A week full of conference matchups affirmed many things we already suspected. A Georgia-Alabama matchup in Atlanta this December appears inevitable, Brett Bielema’s seat continues to approach cooking temperature, and South Carolina continues to be a very unpredictable team.
Vanderbilt is coming off an embarrassing home loss, but the remainder of the season features the bottom half of the SEC East and a winnable Western Kentucky game. A bowl berth is certainly a possibility for the Commodores, but their mental resilience will have to get them there.
1 – Alabama
Alabama met its fiercest competition so far this year, and we finally got a glimpse of this team under pressure. There’s no question that Texas A&M has a lethal offense, with playmakers in Christian Kirk and Trayveon Williams and a veteran quarterback under center. However, Alabama’s defense only let up one touchdown until the end of the fourth quarter (once the game had been decided), caused three turnovers, and walked out of the biggest stadium still undefeated. The Tide yet again looks to be the best team in the country – just don’t tell Nick Saban.
2 – Georgia
This Georgia team looks and feels different under Kirby Smart than it did under Mark Richt. Defensive efficiency, running game, and most importantly discipline have improved in Smart’s second year, giving Georgia its first 6-0 start since 2005. The run game put up a whopping 423 yards behind the lethal duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Georgia has outscored SEC opponents by 100 points this semester, and there’s no team as polished as this one in the East. However, to beat Alabama, this mainly one-dimensional Georgia offense will need to have a showing from freshman Jake Fromm. His inexperience might hurt him down the road, but higher usage for the remainder of the season will certainly increase his confidence and knowledge.
3 – Auburn
Kerryon Johnson continues to improve each week, and he compliments Jared Stidham’s aerial attack well. The pair combined for 439 yards and 5 TD against the newly named “Landsharks,” and won the time of possession battle. While the defense allowed more 400 yards of offense, Auburn still looks like the third best team in the conference. The defense needs to play like they did against Clemson to have a shot at Alabama in rivalry weekend, but the return of Kamryn Pettway will certainly help their already potent ground attack.
4 – Texas A&M
Coming into this season, Kevin Sumlin had been under fire about whether or not he could continue to lead this program, and after a first week collapse to UCLA, that fire grew white hot. However, The Aggies have since settled down and played the Texas A&M brand of football. High flying offense and last-minute shootouts, like the dramatic overtime win over Arkansas, are part of this team’s identity. A&M came into this week’s matchup against top-ranked Alabama as a 26.5-point underdog, and no doubt used that as fuel. While they didn’t play their best game of the season and the score wasn’t too close, the Aggies caused Alabama’s first turnover since November of 2016, and performed much better than any other SEC opponent has this season. This team has a lot of confidence and looks poised to come out near the top of the West.
5 – Mississippi State
All eyes were on the Bulldogs after a signature win over LSU, but Mississippi State bought into the hype, and have since been slaughtered in back to back weeks by Auburn and Georgia (see why Nick Saban calls media hype “rat poison”?). The Bulldogs had a bye week to regroup and prepare for BYU and Kentucky. Nick Fitzgerald needs to regain his composure and go back to the fundamentals. He doesn’t have a great arsenal of weapons to throw to, but has been able to use his feet to get out of sticky situations.
6 – LSU
A huge, yet somewhat lucky win over Florida this weekend has quelled calls for Ed Orgeron’s firing, but luck doesn’t get you far in this league. Danny Etling again played mediocre ball this week, but Florida’s pedestrian offense managed just too little to top the Tigers at home. Darrius Guice had a poor performance by his standards, and will have to step it up to compete with Auburns ground attack next weekend. The defense continues to play well, but has produced few takeaways this season.
7 – Florida
After a string of close wins, Florida’s luck turned on them this weekend, in the form of a missed PAT costing them an overtime opportunity. The Gators failed to score in fourth quarter, and starting quarterback Feilipe Franks posted a QBR of just 33.1. Not since the Tim Tebow era has Florida had a championship-caliber quarterback, and for fans in Gainesville, it has to sting to see Will Grier continue to play spectacularly at his new home in West Virginia.
8 – South Carolina
The Gamecocks have a poor offensive line, and it has held Jake Bentley back all season. This past week however, he managed 16 completions and three touchdown passes in a key win over Arkansas. Will Muschamp’s defense looked spectacular last week, with three defensive touchdowns of their own. With a win over Tennessee next week, South Carolina could warrant conversation atop the SEC East with the likes of Florida and Georgia.
9 – Kentucky
Kentucky is one Hail Mary away from being undefeated this season, and Mark Stoops’s bunch has a knack for winning close games. The Wildcats have a very underrated quarterback in Stephen Johnson, who has 1200 passing yards and a rating of 147.5 this season. On the flip side, this defense is very poor. Opponents average more than 350 yards per game, putting immense pressure on the offense in close games. The defense will have to need to find an answer to Nick Fitzgerald’s arm and leg combo that tore apart LSU earlier this season. While Kentucky has had a very generous schedule thus far, the final half of the season will really test them, with conference matchups and a date with the Louisville Cardinals to cap it off. If Kentucky wants to rival Georgia for the East title, the defense will have to step up and give Stephen Johnson some support.
10 – Vanderbilt
3-0 seems so long ago.
Ralph Webb only has 245 yards so far, and is averaging a feeble 2.8 yards per attempt. Vanderbilt has given up an average of 47 points in SEC play, and the offense has sputtered for entire quarters. The offense has never been great under Derek Mason, but allowing 38 points to an anemic Florida attack is deeply concerning. A week at Ole Miss should present an opportunity to right the ship and get back above .500. This seems like a must-win in order to gain momentum heading into the rest of the SEC East games this year. However, if after a 3-0 start, Vanderbilt fails to make a bowl game, it might be time for this team to look in the mirror and figure some things out.
11 – Arkansas
How long is Arkansas going to hang around with Brett Bielema? Another SEC blowout loss has left Arkansas in a familiar spot, looking at a three or four-win season and last place in the West. He’s 10-24 so far in SEC play, with little improvement in year to year performance. The defense is porous, the offense scored as many touchdowns as it gave up, and Austin Allen went down with an injury. Bielema’s buyout might happen sooner than people expect, because this program is going nowhere under him. After Louisville’s recent charges and stint in the news, do you smell an Arkansas-Bobby Petrino reunion?
12 – Tennessee
Tennessee had a week to sit back and evaluate its team. Something needs to change before upstart South Carolina comes to town, as a home blowout to Georgia and a last second loss to the Gators show that what Butch Jones is running in Tennessee isn’t working. Even former starting quarterback Quentin Dormady is bailing, as he announced his intention to transfer this past week. Tennessee can’t commit to a single running back, and freshman QB Jarrett Guarantano looks like the last gasp of hope for Butch Jones and the Volunteers.
13 – Ole Miss
This is a team in disarray. The defense has given up over 40 points in four of its five games, and the Landsharks don’t have a Power Five win yet this season. A big home win against yearly East foe Vanderbilt presents an opportunity to knock that achievement down. Shea Patterson continues to play well, and a Vanderbilt defense that has struggled in SEC play presents a perfect opportunity to get that first conference win. The struggling run defense could open up opportunities for a varied attack, so expect a heavy dose of play action in this one.
14 – Missouri
The saddest thing about Missouri’s six-point loss to Kentucky is that it was probably the best game Missouri has played this year relative to the quality of the competition. Drew Lock and Barry Odom’s offense can’t consistently score, and his completion percentage is dangerously close to dipping below 50%. Missouri is the worst team in the SEC, and is the most likely to go winless in conference play this year. Expect a massacre in Athens this weekend at the hands of the surging Bulldogs.