Guerry Clegg commentary: You never know until the season starts

sports@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 8, 2013 

We do it every year. Soon after the college football season is over, we look at teams and start sizing them up for the next season. How many starters are they losing? How did they finish? What impact players did they sign? What does the schedule look like?

By August, we think we have a good read on everybody.

And then …

They play the games. Suddenly, we don't know what we thought we knew. This season is no different.

Such as:

We knew that Georgia's offense would have to carry its defense at least half way through the season. The offense was loaded, so much so that several backups could start for other ranked teams.

We didn't know that Aaron Murray would have to carry the offense. Of course, we had no way of knowing that Murray would find himself out there without Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett and still have to lead a game-winning drive at Tennessee.

As of now, Murray is playing as well as any quarterback in the country. He is playing better than any Georgia quarterback ever has, including Matthew Stafford.

We knew that Auburn had to be better, simply by default. There was no way to go but up after a 3-9 season.

What we didn't know was that the Tigers are good enough to beat anybody left on their schedule, Georgia and Alabama notwithstanding. Their toughest matchup is probably Texas A&M simply because they will have a hard time containing Johnny Manziel. But even A&M's defense is vulnerable enough for the Tigers to control the ball and score points.

They match up a little better against Georgia because Murray isn't as likely to run as Manziel, although Tennessee's defense might have a hard time buying that. Of the three, they match up best against Alabama because the Crimson Tide's offense isn't likely to blow anybody away.

Which, by the way, leads us to …

We knew Alabama would miss three All-America offensive linemen. Even if their replacements are great players, you can't lose three-fifths of the best offensive line in college football and not feel the effects, at least initially.

We didn't know that the chemistry that produced back-to-back national championships would be so hard for Alabama to replicate. The defense played better against Ole Miss, a 25-0 win. But the score was misleading. The offense was held to two long touchdown runs and three field goals. They still are not playing like the No. 1 team in the country.

But we also know that Nick Saban's teams almost always get better as the season goes on.

We knew that if Georgia Tech's defense didn't have to do much under Ted Roof to improve.

What we didn't know was that quarterback Vad Lee would have such a hard time running the option. It's time for Tech coach Paul Johnson to change his offense. It's easier to recruit talent for the spread than for Johnson's quirky offense. If Johnson refuses to part with his offense, it's time for Tech to consider parting with Johnson. The Yellow Jackets have hit the glass ceiling.

There's still a lot we don't know.

We still don't know if Alabama can develop the offensive line chemistry that will enable the Tide to overpower teams with its running game. For that matter, we don't know if the Tide can develop the overall team chemistry that it takes to win a championship.

We still don't know if Georgia can survive any more injury hits on offense, or how much Gurley can give the Dogs even when he returns.

We still don't know if Auburn is mature enough to avoid taking a step backward when the Tigers have to play back to back road games against Arkansas and Tennessee next month. With four wins in the bank and games remaining against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, a minimum of six wins seems a lock. But unless they upset Texas A&M, Georgia or Alabama, the Tigers will have to beat Arkansas or Tennessee to win seven games. Those two games will define the measure of success of Gus Malzahn's first season at Auburn.

And we won't know until they play. That's what makes it fun.

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