As temperatures across the Southeast dropped this past weekend, the stakes on the field began to rise, as ten of the SEC’s fourteen members matched-up for conference action. While there was only one marquee game on the slate, it was quite an important one, as the Tennessee Volunteers took a commanding lead in the race for the SEC East with a stunning 34-31 come-from-behind victory over the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens.
Elsewhere, the Ole Miss Rebels exacted revenge upon the Memphis Tigers with a decisive 48-28 win in Oxford, Arkansas and Auburn laid waste to their non-conference patsies, and Dan Mullen and his squad began to work on their game-plan for Gus Malzahn’s demise in Starkville next week.
To the polls:
- Alabama Crimson Tide. Another day, another dollar. The Crimson Tide treated the SEC cellar-dwelling Kentucky Wildcats as if they were a Sun Belt team: they played around with them at first, felt out their game-plan, and then slowly but surely strangled the life out of them. This defense is fantastic, but what else is new? The Tide have their toughest stretch of the season upcoming, but it’s hard to bet against this team.
- Texas A&M Aggies. The Ags have held steady in the #2 spot all season, and that won’t change now despite the less than stellar performance in Columbia this weekend. Despite missing quarterback terrorizer Myles Garrett and half of their outstanding receiver quartet, Kevin Sumlin’s group took care of business in a workman-like fashion against South Carolina as they set their sights on Tennessee.
- Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels already have one of the best offenses in the country, but if they can develop a consistent rushing attack to go along with their deadly passing game, good luck keeping this team from dropping 40+ points every week. Ole Miss ran for 263 yards on a 6.0 per carry average against the American Athletic Conference version of the Tigers, and the defense forced four turnovers. Let’s just be happy this team is in Alabama’s rear-view mirror.
- Tennessee Volunteers. Why is it that Alabama’s major rivals seem to conjure up unreal, voodoo-esque luck on the football field? This team is eerily similar to the 2013 Auburn Tigers: an inconsistent passing game, a strong, diverse rushing attack, a sporadically disruptive defense, and the kind of luck that would make a lotto winner green with envy. Just like that Auburn team though, this is a very talented group that can beat anyone on any given week if they bring their ‘A’ game.
- Arkansas Razorbacks. The Razorbacks are still of a bit unknown at this point. The defense has looked dominant at times, and completely lost at others. They haven’t pounded the rock with the effectiveness of a typical Bret Bielema team, but they’ve been very good through the air. Speaking of which, Austin Allen is a warrior. In a year where we’ve had a number of young breakout players at the quarterback position (Jalen Hurts, Drew Lock, Jacob Eason) Allen may be the best at this point.
- LSU Tigers. Well, how about that performance for Ed Orgeron’s interim debut? The Bayou Bengals set a school record for total yards (634) against an SEC opponent in a 42-7 rout of Missouri. The Tigers didn’t reinvent the wheel or anything either, they simply started to spread the wealth a bit more and paired simpler reads for the quarterback with more exotic run designs, and it was beautiful. Derrius Guice once again showed why he is one of the most underrated players in all of college football, Danny Etling looked comfortable and confident, and the defense totally stifled an improving Missouri offense. This was the best performance LSU has displayed in a long time, and an LSU squad without the weight of massive expectations is a really dangerous proposition moving forward.
- Auburn Tigers. Well one thing is for sure, nobody in the Sun Belt wants to mess with this Tiger team. After out-gaining Arkansas State by nearly 400 yards in a 51-14 win a few weeks ago, the Tigers out-gained UL-Monroe by about the same margin in a 58-7 demolition this past Saturday. While there is some serious momentum being built on offense, the question remains whether or not they can turn that into production in SEC play. The defense continues to impress.
- Georgia Bulldogs. This has been a weird team to figure out. They are obviously talented, but injuries at the runningback position, poor offensive line play, and youth littered across the depth chart have combined to make this team look downright mediocre at times. With that being said, they played well enough to have beaten Tennessee this past Saturday, so it’s not like this is a bad team. Just not a particularly good one.
- Florida Gators. If you happened to miss the Gators’ game against Vanderbilt this past weekend, consider yourself lucky. It was a terrible football game. Florida’s offense is starting to look eerily similar to the one that ended last football season, and that is not a good sign. Really, Florida hasn’t been able to establish much of a ground game all year. The defense is still an elite unit, despite the second half sputter against Tennessee, but it won’t matter much if they can’t find some sort of offensive rhythm.
- Missouri Tigers. Mizzou is a young, improving team with a surprisingly mediocre defense. That did not bode well for them going into a hostile environment to take on an LSU team with more blue-chip talent on the sidelines than Missouri had playing on the field. Toss in the emotional response that the LSU players brought into Saturday night’s game, and you’ve got yourself a good old-fashioned blowout.
- Mississippi State Bulldogs. This isn’t a good football team, but this week’s game with Auburn screams ‘trap game”.
- Kentucky Wildcats. At least the ‘Cats didn’t get embarrassed by Alabama. Progress?
- South Carolina Gamecocks. Will Muschamp’s group hung tough with A&M, but they are a long way from being able to legitimately challenge a team of that caliber.
- Vanderbilt Commodores. The only team that looked uglier than Florida on Saturday? How about the team that lost to them?