The nation’s eyes were on the SEC this week after it landed a record 10 teams in the AP Top 25 poll. Alas, the extra attention — and some unchecked pride — came at a bad time, as Arkansas, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee were all knocked down a peg.
Now that the conference is back to its normal Top 25 fill — seven teams — it’s time to reassess which programs are primed to make a run at the College Football Playoffs… and which ones should hold off on booking bowl trips.
1. Alabama (2-0, No. 2 last week) — The conference’s most talented team appeared to take a step back in Week 2. While Heisman Trophy frontrunner Derrick Henry, home-run hitter Kenyan Drake and a swarming defense appear to be in working order, there are still two major issues plaguing the Tide: Quarterback play and field goal kicking. Jake Coker and Cooper Bateman played musical chairs against Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, and each appeared to regress. Meanwhile, kicker Adam Griffith is now 0-for-4 after going 5-for-11 down the stretch last season.
2. Ole Miss (2-0, No. 7) — Any offense that can score 149 points over two games is worthy of top-dog consideration. Yes, it’s early. Yes, Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State were on the receiving end of both beatdowns. But did you watch Alabama struggle to break free from MTSU? How about Georgia’s first-half slugfest with Vanderbilt? The Rebels are firing on all cylinders, and will get a chance to prove their worth when they head to T-Town on Saturday night for a battle with the Tide.
3. Georgia (2-0, No. 3) — After falling in Nashville two seasons ago, the Dawgs were again sluggish out of the gate against Vanderbilt. But Nick Chubb (19 carries, 189 yards) removed any room for concern in the second half, and Georgia headed back to Athens relatively unscathed. Much like Alabama’s Nick Saban, there are QB questions for head coach Mark Richt. Greyson Lambert has been serviceable (19-of-33, 257 yards, two TDs) but sophomore Brice Ramsey is waiting in the wings should trouble arise.
4. LSU (1-0, No. 10) — This young season’s most impressive intra-SEC win belongs to the Tigers, who traveled to Starkvegas and stole a 21-19 victory from Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs. State was a 52-yard field goal away from topping LSU for the second straight year, but Leonard Fournette’s performance (career-high 159 yards) turned out to be enough cushion for Les Miles and co., who get red-faced Auburn at home this week.
5. Auburn (2-0, No. 4) — Let’s not kid ourselves: The Tigers are still one of the country’s most talented teams. Several preseason publications either had them in or near the College Football Playoffs, and while they embarrassed the conference against Jacksonville State on Saturday, they still pulled out a win. Everyone will forgive Gus Malzahn and Jeremy Johnson if they can march into Baton Rouge and take down LSU on Saturday.
6. Texas A&M (2-0, No. 1 last week) — We all know about A&M’s fast start — and quicker collapse — last season. What makes the Aggies “real” this time around? Well, a pair of Kyles have College Station ready to re-enter the national picture. Kyle Allen added three more touchdown passes to his season totals (25-of-39, 324 yards, five TDs, one pick), and Kyle Field debuted its new look as the country’s fifth-largest stadium.
7. Missouri (2-0, No. 9) — The Tigers won ugly on Saturday, coming from behind to defeat Arkansas State, 27-20, on the road. But Missouri did not earn many style points last season en route to their second straight SEC East crown. It’s time to cease judging Gary Pinkel’s squad for its complexion and remember that much of the current roster has helped Mizzou go 25-5 since August 2013.
8. Tennessee (1-1, No. 8) — Saturday’s overtime loss to Oklahoma stung Rocky Top for several reasons. Many will talk about Bob Stoops, Eric Striker and a blown 17-3 lead. But it’s the short-lived stay in the polls that will haunt fans who still have not seen a Top 15-ranked team since 2007. Still, this is a good squad, and its forthcoming slate (Western Carolina, at Florida, Arkansas) will give them a chance to crack the Top 25 again before Georgia comes to town Oct. 10.
9. Mississippi State (1-1, No. 6) — Much like Tennessee fans, the MSU faithful are likely still shell shocked after blowing a huge game at home. As Dan Mullen put it: “Losing absolutely sucks.” Dak Prescott (34-of-52, 335 yards, two combined TD) was efficient, but couldn’t put enough points on the board in a narrow 21-19 loss to LSU. It gets easier this week for the Bulldogs, who face Northwestern State at home before jumping back into conference play at Auburn on Sept. 26.
10. Florida (2-0, No. 12) — In a week of narrow misses for the SEC, Florida’s near-collapse against East Carolina wasn’t as crazy as Auburn’s debacle against Jacksonville State. But Jim McElwain was just as mortified, saying, “That was embarrassing,” and adding that the Gators “didn’t deserve to win the ballgame.” We’ll find out a little more about UF this Saturday when they open up SEC play at Kentucky.
11. Arkansas (1-1, No. 11) — Bret Bielema followed up his Ohio State bashing with a loss to Toledo that left most of the country speechless. Arkansas not only fell, 16-12, but did so despite owning time of possession (37:55), yards gained (515 against 318) and giving away only one turnover. Perhaps worst of all: Ex-Alabama quarterback Philip Ely (21-for-38, 237 yards, one TD) did most of the damage for the Rockets.
12. Kentucky (2-0, No. 13) — Before Saturday, Kentucky had not defeated South Carolina in Columbia since 1999. After leaping that hurdle, the Wildcats will now focus their attention on a relatively easy early schedule that could see them go 6-0 for the first time since 1950 — when they won their only national title. The upcoming home slate (Florida, Missouri, Eastern Kentucky, Auburn) is just soft enough to have fans dreaming big; but UK will need a couple more upsets to make it happen.
13. South Carolina (1-1, No. 5) — Starting quarterback Connor Mitch is probably out for the season, but his numbers (44.8 completion percentage, 5.7 average per attempt) suggest that it will be tough to consider replacement Perry Orth a “downgrade.” The Gamecocks offense will rely on Brandon Wilds and Pharoh Cooper no matter who steps under center.
14. Vanderbilt (0-2, No. 14) — Vandy put up a decent fight against Georgia, holding the Dawgs to 14 first-half points. But the Commodores were no match for early Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb, who torched them for 189 yards on 19 carries as Georgia ran away, 31-14. The ‘Dores host Austin Peay this Saturday — if they can’t get a ‘W,’ they’ll have a strong chance of going 0-12 this season.