Disappointing and surprise seasons come due to the rankings the teams are knighted with in the preseason. Fair or not fair that’s how college sports roll. The season is almost half over and many fans have already started the “next year’s team” talks. On the other hand, hopes and aspirations are still alive for some of the higher caliber programs along with some of the surprise teams that have suddenly came out of their shell; at least for now they have. Comparing the preseason expectations and how they have performed this season I break down each SEC team to see how they have stacked up against their preseason accolades or premature dismissals.
Alabama Crimson Tide (Preseason Rank: #3; Current Rank: #8)
The preseason buzz that surrounded the Tide this preseason focused on the quarterback competition and not only who was going to be awarded the job but if that quarterback can sustain the always high-caliber Crimson Tide. Though the team already has one loss on its playoff résumé, the Tide look to be in good hands from here on out finding consistent play at quarterback with both sides of the ball looking sharp in Athens last weekend.
Arkansas Razorbacks (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)
Arkansas came into the 2015 season similar to last season’s billing as looking the part but not showing its improvement on its record. Opposed to last season, this season’s version has not looked improved dropping some key non-conference games to Toledo and Arkansas and not looking good in either showdown. Bret Bielema has been a big talk guy but when is it time to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk? Time is running out.
Auburn Tigers (Preseason Rank: #6; Current Rank: NR)
One of the biggest letdowns in college football this season is the Auburn Tiger football team. Jeremy Johnson was in line to be the next big thing but has slipped out of the spotlight to find himself on the bench. The season has almost started anew with new quarterback Sean White and many defensive adjustments as the Tigers look to renew their once hyped 2015 season.
Florida Gators (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #11)
Within the past ten years or so, first year head coaches have made immediate impacts at their respected school. With that said, the expectations for the Gators this season were not high as they were breaking in potentially a new starting quarterback with many personnel changes. Finding Florida ranked just outside the top ten is big for a program needing a spark and now are in the driver’s seat in a semi-weak eastern division.
Georgia Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: #9; Current Rank: #19)
It’s become a status quo for Georgia football starting the season as one the SEC and national favorites but find a way to slip up along the road in disappointing fashion. It’s not that Georgia was supposed to defeat Alabama – Georgia was favored to win – but losing by three touchdowns at home to a team that is still in the growing process on offense has left the Dogs in a weird but kind of expected season. The Mark Richt hot seat rumors have been ignited and it could be SEC championship or bust for the Bulldogs. What do you think?
Kentucky Wildcats (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)
Similar to Arkansas’ 2014 season outlook the record should not reflect the overall improvement from this Kentucky football team. Kentucky has improved mightily since Mark Stoops took over and each year we have seen the strides of getting better. Unfortunately the record has yet to be completely rejuvenated but with addition of new SEC talent the Wildcats are in good position for the future. The question is does the future begin next week or next year?
LSU Tigers (Preseason Rank: #14; Current Rank: #7)
Another SEC team that was flooded with quarterback questions before week one, LSU answered its problem without really addressing the issue directly not having to yet with a stud running back in Leonard Fournette. Doing exactly what is expected of them, the Tigers have grounded and pounded through the schedule so far and now jump into the heart of the SEC portion part of it.
Ole Miss Rebels (Preseason Rank: #17; Current Rank: #14)
The star-studded recruiting class became draft eligible week one and has hit on all cylinders for the most part. Going into Tuscaloosa and coming out with a win giving Hotty Toddy consecutive wins over the Tide set the tone for what could have been an unblemished season. Not coming away with a win from Gainesville is tough but having been completely shut down on offense is why I am currently cool on the Rebels.
Mississippi State Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)
Having a historical season a year ago it was hard to predict how the Bulldogs would fare this season based on returning only nine starters from last year. State has performed right on par in where they were expected to be riding Dak Prescott’s back with key plays from the secondary. Seemingly being out of the conference race State can play spoiler throughout the rest of the season still claiming to be a solid all-around team.
Missouri Tigers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)
There was a point of good, bad, and ugly the first few weeks of the Tigers’ season and hopefully it’s back to good now. Oddly enough benching Maty Mauk, with the suspension, may have been the best thing to happen for the Tigers after struggling to score points on offense on many occasions yet still sneaking by. Though still an impressive 4-1 the season has not looked as peachy as expected, but the Tigers look to be headed into the right direction with Drew Lock taking snaps from center.
South Carolina Gamecocks (Preseason Rank: NR, Current Rank: NR)
Yuck. That pretty much sums up what has been a rough year for the Gamecock fan base. Not having consistent quarterback play, heck, any consistent play has put Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks in a really sticky situation heading forward with not much positives to throw out there right now.
Tennessee Volunteers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)
After writing a column titled “Put Up or Shut Up” for Tennessee two weeks ago, I am disappointed and a little surprised in what Tennessee has put out in the past two weeks. Having the youthful roster still doesn’t suffice an excuse of underachieving some lofty preseason expectations. Tennessee has blown three games when being up by at least 13 points, which has unfortunately set the tone for the season. A big win over Georgia this weekend could really turn things around.
Texas A&M Aggies (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #9)
Struggling on the defensive side of the ball since its inaugural year in the SEC, Texas A&M seems to finally have some identity on defense complementing its always high-scoring offense. Meshing these two together have given the Aggies a 5-0 record heading into Tuscaloosa next weekend off a bye.
Vanderbilt Commodores (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)
It’s a luxury if the football program is relevant in Nashville in any given season and just the norm when the team fails to reach bowl eligibility. This season hasn’t been a luxury, but it also hasn’t been a letdown either. Though to the naked eye the 2-3 record looks bad but holding their own versus conference foes Georgia and Ole Miss showing improvement slowly but surely.
