Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop in-season shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you’ve been stewing over all weekend. SEC Country has been stewing, too, and what we’re cooking up for you every Monday morning is a tasty medley of the conference’s highlights, lowlights and every #ItJustMeansMore commercial in between.
Josh Holsey’s game-sealing interception. Jalen Hurts’ fourth-quarter touchdown scramble.
Despite Alabama and Auburn coming from remarkably different places this season, you saw the same thing after both plays this weekend: the unbridled elation of escape.
The Crimson Tide, on account of their legendary coach and equally fearsome recruiting success, are expected to compete for and win championships every year. This season, they’re on their way again. The defense and special teams are as excellent as ever. Even with Lane Kiffin handing the reins of his offense to a true freshman dual-threat quarterback — the most un-Saban, anti-Process move in the book — they’re winning.
Jalen Hurts is still growing, as we saw in the LSU game, and needs to continue developing as a passer. Nick Saban said as much after the game. But his athleticism has helped Alabama field its most productive running game of the Saban era — 259 yards per game. That’s remarkable.
Fans expect Auburn to be on par with its in-state rival. But in the early stages of 2016, Gus Malzahn’s offense went through an identity crisis of epic proportions. His QB shuffle plan failed miserably against Clemson, and it had people questioning whether Malzahn still could get the job done. They shared the same doubts after the Texas A&M loss, in which the Aggies rushed for 231 yards and held Sean White to 126 yards passing.
Then, after beating LSU in the final seconds, Malzahn made the move of the season — letting coordinator Rhett Lashlee call plays. The offense was simplified, line play began improving and White wasn’t being asked to do things outside of his wheelhouse.
Winners of six straight, the Tigers are now averaging 300 yards rushing per game to along with a top-10 scoring defense. They’re arguably the hottest team in college football.
Grinding through a 12-game regular season is the great equalizer, whittling down even the toughest and deepest squads to their true core. Sometimes, as in the case of Texas A&M, the picture beneath isn’t so pretty. But in other cases, the great teams don’t quite emerge until Week 3, 4 or 5.
The SEC East is in ruins, leaving Auburn as the only team that can give Alabama a fight before the College Football Playoff. It all sets up for what could be another awesome Iron Bowl to cap off the season.
Even outside the Kick Six game, this rivalry has produced some fun games in recent years. Since 2000, 11 Iron Bowls have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Last year, with Alabama on a title run and Auburn en route to the Birmingham Bowl, the final score read 29-13.
It’s three weeks away, but this is already the biggest game by far left on the SEC schedule. Even bigger than the SEC title game.
Will the SEC East be any better in 2017?
By now, there’s no avoiding how bad this division has been. Every team is flawed to various degrees, from supposed front-runner Florida and its tire-fire offense down to the porous defense of Missouri. Nobody’s arguing against that at this point.
But what about next season? Should we expect this futility to continue?
One factor to consider: Georgia and Missouri, which have won the East four of the last five years, have first-time head coaches. More importantly, those schools are transitioning away from longtime coaches who had run each program for 15 years (Mark Richt, Gary Pinkel). That ain’t easy, and you’d think both get better in Year 2.
Another factor: quarterbacks. Jacob Eason and Jake Bentley are true freshmen. Drew Lock, Luke Del Rio and Kyle Shurmur are all sophomores. And Josh Dobbs, who was far and away the division’s best and most experienced quarterback, has not improved as a passer. In fact, he’s doubled his interception total from last year.
You look at the SEC West, and it’s full of 1) very experienced head coaches and 2) experienced quarterbacks, at least compared to the East.
Excluding Malzahn and LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron, every coach in the West has been a head guy at the college level for at least eight seasons. In the East, only Butch Jones has been a head coach for more than five years.
Chad Kelly and Trevor Knight are seniors. Danny Etling started at Purdue, and before him, Brandon Harris had started a full season at LSU.
The West always will have an advantage because of coaching, and specifically how good some of its coaches are at recruiting. Alabama, LSU and Auburn are perennial power recruiters, while Texas A&M and Ole Miss have begun swooping in since Sumlin and Freeze showed up.
But some of this is definitely cyclical. I’m not so sure about Butch, but the Saban tree trio of Jim McElwain, Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp look poised to give the West a few fights in the near future.
No, Ed Orgeron isn’t out of the running for the LSU job
I don’t claim to have a direct line to athletic director Joe Alleva’s office. But to say the Tigers interim coach lost his chance at the permanent job in Saturday’s 10-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama?
