Sports media in 2016 is chock-full of overplayed, cringe-worthy clichés and tired tropes, but one of the few sayings that rings true is that people remember what you do in November (or NovemBERT, for our Hog brethren out there). With that in mind, there were a number of statements, both strong and weak, that were made in the opening weekend of college football’s penultimate month. From the battle in Baton Rouge, LA to the scrum in Columbia, MO, the SEC had another classic Saturday in November.
To the poll:
- Alabama Crimson Tide. This defense is phenomenal. It is truly a sight to behold. The brute strength of the defensive line, the agility and speed of the linebackers, and the technical prowess of the secondary come together to form an onslaught of superior talent that opposing offenses just can’t crack right now. Sure, there were some bumps in the road earlier against Ole Miss and Arkansas with their elite passing attacks, but this unit is making a real run at dethroning the 2011 defense as the best in the Saban era. Offensively, Jalen Hurts really needs to work on developing his ability to utilize his receivers’ full route trees, but he is only a true freshman. His poise and ability to run have been outstanding additions to this team.
- Auburn Tigers. In a classic look-ahead spot, Auburn sat Sean White for the first half against Vanderbilt and almost paid dearly for it. John Franklin just cannot throw the football. The ‘Dores brought their “A”-game on Saturday, but it’s still concerning that they were able to go toe-to-toe with Auburn for the majority of the game. The Tigers are still searching for a consistent threat in the passing game for White, and they will need someone to step up if they want to continue on their roll.
- LSU Tigers. It’s hard to drop LSU at all after that epic slug-fest with Alabama. Give Dave Aranda, Ed Orgeron, and the Tiger defense a round of applause, because they came up with a fantastic game-plan and executed it to a superb level. This is easily a top-5 defense in all of college football, up there with Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, and Wisconsin (coincidentally, Aranda’s last job). The offense looked very similar to the kind that Les Miles always displayed, but it’s hard to rebuild an entire offense mid-season. If Orgeron can pull off what Miles failed to do so many times and prevent the Alabama loss from leading to a complete late-season collapse, he’s got a good shot still of winning this job.
- Texas A&M Aggies. Where are my Aggie trolls at? The defense hasn’t been the same since the Tennessee game, and the lack of efficiency on offense hasn’t helped. Still, this is a very good team that simply had a bad day in Starkville on Saturday. They should still be 9-2 going into their Thanksgiving night showdown with LSU.
- Arkansas Razorbacks. As alluded to in the intro, it’s officially NovemBERT in Fayetteville, and the Razorbacks are in fifth gear. The Hogs dominated the Gators on Saturday, especially on the ground, as they out-rushed Florida 223-12. You think Bielema took that loss to Auburn personally?
- Florida Gators. The presumptive favorites in the East were taken to the woodshed by Arkansas. The defense was surprisingly out-manned at the point-of-attack, as Arkansas simply took it straight to the Gators. Jim McElwain’s offense was a porous 1/11 on third down, and Luke Del Rio threw a pair of interceptions, one which was returned for a touchdown. In fact, if not for a pick-six of their own, the Gators would have been held to nothing more than a field goal. Yikes. It all starts up-front, really. Del Rio can’t put this team on his back like Chad Kelly could for Ole Miss, and the Gators haven’t really been able to run the ball well all year. That is not the combination one would want going up against LSU, Florida State, and possibly Alabama or Auburn in Atlanta.
- Tennessee Volunteers. Speaking of Florida’s issues, it certainly seems like Tennessee may just fall backwards into Atlanta this year after all. The Vols have been a revolving door attrition-wise all season, but they may be getting Alvin Kamara and Cam Sutton back this week. Those two guys have been sorely missed by Butch Jones and company.
- Ole Miss Rebels. Whatever hopes Ole Miss had of a late season push are likely done now that Chad Kelly will be out for the remainder of the year. Coming into the season, Ole Miss was viewed as one of the biggest wild cards in college football. Predictions for the Rebels were all over the place, from 11-1 to 6-6. Unfortunately for Hugh Freeze’s squad, it looks like the worst-case scenario has played out, as injuries and arguably the country’s toughest schedule took an unbelievable toll on Ole Miss this season. With NCAA sanctions looming, one has to wonder if the magical run from 2014-2015 is officially over.
- Georgia Bulldogs. Jacob Eason may have just had his breakout moment in Lexington on Saturday night. The true freshman, playing behind a disappointing line and working with a lack of proven production at receiver, has had a predictably up-and-down season. However, with only 2:47 to go on the road against a team looking to make program history, Eason led a perfect drive down the field to set up the game-winning chip shot field goal. This is definitely a flawed, young team, but Eason provides a glimmer of hope for the future.
- Kentucky Wildcats. The ‘Cats traded blows with Georgia for a full 60 minutes, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to pull out the victory and take over sole possession of first place in the SEC East. 10/20 for 103 yard and an interception isn’t going to cut it for Stephen Johnson if he wants to get this team over the hump. A scenario still exists where Kentucky can make it to Atlanta, but it’s looking considerably less likely now.
- Mississippi State Bulldogs. You don’t just walk into Starkville, Mississippi for an 11:00 am kickoff and waltz out with a victory! The Bulldogs channeled the power of yesteryear and introduced Texas A&M to one of the pillars of SEC football: live ‘dogs playing at home during the Jefferson-Pilot time-slot. Nick Fitzgerald is really coming into his own, as he is becoming quite the play-maker for this rebuilding group. The defense is still terrible, but at least State fans can enjoy the fireworks.
- South Carolina Gamecocks. True freshmen Jake Bentley and Rico Dowdle came up big again for the Gamecocks as the former completed 22/28 passes for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns and the ladder ran for 149 yards and a score of his own on 27 carries in a win over hapless Missouri. The defense had their issues this week, but they once again prevented their opponent from scoring many points, which has become quite the trademark for Will Muschamp’s rebuilding defenses.
- Vanderbilt Commodores. Hats off to Vandy for giving Auburn hell on a Saturday morning. Zach Cunningham, a Birmingham native, is an All-American and it would be a crime to see him not recognized because he plays for a bad team.
- Missouri Tigers. Yuck.