Earlier this evening the University of Missouri suspended starting quarterback Maty Mauk for this week’s game against South Carolina. The team was not specific about the circumstances that lead to the suspension other than to say the suspension was for a “violation of team policies”. Back up offensive lineman Malik Cuellar was also suspended but the major news is Mauk.
Under Mauk, the Mizzou offense has been bad this season. After a solid game against Southeast Missouri to start the year, the Tigers offense has gone downhill. They put up only nine points against Connecticut two weeks ago before losing to Kentucky in their SEC opener last week. Mauk has picked a bad time to play the worst football of his career with a major prospect in true freshman Drew Lock waiting in the wings.
Lock has looked good while getting his feet wet in limited playing time this season. Considering he is only a true freshman, Lock has moved the ball well and stayed poise in the pocket. While he hasn’t been perfect, the game hasn’t looked too big or fast for him. Combine Lock’s good performances with how bad Mauk has looked this year and the screams for Lock to take over the starting job have gotten louder every week.
We don’t know what rule was broken by Mauk, but it could have ended Mauk’s run as the starting quarterback at Mizzou. I have to think if Lock plays decent and wins it would be hard for head coach Gary Pinkel to put Mauk back in the starter spot. If Lock plays well and the offense looks efficient on the way to an easy win, than there is no chance Mauk gets his job back. The only way Mauk gets his job back is if Lock looks over matched and the Mizzou offense continues its recent struggles.
One thing is for certain, Mauk’s suspension has led to the most anticipated starting debut by a Tiger since Dorial Green-Beckham. It will be a hot topic on all the local talk shows tomorrow and is sure to be a headline on ESPN College Gameday Saturday morning. Mauk could be standing on the sidelines in a t-shirt on Saturday while his era at Mizzou comes to an end and the Drew Lock era begins.
It only took five days, but our first weekend of College Football is in the books. We had a lot of chalk and some disappointment, but it was the “Wow!” moments that really jumped off the page. The bar was really set high for the individuals that the consensus expects to be in the running for that big heavy trophy, and for the schools interested in playing in that little tournament, well, they just had to win.
From the home of the Belk Bowl to the campus of the last program to slay the dragon that Urban Meyer built in Central Ohio, it was an extended weekend of debuts, vengeance, and perhaps an introduction to some new contenders. We’ll start in Blacksburg, where the first unanimous Preseason AP #1 team in the country took on Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies, seeking their pound of flesh for what took place in Columbus a year ago.
Ohio State 42 Virginia Tech 24
The story has been told, time and time again. Cardale Jones has never started a game in his own stadium for Ohio State, and on Monday night, he earned his first regular season victory, so it’s long past the time we stop referring to him as the Buckeye’s 3rd-string quarterback. In case you felt his previous three performances were some type of sorcery on the part of Meyer last December and January, the junior from Cleveland showed the magic is still there on Ohio State’s first possession, hitting Curtis Samuel on the money with a throw off of his back foot, good for a 24-yard touchdown. The next time the Buckeyes snapped the ball, Ezekiel Elliott went 80 yards to make it 14-0 in favor of the defending champs, perhaps making fans in Tuscaloosa feel better about things, but likely not.
It appeared the Buckeyes were going to roll, but misfortune, the type that goes beyond taking the field at Lane Stadium without Joey Bosa or Jalin Marshall on the field, struck, and the Hokies ripped off 17 unanswered, taking a 17-14 lead into the break. A missed Ohio State field goal gave the home team some momentum towards the end of the first quarter, but all of the credit in the world goes to Virginia Tech for designing a wheel route to full back Sam Rogers, who was all by himself on the left sideline. The big man had to hustle, but Eli Apple stood between him and the goal line and he shook the Buckeyes’ the third-year corner out of his shoes to cut the early advantage in half. Without the services of Marshall, Meyer had Elliott back returning punts, and call it inexperience or whatever, but the All-World running back struggled to field AJ Hughes second punt of the night, and four plays later, another nicely designed throwback to Ryan Malleck on third down gave the Hokies the lead.
Anyone remember Braxton Miller, the forgotten head on the three-headed monster of Ohio State’s open competition for the starting role last spring? They gave him a new number and a new position, and it only took him about a half of football to get his sea-legs beneath him. He did have a couple of rushing attempts and a nice diving 24-yard catch in the first half, which I think showed us he’s still a legitimate player, even when not behind center. On the third play of the second half, he took a pass from Jones and tip-toed by the Hokie defender, down the right sideline for 54 yards and the score. On the Bucks next offensive play from scrimmage, he gave the Scarlet and Gray their first Wow Moment of the season with a spin move that you can, yeah, only do on video games. From there, the rout was on.
Give Beamer and company some credit; they nearly made Mark May look smart. While the final score really was indicative of the game we watched, they did some really good things to take the straight-up running game away from Ohio State, despite big plays from Elliott and Miller, and they found enough vulnerabilities in the defense to put some points on the board and make this prime time affair interesting into the late night hours of Labor Day. The game really didn’t get out of hand until Brenden Motley had to spell starting quarterback Michael Brewer.
Unfortunately for Brewer, we live in a world where what you say with a certain expectation of privacy is subject to “going viral”. He was caught on camera, and yes, it’s likely he knew it was in his face, spouting off some one-liner about how it’s going to take a lot more than a fairly brutal hit he took on the Hokies last drive of the half to knock him out of the game. You can’t blame the kid; he was talking to his teammates in the locker room, more so than the national television audience through the lens of ESPN’s camera, but people are going to talk about karma. To that, I say “whatever”.
It’s widely believed that this is Ohio State’s last real test before Michigan State visits Columbus in November, and it’s hard to disagree. Up next, the Buckeyes get Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan at home, and then a relatively simple conference slate, though I’m not ready to overlook Minnesota’s visit to the ‘Shoe on November 7th. For the Hokies, don’t expect the season to instantly go down the toilet after this acceptable performance. Last year, East Carolina beat Virginia Tech on their home field a week after they stunned Ohio State. Don’t expect Furman to follow suit; in fact, I’d say you can expect the Hokies to get their own pound of flesh from ECU on the road in a couple of weeks, and for them to be competitive in the ACC.
