Sports, Thrill of Victory

SEC football storylines to watch in Week Six

Five weeks in, and we’re down to three undefeated teams in the Southeastern Conference, as a wild race in both divisions seems on the horizon. Chris Lee looks at that, and much more, in today’s SEC football snapshot.

THIS WEEK’S STORYLINES

Who’s the best?

Welcome back to the top, Crimson Tide. PHOTO COURTESY ALABAMA ATHLETICS

Welcome back to the top, Crimson Tide. PHOTO COURTESY ALABAMA ATHLETICS

Each week, I do power rankings of all 14 teams and each week, there are one or two tough decisions to make. Often, it’s clear who the best and worst teams are and I only have to spend a lot of time sorting through the middle.

Not so much this week. It’s probably the toughest time I’ve ever had putting these together, because there’s literally not one of the 14 spots that someone couldn’t debate.

For instance, I have LSU at six, while Edward Aschoff, a very respected writer at ESPN, has the Tigers first. Aschoff sees a talented team that’s undefeated with perhaps the country’s best player in running back Leonard Fournette, and I get that, but I see a team that struggles in the passing game, is good (but not great) on defense, and looked very pedestrian the last two weeks against a mediocre Syracuse squad and one of America’s worst teams in Eastern Michigan.

It’s all in what you value—for me, that’s who you beat, how much you win by, and whether you’re able to move the ball consistently and keep opponents from doing the same—and I just am not as impressed with LSU as I am some one-loss teams in front of them.

When Saturday night was over, it was Ole Miss, not Will Grier, that felt ill. PHOTO COURTESY FLORIDA ATHLETICS

When Saturday night was over, it was Ole Miss, not Will Grier, that felt ill. PHOTO COURTESY FLORIDA ATHLETICS

This week, I jumped Florida seven spots to No. 2, but there are things not to like about the Gators. There’s the plus-90 yardage margin per game; seven SEC teams have done better, including Vanderbilt, which according to Jeff Sagarin, has even played a tougher schedule. The Gators have also won three of those games by seven or less.

My gut tells me that the Gators aren’t the second-best team in the SEC, but then again, I’m not sure any team in the league has four better wins that Florida’s victories over Ole Miss, Tennessee, Kentucky or East Carolina. Plus, there’s the fact that UF’s win over Ole Miss was a flat-out demolition of what, just a week ago, I thought might have been the country’s last team.

Regardless of style points, what you do has to matter, and though I don’t expect UF to finish this well, I can’t fairly justify dropping the Gators below second, though perhaps undefeated Texas A&M would have a case to leapfrog them.

Then, there are problems posed by head-to-head match-ups.

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Vanderbilt just squeaked by Middle Tennessee 17-13 Saturday night. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Ole Miss beat Alabama, and each team has one loss, so the Rebels should logically rank ahead of the Crimson Tide. But by the same token, I have to put Florida ahead of Ole Miss, which causes problems because that slots the Gators ahead of Alabama, which, despite that one loss, is Jeff Sagarin’s top-ranked team this week. I don’t intuitively believe Florida to be better, so that’s one reason you see ‘Bama, which ripped a good Georgia team in Athens and has one loss against the country’s fifth-toughest schedule according to Sagarin, at the top of my list.

Likewise, there are issues at the bottom.

Vanderbilt has a larger yardage margin than five of the six teams in front of it, and Sagarin ranks the ‘Dores schedule tougher than all those teams. It’s scoring margin is roughly on par with three of those teams as well. On the other hand, the Commodores’ most significant win in the last two seasons was last week’s squeaker vs. MTSU, and so it’s hard to justify moving VU much higher, though I did finally move it out of the basement this week.

And honestly, I’m not convinced a whole lot of difference between any of the teams in the bottom half of my rankings.

All this is why the last two months of the season should be so much fun.

Brewing dumpster fires at Auburn and Tennessee?

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Notice there is a question mark here, because none of us knows exactly what goes on inside the locker rooms and coaches offices of any school. But when you see teams miss expectations as badly as Auburn and Tennessee have, it’s often more than just a team missing expectations on the field, whether that be chemistry issues between teammates, discipline problems or a rift between players and coaches—and sometimes, all three.

So when teams, I start looking for outward signs of trouble. Sure enough, Auburn kicked star receiver Duke Williams (who’d already been suspended in August practices) off the team.

As for the Vols, coach Butch Jones is having to call a press conference on Wednesday to address rumors that he struck a player.

Again, I don’t know what did, or didn’t happen, in any of these cases. But when underachieving teams start dismissing stars and calling press conferences to address rumored assaults by their coach, it’s probably not a good sign.

