with a win, they still face UGA in a neutral site rivalry game and SC in Columbia. Still, the silver lining about having an Achilles’ heel – you’re still a badass Greek warrior! And unlike Greek mythological heroes, the Gators control their own destiny. So long as they continue to win, they will go to Atlanta. And with all the other East teams sporting at least one conference loss, UF may be able to drop a game and still make it to Atlanta. Fan travel advisory: book your hotel rooms, but check the cancellation policy.

Georgia (3-2, 2-1) – It’s a testament to how weak the East is this year that Georgia is the second best team in the Division. Let’s play the transitive property of football, shall we? UGA lost to OK State, who lost to Houston, who lost to UTEP, who lost to Buffalo, who lost to Temple, who lost to Villanova. The Bulldogs are worse than Villanova, QED. Needless to say, the ‘Dawgs have been awfully inconsistent this year, but their only SEC loss is to the West’s LSU, and they already beat one East team, South Carolina. If they win the rest of their SEC games, they take the short trip to Atlanta because they will have beaten UF head-to-head. And, other than The Game Formerly Known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the remainder of UGA’s SEC schedule is manageable: UT, Vandy, UK, and Auburn in Athens. Suddenly, that game in Jacksonville looks like a one game season for the ‘Dawgs. Fan travel advisory: plan that weekend in Atlanta around the Chick-fil-A bowl, not the Championship game.

South Carolina (4-1, 2-1) – With Garcia developing into a competent (better than competent?) QB, a stout D (except against UGA) and a big win over Ole Miss last Thursday, folks are understandably likin' the 'Cocks. Unfortunately, their one loss was to East Division rival Georgia. So, even if SC wins all its remaining SEC games, including a head-to-head tie breaker win over Spurrier’s old team, SC still needs UGA to lose at least one more SEC game. The other problem for SC: winning the rest of their SEC games. They’ve got very winnable games against UK, Vandy, UT and Arky, plus they get the Gators in Columbia, but can they win them all? Oh yeah, and they have to travel to Tuscaloosa in two weeks. Fan travel advisory: If you take care of business the rest of the season then beat UF in Columbia November 14, try to score cheap Atlanta reservations from the visiting Gator fans trying to unload theirs.

Kentucky (2-2, 0-2) – The bad news: the Wildcats already have two conference losses. The good news: they were losses to the two best teams in the conference – UF and Bama. Even if UK were to win all their remaining SEC games (very doubtful, they have to play at SC, at AUB, at UGA, and the games against Vandy and UT are not gimmes), if a team other than UF is going to win the East (especially a team that has already dropped two SEC games), they probably need a head-to-head win over UF to do it. And, as already mentioned, UK has already lost to UF. To overtake the Gators, UK must win all their remaining SEC games and the Gators have to lose to LSU, UGA and SC. Getting to a bowl game is a legit goal for UK, winning the East is not. Fan travel advisory: a weekend in Nashville for the Music City Bowl is better than a weekend in Atlanta anyway.

Tennessee (2-3, 0-2) – Barring a monumental collapse by every other team, winning the East is outside the range of possibilities for this year’s UT team. They have a good D and running game, but without a QB who can throw or receivers who can catch, UT should worry about getting bowl eligible, or else they’ll be sitting at home for the second year in a row. The Vols already lost to the Gators so, like the Wildcats, they need the Gators to drop three of their remaining six conference games. Plus UT still has UGA, SC, road trips to Tuscaloosa and Oxford, and not-automatic games against Vandy and UK. Fan travel advisory: You’ll be home this December and January, giving and receiving surplus Eric Berry for Heisman gear as Dirty Santa presents.

Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-3) – I don’t think players come to Vandy expecting, or even hoping, to play in Atlanta the first weekend in December. So, at least these Commodores, with three conference losses already under their sword-belts, won’t be disappointed. Fan travel advisory: you’ll have to be satisfied knowing that your pay stub is bigger than all those UF, UGA and UT grads below you on the organizational chart, so you can afford a nice ski trip during bowl season.


Alabama (5-0, 2-0) – Despite Bama having been undefeated in the regular season and beating UF for 3 ½ quarters in the Championship game last year, many pre-season prognosticators expected Ole Miss or LSU to win the West this year. Bama had a question mark at QB and holes to fill on the offensive line, but McElroy seems a vast improvement over JP Wilson, and the O-line seems to be doing the job just fine. Five weeks into the season, Bama not only looks like the team to win the West, but looks like the most complete and consistent team on both sides of the ball in the country. Their only conference wins are against Arky and UK, so they still have to play all the other West contenders, but they should be favored in all those games. Can they beat Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn? Probably. Fan travel advisory: see if the hotel where you stayed for the Va Tech game has any vacancies the first weekend in December.