Marshall 41 Purdue 31
It was tough sledding for Darrell Hazell and Purdue in the only game on the slate for this pre-NFL Sunday. If Hazell and his signal-caller Austin Appleby never see Tiquan Lang again, it will be too soon for the both of them. Though, I’m very open to the possibility that Appleby never saw Lang at all, yeilding two pick-sixes to the Thundering Herd’s junior safety, which were good for the first and last scores of the game.
On the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Lang stepped in front of the intended receiver, and went 30 yards untouched to give Marshall the early lead, but there was still a good 59 minutes and change of football to be played. Purdue was able to recover on a DJ Knox touchdown run, on his way too a 100-yard day on the ground, but the game went back and forth all afternoon. The visiting Boilermakers led for most of the first half, until Devon Johnson put Marshall back up 34-31 with a 6-yard score, but Appleby had one more chance. After timeouts by both teams, it appeared the Purdue junior had too much time to think about it once again. And once again, an ill-fated pass attempt fell into the hands of Lang, who had to work harder on his second return, cutting across the field for a 55-yard score to put it to bed.
You've had nine months to come up with a first play.
Given their early success in making the jump from Division I to Division I-AA with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss nearly twenty years ago, it’s difficult to believe Sunday’s win, in front of a home crowd of nearly 39,000 in Huntington, was the school’s first win over a Big Ten program, but the Boilermakers seem to be giving a few mid-Majors that milestone in recent years.
Alabama 35 Wisconsin 17
Hey Badger fans, I think Derrick Henry just scored again! Okay, maybe not, but the Alabama junior running back averaged 11.3 yards per carry, en route to three touchdowns on the ground at “The House That Jerry Built” in North Texas on Saturday. It probably would have been more, but the end zone kept stopping him. If there’s honestly a debate about the quarterback position at Alabama, and I don’t think there is, we gained no clarity about it on Saturday night. My gut tells me Nick Saban will let Jake Coker assume the role, unless his poor play forces his hand or Cooper Bateman takes things to a new level in the time he’s getting.
So, I know Gene Chizik was 5-19 at Iowa State before being awarded the Auburn job, where he landed the services of Cam Newton and won a title in his second season, so maybe I don’t read too much into Paul Chryst’s 19-19 mark at Pittsburgh. Seriously though, in Chryst’s debut with the Badgers, he wasn’t just behind the curve with the X’s and O’s, that Big Ten size and strength, which is supposed to be their finest asset in Madison, it’s not there. I’ve long thought that Barry Alvarez was the reason Gary Andersen chose a new gig in Corvalis over what he’s built in Madison, but he might have just seen the writing on the wall with what he wasn’t able to recruit. Sorry, but 16 yards on 8 carries for Corey Clement just isn’t getting it done; Melvin Gordon III isn’t walking back through that door and head coaches will dare Joel Stave to beat them all season.
Texas A&M 38 Arizona State 17
Is it possible to lose a game by more than just the numbers on the scoreboard? In being picked apart by Scottsdale, Arizona’s Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk, the very successful head coach of the Sun Devils, Todd Graham, was exposed for losses to the state of Texas in the recruiting game. Allen, the sophomore quarterback fighting off highly touted freshman Kyler Murray, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but Kirk was the star of the show. You get sick of hearing about video games when you’re discussing actual human athletes, but between his 79-yard punt return that put the Aggies up 14-0 early and his 66-yard touchdown catch and run, that status quo had cheat codes on their mind. I’d reference the Game Genie here, but it would be lost on everyone not born between 1975 and 1985.
After A&M’s season went downhill after their big win in the opener against South Carolina a year ago, Aggie fans can only be cautiously optimistic about Kevin Sumlin’s squad’s chances in the SEC. On the other hand, after watching how hapless the ASU offense was in Houston, there has to be some concern about senior quarterback Mike Berovici, a guy that wasn’t spectacular in his understudy role in 2014, despite the team’s success in games he started.
This neutral site game was the only game of any sort on the 2015 schedule that paired a Pac-12 school against a team from the Southeastern Conference. If you’re an SEC honk, you want the Sun Devils to dominate their conference. If you support a Pac-12 contender that isn’t Arizona State, you’re probably hoping your program isn’t basically a coin flip for that fourth playoff spot with a member of the SEC in December.
Northwestern 16 Stanford 6
We should probably acknowledge this battle of Academia that took place in Evanston, the most watchable matinee of the day on Saturday. Was this more about Kevin Hogan and Stanford being inept on offense, or does Pat Fitzgerald have a great defense at Northwestern? I fear David Shaw may be on the decline, the more we see time separate this program from the days of Jim Harbaugh.
One thing I’m hearing and I don’t agree with is that Stanford is suddenly too slow. Sure Hogan isn’t a runner on the level that Andrew Luck was, and Ty Montgomery is gone from the offense and special teams, but Michael Rector isn’t slow and we should see more of Christian McCaffrey in both the running and passing games. My guess is the offense works it out, but I don’t know if the glass is less than half-full when I look at that defense. The departing talent hasn’t been replaced, or the newbies haven’t been developed, but Northwestern owned the line of scrimmage when they had the ball. That’s going to be a problem for the Cardinal all year.
The victory in the trenches translated to a good game for running back Justin Jackson, who ran for 134 yards. However, it was quarterback Clayton Thorson’s 42 yard run, on what looked like a designed draw play, that represented the only touchdown of the day. The Wildcats will host an FCS team next week, and visit Duke in a few weeks, but expect them to finish non-conference play 4-0, setting up a big match up with Minnesota, on October 2nd at Ryan Field.