When things start going horribly wrong for teams at this point in the season, it’s often quite difficult for a coaching staff to get things headed back in the right direction. Should the last seven games for Auburn and Tennessee go as badly as did the first five, it’s a good bet that there’s a reason beyond Xs and Os to explain things.

Ole Miss dropped to third after falling in the Swamp. PHOTO COURTESY OLE MISS ATHLETICS

Ole Miss dropped to third after falling in the Swamp. PHOTO COURTESY OLE MISS ATHLETICS

POWER RANKINGS

  1. Alabama (4-1, 1-1 SEC): All four ‘Bama wins have come by 18 or more.
  2. Florida (5-0, 3-0): QB Will Grier went from not being able to play, to hitting 24-of-29 passes for 271 yards and four TDs vs. Ole Miss.
  3. Ole Miss (4-1, 2-1): Rebels still lead the league with plus-22.8 scoring margin.
  4. Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0): For all the talk about the offense, defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall may be the centerpiece of this team.
  5. Georgia (4-1, 2-1): Coach Mark Richt always has that One Disappointing Game every year; Bulldog fans how hope Saturday’s egg was the only one.
  6. LSU (4-0, 2-0)
  7. Mississippi St. (3-2, 1-2): QB Dak Prescott’s having another banner year, but Bulldogs have little run game to help him.
  8. Arkansas (2-3, 1-1): There’s nothing like a road win at Tennessee to cool off coach Bret Bielema’s seat—at least temporarily.
  9. Tennessee (2-3, 0-2): Vols have blown three leads of 13 or more this year; that’s as many as the other 126 FBS teams combined.
  10. Kentucky (4-1, 2-1): Another reason that 4-1 is probably a mirage: ‘Cats needed overtime to beat lowly Eastern Kentucky.
  11. Missouri (4-1, 1-1): It looks like Missouri may have found a QB in Drew Lock.
  12. Auburn (3-2, 0-2): Tigers’ minus-68 yardage differential is SEC’s worst
  13. Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2): Come-from-behind win at MTSU is just what coach Derek Mason needed; soon, we’ll see if Commodores can beat some SEC teams.
  14. South Carolina (2-3, 0-3): Flooding may mean this weekend’s game vs. LSU is moved out of Columbia.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

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While Leonard Fournette is the clear favorite for Player of the Year, Dak Prescott has the opportunity to catch him with strong performances. PHOTO COURTESY MISSISSIPPI STATE ATHLETICS

Offense

  1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (99-864-8.7 yards per carry-11 TDs): Leads the nation in rushing yards despite playing just four games.
  2. Dak Prescott, QB, MSU (115-of-176, 1,279 yds., 7 TDs, 0 INT passing; 48-217-4.5-3 rushing)
  3. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (91-745-8.2-7)
  4. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (93-570-6.1-9)
  5. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M (32-519-4 receiving; 417 return yards and one TD)

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

  1. Myles Garrett, DE, A&M, (25-9.5-7.5-0-3)
  2. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss (16-4.5-0.5-0-0)
  3. Vernon Hargreaves, S, Florida (17-0-0-3-0)
  4. Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri (59-4.5-0.5-2-0)
  5. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia (29-7.5-3.0-0-1)

WEEK 6 PICKS (41-11 overall, 21-20 vs. the point spread):

stacked-stroke_red-blueStrokeOle Miss 65, New Mexico State 24 (Ole Miss -43.5): Rebels have cracked 70 points twice, this could be a third.

 

lsu-logoLSU 27, South Carolina 17 (LSU -13): Carolina defense is much improved, but Gamecocks still give up 4.9 yards per carry, and that’s not good when you’re facing Leonard Fournette.

 

PrintGeorgia 34, Tennessee 20 (Georgia -3): The Vols always play Georgia tough, however, UT likes to run the ball (which the Bulldogs stop pretty well) and Georgia’s Nick Chubb is a tough draw for a squad that hasn’t stopped it well, either.

 

2000px-Alabama_Crimson_Tide_Logo.svgAlabama 34, Arkansas 17 (Alabama -16.5): Fun fact—Alabama has scored between 34 and 38 points in all five games.

 

florida gators logoFlorida 20, Missouri 13 (Florida -5): I might even be high on the total number of points scored in this one.

 

Miss State logoMississippi State 41, Troy 14 (MSU -30.5): The only consolation for Troy is that it shouldn’t be as bad as it was two years ago, when MSU routed it by a 62-7 count.