The Georgia Bulldogs are 3-4 in their seven SEC Championship game appearances.

Weekend Reflections: Why LSU, not ’Bama, makes better SEC title game foe for Georgia 

It’s Bizarro World in Baton Rouge. LSU beat Alabama 46-41 in Tuscaloosa on the strength of its best-ever offense. The Tigers needed that effort because their defense is no better than OK, which is unlike every LSU team since what seems like forever. 

That imbalance is why, if it comes to it, Georgia (8-1) might be better off facing LSU (9-0) rather than Alabama (8-1) in the SEC championship game. It might not come to that — Georgia is favored by just 2-1/2 points at Auburn on Saturday. But if it does, I think the outcome in Tuscaloosa was the best one for the Bulldogs. 

I used to think differently. I figured that, despite recent history, the Crimson Tide would be the more favorable opponent for Georgia. Injuries in the front seven have left Alabama’s defense relatively vulnerable. It was easier to imagine the Bulldogs slogging to victory against ’Bama than keeping up with LSU’s high-tech offense. 

I’ve changed my mind on that. Alabama is a more balanced team than LSU. It has the No. 2 offense and No. 12 defense in Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings (adjusted for opponents and situations while excluding garbage time). 

The Tigers are hard to stop, of course. The Bulldogs are better equipped to do it than most any opponent. After shutting out Missouri, Georgia’s defense ranks No. 2 in SP+ behind Ohio State. The Bulldogs rank No. 18 in offensive SP+. They’d likely have a better chance of scoring against LSU than Alabama. 

LSU’s defense ranks No. 24 in SP+. That’s its second-lowest ranking since 2005, which is as far back as the Football Outsiders database goes. LSU’s defense ranked 34th in 2015. Those Tigers finished 9-3 in the season for coach Les Miles in Baton Rouge. 

This year’s LSU team has a similar profile to the 2013 team. That season, LSU’s offense ranked seventh in SP+ and its defense 16th. The 2013 Tigers lost 44-41 at Georgia and 38-17 at Alabama. The 2019 Tigers led 33-13 in the first half at ‘Bama and 39-27 in the fourth quarter but had to keep scoring because their defense gave up TDs on four straight second-half possessions

Georgia’s offense must improve to come close to matching Alabama’s. On the other hand, LSU hasn’t faced an opponent with a defense as good as Georgia’s. Auburn’s defense, ranked No. 5 in SP+, held the Tigers to 23 points while forcing two turnovers and six punts.

All things considered, I’d say Georgia has a better shot against LSU than Alabama. SP+ projects Georgia as a 1½-point underdog to LSU on a neutral field and a 2½-point underdog to Alabama. That sounds about right. 

Falcons defensive end Grady Jarrett discusses the team's defensive effort in the win over New Orleans. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Dan Quinn’s defense looked better with less Dan Quinn

The Saints scored less than 10 points at home for the first in the Drew Brees era against a Falcons defense that had been among the worst in the league. This happened as coach Dan Quinn turned over more play-calling duties to assistant Jeff Ulbrich. That means Quinn’s defense played its best game of the season with Quinn doing less with the defense.  

The Falcons couldn’t get to the quarterback for eight games but suddenly they were all over Brees for six sacks and 11 hits. Grady Jarrett wrecked the New Orleans interior line and Ulbrich dialed up some pressures. The secondary looked confused during the first half of the season but suddenly was sound against New Orleans (that’s after Raheem Morris moved from wide receiver coach to help the secondary, too). 

Listen, I’m having fun with the idea of Quinn’s defense playing better with less Quinn but I don’t want to get carried away. The Falcons played with a lead from early in the second quarter to the end and were up two scores just seven seconds into the fourth. That made it easier to tee off on Brees. 

Still, the bottom line is the defense improved with Quinn delegating more responsibilities. That will prompt critics to question why the change didn’t happen sooner. Personally, I credit Quinn for doing it all. He’s repeatedly said his ego wouldn’t prevent him from stepping back if he thought it would make the team better. 

Quinn did that and, at least on Sunday, the Falcons were better

The NCAA is messing with two big stars

The NCAA argues that the amateur status of its athletes is central to the appeal of its product and so paying them would damage it. You know it’s a disingenuous claim because all NCAA schools could adopt the Division III model and give no scholarships to athletes. But then the best players would seek employment in minor leagues, and there goes the billions in ticket and television revenue they generate for schools. 

Maybe the NCAA is trying to test its argument. It suspended a football and basketball star for receiving “impermissible benefits.” In the case of Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young, that reportedly was a loan from a family friend. For Memphis basketball center James Wiseman, the sin was allowing Tigers coach Penny Hardaway to pay for his family to move to Memphis to play for a high school team that Hardaway coached at the time. 

Young didn’t play Saturday against Maryland and ESPN reports that Ohio State expects his banishment to last three more games. But Memphis is defying the NCAA. Wiseman played in a game on Friday night after his attorney filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and won an injunction, a move the school president supported.

Young is one of the most exciting players in college football. He generated tremendous publicity for the sport when he wrecked Wisconsin two weekends ago. Wiseman could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft. He’s the most touted member of a top-ranked recruiting class that made No. 14 Memphis an instant national championship contender. 

Young and Wiseman are the kind of players that move the needle. People want to see them play, which means revenue for their schools via advertisers and sponsorships. But the NCAA is so intent on preventing valuable athletes from earning any of the profit that’s stolen from them that it is willing to suspend two big stars. 

Good on Memphis for reminding everyone that the NCAA operates as a cartel only because its member schools allow it to have that power on their behalf. 

My Weekend Predictions are 8-4 so far 

great week picking against the spread will be even better if the 49ers (-6) cover against the 49ers Monday night. 

I was 1-3 ATS with the local teams. Georgia (-16½) handled Missouri with no drama. But I underestimated underdogs Georgia Tech and the Falcons. And I got burned backing Georgia State as road favorites against Louisiana-Monroe. 

My 7-1 record on my other picks included two quality ’dogs that won outright, LSU and Minnesota. Nothing warms my heart more than that. But it was a bad move to pick N.C. State as a big home ’dog against Clemson. The Tigers are rolling toward another ACC title and College Football Playoff berth.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.