Sports, Thrill of Victory

SEC football storylines to watch in Week 11

The SEC and the College Football Playoff?

To no one’s surprise, Alabama, fresh off defeating LSU by a 30-16 count, rose to No. 2 in this week’s College Football Playoff Top 25. I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s not well-deserved, but just in case someone wonders, the Crimson Tide has six nice wins: LSU, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Georgia, Wisconsin and Arkansas. Start comparing that against other teams in the College Football Playoff discussion, and you’ll see a quick drop-off. (For instance, Baylor’s fourth-, fifth- and sixth-best wins, by my estimation, are Iowa State, Rice and SMU).

Nick Saban and Alabama will need a win over Georgia Saturday to have a realistic chance at making the College Football Playoffs. PHOTO COURTESY ALABAMA ATHLETICS

Nick Saban has his Alabama Crimson Tide back atop the SEC West after that dominating performance against LSU. PHOTO COURTESY ALABAMA ATHLETICS

‘Bama has a tough game at Mississippi State, followed by a breather against Charleston Southern, and then, a trip to resurgent Auburn to finish the year. Assuming the Crimson Tide wins out, they’ll get Florida in the SEC title game in Atlanta.

The question is not whether Alabama gets in if it wins out, but whether the Crimson Tide could possibly sustain another loss and still make it. Given ‘Bama’s body of work and upcoming strength of schedule, it’s certainly possible but of course, that depends heavily on other teams slipping up somewhere.

Florida (11th), on a late-fourth-quarter field goal, survived its game with Vanderbilt. Had the Gators lost, they’d certainly have seen their chances go out the window. Instead, they’re in the mix with a shot to make the Final Four if they can win the SEC Title—and by the way, they’ve clinched a spot in the championship game.

Unless Alabama loses, LSU (No. 9) cannot make the SEC title game. That might be a blessing since loss-avoidance is important. Remember, Alabama was SEC West runner-up in its national title season of 2011. If the Tigers can run the table against Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, they’d be tough to leave out.

Mississippi State is 17h this week; it’s hard to see the Bulldogs getting in. They lack a Top 25 win, or anything really even close, and would need to run the table against Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss, and then hope for the other West teams to knock themselves off in the right combination to get to Atlanta, and then win that game and hope the playoff committee doesn’t hold two losses against them.

Of course, much depends on what happens in other leagues, and there’s an endless sequence of possibilities with three weekends, plus title games, to go—which is exactly what makes this so much fun.

Did Fournette lose the Heisman Trophy?

I’m a fan of LSU running back Leonard Fournette, but to put it simply, greatness is about showing up big in big moments, and Fournette’s 19-carry, 31-yard game in the biggest game of his life vs. Alabama on Saturday missed the mark in a big way. Fournette was the run-away favorite for college football’s biggest individual award, which begs the question as to where things stand with him now.

Leonard Fournette's run for the Heisman Trophy took a hit from the Alabama defense. PHOTO COURTESY LSU ATHLETICS

Leonard Fournette’s run for the Heisman Trophy took a hit from the Alabama defense. PHOTO COURTESY LSU ATHLETICS

Some voters will probably disqualify Fournette on Saturday’s performance alone, and that’s understandable. The problem is, there aren’t a lot of players who have put up huge performances in big games, either. Fournette’s chief competition coming into Saturday was likely TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, who was intercepted four times in the Horned Frogs’ biggest game of the year—a game TCU lost, 49-29—on Saturday.

Here’s an interesting thing about this week’s Heisman race: so many of the leading candidates just haven’t played in any meaningful games. Neither of Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott or Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman have played a single game against a team ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25. Boykin’s only Top 25 contest came in that loss to OSU (the same, of course, can be said for his wide receiver teammate, Josh Doctson). Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey’s one Top 25 game came against No. 19 UCLA. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook’s lone Top 25 contest came Saturday against Clemson. As for Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson, he’s played two games against Top 25 teams, one being a pedestrian effort vs. Notre Dame, and a great one against Florida State.

Ironically, it was Fournette’s opponent, Derrick Henry, who may have vaulted into the lead with a 210-yard, three-touchdown performance in ‘Bama’s 30-16 win on Saturday night. Henry has played two games against CFB Playoff Top 25 teams (the other being Wisconsin). In those two games, Henry has rushed for a robust 357 yards (with seven yards per attempt!) and six touchdowns, plus two catches for 12 yards.

And in another twist, dark horse candidate Dak Prescott of Mississippi State gets his turn against the Crimson Tide this week. Prescott has posted outstanding numbers thus far (see below), but the Bulldogs have faced but one Top 25 team (LSU) and lost. It’s safe to say that wasn’t Prescott’s fault, as he threw 52 times for 335 yards, one touchdown and no picks, though he did lose 19 yards on 10 carries (but with a touchdown).

Back to Fournette for a moment… his three games vs. Top 25 teams are the most of anyone on the list, and even with the bad Alabama game, he’s run for 370 yards (4.7 per carry) with seven touchdowns, and caught a pass for 15 more.

