With week five of the college football season in the books, a few thoughts:
Alabama: 'Bama hammers the Hogs and the Gators in back-to-back weeks and now gets to feast on a lot of bad football teams during the stretch run. The LSU clash looks to be the stuff of legend, but it's going to take substantial mattress defecation to lose to anyone else on the remainder of the schedule. For 'Bama the biggest challenge now is to stay healthy and not to get distracted by the ultimate prize such that an untimely upset sinks the crimson and white battleship. Trent Richardson won't beat out Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck for the stiff arm trophy in early December, but his performance in the Swamp was Heisman-esque.
Arkansas: Impressive comeback in Arlington against the SEC-bound Aggies, and the Hogs look poised to win a lot of games. Still, the question with this team has always been whether or not they can run the football and play defense, and despite the win the performance against A&M only further confirmed they could do neither. It's tempting to say this team could upset LSU and find its way into the BCS, but unless the offensive line quickly rectifies itself it's going to take a minor miracle for Wilson to make it through the remainder of the season healthy. Brandon Mitchell may have to lead this team at some point in a crucial game.
Auburn: You didn't think that close game good fortune was going away, did you? On the whole the struggles of the offense have to be a concern, and a performance like the one Saturday won't be enough against 'Bama, LSU, and Arkansas, and may not be enough against Florida and Georgia. The smart money is on the defense being ripped to shreds against the Hogs, despite the strong showing against South Carolina. Still not a good team, obviously, but close game fortunes will keep them closer to 7-5 or 8-4 rather than 4-8 or 5-7. Big tip of the hat to Barrett Trotter, a hard working kid playing gutsy football, but realistically Khiel Frazier is the future and the future will arrive for good before late November.
Florida: Just when the Gators looked to be the clear favorite in the East, a serious-looking injury to John Brantley figures to be a game-changer with Florida now likely turning to a true freshman for at least a critical portion of the stretch run. Even assuming Georgia pulls its annual choke job in Jacksonville, can this team really go into Baton Rouge, Auburn, and Columbia and get wins with fresh meat? The Florida defense has a chance to be special, but they'll have to be outright dominant to make up for the presence of Driskel. Still, even without Brantley, the SEC East race figures to be a midget contest and it's possible the Gators could still be in contention if Brantley can make it back by early November.
Georgia: UGA pulls away with relative ease from MSU in a game that was never seriously contended, and with the collapse of South Carolina and the injury to John Brantley the Dawgs are perhaps the favorite in the SEC East now. Phil Fulmer nods with approval. Of course, naturally, Georgia follows up the win with a star linebacker getting arrested hours later for a DUI. Go figure. Aaron Murray's struggles, especially with turnovers, continued against the Bullies, but Isiah Crowell is getting the workhorse load now. If Mark Richt expects to return next season, he better take care of business this weekend in Knoxville.
Kentucky: The 'Cats would have probably fared better preemptively forfeiting the game against LSU and funneling the travel money into the basketball program. Surely even South Carolina cannot piss this one away, right? Morgan Newton v. Stephen Garcia may violate FCC regulations. Exit question: Can this team beat Jacksonville State in two weeks?
LSU: Sleepy offensive performance early for the Bayou Bengals and they still have no passing game, but with that defense, running game, and special teams, who the hell needs the forward pass? Expect them to make a human sacrifice out of Jeff Driskel this upcoming Saturday. Scariest thing about this team? With all of the young talent in the two-deep roster, this will be an even better team next year. Fair warning.
Ole Miss: Colonel Reb somehow successfully invades the San Joaquin Valley to knock off lowly Fresno State in a bit of a surprising upset. The offense looked slightly better with Randall Mackey at QB and a healthier Brandon Bolden at tailback, but defense is clearly still just a rumor in Oxford. Houston Nutt gets an off week to prepare for 'Bama, but even so it figures to take upset wins over 'Bama and / or LSU for him to have any real chance to return in 2012, and Ole Miss will get the Ivy League invite before both of those things happen.
Mississippi State: Don't let those ten points against UGA fool you, the offense was still terrible (Croom-esque, even?) and the lone touchdown came on a pick-six in garbage time. Defense gave a valiant effort, but it's all going to be futile with that little offensive production. In the meantime, MSU falls to 2-3 with a road game upcoming this weekend in Legion Field against UAB (seriously), and considering the Blazers almost knocked off Troy on Saturday night, that is no sure win even if it is against winless UAB (remember, LaTech took MSU to overtime). Either way, disappointing season to date in Starkville and if a bowl game is coming it's likely going to be a return trip to Birmingham. Is Dan Mullen wishing he would have cashed in last December?
South Carolina: They are who I've been telling you they were. The defense is well enough, but the offense is plain damn offensive. And if you get dominated by this Auburn defense, you ought to fire the OC. Only one problem with that solution, though, and I'll let you figure it out. Auburn's Tampax-sponsored defense is kryptonite to Lattimore and Garcia may be the worst four-year starter in SEC history. Jadeveon Clowney looked like a two-star playing a team that ran the ball with misdirection and didn't allow him to rush the edge on the seven-step drop passing game. The real difference-maker on this defense is Melvin Ingram. Truth be told, this team is lucky to be 4-1.
Tennessee: The Vols dismantled hapless Buffalo, and don't look now but the winner of this weekend's UGA v. Tennessee game may be the favorite in the East. Downside? Winning the East might not involve much more than 7-5 and an obligatory thumping in Atlanta. At least Tauren Poole showed some life in the running game. No doubt, though, huge opportunity for Dooley this weekend in Knoxville.