On any given college football weekend, a team becomes a national title contender with a win or a coach is on the hot seat with a loss.
But like smoked meats, it’s best for these statements to marinate for a couple days. And now that we’ve had a few days to ruminate about last weekend’s happenings, here’s a look at some of the biggest takeaways from this past weekend and our verdict on them.
Take: Texas A&M is a different team this year
The Aggies are 4-0 and are coming off an all-around impressive performance against Arkansas. The defense harassed quarterback Austin Allen all game and the Aggies ran for 366 yards — the most in the Kevin Sumlin era.
But before crowning Texas A&M as a challenger to Alabama, consider that the Aggies have gotten off to 5-0 starts in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Both of those teams lost in their sixth game of the year and proceeded to struggle down the stretch. The Aggies travel to South Carolina this week, and that is a game they should dominate given the Gamecocks offensive line woes.
But the sixth game of the Texas A&M’s season will give us the best chance to tell if they are a different team. On Oct. 8, Texas A&M welcomes the Tennessee Volunteers to Kyle Field. Win that game, and maybe the national perception of the Aggies changes. But until then, it’s premature to say anything about Texas A&M being a different team.
Take: Tennessee is back
For the first time since 2004, the Tennessee Volunteers defeated the Florida Gators. The last time that happened, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs was in the fourth grade.
Tennessee delivered on some of its preseason hype by putting up a dominant second half performance. The win, coupled with Georgia’s blowout loss to Ole Miss, makes the Volunteers runaway favorites to win the SEC East. Beat the Bulldogs this week, and Tennessee could probably lose too both Texas A&M and Alabama and still be all right.
What felt different about this Tennessee win was that it didn’t rely on its running game to win the game. Dobbs threw for over 300 yards and four second-half touchdowns. That doesn’t just represent growth for Dobbs, but also coach Butch Jones. Jones’ conservative play calling cost Tennessee multiple times last season. So it has to be refreshing for Volunteers fans to see the team win a game like that.
Tennessee was a favorite in the Florida game, and by the end the Volunteers played like it. If the Vols can do it again against Georgia, it will be another step in the right direction back to national prominence.
Take: The SEC quarterbacks are better than we thought
Coming into the season, Dobbs and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly were the only proven quantities at quarterback in the SEC. Overall, the conference was the weakest among all the Power Five conferences when it came to the quarterback position. LSU’s Brandon Harris, who has since been benched, was voted Preseason Third Team All-SEC.
But four weeks into the season, a number of teams are seeing potential future stars in the making.
Trevor Knight has played better at Texas A&M than he did at Oklahoma, sans the Alabama game. Austin Allen is playing better than his brother, Brandon, did at Arkansas. Missouri’s Drew Lock is putting up huge numbers for Missouri.
The future at the position looks bright, too. Alabama and Georgia are winning with freshman quarterbacks. Throw in Kelly’s great play and the strides from Dobbs, and the quarterback position looks more like a strength than a weakness.
Yes, the league is still starting two Purdue transfers, but the play of Allen, Knight and Lock has shown that SEC may not just be a running and defense league.
Take: Someone other than Alabama could win the SEC
Theoretically this is correct. We’re only four games into the season. Ole Miss showed it can score on Alabama, as the Rebels racked up 43 points against the Crimson Tide.
Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arkansas and the Rebels have all shown promise and occupy a crowded conversation for second-best SEC team. Alabama has to play Arkansas and Tennessee on the road, so a loss isn’t inconceivable.
But the depth in the second tier also hurts a potential challenge. The three remaining unbeaten SEC teams—Texas A&M, Tennessee and Alabama— have to play each other. And while LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Florida look to be a step down, they also aren’t push-overs.
Depth is often the SEC’s greatest strength in the argument for best conference. But that same depth is what also might keep a team from challenging Alabama for the SEC crown. And until a team clearly rises from that second tier, the conference is still Alabama’s to lose.