Ole Miss 76 Tennessee-Martin 3
Yuck, just yuck. Hugh Freeze, you’re in the SEC, and I know you want the home game at whatever price, but playing FCS foes is totally beneath you. Indiana got lucky doing this, but Wyoming, Washington State, and Kansas were not. Shame on everyone who partakes in this practice, even you Arizona State, where I’ll watch you rebound against cal-Poly, but still, Yuck!
Michigan State 37 Western Michigan 24
Kudos to the AD’s in East Lansing and Kalamazoo for making this happen, with the mid-major hosting the high major. PJ Fleck, your Western Michigan program isn’t quite there yet, but they didn’t look out of their element with a big boy from the Big Ten in town.
Michigan State might want to work on kick coverage this week, while the Broncos shouldn’t change a thing. Row your boat, fellas.
Charlotte 23 Georgia State 20
This game kicked off at 12:30 PM, during my work day on Friday. I caught the end on the ESPN app in my office. It was fourth College Football game I’d watched with some interest in a 24-hour span; yeah, I need help.
For the 49ers, it was their first game as an FBS program, and obviously also their first victory, but the Panthers of Georgia State made it interesting in the end.
TCU 23 Minnesota 17
I don’t know if I just don’t like the idea of B being a Heisman candidate, or if I have the bar set too high for him and, really, the rest of the Horned Frogs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think TCU is phenomenal when they have the ball, and that’s where the expectation comes from, but they just didn’t seem to have it, despite a nice victory over an underlooked Minnesota team on Thursday night at TCF Stadium.
He’s got weapons all around him, most notably Josh Doctson, and 246 passing on a day he rushed for 92 is far from underwhelming, but in real-time, I didn’t think he was anything special. That just tells me we haven’t seen anything yet from the offense. Based on what SMU was able to do to Baylor for 30 minutes on Friday, they might make for an interesting opponent for Gary Patterson’s defense, still a question mark for me after Minnesota had many opportunities Thursday.
Jerry Kill has a nice little team in Minnesota. They hung around the entire game, even if TCU did adjust better at the half. Rodney Smith seems like a good find; the freshman had 88 yards on 16 carries, but a lot of it that offensive line. Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner needs to be more efficient or throw the ball less, but I don’t know how much less he can throw it, considering he was sacked 20 times a year ago.
That Ref Deserves a Hug
Sometimes, I just can’t get over how the universe can even itself out. Two years ago, going left to right across the Big Red “N” at midfield in Lincoln, a backup quarterback heaves up a prayer. You know the rest, Jordan Westerkamp is on the receiving end for the touchdown and the win against Nebraska. Redemption is spelled R-O-N (Kellog).
Fast forward to Saturday, BYU down 28-27, 1 tick on the clock for Tanner Magnum, on in relief of the injured Taysom Hill. Mitch Matthews hauls it in for the win, but #11 Terenn Houk is the star of this Vine.
…and the rest.
These are all of the items that are too short for a capsule of their own.
Penn State, I’m glad you went to Philly to play Temple, but how did you lose that game?
Michigan, you can’t run the ball and don’t have a real answer at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh isn’t saving you right away.
Between the Cactus Bowl and Friday’s somewhat awkward return to Boise for Chris Petersen, I’ve now bailed on Washington at halftime in consecutive games, only to learn the second half was interesting, the next day. Show up in the first half, Huskies.
Nicely done, Josh Rosen. What a performance for the true freshman; he came with a lot of hype, but lived up to it. UCLA wasn’t playing an FCS school on Saturday, they were hosting a Power 5. It was Virginia, but still.
Northern Illinois, that’s two years in a row that you’ve dominated UNLV, but let them hang around. A MAC rival will take advantage at some point, just watch.
We’re so spoiled with digital options for viewing, that it was aggravating that CBS Sports didn’t have an option and I’m told didn’t regionally switch to the UNLV-NIU game in DeKalb, while overtime was played in Tulsa.
By the way, way to finish your win over Florida Atlantic, Tulsa.
So, Auburn is pretty good. Louisville might be too, but not based on their play Saturday. Either way, good to see Verne and Gary on CBS in Week 1. (They called Ohio State-Navy for CBS Sports Network to open the 2014 season)
Play-by-play announcers and color analysts, it’s okay to punt in College Football. Not every opponent is Oregon, and not every situation near or behind midfield equals four-down territory. Our game is about field position, and you win it by punting when appropriate.
Adults that paint their bodies and dedicate their lives to “me time” on camera for their favorite College Football team don’t deserve the air time.
I’d rather get neutral site games than no game at all, but there’s something about the games being played on campus. Steve Spurrier, that atmosphere sucked with all of the empty seats in Charlotte. Go to Chapel Hill or have Larry Fedora bring his team to Columbia, and stop trying to do too much.
Nice touchdown reception, Robert Nkemdiche. We’ll talk more about the two-way play of the Ole Miss pass-rusher, when they play an FBS foe.
Lastly, I think I underestimated how cool Scott Van Pelt’s midnight Sportscenter would be, because I was mostly upset about losing his radio show on my mid-day drives. I’d planned on getting straight to my writing room when the game ended, but I stuck around. It’s a shame the technical stuff had to be difficult in Virginia, I really would have loved to see him interview Braxton Miller.
Back on Sunday to discuss Week 2…61 hours until Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky kickoff.
The postseason can be filled with excitement, but also disappointment. Sure, a bowl game rewards the success of at least a subpar .500 college football team, but can also just be the entry way of a conversation starter of how your team underachieved based on the tier bowl they are participating in, therefore lacking the trait of enthusiasm for fans and sometimes even the players and staff.
The letdown of a teams’ success or lack of is not always represented in a way if a pitfall, but more disappointing as what the projections were in the preseason. For example, Auburn, South Carolina, and Florida all were supposed to be at least in some kind of consideration for the SEC Championship Game, but bumps in the road took place and not the usual high-caliber SEC bowl games are now the threes destination.
