There have been a few football programs who have been labeled “dynasties” at different points in their respective histories, but there has always been one characteristic that separated Nick Saban’s current run at Alabama from so many others: his level of competition. Unlike USC in the 2000’s and Florida State in the 90’s, Alabama has had to go up against formidable opponents numerous times a year during the regular season in the mighty SEC. Urban Meyer’s Florida teams, Les Miles’ LSU teams, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, etc are but a few of the most notable names that the SEC has produced to challenge the Tide during Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa.
That run of conference-wide quality seems to have come to an abrupt end for now. After Auburn failed to do anything whatsoever offensively in the 2nd half of their game with Georgia, Alabama clinched a spot in Atlanta for the 3rd year in a row. The only other program who has accomplished that feat is Florida, who won the SEC East the first five years that the division existed from 1992-1996. The Tide will also try to become only the second program to win three straight SEC Championship Games, also matched only by Florida, who actually won four straight from 1993-1996. The gap between the top team in the conference and the rest of the SEC has not been this large in a long time.
To the poll:
- Alabama Crimson Tide. If Jalen Hurts can develop a legitimate deep ball and hit intermediate passes the way he did against Mississippi State on Saturday, Alabama will win its 17th National Championship come January. That’s the only real question mark left with this team. Soak it up while it lasts everyone.
- LSU Tigers. Since Ed Orgeron took over as interim head coach, LSU has pounded every opponent they have faced with the exception of Alabama, who they went blow-for-blow with in Baton Rouge a couple of weeks ago. This team is absolutely on fire and is playing as well as everyone thought they would this preseason. Make no mistake about it, this is a legitimate top ten team in college football right now.
- Auburn Tigers. Despite the horrific 2nd half performance from the offense on Saturday, Auburn doesn’t drop much here because of how mediocre-to-bad everyone else has looked recently. The Tigers at least get some benefit of the doubt, simply because they were without their best player, Kamryn Pettway. There is just such a significant drop-off at this point after LSU.
- Tennessee Volunteers. I guess? The Vols look like they are going to be headed back to Atlanta and are getting some of their studs like Cam Sutton and Alvin Kamara back from injury, so why not?
- Arkansas Razorbacks. The bipolar Razorbacks have a high ceiling, which is more than can be said for most of the teams below them on this list. However, the run defense, which was lauded for its performance against Florida the previous week, went right back to the gutter against the Bayou Bengals. Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice looked like they were running against tackling dummies Saturday night. Also, the offensive line is going to get Austin Allen killed.
- Florida Gators. The Gators defense bounced back from their poor performance against Arkansas with a dominating effort in Gainesville against their former coach, Will Muschamp. Austin Appleby had an extremely efficient game, going 17/21 for 201 yards and a couple of touchdowns. This just isn’t an explosive offense by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s tough to see the Gators winning in Baton Rouge this weekend without being able to generate something on offense.
- Ole Miss Rebels. Give the Rebels some serious credit; they are a resilient bunch. Shea Patterson was outstanding in his first career college game, completing 25/42 passes for 338 yards and a pair of touchdowns as he led a huge comeback win over the Aggies on the road in College Station. Funny enough, his being forced into action may have been the difference in this game, as his team clearly rallied around him making his collegiate debut. It helps that he has a fantastic corps of receivers to work with.
- Georgia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs sure did pick a great week to play their best game of the season. The defense finally looked like a Kirby Smart defense, they were able to get things going on the ground with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and Jacob Eason made some big time throws. They will need to prove that this game was a sign of things to come and not just an outlier.
- Texas A&M Aggies. It’s crazy to think that a team could fall from being #4 in the initial CFP rankings to being 9th-best in the conference in just a few weeks, but the Aggies should have never been anywhere near that lofty ranking. Look at their last four conference games: they needed five fumble recoveries to beat an injury-riddled Tennessee team at home in double overtime, got beat 33-14 by Alabama in a game that really wasn’t even that close, lost to a bad Mississippi State team, and then collapsed at home against an Ole Miss team who was starting a true freshman quarterback in his first career game along with what’s left of the Rebels’ roster. This team is trending in the wrong direction.
- Kentucky Wildcats. The ‘Cats couldn’t stop Tennessee to save their lives on Saturday, but they didn’t go down without a fight. The Wildcats have developed quite the rushing attack this season, and they showed it off against the Vols, racking up an absurd 443 yards on the ground.
- South Carolina Gamecocks. The true freshmen duo in the backfield finally looked like true freshmen against the stout Gator defense.
- Mississippi State Bulldogs. Earlier this season I made the comment that Dan Mullen doesn’t field bad, noncompetitive football teams. I was way off.
- Missouri Tigers. Just when it seemed like Mizzou had the title of “worst in the SEC” on lock, Vanderbilt comes sweeping in and steals it from them.
- Vanderbilt Commodores. Oh Vandy. Thanks for giving Auburn hell.