published Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Wiedmer: Richt’s seat a little cooler

At least Georgia football coach Mark Richt is no longer on the hottest seat in the Southeastern Conference. With Saturday’s 27-13 victory at Ole Miss, he now officially passes that whoopee cushion to Rebels boss Houston Nutt.

As any crimson-, orange- or purple-and-gold-blooded Southern male can attest, you can learn a lot about a college football season by camping out on your couch for an entire Saturday afternoon.

Nutt’s woes and Richt’s reprieve — however temporary — were one of those lessons learned. So was the fact that Alabama is really, really, really good in the way that most national championship contenders tend to be — on defense.

Never mind the 38-14 final score over Arkansas. That was impressive, even if the Razorbacks’ defense — including a miraculous second-quarter goal-line stand — looked better than the points allowed.

But this Bama defense has closing speed like Jeff Gordon. You don’t see them so much as you feel them. And they hurt.

It’s still arguable where this Crimson Tide “D” rates among their best ever, but Bama may never have been faster at 11 spots. Then again, the Tide do play at Gainesville this coming Saturday against Florida’s Chris Rainey, who just might be the fastest individual player in the SEC, unless that honor goes to his running mate, Jeff Demps. Rumor has it that starter’s guns will be substituted for referees’ whistles to begin play in that one.

Then there’s the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which after Saturday’s bizarre 14-12 loss at No. 3 Appalachian State is now better than its record (2-2) yet in quite a bind concerning making the playoffs for the first time since 1984.

The schedule always was going to be tough, given that the Mocs would have to play at both App and No. 1 Georgia Southern before hosting No. 8 Wofford in the final game of the season, when bad weather could give an advantage to the ground-loving Terriers.

But when your defense gives up zero points — as the Mocs did Saturday — you figure you’ll win. UTC didn’t and conventional wisdom remains that the Blue and Gold can’t finish worst than 5-3 in the Southern Conference (they’re now 0-1) if they are to make the playoffs.

There are no playoffs in major college football, of course. Just computer polls and bowl games and that maddening Bowl Championship Series title game.

What is becoming clear, however, is that the SEC again appears to have national title contenders in abundance in Alabama, LSU and possibly Florida, though keep in mind — as former Gators coach Steve Spurrier would say — that Saturday’s Gators win was only against Kentucky.

What’s also clear is that Florida State either isn’t as good as it was supposed to be following its 35-30 loss at Clemson, or the Tigers are better, or the Seminoles were given too tough a task to lose a heartbreaker to No. 1 Oklahoma a week ago, then play in Death Valley seven days later.

Regardless, the next biggest weekend of the season would appear to be in two weeks, on Oct. 8, when Richt’s fate may be decided if Georgia loses at Tennessee, and Florida travels to LSU, with the loser — especially if the Gators already have lost to Bama by then — being out of the national championship hunt.

As for Ole Miss’s Nutt, it wasn’t just that he lost, because, to be honest, Richt’s talent should top Nutt’s talent most of the time.

But for the love of Archie Manning, Dog Brewer and Johnny Vaught combined, if you can’t get your team sky-high for a home game after getting pummeled by Vanderbilt the week before, you need to do some serious soul-searching, not to mention some probable job-searching.

After all, whatever the good work done by the Rebels in the second half, they trailed 24-7 at the break. At home. Before an edgy crowd already unhappy with its fourth-year coach.

If Nutt’s the motivator he’s supposed to be, a lot of Johnny Rebs are going to wonder why their football team didn’t get going until the second half. Beyond that, if Nutt’s the coach he’s supposed to be, why does Ole Miss appear to be going backward for the second year running?

“When I wake up every hour on the hour, it’s about Ole Miss football and how we’re going to get it better,” Nutt said before the Georgia game.

In light of that result, he might need to stay up 27 hours a day, eight days a week, to make the Rebs good enough to beat any SEC team save lowly Kentucky (Nov. 5) the rest of the way.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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