Auburn’s season stands out of the group with solid wins and solid outings against some of the high profile teams in college football. The disappointing aspect of Auburn’s season was scoring 30 to 35-plus points and totaling for over 400 yards or so offense, but then failing to finish the game coming up short in losses to Texas A&M and Alabama. The defense was miserable for a fan and staff to watch, but with the shooing of Ellis Johnson and the arrival of Will Muschamp, Auburn could be in good hands and shouldn’t see those 35-plus point outings as wastes any longer.
After a terrible 4-8 season in 2013, Florida was in a deep hole offensively to open up the new 2014 season. Kurt Roper was in line to sport his offense with dynamic athletes on offense and a highly-touted senior at quarterback. The defense was never the glaring issue, but the offense was still the pits, which later called for Muschamp’s job. A trip to Birmingham, Alabama for their 2014 regular season “success” should tell you enough of how Florida’s season went, but the future should be in good hands with Jim McElwain as the head man.
A consistent record of 11-2 had this South Carolina fan base buzzing with high expectations, especially in an eastern division with no clear cut winner (I mean come on, Mizzou won it again). The high praises of new starting quarterback Dyaln Thompson stampeded preseason magazines and gave enough comfort to the Carolina fan base to look elsewhere to find concerns regarding their team’s success entering the 2014 season. Thompson never hit that elite or even top tier caliber of SEC quarterbacks and preseason All-SEC running back Mike Davis didn’t set the woods on fire out of the gates either. The defense continued to struggle finishing near the bottom in every defensive statistics.
I finished the other two teams’ write-ups with positive outcomes to look for in the future, but I’m timid to make any predictions on where this Carolina program is headed. No, Steve Spurrier will never have the status quo of having an average team year in and year out, but the stunning 33-6 record over a three year period is totally in the rear view mirror.
The offseason has its ups and downs supporting more disappointing scenarios than positives due to failing to reach loftily expectations. The SEC has a few, but the nation as a whole is filled with sad faces including Nebraska, USC, Louisville, and other programs that were poised for big years, but failed to reach such high expectations.
Another college football season has lived up to the fun and crazy expectations highlighted with a pinch of criticism, a dash of chaos and a big bowl of excitement. However, these ingredients could either dissolve or overpower the dish in these remaining weeks of the regular season – starting in the SEC.
A little bit of chaos is usually not a bad thing in the conference and that is mostly expected with the talent and coaches this conference possesses, but I will be the first to admit that the overall expectation of the SEC faltered just a little bit in 2014 so far.
To go into detail, the East has been a disaster this season and the storm even trickled into out of conference play with Missouri’s loss to Indiana and Vanderbilt’s loss to Temple. Making the matters worse there hasn’t been much consistency in power with the media favorite South Carolina getting blown out at home by Texas A&M in the first week of the season, Missouri’s random loss to Indiana (many didn’t even know the two were playing until Mizzou lost), South Carolina’s expected “win the big ones lose the small ones” versus Georgia, and then Florida’s revolutionary (not really) win over Georgia with 418 rushing yards.
And yet we still have no idea who will be in Atlanta, but this weekend could clear the air for a better picture of who may reign “supreme”.
The West, on the other hand, followed the mold of recent years with highly competitive games with four to five contenders battling each weekend. One would think that breaking down the 2014 West division is less complicated and has a simpler method in configuring a winner, but weirdly enough there is still a chance for four teams to make a case and win the division.
This weekend is crucial for the SEC.
ESPN’s College Gameday is headed to Tuscaloosa for the marquee game of the week as the Bulldogs roll in to possibly blow their unblemished season or at least that is ALL I am hearing… Alabama’s season is on the line as well. An Alabama loss gives the Tide two losses and therefore playing for “just” state bragging rights on November 29th.
An Auburn-Georgia matchup has become more of a chippy rivalry as of late and has done away with the traditional friendly brother versus brother matchup with countless personal foul penalties, more fan disputes, and crazy and creative shenanigans. Why not add in that the loser is eliminated from SEC postseason play? What more emotions can come from that?
The crunch time moments are here and the special plays await us. Time to sit back and watch some fun SEC football games. Get ready.
