SEC questions and answers

SEC questions and answers

October 16th, 2013 by Jay Greeson in Sports - College

SEC Southeastern Conference

SEC Southeastern Conference

We're at the midway point of the college football season. (Side questions: How does seven weeks in the summer feel like seven months and seven weeks of college football feel like seven minutes? How is Rhode Island an island? Discuss.)

With that out of the way, let's get to the SEC power rankings with a question and answer about each team's first half of the season.

1. Alabama (6-0 overall, 3-0 SEC)

Could the first half of the season gone any better on the field and any worse off it for Nick Saban? Barring a significant injury, no. Saban's team has improved week to week, and the microscope that accompanies the lofty perch and the even loftier expectations in Tuscaloosa have allowed critics to bemoan the play of the Tide's offensive line or secondary or receivers. Yet, masked in the sweat of perfection's pursuit and the effusive praise for Oregon's gaudy numbers, Alabama is crushing folks. Off the field, the river of distractions from the big (former Tide tackle D.J. Fluker allegedly accepting money from agents and HaHa Clinton-Dix getting a loan from an Alabama staffer) to the minute (Texas contacting Saban last January) have been consistent enough that the coach has not had to fake a news-conference tirade.

Saturday: vs. Arkansas, 7 (ESPN)

2. LSU (6-1, 3-1)

Are the Tigers still in the national-title picture? You bet your commemorative Les Miles thesaurus they are. LSU has the monster trip to Alabama on Nov. 9 ahead, and the Tigers have a bye before that game and immediately after it. If they can win in Tuscaloosa to run the table and finish with one loss -- and consider the way the Tigers' young defense is maturing and the way the awesome receivers are excelling -- the only way they are kept from the title game is if Oregon (or UCLA) and the winner of Saturday's Florida State/Clemson game (or an unbeaten Miami as the ACC champ) remain perfect. No way an unbeaten Louisville or even Ohio State will fare better in the computers' eyes than a potential SEC champion LSU team with a three-point loss to at a then-healthy Georgia. No way.

Saturday: at Ole Miss, 7 (ESPN2)

3. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1)

Are the Aggies still in the national-title picture? Don't go wagering your signed Johnny Football football on that one. In addition to winning out, Texas A&M would have to beat LSU next week, have LSU beat Alabama and hope to jump the Tide and the Tigers in the computer polls to win the SEC West. Otherwise, there's no way a non-SEC champ will get a BCS title game invitation. Bonus question: Never mind all the offseason background noise. Is there a more exciting player in college football than Johnny Manziel? Not since Cam Newton has one player been appointment TV like Johnny Football.

Saturday: vs. Auburn, 3:30 (CBS)

4. South Carolina (5-1, 3-1)

Is there a tougher team to gauge than these Gamecocks? Not really. Not when you consider that South Carolina held off Kentucky by seven at home and then, after a week of national drama about Jadeveon Clowney's chest injury -- seriously, that may be the most mysterious rib question since the McRib was shaped to look like the bones are still in the sandwich (Who thought that was a good idea?) -- the Fighting Spurriers go to Arkansas and wreak havoc. Connor Shaw may leave the SEC as the most under-appreciated quarterback since David Greene. Shaw is 22-4 as a starter.

Saturday: at Tennessee, noon (ESPN)

5. Missouri (6-0, 2-0)

Is there a bigger surprise in the SEC than these Tigers? No and No way. Gary Pinkel entered the season as the coach on the hottest seat; now the Tigers have passed last year's win total and are bowl-eligible by midseason. But the goals have drastically changed, and the Tigers can take a huge step toward becoming the team to beat in the East against Florida on Saturday. Wow. Granted, the Tigers will have to do it without starting quarterback James Franklin, who may have been the most valuable player in the SEC's first half not named Johnny Manziel. He separated his shoulder against Georgia.

Saturday: vs. Florida, 12:21 (WDSI)

6. Georgia (4-2, 3-1)

On the subject of injuries, will this be known as the season that could have been in Athens? It certainly looks that way. Season-ending injuries to three of your top four playmakers can do that. Still, it's hard to blame much of this on the Georgia offense since the defense has struggled so mightily, that the full complement of weapons was needed to win shootouts. In five games against BCS conference opponents, Georgia has allowed 38, 30, 41, 31 and 41 points. That's roughly 36 points per game. Ouch-standing.

