The month of October is upon us, and already, the Southeastern Conference football season has provided us with a bunch of surprises, not all necessarily pleasant. Chris Lee looks at that and other storylines, plus team and Player of the Year rankings.
Falling back to the pack?
No matter how good the SEC is, there will always be an unhappy fan base—and usually two or three—because of simple math. Since there are 56 conference games, that’s at least 56 losses, or an average of four per team, to be spread around the league. Being an average SEC team is nothing to sneeze at, but average means a 4-4 league record, and outside of perhaps Vanderbilt and Kentucky, that’s not going to sit well with most fan bases in most years.
In other words, most SEC fans have somewhat unrealistic expectations. That said, we’re in October—or at least we will be on Saturday—and there are at least six fan bases unhappy with the way things have unfolded so far.
In Tuscaloosa, coach Nick Saban’s had some one-loss teams win the national title, but the Crimson Tide already have that one loss, which puts everyone on edge. Should ‘Bama stumble at least one more time, which is probable, you can likely kiss ‘Bama’s College Football Playoff hopes goodbye, and while nobody will be running Saban out of town, but at Alabama, where virtually anything short of that is unacceptable, it won’t be good times.
Just south, Auburn is perhaps the nation’s biggest disappointment, with two losses and Shawn White taking over for Heisman hopeful Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. Behind Alabama, Auburn might have the second-least-patient fan base in America—remember, coach Gene Chizik was fired two years after winning a national title, and Tommy Tuberville was fired one year removed from a six-game winning streak over Alabama—and the heat is starting to turn up on Gus Malzahn now. There are all kinds of recipes for a dumpster fire at Auburn right now—a benched starting quarterback who’s popular with his teammates, key injuries, bad defense—and a losing season on the Plains is entirely possible.
Tennessee fans, who thought this is the year the Vols would be “back,” are beside themselves after an inexplicable late-game decision by Butch Jones not to go for a 2-point conversion with a 12-point lead. The 2-2 Vols have now lost eleven in a row to Florida, which once upon a time seemed impossible. However, let’s also point out that the Vols lost both games this season on the final play.
South Carolina is headed for a second-straight down year, and almost as bad, Steve Spurrier, the godfather of the high-flying offense, is fielding a team that’s boring on offense 22.5 points per game).
Arkansas fans thought their team would be 3-1 at worst, and instead, they’re 1-3. The good news is that I think UA’s better than it’s record; the bad news is that the toughest part of the schedule is to come.
As for two-time defending Eastern Conference champ Missouri, the Tigers, who barely beat Connecticut and Arkansas State—no, that’s not good—took their first loss at Kentucky. Now, starting quarterback Maty Mauk has been suspended for Saturday’s South Carolina game, though Tiger fans, who’ve been wanting to see Drew Lock, might view this as a good thing. Either way, Mizzou has missed the mark through four games.
Odds are that at least one of these teams turns its fortunes around, but all won’t, and that could make for an interesting off-season in more than one SEC city.
Alabama, the underdog
Saban’s squad hasn’t been an underdog since 2009, but as of Tuesday night, the Crimson Tide roll into Georgia as a 2-point ‘dog (no pun intended). To put that in perspective, Tim Tebow was Florida’s quarterback, Bobby Bowden was just finishing up his career at Florida State, and Joe Paterno had two more years to coach at Penn State. I’m not sure what else I can add for perspective here, but that, as much as anything, shows how elite Alabama has been in Saban’s tenure.
- Ole Miss (4-0, 2-0 SEC): The Rebels have an argument as America’s best team.
- Georgia (4-0, 2-0): Saturday could be the biggest regular-season game at Georgia since Herschel Walker was a Bulldog.
- Alabama (3-1, 0-1)
- LSU (3-0, 1-0): The Tigers didn’t look like national title contenders in a sluggish 34-24 win at Syracuse.
- Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0): Aggies’ plus-19.5-point scoring margin ranks third in the league.
- Mississippi St. (3-1, 1-1): Red zone defense has propelled MSU’s success, much as it did in 2014.
- Florida (4-0, 2-0): Three of UF’s four wins have come by seven points or fewer.
- Tennessee (2-2, 0-1)
- Arkansas (1-3, 0-1)
- Kentucky (3-1, 2-1): ‘Cats are minus-9 in yards per game, yet sit at 3-1.
- Missouri (3-1, 0-1): Tigers have the statistical distinction of the league’s best total and scoring defense, and the worst total and scoring offense.
- Auburn (2-2, 0-2): Hard to believe Auburn’s here, but the case can be made that the Tigers—they’re last in turnover, yardage and point margins—have been worse than this.
- South Carolina (2-2, 0-2): Gamecocks are the only other team to be upside-down in yardage and scoring differential.
- Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2): One could argue that the Commodores have been better than this, but we need to see some more wins first.
Offensive Player of the Year
- Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (73 rushes, 631 yards, 8 TDs, 8.6 per carry): May well be the Heisman front-runner.
- Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (71-599-6-8.4)
- Dak Prescott, QB, MSU (95-of-142, 1,069 yards, 7 TDs/0 INT; 30-121-2-4.0 rushing)
- Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss (71-of-115, 1,219, 10/3, 19-57-3-3.0)
- Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (67-422-8-6.3)
Defensive Player of the Year
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss (29 tackles, 5 for loss): Great stats for a DT, plus, he may be the best player on the best team in America.
- Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri (52 tackles, 2 interceptions): Leads the league in total stops.
- Myles Garrett, DE, TAMU (7.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles)
- Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina (40 tackles, 3 interceptions, 6 passes defended): Leads the league in interceptions and passes defended… as a linebacker!
- Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia (23 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks); Vernon Hargreaves, S, Florida (2 interceptions); Trae Elson, DB, Ole Miss (3 interceptions, 4 passes defended, 2 TDs) and Charles Harris, DE, Missouri (a league-leading 9.5 stops for loss).
Week 5 picks (34-9 overall, 16-17 vs. the pointspread)
LSU 45, Eastern Michigan 10 (LSU -46.5): EMU has given up 6.4 yards per rush to Air Force, Wyoming and Ball State. In other words, if coach Les Miles wants Fournette to get 500 yards, he could probably do it on Saturday.