As the opening month of the 2016 football season comes to a close, the outlook of the SEC has become significantly clearer. Preseason expectations have been both exceeded and shattered, and the conference has now lost another of its greatest coaches as Les Miles has been fired from LSU. Within the last 12 months, the SEC has lost Miles, Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt, and Gary Pinkel. Each of those coaches were arguably the most successful to roam their respective school’s sideline. There is a reason why the gap is closing rather significantly between the SEC and the rest of the country, and it has nothing to do with the on-field talent.
It is now officially Autumn, and the meat of the conference slate is about to begin. Can anyone usurp the throne from Alabama? Or will the Tide continue to roll on their way to a rare SEC Championship three-peat?
- Alabama Crimson Tide. Honestly, any power poll that doesn’t include the Tide at the #1 spot is just fishing for clicks, and we at RBR do not condone such activities. The month of October will reveal whether or not anyone has a shot at preventing Nick Saban from accepting his third straight SEC Championship trophy, as Alabama plays three teams ranked in the top five of this poll.
- Texas A&M Aggies. The 2016 Aggies are for real. After battling it out with Arkansas for three quarters, Kevin Sumlin’s squad dominated the final period of play. The match-up in Dallas was a battle of two very good looking teams, and A&M was the one who executed during all of the key moments. This is an impressive team.
- Ole Miss Rebels. After the deflating loss to Alabama last week, it would’ve been easy for the Rebels to come out flat and put on an uninspiring performance against Georgia this past Saturday. Chad Kelly and company quashed that notion quickly. Ole Miss completely dominated the Bulldogs in every phase of the game. The Rebel passing attack may be the best in the country, and honestly, the loss to Florida State is looking more and more like the superior team lost that game.
- Tennessee Volunteers. It only took three and a half games, but the country finally got a look at what the Vols’ ceiling is in 2016. Tennessee looked downright frightening in the second half against a stout Florida team on Saturday. The Gators’ defense, which had looked impenetrable prior to the game, was rocked by Josh Dobbs and the Tennessee offense, and despite missing a number of relevant contributors due to injury, the Volunteer defense played lights-out. If Tennessee can play close to that level more consistently, they will win the East with ease.
- Arkansas Razorbacks. The 45-24 final score was not indicative to how competitive the game between the Razorbacks and Aggies really was. Twice Arkansas came away with zero points despite having the ball on the Aggies’ one-yard line, and both times A&M capitalized by immediately answering with big time touchdowns from Trevor Knight. Austin Allen is really starting to come into his own, and the Hogs are not far away from being true contenders in the West. They need to do a better job of limiting big plays defensively.
- Florida Gators. At halftime of the game on Saturday, it looked like Florida was well on its way to making a return trip to Atlanta. The Gator defense was as dominant as ever and Austin Appleby was making some big time plays. And then Florida came back out of the locker room and got hammered. They could not get anything going on the ground all game, and they gave up way too many big plays. With a more favorable draw from the West (Miles-less LSU at home and at Arkansas vs. A&M on the road and Alabama at home for Tennessee), the Gators are hardly out of the East race, but they are definitely looking up at Tennessee right now.
- Auburn Tigers. There were some impressive performances across the SEC this past week, but none were bigger than Daniel Carlson’s eighteen points on 6/6 kicking. At this point in the season it’s safe to say that this Auburn defense is a legitimate force, as well as one of the best in the conference. However, it also seems pretty safe to assume that this offense isn’t going to get it all figured out this year. The quarterback play simply isn’t good enough. Big Kamryn Pettway needs to get more touches, that guy is a hoss.
- LSU Tigers. After the worst start in his LSU career, Les Miles is officially done in Baton Rouge. Whether or not you agree with the decision, it’s hard to imagine this will result in a net positive for the Bayou Bengals this season. There are a lot of potential “Ls” still on the schedule, and the offense is absolutely anemic. Also, how fitting was it that Les Miles’ tenure at LSU ends after a horrible mismanagement of the clock?
- Georgia Bulldogs. Yikes. It’s difficult to find anything positive from the Dawgs’ performance against Ole Miss. It’s stunning to see how porous the offensive line play is. Nick Chubb and the rest of those stud running-backs aren’t going to matter if the big guys up front don’t open up any holes for them. Honestly, I was watching this game at the same time as the Alabama-Kent State game, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the Bulldogs and the Golden Flashes.
- Missouri Tigers. Nobody was paying any attention, but Mizzou quietly decimated Delaware State’s entire athletic program in a four hour span Saturday afternoon. Seriously, can someone check to make sure Delaware State didn’t decide to close its doors permanently?
- Mississippi State Bulldogs. Dan Mullen’s group has now had late-game battles with South Alabama and UMass, one of which they lost. Yet they still aren’t the worst in the SEC. Remember when the conference had real depth?
- Kentucky Wildcats. Honestly, these last three teams could be in any order from 12-14, but we’ll throw Kentucky a bone because they are (relatively-speaking) hot right now. Boom Williams continues to be one of the most underutilized and underappreciated players in college football after rushing for 123 yards on 15 carries.
- Vanderbilt Commodores. Yes, South Carolina beat Vandy in Nashville in the opener, but the ‘Dores have since blown out a decent Middle Tennessee State team and won a thriller over a good Western Kentucky team. Georgia Tech you say? Doesn’t ring a bell.
- South Carolina Gamecocks. It’s hard to imagine this team winning another game outside of their two remaining cupcake games. checks schedule, sees UMass. Uh oh.