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LSU proves to be paper tigers and Georgia flounders yet again while South Carolina and Florida drive the sudden resurgence of the SEC East.
After six weeks of the college football season, a few thoughts from around the SEC:
Arkansas: Turns out that when terrible defense meets terrible offense, terrible defense wins. The Hogs weren’t exactly worldbeaters on the Plains, and the mistakes were numerous, but give them credit for not folding after a disastrous September and pulling off the upset of Auburn. Tyler Wilson had a mediocre stat line, but played better than the statistics indicated. Cobi Hamilton can make a legitimate claim to be the best receiver in the conference outside of Knoxville. Knile Davis has just become absolute depth chart fodder. The win over Auburn is a positive note, but it will be interesting to see if this team can get some momentum going given all of their injuries. Hard to imagine the injury bug hitting this team any harder, with the latest news being that star middle linebacker Alonzo Highsmith will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing foot surgery.
Auburn: How is this for a bad week: Face an Arkansas team, at home, with a lame duck interim head coach, that was losers of four straight, who had lost their previous two conference games by a combined 100 points, and you lose 24-7 while playing three different quarterbacks, committing five turnovers, and giving up eight sacks? The path to victory for Auburn involved winning the turnover battle and using their athleticism at defensive end to pummel Tyler Wilson, and they lost decidedly on both fronts. Meanwhile, the offense is as bad as anything Sylvester Croom ever produced. With the loss, Auburn falls to 1-4 and will needs wins over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M just to become bowl eligible, while Alabama and Georgia ought to commit crimes against nature on this team in late November. The only question now is just how far this team falls, but if the current quality of play keeps up, five wins may be too tall of an order. Even if only due to the national championship, Chizik will live to fight again in 2013, but you don’t play this poorly in the modern day SEC and not have some heads roll. Staff turnover seems imminent.
Florida: Biggest win in Gainesville since the height of the Tim Tebow era. Defense held strong against a punchless LSU offense, and the interior running game eventually pounded the Bayou Bengal defense into submission. Mike Gillislee gives Florida an interior threat at the tailback position they have not had in many years, and Jeff Driskell looks more and more like a budding star with each passing week. At 5-0 with road wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee in addition to the takedown of LSU, Florida has the strongest resume to date in the SEC. Atlanta may prove to be a road trip too far with numerous tough games remaining on the schedule, but Will Muschamp has revitalized the Gators far quicker than anyone had previously anticipated.
Georgia: Disastrous showing for UGA in Columbia, as Mark Richt provided several bushels of fresh fodder for his staunchest critics. Aaron Murray had perhaps his worst collegiate performance ever, the defense was knocked around all night, and after a week of the tired old Herschel Walker comparisons, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were inevitably turned into no-name non-factors. Far from being national championship contenders with a laughably easy schedule, the disappointing Dawgs now look to be merely the third best team in a suddenly revitalized SEC East. The upside for UGA is that the second half, sans the annual loss to Florida, is filled with cupcakes, but barring a big surprise Georgia will need StubHub to get to a BCS bowl.
Kentucky: Football for breakfast in Lexington brings uniform gimmicks and another lopsided defeat. Beyond that, this team is not relevant enough to justify further comment.
LSU: Three straight weeks of bad football and the Bayou Bengals finally ran across someone good enough to make them pay the price. Injuries have become a major issue for this team, but the real problem here is the same it has been for many years: putrid offensive play. Zach Mettenberger has played like a bust, completely lacking in mobility and highly inconsistent under pressure, which is a frequent occurrence given injuries on the offensive line and his inability to move in the pocket. Wide receiver play has been an issue, but the bigger problem is that LSU is consistently forced into max protection sets in order to keep Mettenberger upright, which leaves two or three Tiger receivers faced with the daunting task of getting open downfield against seven and eight defenders. The defense has been fine, but you can only expect them to hold up so long, and the undersized defensive front understandably wore down late in the Florida game. To be absolutely clear, LSU still reaches Miami if they run the table, but can anyone actually see this team doing it? At some point it’s not just a bad week, it’s just who are you. By all accounts at this point, LSU just isn't near as good as the pre-season hype anticipated.
Ole Miss: Very disappointing ending for Colonel Reb, but overall a positive night in Oxford. There really cannot be too much praise heaped upon first-year head coach Hugh Freeze at this point. The Rebels may only be 3-3, but this team has played far above and beyond the level they ought to play at given the countless deficiencies throughout the roster.
Mississippi State: Another week, another solid won over an absolute nobody. Legitimate question: Is 1-4 Auburn the strongest opponent this team has faced? Tennessee will test the Bullies this weekend, but with a Conference USA caliber schedule it’s almost impossible to make any meaningful observation of this team.
Missouri: Another disastrous performance from Mizzou, who moves to 0-3 in SEC play with an ugly and indefensible loss to Vanderbilt. FirePinkel.com is officially up and running as of this writing. Quarterback James Franklin injured his knee and will miss at least one game, and the offensive line continues to struggle. Suspensions stemming from mid-week drug possession arrests did not help matters. Ostensibly the Tigers match up well with the Alabama defense, but it’s hard to see this team breaking its rapid freefall playing against the Tide with a back-up quarterback.
South Carolina: Thorough thumping of Georgia moves South Carolina into uncharted territory, and the Gamecocks are likely now the smart money choice in the SEC East. Jadeveon Clowney is playing like a superstar at defensive end, and Connor Shaw generated several big plays in the passing game despite only throwing ten passes. Absolutely dominant defensive performance, and an argument can be made that this is the best defensive front in the conference. On paper this team ought to match up very well against LSU, but the Gamecocks have routinely struggled under Spurrier when coming off of big wins. With a win in Baton Rouge, however, South Carolina becomes a legitimate national championship contender. Legitimate opportunity now for this program to step up to the next level.
Texas A&M: Ugly football for A&M in Oxford, but the Aggies somehow prevail on the road despite turning the football over six times. Johnny Manziel continues to impress, but defense and ball protection must improve for A&M to upset either Alabama or LSU. Given the implosion of Arkansas and Auburn, the Aggies are now the third team in the SEC West, though that says more about the rest of the SEC West than it does about A&M. Also, while many will look forward to the LSU game, Louisiana Tech is a legitimate upset candidate this weekend.
Vanderbilt: No passing game, no real running game, outgained by 100 yards on the road, and somehow Vandy still squeaks out a win. Consider that more of an indictment of Missouri than an endorsement of Vanderbilt, but with the upset the 'Dores move back to the fringes of potential bowl eligibility. Only two wins to date, but with Auburn, UMass, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Wake Forest in the second half of the season, there are several winnable games down the stretch.