A few random thoughts from around the SEC after week nine of the college football season:
Alabama: 'Bama dominates yet again with their biggest win of the season to date, but heavy remains the head that wears the crown, with LSU and Texas A&M up next. Eddie Lacy looks gimpy again, but Kenny Bell will wow a few scouts with his touchdown catch against Johnthan Banks. Defense continues to play excellent football, but issues in pass protection are a major concern with the speed rushers of LSU in five days. Many have bemoaned the Tide's weak schedule to date, but no one will be able to make a sound if 'Bama makes it unscathed through Mississippi State, LSU, and Texas A&M. Basically no room for error in Tuscaloosa if 'Bama expects to make it to Miami.
Arkansas: After rebounding with victories over the two worst teams in the SEC, Arkansas effectively seals its bowl-less fate with a close loss over Ole Miss. Offense had another big day, but the injury-plagued defense just couldn't get a stop when it needed it most down the stretch. At this point, all attention turns to the coaching search, which most Arkansas people hope to conclude by mid-December.
Auburn: Probably the ugliest performance I've ever seen down on the Plains. If Gene Chizik wasn't fired prior to Saturday night, he almost certainly is now. At this point I imagine Auburn awaits the end of the season to make an official announcement -- though a loss to New Mexico State or Alabama A&M could change that -- but the writing is practically chiseled into the wall at this point. Jonathan Wallace did some nice things in garbage time, but you don't get much credit having success against second and third-team players on a bad defense when you trail by six touchdowns. For the popcorn eaters, the early line in Vegas has 'Bama as a 37-point favorite in the Iron Bowl.
Florida: With a national championship on the line, Florida pulls a Georgia and implodes in Jacksonville. The Gators have won to date with strong defense and special teams being complemented by a ball control offense -- a tried and true formula for victory -- but that all goes straight to hell with six turnovers and almost one hundred yards in penalties. Absolutely ugly game even by ugly standards, and an exceedingly costly defeat for the Gators. Will Muschamp might win SEC Coach of the Year, but this loss will stick with him for a very long time.
Georgia: Aaron Murray plays terrible, Georgia turns the ball over three times, goes 1-10 on third downs, and racks up 14 penalties for 132 yards, yet somehow beats undefeated Florida in Jacksonville? That alone ought to convince everyone that the Mayans are right. Biggest win in Athens since before the infamous Blackout, and Malcolm Mitchell cemented his legacy in Georgia history with his game-breaking 45-yard catch-and-run. Defense finally played up to its potential after being called out mid-week by one of their own. Suddenly UGA controls its own destiny in the SEC East, and with wins over Ole Miss and Auburn they will return to Atlanta to face either Alabama or LSU. Unlikely this team can get back in national championship contention unless they get some serious help from beyond their control, but then again no one expected UGA to get to Atlanta either. Crazier things have happened, I suppose, though not by much.
Kentucky: You give up barely two hundred yards of total offense and you still lose by more than three touchdowns against a previously winless
Big XII SEC team? Mike Slive ought to just invoke the mercy rule and cancel the remainder of the Kentucky season.
Ole Miss: Arguably the biggest win in Oxford since 2009, as Ole Miss gets by Arkansas despite being outgained by a hundred yards and having Jeff Scott shut down in the running game. Bo Wallace had a strong day, going 29-37 for 278 yards, and he has been an absolute find for Colonel Reb. Game ball ought to go to kicker Bryson Rose, who went 3-3 in field goals on the day, adding a 53-yard attempt to go along with his game-winner. Hugh Freeze the leading candidate for SEC Coach of the Year? Admittedly he has gained tremendously from implosions by Auburn and Arkansas, but the answer may be yes. Egg Bowl could be reasonably competitive this season. Hard to believe, but this team goes into November only one win away from bowl eligibility.
Mississippi State: I suppose #WeBelieve Alabama is just that damn good now, right? Judging a team by the standard of Alabama is inherently harsh, but MSU certainly looked like pretenders in Tuscaloosa. Tyler Russell looked as good as billed, but he had no help outside and was consistently pummeled in the pocket. Offensive line play, as feared, became a major issue against a good front seven. Hat tip to the defensive line for a strong performance. Interesting to see how this team rebounds this weekend with a good Texas A&M team coming to Starkvegas.
Missouri: First SEC win for Mizzou. Well, sort of. Back-up quarterback Corbin Berkstresser played terrible, going only 10-18 for 78 yards with two interceptions, but that is what you call winning football when you play Kentucky. Still think reaching bowl eligibility will be tough. Serious question: Can we just send this bunch back to the Big XII and play an uneven schedule with thirteen SEC teams? As far as I'm concerned, Slive has a .500 record in conference expansion.
South Carolina: Truly siickening injury to Marcus Lattimore, who by all accounts is all you could want in a football player both on and off the field. Lots of speculation out there about the severity, but for now no use in playing armchair orthopedist. Jadeveon Clowney comes up huge in the closing minutes with a game-saving sack, and Connor Shaw rebounded nicely from ugly performances against LSU and Florida. Justice Cunningham could play a long time in the NFL. With the absence of Lattimore and games against Arkansas and Clemson remaining, November could become somewhat difficult for the Gamecocks.
Tennessee: Dooley once again rips defeat from the jaws of victory, in what could be just enough to cost him his job. The Tennessee offense more than proved its bona fides, posting 472 yards of total offense and 35 points on the road against one of the best defenses in the nation, and the Volunteer offensive line may be the best unit in pass protection in the country. The only thing the offense is missing is a high-end tailback, but one isn't in Knoxville right now and one doesn't seem to be on the way on the recruiting trails either. Defense held up well enough late to give UT a chance to win, but this team is never going to push much past mediocrity giving up 35+ per game to all quality opponents. We'll see if he gets a chance to improve next year, but the Sal Sunseri hire has been a bust in year one.
Texas A&M: Aggies probably had a tougher time during the week with its scout team. 671 yards of offense and 63 points on the road during SEC play? A&M never had it this easy in the Big XII. Place kicking continues to be a concern. Lopsided margin of victory notwithstanding, give Kevin Sumlin and his Aggies a lot of credit for what they have done. They sit at 6-2 with close losses to two top ten teams, and ten wins is very much within reach. Not sure that they can upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if they take the Tide to the final seconds, just like they did Florida and LSU. Defensive concerns aside, this is probably a legitimate top ten team.
Vanderbilt: 'Dores trounce a winless UMass team in front of about the same number of people who attend a Hoover v. Mountain Brook game. The game itself means nothing, but with the win Vandy improves to 4-4 overall with games remaining against Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Wake Forest. Vandy may go all Vandy down the stretch, but this team ought to make a bottom-tier bowl game for the second season in a row.