Here are five “SEC Revelations” from the Week 12 slate of action, a jam-packed countdown which couldn’t find adequate space to address Alabama’s tin-horn-free rout of Charleston Southern, UGA’s overtime squeaker against Georgia Southern, Vanderbilt’s anemic offensive showing against Texas A&M (148 total yards) or Jeremy Johnson’s success rate as Auburn’s quarterback … when he’s not obligated to gaze at the Tigers coaches after shaky plays:
1. The Brandon Allen-Dak Prescott battle could go down as the SEC’s greatest single-game quarterbacking duel
Two immediate thoughts spring to mind when learning of a final score reading, 51-50:
a) Van Halen’s iconic “5150” album from 1986 — featuring songs like “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Dreams,” “Love Comes Walking In” — ushering in the Sammy Hagar era as lead singer.
b) The Arkansas-Mississippi State game must have gone into double or triple overtime.
But that wasn’t the case on Saturday, with the Razorbacks’ Allen (406 yards passing, seven TDs) and Bulldogs’ Prescott (508 yards passing, seven total TDs) shoehorning every bit of their 900-plus yards of total offense and 14 touchdowns into a 60-minute window.
(By comparison, the highest-scoring, non-overtime game in SEC history — Auburn 65, Arkansas 43 in 2010 — included only nine total quarterbacking touchdowns from Cam Newton, Tyler Wilson and Ryan Mallett.)
Of equal importance, Saturday’s absurd compilation of stats didn’t occur during garbage time. It was a pure and classic clash of strength-on-strength, blow-for-blow or even tit-for-tat.
Oh, and very little defense.
Which raises the questions: Does Mississippi State have a schizophrenic offense — scoring just six points against Alabama and then erupting for 51 points seven days later? Or is Arkansas the better choice for exhibiting multiple personalities, stifling LSU on the road last week and then surrendering 20 fourth-quarter points to Mississippi State?
Of course, we’d have a different narrative about Arkansas if the 29-yard attempt from Hogs kicker Cole Hedlund hadn’t been blocked late in the fourth quarter, essentially clinching Mississippi State’s victory. In that hypothetical vain, the Razorbacks would also be basking in a bend-but-don’t-break aura of short-term invincibility, riding five straight wins.
Instead, the hard-to-figure Hogs might be headed for the Texas Bowl or Birmingham Bowl. That’s quite a drop from last week’s talk of a premium bowl bid.
As for Allen, he established the dual feat of becoming Arkansas’ all-time leader in touchdown passes (63), along with setting a new school record for single-game touchdowns (seven). That’s the same Allen who once endured a “streak” of 12 consecutive games with fewer than 200 yards passing (as a sophomore and junior). The same Allen with four outings of zero or one touchdown as a senior.
Fortunately for Arkansas, it’s also the same Allen (14 TDs in his last three games) who has tossed just seven interceptions in his last 17 starts; and the same Allen who will develop into a starter-grade quarterback in the pros someday — assuming he gets drafted by an intelligent NFL franchise (which isn’t always the case).
Regarding Prescott (8,742 yards passing, 107 career TDs), he’s already done enough to warrant a post-career bronze statue on Mississippi State’s campus. He might have also given #HailState Nation a long-lasting pleasant memory that’s on par with the specter of upending Alabama or Ole Miss.
2. Ole Miss deserves to be in the ‘New Year’s Six’ discussion, assuming the good people at the Peach Bowl have short memories
The Rebels’ resume looks great on paper: One home thumping of LSU, one seismic road upset of Alabama and a 5-2 record in the vaunted SEC West (8-3 overall). Plus, there’s the marquee presence of an aw-shucks head coach (Hugh Freeze) who once had an indirect role in an Oscar-winning movie and three potential top-10 picks in next year’s NFL draft (Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil) — if they choose to leave school early.
Now for the bad news: Of this year’s four non-semifinal premium bowls (Rose, Sugar, Peach, Fiesta), only the Fiesta and Peach can select multiple at-large schools; and conventional wisdom dictates Ole Miss wouldn’t receive back-to-back invites to the Peach Bowl — on the heels of last December’s 42-3 loss to TCU.
That leaves the Fiesta with options galore in the desert, likely choosing Ohio State, Iowa, Notre Dame, Florida State, Michigan State, Baylor or Oklahoma ahead of Ole Miss — programs with better records (the 4th-and-25 miracle keeps haunting the Rebels) and likely more “buzz” on the TV/ticket sales side of ledger. Lest we forget: Each year, only three bowls — the two national semifinals and the Rose Bowl — are immune from using every trick in the marketing book to lure college fans, en masse, to their cities and stadiums, for a minimum stay of five days (pleasing hotel and restaurant groups).
And all things being equal, brand names usually win out.
The “Kelly” name has had football value for numerous decades. Hall of Famer Jim Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s, and now his nephew — quarterback Chad Kelly — has blossomed into the SEC’s most prolific passer (3,504 yards passing, 25 TDs). Of course, the younger Kelly altered that perception a little bit on Saturday, leading the Rebels in rushing (81 yards) … and running for two of his four touchdowns.
