Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Florida-Georgia Debate

One of the most interesting topics in the college football world this summer has been the question of where to put Florida and Georgia in preseason rankings. Both teams return a ton of starters. Florida has the most pronounced strength - a virtually unstoppable offense - and the most obvious weakness - a defensive backfield that can't cover and a defensive line that struggled to get a pass rush, even with the now-departed Derrick Harvey. Georgia is more balanced than Florida, but isn't a threat to average 45 points per game, either. Georgia also has, as you may have heard, a very challenging schedule, as they play the entire top half of the SEC West and most of their big games are away from Athens. Finally, Georgia had a total transformation in 2007, going from a decent, but unspectacular team to a dynamo with the dividing line between the two being the celebration in Jacksonville. (Cue Kirk Herbstreit for a reasoned discussion of mojo here.)

We've tackled this question a little, mainly with an agnostic, "it's reasonable to pick Florida ahead of Georgia and here's how you would get to that conclusion" argument. Now, the SEC media has weighed in by picking Florida and Tony Barnhart weighs in with explanations. The comparison between the national media and the SEC media is interesting. The national media fell in love with Georgia when they pummeled Hawaii, whereas the SEC media remembers Georgia getting pantsed by Tennessee and then eking past Vandy. The national media probably isn't thinking about the effects that a four-game stretch of LSU in Baton Rouge, Florida in Jacksonville, Kentucky in Lexington, and Auburn on the Plains can have on a team, mainly because there wouldn't be anything like that in another conference. The SEC media understands the value of easier road games, so the fact that two of Florida's three road games are against Arkansas and Vandy is a big deal.

Normally, I would write off the media's love affair with Florida as "ooh, shiny offense!" In this case, I have an assumption that the SEC media is less likely to fall into this trap than the national media, so I tend to give the SEC media the benefit of the doubt that they aren't forgetting that defense occasionally matters, too. Then again, maybe I shouldn't. Someone else might remember the details better, but my recollection is that there was a streak running for about a decade in which the preseason SEC favorite did not win the league. That streak would have been broken by LSU last year, but I seem to recall that the streak dated back to the mid-90s.

Anyway, if you asked me right now, I'd say that Georgia has the better team, but that Florida is more likely to win the East because of their schedule. I would rank Georgia ahead of Florida in a preseason top 25 because those rankings are meant to rank the best teams and not necessarily the teams that are likely to finish the season on top. I would pick the SEC East in the following order: Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Vandy. (Boring, I know.) So, to answer Barnhart's question, the simplest explanation for the disparity between the national media picking their top 25s and the SEC media predicting the order of finish in the SEC East is that those two medias have different missions in late July.


Anonymous said...

Hey Michael, you promised you would rate the SEC coaches - with analysis - from top-to-bottom at some point this summer. (Not the programs, per se, but the coaches and their respective competencies).

This is the slowest point yet! You gotta do it soon!!!

Also, can you please chime in about Brett Favre? I want to know what you think.

Michael said...

I am going to do something a little different with the SEC coaches. I hope you like it.

On Favre: he's selfish and has put the Packers in a very difficult situation.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't assume that Georgia has a lesser offense than Florida right now. Sure, the Gators have "Mr. Everything" Tebow and all that speed, but I do believe the Dawgs have just about as much firepower... Florida will score points just like they did last year, but word on the street down in Alachua county is all those losses from the class of '05 that didn't pan out is coming home to roost. They are thin on the D-Line and either average or very young (as in freshman young) in the secondary.

Still, the Cocktail Party will probably determine everything, like it should.

Unknown said...

Since the prevailing theme this summer in discussing the 2008 Dawgs is going to be "they're going to be very good, but the schedule is so tough," I need to get something off my chest that I've been considering for a while: this schedule is penance.
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