LSU’s the league’s only remaining unbeaten team, but surging Alabama takes our top spot in this week’s power rankings, which is just part of our comprehensive look at the Southeastern Conference this week.
THIS WEEK’S STORYLINES
Changes at quarterback
It’s been a year of instability at quarterback for most SEC teams, and while Week 7 clarified the issue at some schools, it confused it at others.
Florida suffered its first blemish with a loss at LSU, but the Gators got an encouraging performance out of sophomore Treon Harris, who projects as UF’s quarterback for the rest of the season, if not for a full calendar year, due to the 12-month suspension of Will Grier. Harris was 17-of-32 for two touchdowns and no interceptions, and with four scores, no picks and nearly 9.2 yards per attempt on the season, is starting to look up to the task. The only negative is that Harris rushed for just 20 yards on 13 carries, but it was against LSU, and everyone knows he’s capable of more there.
Speaking of the Tigers, Brandon Harris hasn’t been spectacular, but with six TD throws and no picks, he’s been exactly what LSU coach Les Miles needs at that position, given the superhero-like abilities of running back Leonard Fournette.
We thought that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn might go back to the much-hyped Jeremy Johnson after he’d talked about Johnson’s good week of practice, but instead, Malzahn stuck with Sean White, who hit on 17-of-27 throws with no scores and no picks in a 30-27 win at Kentucky. That performance was good enough for Malzahn to name White the starter this week for the Arkansas game.
South Carolina went with Perry Orth against Vanderbilt, perhaps as much because of injuries and ineffectiveness elsewhere more so than anything that Orth had done. However, Orth responded with a nice performance (17-of-28, 272 yards, one TD, one interception) in Carolina’s 19-10 win over Vanderbilt. It was the best game any quarterback’s had this year over one of the league’s better pass defenses.
Meanwhile at Vanderbilt, Johnny McCrary threw three horrible interceptions, fumbled late in the game, and threw for a miserable 4.2 yards per attempt, almost single-handedly costing the Commodores a chance at a road win. On Tuesday, coach Derek Mason pulled no punches and more or less deemed the QB position up for grabs, saying that the team should be 4-2 if it weren’t for mass turnovers.
Watch for freshman Kyle Shurmur, who hasn’t played yet, to perhaps emerge.
Teams are being more careful in handling players with concussions in recent years, which is good. Unfortunately, the list of players who have suffered from them continues to grow, and a few key players were bitten by them on Saturday.
The big name to go down last weekend was Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who was knocked out in the first quarter of the Rebels’ loss at Memphis. Nkemdiche suffered the injury while playing offense, and said he hopes to continue to play there in spite of that. He’s not been cleared for this weekend’s game with Texas A&M, but sources close to that program told me this week that the potential No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft is expected to play.
Unlike Ole Miss, Alabama survived losing center Ryan Kelly in the first half of the Texas A&M game. ESPN’s Alex Scarbrough put forth an argument this week that the fifth-year senior might be Alabama’s MVP this year. As of Tuesday, he’d not been cleared for the Tennessee game.
Meanwhile at Vandy, inside linebacker Nigel Bowden, the team’s leading tackler, has been out with a concussion since the Week 2 loss to Georgia. Again this week, Bowden wasn’t listed on the VU depth chart.
- Alabama (6-1, 4-1): RB Derrick Henry (32 carries, 236 yards, two TDs) saved his best game for the big stage.
- LSU (6-0, 4-0): Tigers’ two turnovers are by far an SEC low.
- Florida (6-1, 4-1): Gators lead SEC with plus-9 turnover margin.
- Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1)
- Ole Miss (5-2, 2-1): Rebels couldn’t have asked for a better time to get Laremy Tunsil back given A&M’s ferocious pass rush.
- Tennessee (3-3, 1-2): Vols look to snap eight-game losing streak at Alabama.
- Georgia (5-2, 3-2): Bulldogs’ 9-6 win over Missouri was their first victory in 20 years without a TD.
- Mississippi St. (5-2, 1-2): Bulldogs overcame a 14-point deficit to rout Louisiana Tech, 45-20.
- Arkansas (2-4, 1-2): Rain in the forecast for that Auburn game this weekend.
- Auburn (4-2, 1-2): One caution about Tigers’ 4-2 record—the minus-72 per-game yardage differential is SEC’s worst.
- Missouri (4-3, 1-3): Tigers managed just 164 yards of offense, and still almost won at Georgia.
- Kentucky (4-2, 2-2): QB Patrick Towles was 27-of-44 for 359 yards in UK’s loss to Auburn.
- South Carolina (3-4, 1-4): Shawn Elliott is now 1-0 as a head coach.
- Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3): Minus-9 turnover margin tells story of VU’s season; next-worst SEC team is Ole Miss at minus-2.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
- Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (150 – 1,250 – 8.0- 14 TDs rushing, 6-56-0 receiving)
- Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (152 – 901- 5.9 -12 rushing, 8-69-0 receiving)
- Dak Prescott, QB, MSU (148 – 225- 1,700- 11/0 passing, 59 – 254 – 4.4- 4 rushing)
- Christian Kirk, WR, A&M (39-609-4 receiving, 528 return yards)
- Pharoh Cooper, WR, SC (40-587-4 receiving, 14 – 88 – 6.3 – 1 rushing, 54 return yards)
DEFENSE (tackles-sacks-tackles for loss-interceptions-forced fumbles)
- Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri (91 – 1.5 – 5.5 – 2 – 0): Leads NCAA in tackles by a wide margin, plus, has two blocked kicks.
- Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama (59 – 2 – 4 – 0 – 2)
- Vernon Hargreaves, S, Florida (22 – 0 – 0 – 3 – 1): It’s hard to accumulate stats when teams don’t throw your way.
- Myles Garrett, DE, TAMU (30 – 8.5 – 11.5 – 0 – 3)
- Eddie Jackson, DB, Alabama (24 – 0 – 1 – 5 – 1): Returned a pick for a score vs. A&M
THIS WEEK’S PICKS (44-15 overall, 24-31 vs. the point spread):