At this time every year, once the teams in the teams have played enough games to have a meaningful sample size (or at least meaningful in the statistical anomaly that is college football,) I like to take a gander through the SEC's stats to see what jumps out at me. So come along on my magic carpet ride...
1. I proclaimed Tennessee overrated before the season (along with Iowa, Ohio State, Georgia Tech [just wait three weeks,] and Florida State, thank you very much) because the Vols' pass defense was dreadful last year and they would have to progress a helluva long way to be national title caliber. Well, lost in the hubbub of the DroppedPassapalooza that has been the '05 Tennessee season, lo and behold, they're 8th in yards per attempt allowed and pass efficiency defense. So, as a further rejoinder to Stewart Mandel, Notre Dame being able to move the ball on the Vols isn't a commentary on the defenses of LSU, Georgia, Alabama, or Auburn because all of those defenses are better against the pass than Tennessee. The Vols have also intercepted a meager six passes. Only Vandy, Kentucky, and Ole Miss are worse in that category.
2. A pessimistic note on Alabama: if they're going to survive with a great defense and a pedestrian offense (and the O is going to have to get better this weekend to reach the lofty heights of pedestrian; right now, they're more roadkill,) they need to win the field position battle like the '02 Ohio State team did so adeptly. Unfortunately, the Tide are next to last in the SEC in net punting, with their beloved orange friends from Knoxville keeping them out of the basement. Something to chew on today as Skyler Green's plane lands in Alabama. LSU averages almost ten yards per punt return more than Alabama does; what does that portend if the game turns into an exchange of punts?
3. I said before the year that I expected that Blake Barnes would be starting by the end of the season for Georgia. Whoopsie. Blake isn't even the team's back-up, while D.J. Shockley has done so well that the Dawgs' passing offense ranks first in the conference in yards per attempt. (That stat is colored a little by the fact that Georgia doesn't play Ole Miss, Alabama, or LSU and they have yet to play Auburn.) My mental image of Shockley is always of him galloping away from the line of scrimmage, but he's quietly done a great job throwing the ball this year.
3a. What odds would I have gotten in the off-season that as of November 11, Ole Miss would have .3 yards per attempt more than Tennessee? 25 to 1? 100 to 1? My chances of seeing a Carolina Panther cheerleaders in the women's room show to 1?
4. For all the complaining that LSU fans have done about their defense, this weekend's game in Tuscaloosa matches the top two defenses in the conference in terms of yards per attempt allowed. LSU has also allowed the lowest completion percentage and intercepts a greater percentage of opposing passes than any other team in the SEC.
5. Pat Dye: "You have to run the ball to be able to win in this conference."
Arkansas (2-6 despite leading the league in yards per carry and rushing yards per game) and South Carolina (6-3 despite being last in the league in both categories): "Really?"
And South Carolina is even next-to-last in rushing yards allowed per game.
6. A study in contrasts: the LSU-Alabama game matches the two teams in the conference that allow the fewest yards per play, while the Auburn-Georgia game matches the two offenses that gain the most yards per play. More weirdness: LSU and Alabama are 3rd and 4th in yards gained per play, while Georgia and Auburn and 3rd and 4th in yards allowed per play. This is a long way of saying that the four best teams in the conference are playing this weekend. Sorry, Orson and Stranko. Wait a second, I just scrolled down to turnovers and noticed that Florida is +17, leading the league both in turnovers forced and fewest turnovers conceded. Maybe the Gators do belong in the discussion after all.