LSU: (5-0, 3-0) – Believe it or else, the Bayou Bengals are undefeated and have more conference wins (3) than any other team. Unfortunately, they’ve only beaten one West team, Miss State, meaning they still have to play Bama, LSU and Auburn. Oh yeah, and did I mention they play the Gators next week. LSU seems more lucky than good so far, assuming Ole Miss’ spot as the #4 team in the country that no one thinks deserves to be there. Still, it’s hard to argue with 5-0, and the Geaux Tigers control their own destiny. Since UF is in the East, they can lose that game and still play in Atlanta if they beat all their West rivals, which would involve road wins in Tuscaloosa and Oxford. Fan travel advisory: Texas is a big state. It is not a good idea to try to visit your Katrina refugee cousins in Houston on your way to Arlington for the Cotton Bowl.

Auburn (5-0, 2-0) – The Cinderella Story of 2009. The 2009 Tigers have won as many games and scored as many points in five games as they did all last season. Chizik won 5 games in 2 seasons at Iowa State, but has won his first 5 at Auburn. The offense is much improved this year, and surprisingly diverse in its number of offensive playmakers. The D, however, is thin. If AU escapes Fayetteville next week, expect the clock to strike midnight around October 24 in Baton Rouge (or the next week against Ole Miss or in Athens November 14 or against Bama November 27; actually, it’s possible AU drops ALL these games). Fan travel advisory: pull the money you saved last year by not traveling to a bowl game out of your savings account, but don’t book anything just yet. Your destination possibilities are as diverse as Orlando for the Capital One Bowl or Shreveport for the Independence Bowl.

Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1) – Most of the pre-season hype that surrounded Ole Miss was deflated by that Thursday night loss to SC. But losing to an East division team means they still control their own destiny. All the Rebs have to do is beat Bama in Oxford next week, outscore the potent Arky offense, outscore Auburn on the Plains, find a way to score on UT’s defense, beat the “find-a-way-to-win” LSU Tigers and beat a much-improved Mississippi State in a rivalry game in Starkville. Do that and you own a head-to-head tiebreaker against all your West rivals. For a team and a coach not exactly known for consistency, this is a tall order. Drop any one of those games and you need Bama, LSU and Auburn to each lose two or three games. But Ole Miss did the improbable last year, beating UF in the Swamp and ending the season on a 6-game win streak. Can they repeat that feat by beating Bama in Oxford and running the table the rest of the year? Fan travel advisory: Who are we kidding? Ole Miss fans don’t travel anywhere farther than Memphis. Who wants to go anywhere but the Grove anyway?

Arkansas (2-2, 0-2) – When you’ve already dropped two SEC games in a division where three of your rivals are undefeated, it’s tough to see your way to Atlanta. Arkansas with Mallett is improved on offense, but they may have taken a step backwards from last year’s already poor defensive unit. Even if you outscore Aubs on Saturday, the Hogs still have likely losses awaiting them the next two weeks in Gainesville and Oxford, plus the season ender in Baton Rouge. South Carolina and Miss State aren’t automatic wins, either. At this point, losing all their remaining SEC games is more likely than winning them all. Fan travel advisory: It’s warm enough to play golf in Birmingham in December and there are plenty of good courses around. The guy waving a towel and charging $5 bucks for you to park your car in his yard outside Legion Field for the Bowl is as likely to steal your satellite radio as provide any sort of protection for your car.

Mississippi State (2-3, 1-2) – Mississippi State is improved everywhere but in the Win/Loss Column. With two conference losses already - both to West rivals - it’s hard to see them in Atlanta. With an out-of-conference loss to Ga Tech and remaining OOC games against Houston and on the road (huh?) against MTSU, I have a hard time seeing the 4 more wins they need to get bowl eligible. (I’ll be sporting and spot you MTSU and Kentucky, show me two more.) Fan travel advisory: Save your money this year and, in a couple years when Mullen has recruited the talent to run his offense, reserve the presidential suite and a gold-plated cowbell for your trip to . . . Memphis for the Liberty Bowl.


  1. Bama will lose at least one. And it won't be to a team from the East.

  2. I like the proof in the UGA analysis, complete with term "transitive property" and QED to signal the end of the proof.