The college football playoff picture is heating up, and every week it seems new teams are entering or re-entering the discussion. What teams will that be after this weekend? We’ve had some huge weekends this season so far with multiple huge matchups. This week is not one of them, with only two games between ranked teams. But if we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that sometimes the most exciting weekends in college football happen when we least expect it. Very few weeks have the polls remained stagnant because there is usually at least one upset every week. Who could that happen to this week? I rank this weekend’s games for Top 10 teams starting with the team most likely to be upset. 1. 4 Alabama @ Tennessee
Alabama is riding high after one of the most dominating in-conference matchups you’ll see in routing Texas A&M last week. But that is usually when teams should be the most worried. Nick Saban will not be able to use his team’s struggles as motivation as well as recent weeks. Alabama has struggled in its only two road games this year, losing at Ole Miss and beating Arkansas by only one point. Could the Crimson Tide also be looking ahead? After this week, 3 of their final 4 games are at LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Tennessee will need to find some offense to score the upset, but they almost won at Georgia, and hung around for a while versus Oklahoma and should do the same Saturday. 2. Texas Tech @ 10 TCU
Fortunately for TCU this game is at home, because there is some cause for concern. The Horned Frogs bounced back last week to beat Oklahoma State convincingly, but in games against Oklahoma and Baylor we have seen that they can get lit up through the air. What’s the one thing Texas Tech does more than anything else? Chuck it. They’re currently 10th in the nation in passing yards per game. Sure some of that is volume, but TCU could find itself in a shootout where one play going against you could make the difference. With games at West Virginia and home to Kansas State the following weeks, TCU can’t afford to let its guard down. 3. 3 Ole Miss at LSU
I think this game would’ve been more dangerous for Ole Miss had LSU not strung a couple of recent victories together. A struggling LSU team would’ve been easier to overlook for a Rebel team that is in unchartered territory success-wise. The Rebel defense has been the nation’s best and will serve them well here against an inexperienced LSU offense. But LSU is a tough place to play at night and this Ole Miss team could still be looking passed this game to a different Tiger opponent with a huge game against Auburn on deck. The Rebels’ offense is only 33rd and 84th in the country in passing and rushing yards respectively and if the offense bogs down, it could spell trouble in Death Valley. 4. 6 Oregon at California
The Ducks have appeared to right the ship since their home loss to Arizona a few weeks ago, and now look to be the Pac-12’s only dominant team. Can they stay focused knowing they only need to beat a few underwhelming opponents the rest of the year to have a decent shot at a playoff berth? Oregon has been prone to upsets in recent years and the Ducks have Stanford coming to town next week. This would be a bigger issue if Stanford was playing like the Top 10 team it has been the last few years and fortunately for the Ducks, they are playing a California team that has given up over 50 points to Colorado and Washington State already this year. 5. South Carolina at 5 Auburn
Auburn is coming off its first loss off the season but that came at the hands of the number one team in the country. They should be able to get back on track this week against a South Carolina team that has been a disaster, especially compared to pre-season expectations. The Tigers also get the Gamecocks at home, where they have been dominant this year. South Carolina is 91st in the nation in points allowed, not exactly a recipe for success when facing a dynamic offense like Auburn. 6. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky
It seems like Kentucky is getting some buzz recently. I might be wrong, but that’s what it feels like. I’m not sure if they are this week specifically but if they are, they shouldn’t. Kentucky’s best statements this year are beating South Carolina at home and losing in overtime to Florida. We’ve seen how those two teams have ended up. The Wildcats will be overmatched in this contest against a team with a good defense and a Heisman candidate at quarterback. 7. Michigan at 8 Michigan State
The Spartans have been rolling since their early season loss to Oregon and should do the same here. I understand it’s a rivalry game, but sometimes that doesn’t matter when one team is drastically better than the other. Michigan is obviously a train wreck this year and in their only two road games up to this point, they lost at Notre Dame 31-0 and lost at Rutgers. The Wolverines two other games against decent teams resulted in 16 point losses to Utah and Minnesota and those were at home. Michigan State should have no problems here.
Week six of the college football season provides the Missouri Tigers with a well timed week off. Through the first five weeks the Tigers sit at 4-1 overall and 1-0 in conference. The Tigers also have a number of injuries that will have time to heal going into their week seven battle with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Without a game of their own, I would like to look at the SEC EAST games that are being played this weekend. Some teams will hold their ground in the conference standings while I expect others to fall behind in the race to Atlanta. Florida (2-1, 1-1 SEC) at Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC)
This is the Dr. Emmett Brown game. Both Florida and Tennessee claim that they are back, but their claims may be hitched to Dr. Brown’s Delorian. As previously discussed, Jeff Driskel plans on emptying Neyland Stadium Saturday afternoon. Driskel has a short memory. If his memory was stronger he would realize that his Gators needed overtime to put away Kentucky. That game was played at home and I believe the Gator’s anemic offense translates better in Gainesville than it does on the road. Tennessee thinks they are back based on some strong recruiting classes. Rivals ratings look great on paper, but those stars have yet to translate into wins. They did play Oklahoma on the road and their defense played well, albeit in a losing effort.
My expectation is for Tennessee to come out on top. The Volunteer defense will prove to be to much for Florida to handle. This will drop Florida to 1-2 in conference play and the hot seat that Muschamp is sitting on will be turned up a notch or two. That could be enough to spiral their season out of control. Yes, the distraction card has been played. Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-3 SEC) at #13 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC)
What is there to say about this game? Vandy is Vandy and Georgia has Gurley. On a scale of 1-10, my interest meter is at a zero. Georgia wins this one in easy fashion. South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC) at Kentucky (3-1, 1-1 SEC)
This game is more interesting than it may appear. South Carolina is coming off of a stunning loss to Missouri. It appeared that the Gamecocks were in complete control of this game for three and a half quarters. They had done just enough against a stout Mizzou defensive line to have a 20-7 lead in the fourth quarter and were playing a Tiger offense that was riddled with injuries and in a complete state of confusion. Then Maty Mauk caught fire, the secondary made some timely plays and the Tigers escaped Columbia East with a 21-20 win.
Kentucky on the other hand is playing with house money. They sit at 1-1 in conference with a narrow loss to the Gators and a win over Vandy. Win this game and they begin to establish credibility and could be considered a darkhorse in the SEC East. Lose this game and it’s just a case of Kentucky being Kentucky.
What do I see happening? I see the Old Ball Coach rallying his troops and coming out of Lexington with the win. THE BIG PICTURE
My belief is that by Sunday morning, the SEC East will have Mizzou at 1-0, Georgia at 2-1, Tennessee at 1-1, South Carolina at 3-2, Florida at 1-2, Kentucky at 1-2 and Vandy at 0-4. What this crystal ball projection sets up are two HUGE weeks for the Tigers and the SEC East as a whole. Mizzou comes off of their bye week to play Georgia in Columbia and then goes on the road to face Florida. Win both of those games and the Tigers can begin thinking about Atlanta. Split those two games and the East gets tight at the top. Lose both and they still have a shot, but that shot is a long one.
If you are interested in how I see the next three weeks playing out for the Tigers, find me on Twitter @SMerenbloom and we can dig into it.
