A few random thoughts from around the SEC after week ten of the college football season:
Alabama: The sun will turn into a black dwarf before we figure out just how the Tide did it, but somehow 'Bama survives in Baton Rouge despite being outplayed by LSU for most of the night. Kevin Norwood is a certified Tiger-killer now, and each of his five catches -- all of which came in the two minute offense at the end of the halves -- were absolutely crucial. Great line play, but defensive backfield was exposed a bit, and AJ McCarron looked closer to Marc Guillon than a supposed Heisman Trophy finalist. Two key games against Texas A&M and Georgia separate the Tide from a trip to Miami. The Aggies come to Tuscaloosa this weekend, and if 'Bama plays anything like it did on Saturday night, it will have to survive another nailbiter. A&M is fine team with a high-powered offense and a surprising defense, and while the 13-point line is encouraging (it opened at 16, but quickly narrowed), 'Bama will have to fight through mental and physical exhaustion against a legitimate top ten team. Tough game, tough opponent, tough circumstances, so no time to relax in Tuscaloosa. No margin of error for 'Bama at this point, as the Tide's strength of schedule was summarily executed at down on Saturday.
Arkansas: Hogs rally in the fourth quarter to beat a quality Tulsa team, with Tyler Wilson and Dennis Johnson leading the way. Cobi Hamilton was his usually productive self, with 177 receiving yards, and the Arkansas defense held up just well enough down the stretch. Games left against South Carolina, MSU, and LSU, and the Hogs need to win two to reach 6-6 and bowl eligibility.
Auburn: Broken clock is right twice per day and even a team as bad as Auburn will run across a couple of cupcakes per year that it can take to the woodshed. Slow start on the Plains in front of 20,000 people wearing bleacher costumes, but eventually the Tigers pulled away in the second half. Johnathan Wallace played well enough at QB and will get the start against Georgia, but Chizik needs to have at least one upset against UGA or ‘Bama to have even an outside chance of returning next season, and the odds of that seem about as high as Harvey Updyke yelling ‘War Eagle’ at his sentencing. But hey, at least Bob Stoops is taking the Auburn job #LiesTheBunkerToldMe #SellThemSubscriptionsBoys
Florida: With James Franklin in town, the Gators haven’t had that positive of QB play in Gainesville since Tim Tebow was running the Urban Meyer spread option. Ugly performance for the second week in a row, and there should be a legitimately concern now that this team is starting to fizzle down the stretch. Jeff Driskell keeps struggling, and the offense as a whole is running about as clunky as an '88 Buick. The good news for the Gators is that they are now officially in the SEC clubhouse at 7-1, and can still reach Atlanta if hell freezes over a few times this weekend on the Plains. More realistically, the key here hinges on the season finale against Florida State, where the outcome will have a massive impact on bowl seeding. Gators could go as high as the Sugar, or as low as the Peach. Going to be a very big glut at 10-2 and 11-1 in the SEC this season.
Georgia: Sluggish start in Athens, but eventually UGA overwhelmed Ole Miss with talent and depth to effectively clinch the SEC East. Aaron Murray dominated a bad defense yet again, as he is known to do, and Todd Gurley went over 100 yards. Defense was dominant against a quality Ole Miss offense. Losing senior wide receiver Marlon Brown for the season with a torn ACL could be a major blow, and a heart-breaking loss for Brown, who had 113 yards on the day to go along with a touchdown, and whose career at UGA is now over. Dawgs now get three cupcakes of varying sizes and flavor before standing toe-to-toe in Atlanta with the Tide.
Kentucky: Go 1-9 and lose 40-0 to Vanderbilt? That will get you fired, and so it did with Joker Phillips, who was axed yesterday and whose firing commences what should be a high volume market in coaching turnover. Consider his tenure a strike against the wisdom of the head coach-in-waiting theorem. Hard to guess a possible replacement, but expect someone with an offensive background who will spread the field, try to put a lot of points on the board, and, hopefully and most importantly, sell some tickets despite a lackluster on-field product. On a side note, I wonder what Daryl Collins and Justin Taylor are thinking now?
LSU: Gut-wrenching loss to the Crimson Tide in a game that LSU had won every which way you could win it except with the scoreboard reading 00:00. Les Miles was his own worst enemy at times, but give him credit for this: Nobody in the country can give Nick Saban absolute fits like he can. Bayou Bengals figure to finish 10-2 and near the top five nationally, but bowl seeding could be tough here, as LSU could perhaps be as low as the fifth choice out of the SEC. LSU needs ‘Bama to win out and have South Carolina and Florida stumble in non-conference play down the stretch to guarantee a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
Ole Miss: Impressive start for Colonel Reb in Athens, but the effort imploded after the fumble by Vincent Sanders in the second quarter. Hugh Freeze might still be coach of the year, but it looked like harsh roster realities caught up to him against UGA. Ole Miss still needs a win to reach bowl eligibility, but with Vanderbilt and Mississippi State remaining, the Rebels have a fighting shot.
Mississippi State: MSU has done nothing this season if not prove they would make a powerhouse Sun Belt program. Seven cupcakes? Say hello to 7-0, boys, we’re gonna keep grindin’ all the way to Miami. Play two quality teams? 0-2, outscored 76-20, with all twenty points coming via second half pity touchdowns. Hope you like Starkvegas, Dan, because you sure as hell aren’t getting a promotion at the rate you are going. State will still be the favorite, but the Egg Bowl could get interesting in Oxford this year.
Missouri: Valiant effort in Gainesville, but the Tigers can’t overcome horrendous quarterback play. No single player has suffered from the transition to the SEC more than James Franklin. Faint hopes of bowl eligibility alive with Tennessee and Syracuse next, but Mizzou’s first order of business is to earn Derek Dooley a pink slip.
Tennessee: The Vols offense is as good as hyped and lead the way to a nailbiter 55-48 win over Troy, but the defense is easily the worst in Tennessee history. 48 points and 700+ yards allowed to middling Sun Belt team? Sal Sunseri was a fine position coach and recruiter at Alabama, but Dooley needed a quality DC, took a chance on Sunseri, and it has simply been an outright disaster, and one that will likely cost him his job. The Vols’ hopes of bowl eligibility remain alive, but Dooley is all but fired in Knoxville, and a loss in the final three weeks would only guarantee that outcome. Let the Gruden speculation continue and whatnot, but that aside this program needs a home run hire in the worst way. Closing note: Probably 40,000 empty seats in Neyland Stadium for kick-off, looked like a spring scrimmage in terms of attendance.
Texas A&M: Dominating performance in Starkville, as A&M solidifies their standing as one of the top teams in the country. 690+ yards of total offense, 30+ first downs, and held the Bullies to mere pity touchdowns, on the road? Highly impressive. Johnny Manziel ran circles around the MSU defense and picked them apart in the passing game, while the surprisingly strong A&M defense stifled the State offense. You would think nine straight weeks without a bye would really be catching up to this team, but they are actually improving down the stretch. Ought to be another dogfight in Tuscaloosa this weekend against the top-ranked Tide, as the Aggies go for their biggest win in a decade.
Vanderbilt: Always news when Vandy beats an SEC opponent 40-0, even when it’s hapless Kentucky. Vanderbilt moves to 5-4 – and, more impressively, 3-3 in the SEC – with three games against Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Wake Forest. A bowl looks likely for the second year in a row. Exit question: Does a school like Arkansas, Auburn, or Tennessee make a run at James Franklin?