THE SEC REPORT

The SEC Report: A&M wins, Alabama triumphs but falls in polls and LSU is the real winner of the weekend

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Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio and Sports. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio show at www.nerdthugradio.com!

LAST WEEKEND

Texas A&M held up against Mississippi State in spite of their defense. Alabama thinks they have a quarterback after they drummed Arkansas for 235 yards and three touchdowns and LSU jumped over Alabama into the number #1 position on the country after beating Auburn in a close game. It's a little odd that LSU jumped over Alabama after closely beating an Auburn that only barely beat A&M but hey, they have to play Alabama next weekend so we'll see who deserves what then.

THE THREE STARS OF LAST WEEKEND

Lynn Bowden Jr, running back of Kentucky, had himself a day with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries against a Missouri team that was, until recently, in the pole position for their division for the SEC championship game.

Kellen Mond, Quarterback of Texas A&M, in a game they basically had to have he came out and slung it for 234 yards and put three touchdowns on the scoreboard. A&M's season hangs in the balance and it will take great poise and a solid quarterback.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, running back of LSU, on 26 carries he got 136 yards and a touchdown in a game where they needed every yard and every point. It must be thankless to be the starting running back of a team with a potential Heisman winning quarterback on it, because you won't get a lot of love nationally.

THIS WEEKEND

So we live in a world where I correctly predicted last week that LSU would leapfrog Alabama with a win, I just thought it would be a clear win and it wasn't. This week both Alabama and LSU are off as they prepare for their must see game next weekend but this week everyone needs to be watching Georgia coming to Gainesville in a game that desperately matters to the SEC championship game. Also Texas A&M hosts UTSA in a game that while not SEC relevant matters to Aggies, and Ole Miss comes to Auburn who really needs a win.

THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND

Kyle Trask, quarterback of Florida. Florida is in a position to get to the SEC championship game by just playing winning football. All they have to do is keep playing good football and usually the quarterback is directly responsible for this.

D'Andre Swift, running back of Georgia. This is the big game this week. Numbers 1 and 2 of the SEC East are playing in a game that is likely to decide one of the two teams that plays in the SEC championship game so the star running back may want to step up.

Bo Nix, quarterback of Auburn. This is likely the last time his name appears on the list because if Bo doesn't win the rest of their season doesn't matter in the big picture. They need the freshman to find his mojo and quick or what started off as a great year may wind up being the year that broke Bo.

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All systems go for the Astros!Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

10 days ago I noted that the Astros had finished an amazingly lengthy schedule stretch that would have needed to harden up to become powderpuff soft.
I Tweeted this:

Well, seven wins against just two losses later, whip up is what they did. Sweeping four games from the Mets in which the Mets never led at any point? Not exactly payback for older Astros' fans who remember 1986, but sweet nevertheless. Taking three of five from the Yankees in all compelling games looked like a fabulous precursor to a highly possible third Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series matchup in six years.

Despite their present 48-27 mark the Astros are still seven games behind the Yankees and their crazy 56-21 ledger. The Yanks are absolutely catchable though. Not because the Astros are the flat out better team, nothing indicates that. It's the schedule. There are four losing teams behind the Astros in the AL West. Behind the Yankees in the AL East, three winning teams (Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays). Even the woebegone for years Orioles are much improved, with the best last place record in Major League Baseball (as a reference point, the Orioles' record is 10 games better than AL West laughingstock Oakland). Over the coming dog days of summer the Yanks have the substantially higher intradivisional hurdles. The plot reeeeally thickens if the Astros sweep the doubleheader with the Yankees at Minute Maid Park slotted July 21 right out of the All-Star break. That's it for regular season matchups between them.

The Astros enter the weekend exactly as far ahead (seven games) of the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins as they are behind the Yanks. That's a very strong position for the Astros to secure a bye past the best-of-three Wild Card Series. Remember, with the newly expanded postseason format byes go to the top two division winners in each league.

Now for the Astros it's back to a marshmallow opponents parade. They have 16 games remaining before the All-Star break, all vs. losers: six with the Angels, six with the A's, four with the Royals. Let's reasonably posit that the Astros successfully take out the trash more regularly than they did in the 34 game stretch. 12-4 is certainly plausible. That would get the Astros to 60 wins at the break with a record of 60-31, which would be on pace for a season total of 106.8 wins. Let's round up. 107 wins is the franchise record they set in 2019.

This team is outstanding, but still can use an offensive upgrade. The lineup just had its best month of the season but that didn't take a whole lot. Alex Bregman has finally perked up some. Yuli Gurriel, not so much. Martin Maldonado, pretty much unperkable. Heed this James Click: more potent lineups than the 2022 Astros came up short in the World Series in both 2019 and 2021.

Barring a huge second half of the season, Gurriel should not be in the Astros' 2023 plans. I'd say the same for Maldonado but he is on course to have a five million dollar option next year become guaranteed. He's played in 54 games this season, the option vests at 90. Ideally he's a backup. At the risk of some charging heresy, Maldonado's defensive imperativity (is that a word?) is overblown. Pitch-framing metrics do not rate him highly. He does not eliminate opposition running games. One, very few teams run much at all. Two, Maldonado has thrown out 26 percent of would be basestealers this season. Jason Castro has thrown out 25 percent. The big one last. With Maldonado behind the plate this season, Astros' pitchers' earned run average is 3.23. With Castro, 2.37. Would that hold up for Castro if he was the primary catcher? No chance. But sample size issues accepted, that Maldonado's defensive savant-ness renders his offensive ineptitude inconsequential? Nah. Certainly not in a lineup not up to recent past Astro teams.

Two weeks ago, this column covered Yordan Alvarez's chance at the greatest individual offensive month in Astros' history. Yordan's June ended with his scary collision with Jeremy Peña that knocked both out of Wednesday's matinée at the Mets and kept both out of Thursday's win over the Yankees. That was a harrowing smash as opposed to the delightful smashes that Alvarez busted out all over June. He finished batting .418 with an OPS of 1.346. Real and spectacular, but not quite ultimately as awesome as Jeff Bagwell's June or July 1994, or Richard Hidalgo's closing month of the 2000 season.

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