If the playoff is about having the four best teams, how many could come from one conference? Diehard SEC fans will tell you two, if not three teams from their conference should be in it. After all, it is the best conference and their Top 6 teams could win every other conference right? The SEC probably is the best conference, and there might’ve been some hope with the Big 10 and ACC struggles that a couple teams from the southeast could get enough support to land spots in the playoff. But after this last Saturday, they’re going to have a heck of a time accomplishing that.
With the Pac-12 and Big 12’s front-runners having the week off, and for all intents and purposes the Big 10’s with Michigan State playing Wyoming, much of the focus was on the SEC. While Saturday may have showed the strength of the conference as a whole, it also showed exactly why the SEC has no chance at getting multiple playoff teams this year. Auburn took care of business, but they don’t seem to be rolling on offense the way they were last year, and it remains to be seen if rotating quarterbacks will have a huge effect going forward. Texas A&M and Georgia both struggled against lower-tier schools from their divisions and had to survive the last few minutes to avoid upsets. Then there is South Carolina, who after a season saving win against Georgia followed up with a conference defeat of Vanderbilt, threw all that momentum away by losing at home to Missouri.
The SEC East’s only hope is Georgia, but with an upcoming stretch where they play at Missouri, at Arkansas, Florida, and Auburn in five a five week span they have a slim chance at finishing the year with only one loss. The SEC West is clearly stronger and at least has one complete team. Alabama has looked great up to this point and is the favorite so far to represent the SEC in the playoff. I think Auburn is the next best bet coming out of the West, but after that you have a group of teams who are all on the same level and will spend the rest of the year knocking each other off until they all wind up with at least two losses. The SEC’s best hope is the same situation as last year, with a one loss Alabama or Auburn where that loss came in a close game to the other. But with the strength of the rest of the division, it’s hard to see both teams navigating their schedules unscathed. Add in the unlikelihood of last year’s scenario occurring in back to back seasons and the SEC better just hope all of its teams don’t end up with two losses or more. With the ineptitude of the Big 10, Florida State’s struggles, and Notre Dame lurking, we may be headed for a playoff selection disaster, but it won’t include two SEC teams.
Top 25 (Last Week’s Rank in Parenthesis)
1. Alabama (1)
2. Oregon (2)
3. Michigan State (3)
4. Oklahoma (4)
5. Florida State (5)
6. Baylor (6)
7. Auburn (7)
8. Texas A&M (8)
9. Georgia (10)
10. Notre Dame (11)
11. USC (12)
12. Ole Miss (13)
13. Stanford (14)
14. Mississippi State (15)
15. UCLA (16)
16. LSU (17)
17. TCU (18)
18. Ohio State (19)
19. Missouri (UR)
20. South Carolina (9)
21. Nebraska (20)
22. East Carolina (21)
23. Clemson (22)
24. BYU (25)
25. Kansas State (UR)
Week four of the college football season displayed many eye-opening headlines along with some negative views toward certain players and teams, especially in the SEC. With upsets and predictable dominating outcomes many questions were answered, but many more were brought to the table. Many new questions involving the quarterbacks of usually top powers of the SEC.
Florida went into Tuscaloosa last weekend and came home with nothing to show for with a terrible offensive performance and a defense that was on its toes all game. The offense was much less than poor by defining the term inept, which should never be a term that is associated with the Gators based on the heavily talented recruiting grounds.
Jeff Driskel has every so slightly improved since his time as a freshman to his now senior campaign. Driskel has fought off injuries in the past and has yet to show any glimpses of future star power or even just solid play. Driskel went 9-28 with a meek 93 yards passing with two interceptions and a touchdown. Driskel isn’t the only issue when talking about Florida’s offense, but being the head of the unit he has not shown any positives since losing to Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville in the Sugar Bowl in the 2012 season.
Former All-American running back Emmitt Smith spoke out to head coach Will Muschamp saying he does not believe Driskel should be playing and that he should be sitting the bench. He later apologized. Even the humble Smith can’t hold it in that his team is in danger of another losing season. When do we just look to the future and see a new quarterback in blue and orange giving the fans, hopefully, something to look forward to? Or is Muschamp’s job in too much jeopardy to even test the waters?
Quarterback concerns also float around in Baton Rouge where sophomore Anthony Jennings can’t yet seem to grasp the quarterback position. Jennings’ quarterback rating led the league in the first couple of week’s, but he is now trying to fend for his job. LSU has adapted to underwhelming quarterback performances in the past seasons, so we may see the “status quo” continue here.
But wait! A true freshman quarterback in Brandon Harris almost led the Tigers to an unbelievable (well, not really; it’s LSU) game winning drive by just coming short in the rally with a last Hail Mary play only to be intercepted in the endzone. Harris showed the poise of a senior in the rally giving the LSU coaching staff something to really consider when heading to Auburn in two weeks.
It has been another week in the books with more questions to be answered. Let’s see if we actually get the answers we are looking for, but remember it’s college football so that means we won’t.
Other Quarterback Comments Throughout the League: Alabama: If you think there is still competition here it’s time to retire from being the starting armchair quarterback. Arkansas: Vast improvements from Brandon Allen backed with a steady run game. Auburn: Nick Marshall is slowly getting back into form coming up big when it matters. Georgia: Hutson Mason is good at handing the ball off. Kentucky: I believe Kentucky has found their quarterback of the future in Patrick Towles. He is still a work in progress though, but has big talent. Mississippi State: Dak Prescott just put himself into the Heisman race after a big performance in Baton Rouge. Missouri: Maty Mauk is probably the best pure passing quarterback in the league. Ole Miss: Only time-and trash talk-can determine where Bo Wallace will be in a few weeks. South Carolina: This “terrible” team has seen much improvement of Dylan Thompson from week one to week four. Tennessee: Is he elite? No. Can he get the job done? Big game this weekend will determine that. Texas A&M: Kenny “Trill” is pushing aside Johnny Manziel’s name in College Station. Seriously though, I haven’t heard Johnny Football’s name in almost 12 hours now! Vanderbilt: Does it really matter what I say here?
