A few random thoughts from around the SEC after week eight of the college football season:
Alabama: Bad match-up on the road against an underrated team and ‘Bama responds by absolutely thrashing Tennessee. AJ McCarron took advantage of the struggling UT secondary, T.J. Yeldon had another big night, and the defensive backfield played a tremendous game against Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. Still some challenges to go, but to date the defense has just exceeded all reasonable expectations this season. This ‘Bama team isn’t as good as the one a year ago, but is it good enough to hoist the crystal ball in Miami? The answer appears to be yes, but three tough games remain in the next three weeks, and Atlanta will be an absolute brawl. Potential is there, but many obstacles remain.
Auburn: Happy trails, Gene, you somehow managed to make Terry Bowden’s brief tenure look like that of a football octogenarian. After the loss to Vanderbilt, 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC has become the best-case scenario on the Plains, and there can be no reasonable expectation that Chizik can survive those circumstances. Is it possible that Chizik is fired within the next two weeks? Probably, and it wouldn’t be a major shock if he were out by this Wednesday. Season-ending injuries to Phillip Lutzenkirchen and Avery Young will only serve to make the final end-of-year thumpings by Georgia and Alabama that much more lopsided. This team is just outright terrible in every single aspect of every single phase of the game, no further comment necessary.
Florida: Monster performance in a huge game against South Carolina, and the Gators take down yet another top foe. Debatable if they can edge Alabama or knock off LSU a second time in Atlanta, but no one in the country has a resume that is in the same ballpark as the Gators. Jeff Driskell is playing like a star, the offensive line has become a strength, the wide receiver corps has improved, and the defense has been largely immovable with the exception of a few dumb penalties. Still needs to beat Georgia in Jacksonville to reach Atlanta, but does anyone really see this Florida team dropping that one? If ‘Bama wins the West, they best bring their A-game to the Georgia Dome.
Georgia: UGA successfully averted disaster, which is basically what they seem to be trying to do every Saturday. Obligatory default victory over Kentucky is just another notch in the win column, nothing more, except perhaps more fuel for the anti-Richt fodder given how tight the game was. Outside circumstances worked perfectly for UGA with South Carolina dropping back-to-back games. SEC East is on the line in Jacksonville, but I will have to see Georgia up-end the Gators before I believe it.
Kentucky: Moral victories are better than no victories at all, I suppose. If this were Major League Baseball, Auburn would trade Gene Chizik and a bucket of balls to Kentucky for Joker Phillips and a player to be named later.
Louisiana State: Bayou Bengals were largely the beneficiary of another self-inflicted A&M implosion, but give Les Miles and company credit. Their backs were against the wall with tough games against South Carolina and Texas A&M on the horizon, and they responded accordingly with two big wins. Zach Mettenberger remains terrible and the wide receivers have shown nothing to date. Explain this to me: How in the hell do you throw 29 passes and only get 97 passing yards against Texas A&M? That aside, though, the backfield is incredibly deep, the offense has held up well given all of the injuries, and the defense is arguably the best in the conference. ‘Bama game will bore those who want college football to light up scoreboards like a Big East basketball game, but that will be a bona fine slugfest.
Mississippi State: Sleepy first half in Starkville gives way to a second-half stomping of lowly Middle Tennessee State. Temporary injury scare to star cornerback Johnthon Banks is apparently nothing of note. At 7-0, the two month pre-season finally comes to an end for the Bullies, as back-to-back-to-back games against Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU now follow. Lot of MSU people both inside and outside the program have talked a big game recently, but we’ll see what they are made of next Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
South Carolina: Season-defining game and the Gamecocks were knocked around like it was the Brad Scott era all over again. Turnovers killed Carolina for the second week in a row, allowing Florida to score 21 first half points on only 29 yards of total offense. Want to know how big of an impact the turnovers made? Florida scored 44 points despite having only 183 yards of total offense and one play that went for more than sixteen yards. Victor Hampton dropped pick-six in the first half was the real game-changing moment in this one. Loss in Gainesville dooms any chances that South Carolina had of reaching Atlanta, given that they now have two conferences losses with Florida having the head-to-head tiebreaker. The hip injury to Marcus Lattimore could become very problematic. Jadeveon Clowney has shown himself to be the best defensive end in the country. Steve Spurrier benched his starting quarterback? Of course he did.
Tennessee: In upset bids of big-time opponents you need big performances from your best players, and to that end the Bray-Hunter-Patterson triumvirate all fell limp against Alabama. The defense under Sal Sunseri just looks bad; getting overmatched is one thing, but consistently busting assignments is another story entirely. Tend to think Derek Dooley gets a bit of a bad rap, and for what it’s worth this team is a lot better than the 3-4 record indicates, but it is what it is and unless he can pull an upset of South Carolina this weekend in Columbia the smart money is probably on him receiving a pink slip come the first week of December.
Texas A&M: Another hot start fizzles for the Aggies, giving up 24 unanswered to LSU to effectively seal the loss. Special teams miscues and turnovers doomed the upset bid; no one is taking out a top team with five turnovers, two missed goals, and an ugly end-of-game onsides kick attempt. In games against both LSU and Florida, the A&M offense had success early but opposing defenses took over once they got settled in. Johnny Manziel played well enough, but with 56 passing attempts and 17 rushing attempts, it’s clear the A&M staff is asking him to do a bit much. Defense played well, but you don’t really get brownie points for slowing the LSU offense. A bye week would come in handy right about now, but Hurricane Isaac prevented that luxury. On the upside, A&M plays Auburn this weekend, which is basically a default victory at this point.
Vanderbilt: One of the biggest wins yet under James Franklin, though for what it’s worth he had a very poor in-game performance with multiple fourth down miscues and the strange decision to go away from Zac Stacy down the stretch. In fact, the upback-option play on fourth and long, in your own territory, with the lead against a punchless offense might be the single dumbest play call of the season. All that aside, though, the ‘Dores are suddenly looking at a bowl game for the second consecutive season. Hat tip to Zac Stacy for a big performance and becoming the all-time leading rusher at Vanderbilt. Real question in Nashville now is where does Franklin go next?