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Friday, August 24, 2007

Who is overrated?

The easiest thing to do here is present The Hoosier Report's argument for Georgia:

To some degree, my rationale for ranking the Bulldogs #5 (as opposed to #14 in the Blogpoll at large) is inconsistent with above. UGa returns only 3 defensive starters. Consistent with my other logic, the Bulldogs do return QB Matthew Stafford, who should be better (of course, being worse would be almost impossible). In the SEC East, even compared to defending champion Florida, I trust Richt's track record at Georgia more than I trust the track record of any other coach/program. Last year was Georgia's worst season since Richt's first season, 2001. My hunch is that Georgia will rebound. That's good enough for the preseason, right?
Well... no! No, it isn't. Witness: we've got the three returning starters from the defense that kept Georgia afloat last year, a red flag from a clever theorem, and the low likelihood of a true sophomore with an almost 1:2 TD-INT ratio carrying a team anywhere except a Year of Considerable Pain . But this is the trump card:

Because of injuries, four true or redshirt freshmen are playing on the first-team offensive line right now.

In all, Georgia is down to eight scholarship linemen. None of the injuries is too serious.

Projected starters Chester Adams, a senior, and Scott Haverkamp, a junior college transfer, should be back from ankle injuries within a couple of days. In the meantime, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kiante Tripp was moved to the offensive line Tuesday.

Haverkamp is a first-year player, and Adams is at a new position and in a new role as a leader. Their brief departures from the practice field have shown just how tenuous Georgia's grasp on success up front is.

"I told myself after 2003 it wouldn't happen again," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said.

But the thin red line happened in 2006 and now, as proven the past few days, could easily happen again in 2007.

"We got pretty slim out there for a while last year," said Davis, a redshirt freshman. "And it is looking a little scary out there now."

It could be downright frightening if you look at it from the perspective of quarterback Matthew Stafford. There's a strong chance both tackle positions will be held down by true freshmen.

Trinton Sturdivant is almost a lock to start at left tackle, on Stafford's blind side. Clint Boling is making a push to play at the right tackle. (If the latter happened, Adams would move back to his natural guard position.)

And the learning curve is Everest-steep. Georgia kicks off the season against two teams with high hopes, Oklahoma State and South Carolina.

This is going to be bad. Very, very bad. Unless Stafford matures immediately (chances of this...

...are slim) or the Georgia offensive line turns into Christmas Miracle Voltron, the offense is going to be just as bad as it was last year when Georgia was wildly fortunate to finish 9-4. With a nearly all-new defense, replicating even that record looks like a longshot. The only reason to rank the Dawgs appears to be historical inertia.

I'm also highly dubious about Auburn for similar reasons. SMQB's brilliant "Life on the Margins" series is a preseason feature that explores the particularly lucky and unlucky teams of the previous year. Auburn comes in for a bludgeoning:
Sounding the alarm at least as loud as anything in that chart [which showed Auburn outgained significantly in four separate wins] is this: Auburn was 6-2 in the SEC, yet was outgained by about 33 yards per conference game (Vanderbilt, 1-7, was outgained by 24.7 ypg). Not only were the Tigers incredibly opportunistic – the great turnover margin, the pass interference no-call against LSU, a defensive and a special teams touchdown against Florida, the onside kick at South Carolina, short field scores in rock-bottom offensive efforts against ‘Bama and Nebraska – but they were the only team in the conference that couldn’t also argue about the one that got away, because their two losses were unambiguous blowouts at the hands of Arkansas and Georgia, both starting true freshman quarterbacks on the road.
Brandon Cox has never impressed and he regressed badly towards the end of 2006. He threw 19 interceptions, the same as Curtis Painter. Also, Auburn has a bit of a problem on the offensive line, too. One starter returns; true freshman Lee Ziemba is the probable starter at one tackle spot. Other freshmen dot the two-deep in uncomfortable places like wide receiver, safety, and center. I think 15 is pretty generous even though they were 11-2 last year. I can see ranking them somewhere at the tail end of the poll.

Who is underrated?

Arkansas. It's odd that the most hyped player in the country finds his team in need of this sort of defending, but apparently he does. The offense returns virtually intact, down only two offensive linemen and Mitch Mustain, still in possession of McFadden, Felix Jones, and Marcus Monk, three men undoubtedly raised in a secret laboratory somewhere. Even though the Hogs couldn't throw worth a damn last year, they still finished 29th in total offense. If Casey Dick can just elevate himself to slight competence...

Arkansas is suffering from a sort of inverse Charles Rogers Theorem effect, I think, after losing their final three games of the year. But I submit these facts to you: LSU was outgained in its victory and the final margin came courtesy a kick return touchdown. Wisconsin was outgained nearly two-to-one but managed to hang on to the Citrus Bowl. (Florida did outplay Arkansas, although that backbreaking Reggie Fish punt muff screams "alternate history fork point".)

Perhaps it's just my natural skittishness as a Michigan fan that has to actually face this team, but Oregon also seems low to me. Again, this is a team that finished the year poorly, in Oregon's case spectacularly so. The Ducks lost their last four games, the finale a 30-point loss to a pretty meh BYU team, and finished 6-7 only because of one of the all-time refereeing gaffes in college football history. Plus, their quarterback spent the summer screwing around with baseball. But, again, Life on the Margins reveals a major discrepancy:
Oregon is a classic “margin” team because of these two very relevant statistics:
    Yardage Margin in Pac Ten Games: + 136.4
    Turnover Margin in Pac Ten Games: - 13
The first number was by far the best in the conference. The second number was by far the worst. The second number is probably also more important: Oregon’s ten-win team in 2005, for example, only outgained conference opponents by about 77 yards per game, good but well below last year’s team, yet it challenged for the BCS because it was also plus-13 in turnover margin.
SMQB goes on to point out that the reason for that -13 has much to do with Dennis Dixon's propensity for spectacularly bad interceptions and that a good deal about this season hinges on his ability to fix this problem. Will he? Dunno. That baseball thing has to give Duck fans the heebie-jeebies. But he is a senior with lots of starting experience and has a wicked set of skill position players to work with. The defense? I don't know. But Oregon's crap 2006 record has one clear cause that should get fixed. I expect a major bounce.