As the first third of the college football season comes to a close, most of the focus has been on which teams are in the best position to make the playoff. And rightfully so, as it is the most exciting thing about this young season. But in every other year, more talk would have focused on which players are off to great starts and can use their early season momentum into a Heisman campaign. The Heisman talk has taken somewhat of a backseat to the playoff discussion. This year, like all others, we are already seeing a few players separate themselves from the rest of the pack as favorites to be invited to the ceremony.
I won’t spend much time on the current favorites since they’re pretty obvious and universal at this point. Marcus Mariota was on his way to a possible trophy last year before a mid-season injury, and has picked up right where he left off. Combined with the potential for an undefeated season, he is the clear front runner having accounted for 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions so far this year. In either order close behind him are Todd Gurley and Amari Cooper. Gurley is averaging on astonishing 9.8 ypc up to this point and has dominated in Georgia’s two biggest games of the year, versus Clemson and South Carolina. Meanwhile Amari Cooper is merely leading the nation in receptions and receiving yards for a Top 5 Alabama team. Both players will put up ridiculous stats this year, but it will still be difficult for them to bring home the award since neither are a quarterback.
Currently rounding out my Top 5 are Dak Prescott and Ameer Abdullah. I’m not sure why Prescott isn’t getting more love. He has as impressive of stats as the other “non-Top 3” Top Heisman contenders on ESPN’s Heisman Watch and led his team to the best win out of those players (with the possible exception of Kenny Hill vs. South Carolina). He’s only completing 60% of his passes, but has thrown for 11 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions and has added 378 yards and 3 scores on the ground. He’ll get more chances to prove himself in the next couple weeks with visits from Texas A&M and Auburn. If he plays well, Prescott will remain in the Heisman conversation for most of the year as long as Mississippi State is able to go 1-1 in those games. Abdullah hasn’t led Nebraska to a huge win yet, but he has been racking up the rushing yards and had his best game in his team’s biggest game of the season so far against Miami (Fl.) last week. He also already has his Heisman moment with his incredible touchdown reception to save the day against McNeese St.
There are some fairly common other players being mentioned just on the fringe of the Heisman discussion, but I’m going to skip past them and look at some long-shots. There are a few players who have played really well, and even though most people know who they are, they haven’t really been mentioned in Heisman talks for one reason or another. These are my Top 5 sleeper picks to make it to the Heisman ceremony.
1. Blake Sims – QB Alabama
The first few weeks made us wonder if the quarterback position would hold Alabama back from being a true national title contender. This was understandable considering the relative lack of passing game the Tide showed in the first few weeks. But Blake Sims was unleashed last week against Florida, and proved he is capable of making big plays in the passing game. Because of the conservative nature of the offense the first few games, the counting stats aren’t there yet for Sims. But he’s completing just fewer than 70% of his passes and last week showed he can rack up the yards and touchdowns if OC Lane Kiffin continues to air it out. He’ll need to finish with at least 35 touchdowns, but as the QB for one of the nation’s top teams, he has the stage and talent around him to make it happen.
2. DJ Foster – RB Arizona State
DJ Foster is an explosive RB in the Reggie Bush mold. The Sun Devils have only played three games so far, but Foster has already rang up 649 yards from scrimmage to go with 6 touchdowns, all while averaging 9.4 ypc. Though they haven’t played much quality opposition, Foster’s worst game of the year so far is 173 yards and 3 touchdowns. The opposition will get tougher now that Pac-12 play is starting, and Foster gets the chance to make a huge statement tonight. With starting quarterback Taylor Kelly out due to injury, if Foster has a huge game and leads Arizona State to an upset win at home over UCLA, Foster will start to gain momentum in the Heisman race.
3. James Conner – RB Pittsburgh
Conner, the 250 pound running back for the Pittsburgh Panthers, is tallying impressive rushing totals. He has 699 yards and 9 touchdowns already on 6.4 ypc. He also doesn’t have a game with less than 5.3 ypc. The competition may have not been the greatest, but that’s something that isn’t going to change. The Panthers play a weak schedule even by ACC standards, avoiding Florida State and Clemson. Last year Andre Williams finished 4th in the Heisman voting for a 7-5 Boston College team simply because his stats were so impressive. With Pittsburgh’s dedication to the run game (or unwillingness to risk throwing), I see no reason Conner doesn’t have a good chance at putting up a stat line that gets him close to New York.
4. Shane Carden – QB East Carolina
Carden’s candidacy is based both on putting up stats and quality wins. Playing in the American Conference he will certainly not have the big stage other contenders do so he will have to total astonishing stats. That is something he is on pace to do, currently totaling 1,469 yards through the air with 11 passing touchdowns to go along with 3 on the ground. He led East Carolina to a close defeat at South Carolina and followed that up by toasting Virginia Tech and North Carolina to the tune of 865 yards with 10 touchdowns and only 1 interception in the next two games. While he doesn’t have any marquee games left, if he could light up those ACC schools just imagine what he’ll do in American Conference play. They’ll have to win out and go 11-1, but a 4,500 yard season with 40+ touchdowns isn’t out of the question; those are stats that would keep him in the discussion.
5. Dylan Thompson – QB South Carolina
Dylan Thompson is another case where his team will need to win out for him to have a chance. But if the Gamecocks can rattle off 12 straight wins after an opening loss and win the SEC, Thompson is the quarterback for what would be a Top 3 team. He has completed 66.7% of his passes since the opener and even in that opening game loss he threw 4 touchdowns. In South Carolina’s last two games, which came against SEC opponents, Thompson threw 8 touchdowns and only 1 interception. A lot would need to go right, but if Thompson can keep up that kind of efficiency throughout conference play, seeing him finish in the Top 5 wouldn’t be all that far-fetched.
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