The “Treadwell” name should bring value to the NFL for multiple decades. Yes, receiver Laquon Treadwell only had four catches for 58 yards against LSU … but his catch-and-drag-defenders touchdown reception was a thing of quickness/power beauty — so much that it’s easy to imagine Treadwell (career marks: 192 catches, 2,300 yards, 18 TDs) mimicking the success of Julio Jones, A.J. Green or Dez Bryant at the next level.
3. The College Football Playoff committee likely won’t care that Florida barely survived Florida Atlantic in overtime
The Gators are a walking dichotomy these days: They have a viable chance to represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff, on the presumption of victory over the next two weekends; and yet, it wouldn’t have been truly stunning news to see Florida fall to Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
To be fair, the Gators and Owls played in monsoon conditions at The Swamp, keeping the scoring low. Within that scope, though, Florida just doesn’t have enough offensive playmakers to run-and-hide from opponents — even challengers from outside the SEC — especially when receiver Demarcus Robinson doesn’t factor into the box score.
Eight completions for quarterback Treon Harris? By extension, no Florida receiver with more than three receptions? It’s a wonder tailback Kelvin Taylor (114 total yards, one TD) only touched the ball 27 times — in a game where Florida and FAU posted similar numbers with first downs, rushing yards, passing yards, total yards, turnovers and time of possession.
Once again, the Gators (10-1 overall) can thank their unyielding defense (ranked sixth nationally) for saving the day, although the Owls had a few golden chances at pulling off the upset. In fact, there were probably a large number of poncho-clad fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium who initially believed Nate Terry had corralled the potential game-winning catch in overtime (on third down).
For what felt like four seconds of real time — tracking when Terry leaped high and long for the ball and eventually hit the ground — Florida’s realistic hopes for a national title had momentarily vanquished. But with narrow victory … comes another chance to impress the Playoff committee at another date; and very few teams can match Florida’s finishing kick of Florida State and likely Alabama in the SEC title game.
For the Gators, it’s still an occasionally ugly, but air-tight case of Win, And You’re In!
4. A quick peek at Tennessee’s future schedule makes it hard to endorse a major Vols breakout in 2016
Tennessee’s defense forced seven three-and-outs against Missouri on Saturday; and tailback Jalen Hurd (151 rushing yards) was spectacular for the Vols, now winners of four straight.
But here’s the thing: We’ll likely spin a remarkably similar tale about Tennessee this time next year — in terms of Hurd (currently a sophomore) dominating the Tigers … and the Vols riding a four-game win streak.
And that’s not necessarily good news.
Over a stretch of five Saturdays during September and October, the 2015 Volunteers incurred a 1-3 record against Florida, Arkansas, UGA and Alabama — relative titans of the SEC. And in 2016, Tennessee will again wager its premium-bowl hopes against a grueling September/October run of Florida (home), Texas A&M (away), UGA (road) and Alabama (home).
But unlike this season, there are no byes during that four-game gauntlet in 2016.
Yes, college football is a cyclical machine, where good teams suddenly become mediocre and middling programs forge instant turnarounds; and the Volunteers are apparently headed for a third consecutive top-15 recruiting class come February — stocking the shelves with more Hurd-like dynamos.
That said, Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M and UGA could all be top-15 stalwarts next season. As such, even with a respectable 2-2 record against the Big Four, the Volunteers would have a razor-thin margin for their other eight games — relative to the hopes of making a New Year’s Six bowl.
And that’s asking a lot of a program which, in the post-Phillip Fulmer era, has collected few victories over top 10 teams.
5. South Carolina needs to kick that nasty habit of falling to The Citadel every 25 years
The above statement is a tad deceiving, since South Carolina and The Citadel only squared off once from 1991 to 2014; and with Saturday’s upset perhaps trumping the 1990 shocker in Columbia, S.C., who knows if the Gamecocks will be in a rush to schedule another in-state military institution over the next quarter-century.
Citing the big picture, losing to The Citadel shouldn’t have a traumatizing effect on the Gamecocks program. This woebegone season (3-8 overall, 1-7 SEC) began unraveling soon after South Carolina’s blowout loss to UGA in September, and things got really shaky after Steve Spurrier’s abrupt resignation in October. As such, one under-the-radar defeat in November has little consequence, long term.
Of course, Saturday’s defeat won’t look good on interim coach Shawn Elliot’s resume. He needed every break to fall his way to make the Gamecocks job permanent, which hasn’t been the case; and now, South Carolina’s powers-that-be have additional incentive to seek out a prominent figure after the season ends.
Houston’s Tom Herman? Memphis’ Justin Fuente? Utah’s Kyle Whittingham? Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy? Cal’s Sonny Dykes? It’s an impressive list of up-and-coming or established candidates for the South Carolina vacancy.
And just like Shawn Elliott, every coach listed above lost on Saturday.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.