Each winter, ESPN devotes approximately 94% of its programming to the discussion of college basketball’s bubble teams. Beginning around December 1st, talking heads like Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps endlessly engage in awkward banter centering on which teams will comprise the last four in to the NCAA tournament. This is, of course, a matter of Earth-shattering importance, as these four titans of basketball are typically bounced out of the tournament by CBS’s first commercial break. Yet as pointless as this over-analysis seems to be, I can’t deny being enthralled by it. One tool frequently implemented by Matt’s colleagues at ESPN that I particularly enjoy is the blind team comparison. This is not, as some of you may be assuming, a discussion of the relative strengths of teams from schools for the visually impaired, but rather a side by side comparison of two teams’ rÃ©sumÃ©s without initially revealing the names of either program. This exercise is designed to compare the teams based on their achievement alone, without factoring in our ingrained biases for traditionally powerful programs. With the same goal in mind, I’d like to present a blind comparison of the Cats and Gators for this young season. If it helps you to enjoy the exercise, feel free to assume that I am presently sporting a matching tie and highlighter.
|Team A||Team B|
|Scoring Offense||44 ppg||34 ppg|
|Total Offense||497 ypg||317 ypg|
|Scoring Defense||18 ppg||14 ppg|
|Total Defense||258 ypg||277 ypg|
|Rush Offense||242 ypg||167 ypg|
|Pass Offense||255 ypg||151 ypg|
|Pass Defense||#1 SEC||#8 SEC|
|Domestic Death Threat Texts||0||1|
Hope the last one didn’t give it away. Yes, you guessed it. Team A is none other than Joker Phillips’ Kentucky Wildcats, who have flipped the historical script on the mighty Gators to this point of the season. The Cats average nearly 200 yards and ten points per game more than Florida. More surprisingly, the frequently maligned Kentucky defense compares very favorably with the Gators in most defensive categories, including total defense. So what, if anything, does this all mean?
Okay Gator fan, I hear you screaming at your monitor like Urban Myer at a defenseless reporter. You have endured a more difficult schedule at this point than the Cats, who have beaten up on some very poor competition. (I personally thought Akron’s quarterback showed a lot of moxie.) That point is actually well taken. But even acknowledging that fact, shouldn’t Urb’s Gators be producing huge numbers against any opponent? Does the competition level alone account for Mike Hartline averaging 100 more passing yards per game than the much celebrated John Brantley, or Kentucky’s ball carriers to produce nearly 80 yards per game more than Florida’s runners? Do South Florida and Miami(OH) possess such fearsome defensive fronts that Gator centers have no choice but to repeatedly snap the ball Nuke LaLoosh-style into opposing mascots?
The schedule is a factor, but the more significant truth is this: The Cats have closed the gap. Kentucky’s a little better than most anticipated, and many, myself included, may have underestimated the impact of the departure of St. Timmy and company to the NFL or to their respective correctional facilities. That being said, let’s be perfectly frank. Florida’s overall depth of talent is significantly better than Kentucky’s, and it would take Kentucky’s absolute best game, and some luck, to pull off a monumental upset at the Swamp. Still, the Cats are brimming with confidence at the moment, and the Gators look to be the most vulnerable they have been since the immortal Ron Zook left town. I truly believe Team A has a shot.
Do You, Cat Fans?