Saturday: at Vanderbilt, noon (CBS)

7. Florida (4-2, 3-1)

On the subject of injuries, part III, what do Gators fans say about Georgia losing some playmakers and Missouri losing its starting QB? Florida fans collectively say, "Cry us a river." The Gators have lost the league's top defensive tackle (Dominique Easley), their leading rusher (Matt Jones), their starting quarterback (Jeff Driskel) and a starting tackle (Chaz Green) in addition to their best kick returner and a second-string linebacker. Still, the Gators are battling with the nation's best secondary, which includes the country's best cover guy -- and a first-team all-name selection -- in Loucheiz Purifoy and the nation's best freshman defensive back: Vernon Hargreaves III.

Saturday: at Missouri, 12:21 (WDSI)

8. Auburn (5-1, 2-1)

How good are the Tigers? Better than last year for sure, but we'll learn a great deal more Saturday when Auburn takes its show on the road to College Station, Texas. Each of Auburn's five wins has come at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and its two SEC wins make the Tigers Mississippi state champions. Still, the offense has found options at running back -- a single-season, school-record four players have rushed for more than 100 yards in a game -- and Gus Malzahn has put them in position to succeed. Plus, the Tigers survived quarterback Nick Marshall's early-season nerves and recent knee ailment. We may not know how good Auburn is yet, but if the Tigers continue to get improved play at quarterback, they may be better than we think.

Saturday: at Texas A&M, 3:30 (CBS)

9. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3)

What do we make of these Rebels? That they are better than they were. That they are young and adding pieces. That Hugh Freeze is a fiery guy who looks the part of an SEC coach. We also know that the Rebels are two plays -- someone stopping Johnny Football last Saturday night and an awesome pick-six by Auburn's Robenson Therezie the previous week -- from likely being 5-1. Of course, if the Rebels were 5-1, Freeze would be among the leading contenders for every big-boy job in the country. Some people would call that irony. Some would say it's a wrinkle. Hmmmmmmm.

Saturday: vs. LSU, 7 (ESPN2)

10. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2)

Which Tennessee team should we expect in the second half? The Vols who needed a last-minute Brian Randolph pickoff in the end zone to escape South Alabama or the one who very well could have beaten Georgia? That's the big question for Butch Jones in his first year in Knoxville, and to tell the truth, we're not sure he knows which version he's going to get every time, either.

Saturday: vs. South Carolina, noon (ESPN)

11. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3)

Can Alex Collins play quarterback? Wow, the Arkansas quarterback situation is very familiar to, say, Auburn in 2012. The Razorbacks completed 4 of 13 passes in the 52-7 beatdown Saturday against South Carolina. Heck, Arkansas native Bill Clinton completed more passes than that during an average political fundraiser. Now the single-wing Hogs face an Alabama defense that has allowed a total of 26 points to foes who do not have a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.

Saturday: at Alabama, 7 (ESPN)

12. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3)

Is Saturday the Commodores' last swing at real bowl hopes? No, Vandy still has a foreseeable bowl path, but with six games left -- and trips to College Station and Gainesville in the next two weeks -- every step to six is big for every SEC program below the upper echelon.

Saturday: vs. Georgia, noon (CBS)

13. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2)

Is Dan Mullen on the hot seat? We say yes. First, from the files of not every 3-3 team is created equally, the Bulldogs' archrivals in Oxford also are 3-3, but the Rebels could very well enter the Egg Bowl 7-4. Mullen's Bulldogs are 3-3 with trips to South Carolina and Texas A&M and a visit from Alabama before the attention turns to the Rebels. Secondly, Mullen was noticeably irate at halftime during MSU's 21-20 escape against Bowling Green. Maybe that was a guy who is intense; maybe it was a guy starting to feel the pressure and desperation.

Saturday: Off

14. Kentucky (1-5, 0-3)

What was the first-half highlight for the Wildcats? We'll give this one a multiple choice: A) That the Wildcats found a young running back with promise in Jojo Kemp ("Tell 'em about it Jojo"); B) That the Wildcats exposed Louisville as the house of Cards that they are; C) That basketball practice has started and the winter Wildcats are so talented that as many as 12 NBA scouts attended a recent workout; D) All of the above. The answer is D, of course.

Saturday: Off