Perhaps this is just where we are for a while in Southeastern Conference football.
For those who bash the SEC, claiming it's Alabama and Georgia and everybody else, this past Saturday was just for you. Hyped showdowns between No. 1 Alabama and No. 12 Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa and No. 2 Georgia and No. 8 Arkansas in Athens were complete pulverizations, with the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs racing out to a combined halftime lead of 52-0.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin told the CBS audience to "get your popcorn ready" moments before his team's kickoff, but it was instant popcorn for an instant rout.
"I don't want to simplify this, but they just whipped us physically," Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said after enduring a 37-0 blanking. "We couldn't block them."
Said Kiffin after losing the ball on downs twice in Rebels territory during a 42-21 loss: "You can punt it away. It just takes longer for them to score."
Alabama and Georgia were overwhelming favorites to win their divisions before the season and are continuing on toward their inevitable meeting in the SEC championship game in December and a potential second encounter in the College Football Playoff. The fact that others in the league can't keep up has resulted in once promising pairings — most notably Alabama at Texas A&M this weekend and Georgia versus Florida on Oct. 30 — diminishing in terms of national appeal.
Yet below Alabama and Georgia is also where all the drama resides, a world in which three hours can alter a program's perception for an entire week, when it changes again.
Need examples? Take the four SEC head-to-head matchups Saturday that did not involve Alabama or Georgia.
In Auburn's 24-19 win over LSU that ended Auburn's 10-game losing streak in Baton Rouge, junior quarterback Bo Nix rose out of the grave to tally 329 total yards — 255 passing and 74 rushing — and account for two touchdowns to give Bryan Harsin a signature victory in his fifth game as an SEC coach.
"It really came down to Bo," Harsin said. "Bo scrambled and guys got open, and we were able to finish. The ideas behind those play calls were good, but at the end of the day, players made plays, and that's the bottom line."
Nix now has a home triumph over Alabama, a road win over LSU, a neutral-site victory over Oregon and a benching against Georgia State in his never dull career.
The flip side is that LSU is 8-7 since winning the 2019 national championship and 6-7 against Power Five opposition. When asked if he was concerned about the trajectory of his program, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said: "I don't look at it like that. I look at it one day at a time and getting better one day at a time."
In Mississippi State's 26-22 surprising win at Texas A&M, the Bulldogs rebounded from losses to Memphis and LSU to take down the No. 15 Aggies. Second-year Bulldogs coach Mike Leach entered the weekend ranked No. 3 on the Coaches Hot Seat website behind Nebraska's Scott Frost and Florida State's Mike Norvell — hey, all three won.
"I knew it would be a tough game, and I knew it would be a hot game," Leach said. "It always is here. I get a kick out of some places in the traditional SEC that think they're hot. Texas A&M is real hot."
The flip side is that Texas A&M revealed last month that it would be paying Jimbo Fisher $9 million annually through 2031. I don't think consecutive losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State were exactly what Aggies brass had in mind at the time of that announcement.
In Kentucky's 20-13 upset of No. 10 Florida, Kroger Field suddenly became a treacherous place to play, as the Gators committed eight false-start penalties, including five on third down and one on fourth down. At 5-0, the Wildcats are the SEC's only undefeated team not guided by Nick Saban or Kirby Smart.
"It was nice to deliver for the fans," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "We want to play a lot of big games. I'm very excited and I'm very proud, but we've got to go back and punch the clock."
The flip side is that Florida's Dan Mullen is now 2-2 against the Wildcats after the Gators won 31 consecutive series meetings from 1987 to 2017.
And in Tennessee's 62-24 thrashing of Missouri in Columbia, first-year Volunteers coach Josh Heupel showed what his quick-tempo offense can do at the expense of Mizzou counterpart Eli Drinkwitz. The Tigers rank last nationally against the run, yielding 307 yards per game, and Drinkwitz fired defensive line coach Jethro Franklin on Sunday.
Hendon Hooker seems to be working out quite nicely as Tennessee's quarterback.
The graduate transfer from Virginia Tech ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency, having completed 61 of 89 passes (68.5%) for 838 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception. In Saturday's rout, the 6-foot-4, 218-pounder was 15-of-19 for 225 yards and three touchdowns through the air and rushed 15 times for 80 yards and a score.
"He seems very comfortable," Vols junior safety Jaylen McCollough said. "He plays hard, and he practices hard throughout the week. He's just playing some good ball right now."
Said Heupel: "He was accurate and decisive all day long. He used his feet opportunistically and was a huge part in us getting going early in the football game."
Hooker became the starter after an injury to Joe Milton in the Pittsburgh game. When asked Saturday if he felt like "the guy" moving forward at the position, Hooker said: "I'm just here to help my team win ballgames, however that may be. At the end of the day, we're just keeping our heads down and working."
Georgia's Smart was upset early in his Zoom call Saturday when most of the questions regarded quarterback JT Daniels sitting out due to a lat injury. Smart wanted the focus to be on those who did play and the quality atmosphere for the noon kickoff.
"I'm not losing sleep over (the injury) because it's beyond our control," Smart said. "Stetson Bennett is a really good quarterback. I keep saying that, and people don't believe us, but he's a good quarterback."
Vanderbilt's walk-off field goal by Joseph Bulovas in Saturday night's 30-28 topping of UConn was the first for the program since a 1996 win over Duke.