Four weeks into the college football season, a few thoughts:
Arkansas: As I wrote in the initial impressions piece, the late collapse against Alabama will likely haunt the Hogs for years to come. The last time they had an opportunity of that magnitude was twelve years ago against Tennessee with the Hand of God, and it might be another twelve years before they get one like that again. And, as an aside, Ryan Mallett has the mental toughness of a three-year old girl, he ought to change his last name to Clausen with displays like that. On the upside for the Hogs, they can stake a legitimate claim to being the #2 team in the SEC, but unless Alabama falls apart down the stretch, they will once again be at home in Fayetteville watching TV come the first week of December.
Auburn: The Gene Chizik Special has to be consistently beating middling-to-slightly-above-average teams in close games by very narrow margins. Consider me unimpressed by their win over South Carolina, for fairly obvious reasons. As I said in one of the game threads, I'll be convinced when this team beats a good team, or drills a middling one. Neither has happened yet. The pollsters have started drooling over this squad, but I still say it's very hard to see them getting higher than fourth in the SEC West. Don't expect that hype to go away any time soon, though, this team will likely go into the Arkansas game 6-0 unless they wet the bed in Lexington. Regardless, I see another late-season slide in the final six weeks.
Florida: The narrative this week will undoubtedly be that the Gators have re-found their offense after scoring 48 points against Kentucky. Keep in mind, however, that the 'Cats hadn't faced any decent teams to date, so that outpouring of points may have more to do with Kentucky's shortcomings than anything else. The Gators still have all the potential in the world because of their raw talent, but it seems like Jeff Demps may miss the Alabama game, and we'll find out for certain about Florida with back-to-back games against Alabama and LSU. Regardless, they are still clearly the SEC East favorite. It's September 27th, and Florida already has a hotel reservation in Atlanta.
Georgia: Richt gets Croomed, or Mullened, or whatever. And, a few hours later, another player gets arrested. At this point, UGA is 2-7 in their last nine SEC games, and frankly any remotely competent team should beat them. The season is over for the Dawgs, and it's really just a matter of the recruiting fallout and whether or not Richt can do enough in the final eight games to return for an eleventh season in Athens. And, as an aside, I'll point out that Georgia has wasted the career of A.J. Green just like Tennessee wasted the career of Eric Berry. Two once-in-a-generation talents for those programs, and they were wasted on bad teams led by washed up coaches.
Kentucky: In their first real test of the season, the Wildcats failed miserably. Given the struggles of Tennessee, Georgia, and Vanderbilt, the odds are probably pretty good that UK will make a bowl game, but this team has the look of most Kentucky teams the past few years... consistently smoked by good teams, and then doing just enough against middling teams to make a bowl game on their cupcake-loaded OOC schedule.
LSU: A win is a win is a win, but that was one ugly performance against West Virginia. Beating a Big East team only 20-14 at home is one thing, but the 230 yards of total offense, the 12 first downs, the 120 penalty yards, and the two turnovers are another story entirely. Plus there is a quarterback controversy. Truth be told, if opposing teams were smart enough to punt away from Patrick Peterson, this team would be 2-2 right now and Les Miles would be working under a week-to-week contract (or be lining up color commentator gigs). They are still undefeated, and should beat Tennessee with no problem this weekend in Baton Rouge, but this has the look of a very vulnerable team right now.
Mississippi State: Hat tip to Dan Mullen for finally getting a win over one of the name SEC programs, but that victory had more to do with Georgia's incompetence than anything else. MSU still had an anemic passing game, and the offense as a whole wasn't particularly good. They have enough patsies on the schedule to get to five wins, but getting the sixth win will require another conference win. When all is said and done, that choke job against Auburn may come back to haunt them.
Ole Miss: Johnny Reb will take a win any way it get it at this point, I suppose, but giving up 38 points and 400+ yards to Fresno State is brutal. Had Fresno fielded any run defense whatsoever -- Ole Miss ran for over 400 yards, and scored 55 points while completing only eight passes -- this one could have gone the other way. I still wouldn't be surprised if Ole Miss pulled an upset or two down the stretch, especially if Masoli stays healthy, but for now this is a very bad football team. Much like with Georgia, the season is over at this point, with the only real question being whether or not Nutt can do enough to return in 2011.
South Carolina: Looking at the Gamecocks now, the most impressive blurb on their resume is a 17-6 victory, at home, over a 1-3 Georgia team. Impressive, eh?. The loss to Auburn probably ended any chance of Spurrier getting to Atlanta, and they left the Plains with very much the look of their typical 7-5 self... suspect defense, no real depth, bad QB play, and a terrible offensive line. This is why, for weeks, I've cautioned against buying into the South Carolina hype. This team might get to 8-4, but anything north of that would be a legitimate surprise.
Tennessee: Even I was surprised at the incompetence from the Vols against lowly UAB, being outgained by almost a 2-1 margin and giving up over 500 yards of total offense. By all accounts, the Vols should have lost this game, and were quite fortunate to win. Simply put, any decent team should thump this bunch, and for now it's hard to see them even beating Kentucky without some improvement. We all knew things were bad in Knoxville, but not that bad. And, frankly, Dooley has done nothing to convince me that he was a particularly good hire. At this point, all Tennessee can really do is spring a timely upset and get someone like Mark Richt or Les Miles fired.