Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Under-Card and the Main Event

Hey Loyal Readers,

Well our dear friend NV Nole had a little hiccup in the game of life (does anyone else miss playing that game, pushing your little car around with the little plastic pin "people" and wheel of chance thing?) so in addition to covering the Main Event (the SEC Championship) I'm also pinch-hitting for him on the Under-Card (the game between two teams in the ACC that is legally obligated to occur so one of them can go to the Orange Bowl and play Kent State in front of 94 fans).

Since we're pulling double duty this week and talking both minor league action (the ACC) and All-Pro caliber squads (the SEC) let's get to the games.

Florida State Seminoles (-14) / Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets   8:00 p.m. eastern ESPN

Well, isn't this going to be an exciting ACC finale, pitting two teams that were thoroughly dominated against superior SEC competition last week (is it just me or is the SEC the conference to beat)? Georgia Tech's "vaunted" triple option managed only 10 points against the stout Georgia defense, while FSU's "vaunted" defense allowed 244 yards rushing and 37 points to a Florida Gators squad that has struggled significantly on offense this year. Admittedly, FSU didn't think they needed to actually have the ball to win (Florida won the time of possession battle something like 900 minutes to 4) so there is no question that Jimbo's guys were probably worn down. And Georgia Tech did come in to their rivalry game with losses to BYU, Virginia Tech, and Middle Tennessee this year so it's not like their loss came as a shock.

Going back to the Noles for a minute, is it just me or should there be concern over the fact that in the only other game they played against a quality opponent, even though they ended up besting Clemson, the Tigers put up 37 points? Doesn't that beg the question of whether FSU's defense is that good or if they just dominated inferior ACC opponents all year and when they faced two quality teams they were exposed? Add to that the fact that star defensive end "Tank" Carradine was lost for the season against Florida, they'll be facing the funky Yellow Jacket triple option attack, and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is headed to Kentucky as their head coach and there's certainly some uncertainty swirling around the garnet and gold.

Of course, before we just conclude that Georgia Tech is a shoo-in to win this thing, let's remember the losses they've had this season and the fact that they simply can't stop anyone, surrendering over 30 points per game. Not to mention, former defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired after the Jackets surrendered 49 points to Middle Tennessee, only to see their defense subsequently surrender 47 to Clemson and 50 to North Carolina. Needless to say, they aren't exactly the 1986 Chicago Bears.

Both teams are coming off tough losses in rivalry games and both teams clearly have concerns and question marks surrounding them, so how is this thing going to play out? I see Georgia Tech benefiting from playing a fast and quality SEC defense last week which should prepare them for a similar Noles defense and although I don't think they do enough to win the game, I don't see FSU running away with it either. Both teams run the ball effectively and keep the clock moving and although the students in Tallahassee will celebrate the big win on Tennessee Street, they won't do it by two touchdowns.

FSU 41-31.

Alabama Crimson Tide (-7) / Georgia   4:00 eastern CBS

And now to a game with actual important implications. Everyone is already aware that the winner of this game will move on to play for the BCS National Championship while the loser will essentially drop out of the BCS mix altogether and to a second tier bowl game (not exactly a wonderful consolation prize for the loser of this game).

There are definitely similarities to these teams - Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron rank #1 and #2 in the nation in pass efficiency, each team's defense has been very good all season and are loaded with NFL talent, each team had one slip-up against a quality SEC opponent (Alabama to Texas A&M and Georgia to South Carolina) and each is looking to win this game and eventually extend the SEC National Championship streak to 7.

However, although Aaron Murray has had a great season, a deeper look reveals that he struggled pretty mightily in two games this season - against South Carolina and Florida, two top tier SEC teams with great defenses (sound familiar to who he'll face on Saturday)? And even though they managed to eek out a win against Florida, remember that the Gators turned the ball over something like 34 times (thus masking Murray's struggles as he finished 12 of 24 for 150 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions). And I don't think Georgia's freshman running backs will be able to get much done against the Alabama front seven, leaving the game in Murray's hands for the Bulldogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama was blitzed by "Johnny Football" and the Aggie spread attack, something that won't happen in this game, given that Georgia is a pro-style offense. Plus, even if Alabama can't get much of a ground game going against Georgia, I certainly don't have angst about McCarron being able to lead Alabama to an SEC title (although I do think that Lacy and Yeldon will do enough on the ground to allow Alabama to use their play action passing game effectively).

As a result, although these are definitely two very good teams with multiple similarities, the deciding factor for me comes to down to the quarterback play and I give the nod to Alabama and AJ McCarron. Neither team puts up a ton of points but Alabama keeps it rolling and earns the right to win yet another BCS/SEC National Championship. Say it loud, say it proud and say it with me......Roll Tide!

Bama 21-10.

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