Based on that, I’d have to put Henry at the top of my list for now. But if you take one thing away from this, it’s that a bunch of players play on teams whose schedules are back-loaded with great teams, so this isn’t close to decided yet.

Led by a stingy defense, the Florida Gators clinched the SEC East with a win over Vandy. PHOTO COURTESY FLORIDA ATHLETICS

Led by a stingy defense, the Florida Gators clinched the SEC East with a win over Vandy. PHOTO COURTESY FLORIDA ATHLETICS

POWER RANKINGS (Overall record, SEC record)

  1. Alabama (8-1, 5-1)
  2. LSU (7-1, 4-1)
  3. Florida (8-1, 6-1): Gators survived a minus-4 turnover day, oddly enough, by kicking a big field goal to beat Vandy.
  4. Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2): Has any team had two more heart-breaking losses within the span of approximately a year than Rebels’ loss Saturday to Arkansas, and their loss to Auburn in 2014?
  5. Mississippi St. (6-2, 3-2): QB Dak Prescott having a great year with little help in the running game.
  6. Tennessee (5-4, 3-3): Vols were one Jerrell Adams fumble away from possibly blowing a 17-point lead; can you imagine what coach Butch Jones’s week would have looked like had that not happened?
  7. Texas A&M (6-3, 3-3): Aggies still lack QB clarity after Kyler Murray threw for 105 yards, three picks and no scores in home loss to Auburn.
  8. Arkansas (5-4, 3-2): Razorbacks stayed alive vs. Ole Miss in one of the craziest college football plays ever that didn’t involve a marching band.
  9. Georgia (6-3, 4-3): Coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt are (at least temporarily) out of the spotlight after Bulldogs hold Kentucky to 180 yards in a 27-3 win.
  10. Auburn (5-4, 2-4): QB Jeremy Johnson went 13-for-17 for 132 yards in a score in the upset at A&M; coach Will Muschamp says Johnson “… does have his edge back.”
  11. Missouri (4-5, 1-5): After what wasn’t even a one-day player strike, Tigers will take the field vs. BYU on Saturday. One could argue the offense has been on strike all season.
  12. South Carolina (3-6, 1-6): Did you remember that the Gamecocks are the only team to defeat 8-1 North Carolina?
  13. Vanderbilt (3-6, 1-4): Commodores have completed just 8-of-34 throws for 74 yards, no TDs and three interceptions in last two games (Florida and Houston).
  14. Kentucky (4-5, 2-5): That 3-point loss to Auburn seems to have de-clawed the Wildcats, who’ve been killed in their three games since.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Derrick Henry, your new Heisman front-runner? PHOTO COURTESY ALABAMA ATHLETICS

Derrick Henry, your new Heisman front-runner? PHOTO COURTESY ALABAMA ATHLETICS

OFFENSE (rushes-yards-YPC; receptions-yards; TDs scored;  completions-attempts-yards-TD/INT)

  1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (218 – 1,254 – 5.8; 8 – 69; 17 TDs)
  2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (195 – 1,383 – 7.1; 7- 56; 16 TDs)
  3. Dak Prescott, QB, MSU (86 – 418 – 4.9; 7 TDs; 200 – 300 – 2,351 – 18/1)
  4. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss (68 – 1,002; 7 TDs)
  5. Brandon Allen, QB, Arkansas (45 – 121 – 2.7; 1- 11; 1 TD; 174 – 268 – 2,476 – 21/5)

DEFENSE (tackles-tackles for loss-sacks-interceptions-forced fumbles)

  1. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida (23 – 0 – 0 – 4 – 1)
  2. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M (47 – 16 – 10.5 – 1 – 5)
  3. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama (74 – 5.5 – 2.5 – 0 – 2)
  4. Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri (117 – 7.5 – 2.5 – 2 – 1)
  5. Jon Bullard, DL, Florida (44 – 13 – 5 – 0 – 0)

THIS WEEK’S PICKS

vanderbilt-starVanderbilt 13, Kentucky 10 (Vanderbilt -3.5): Neither team doing much scoring right now, and Commodores have the better defense.

 

Tennessee Power TTennessee 55, North Texas 10 (Tennessee -41): UNT lost by 59 to FCS’s Portland State just a month ago.

 

Auburn PrimaryAuburn 21, Georgia 20 (Auburn -1.5): I have absolutely no idea of what to expect from either team; Tigers get the edge by virtue of being at home.

 

florida gators logoFlorida 27, South Carolina 17 (Florida -7.5): Gamecocks playing much better under coach Shawn Elliott, but Carolina can’t overcome a lack of defensive talent in this one.

 

2000px-Alabama_Crimson_Tide_Logo.svgAlabama 31, Mississippi State 17 (Alabama -8): A warning to MSU quarterback Dak Prescott—coach Nick Saban proved he can completely take away your superstar last week.

 

TAMU logoTexas A&M 44, Western Carolina 10 (no line): The operative question is, “How interested are the Aggies from here on?”