That’s just silly.
LSU became the first team all season to really stifle Kiffin and the Crimson Tide offense. They were held to season-lows in points, passing yards, total yards, punt return yardage and kickoff return yardage. It was just the fourth time this season Alabama had a negative turnover margin.
Yeah, a shutout is bad. A shutout against the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense? With a Purdue transfer at quarterback? This is still basically the Cam Cameron/Les Miles offense. Fill-in coordinator Steve Ensminger can introduce his own wrinkles, but the Tigers never were going to be able to overhaul their offense mid-season.
Between USC and LSU, Orgeron is 9-3 as an interim coach. He’s likable, and his players have seemingly rallied around him since the Miles ouster.
Tom Herman is not and never was guaranteed to wind up in Baton Rouge. You never know how the coaching carousel shakes out, or what happens once both sides hit the negotiating table. To rule out Orgeron at this point would be reckless and silly on Alleva’s part. He’s smarter than that.
After South Carolina beat Missouri on Saturday, Muschamp went to shake Barry Odom’s hand and apparently give him a little pep talk, too.
I absolutely love this exchange between Barry and Coach Boom because for once we get to see an honest, human moment between two head coaches.
“You’re a hell of a coach,” Muschamp begins, before referencing his time at Florida. “Don’t let them beat your ass down.”
Odom says he appreciates it and then alludes to “all this bullshit.”
If I was a head coach, and my athletic director left for freaking Baylor right before my first season, and I was replacing a program legend, and on top of that my university was facing an institutional crisis, yeah, I’d be calling BS an awful lot, too. You have to feel for Odom.
And as for Muschamp, whose roster has been depleted by injuries and transfers, coaching South Carolina to 5-4 is pretty remarkable, and it shows among other things that being a first-time head coach in the SEC has to be one of the toughest positions out there.
— Andrew Kauffman (@A_Kauff) November 6, 2016
Projecting the College Football Playoff rankings
While the selection committee’s decision to put Texas A&M at No. 4 is laughable in hindsight, the first set of rankings does give us a nice baseline for looking ahead to this week’s rankings. In addition to the Aggies, Week 10 saw losses for No. 10 Nebraska, No. 11 Florida, No. 13 LSU and No. 17 Baylor.
Here’s our best guess at what the Top 25 will look like on Tuesday.
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Texas A&M
- West Virginia
- Virginia Tech
- Oklahoma State
- Washington State
- Florida State
- Western Michigan
- Boise State
Here’s how I voted in this week’s edition of the official SEC Country Power Poll:
- Alabama — The Lane Kiffin machine wasn’t pretty, but LSU has an elite defense. Test passed.
- Auburn — Likewise, the Tigers got it done against a pesky Vanderbilt team. Onward and upward.
- LSU — You could argue the Tigers played the reigning champs closer than Ole Miss did. No shame in that.
- Texas A&M — Injuries are starting to take their toll, but Mississippi State still was beatable.
- Arkansas — As a certain presidential candidate might say, that win over Florida was YUGE.
- Tennessee — Just when you think they’re out, the Vols are somehow still hanging around in the East.
- Ole Miss — I cast this vote before the Chad Kelly news broke. There goes the Rebels’ best player.
- Florida — This is starting to feel like a repeat of 2015, with the offense crumbling into a pile of rubble.
- Georgia — For how bad the Bulldogs have looked at times, this was a big win.
- Kentucky — The Wildcats will still get their bowl game. They could be playing for more now.
- Mississippi State — Nick Fitzgerald needs more refining as a passer, but the guy just keeps getting better. Major lift for the program.
- South Carolina — Jake Bentley in three starts: 622 yards, 6 touchdowns, zero interceptions. Wow.
- Vanderbilt — Zach Cunningham is a baller. Derek Mason had his team ready to play Auburn, but the Commodores fell just short.
- Missouri — There’s a gap, and then there are the Tigers. Tough first year for Barry Odom.
Headlines from around the league
- Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick stars in first game at safety vs LSU (Marq Burnett, SEC Country)
- Josh Holsey grabs game-sealing interception for second-straight week (Ben Wolk, SEC Country)
- He’s baaack – Bret Bielema’s stamp is all over Arkansas (Eric Bolin, SEC Country)
- Sources: Gators LB Alex Anzalone suffers season-ending injury (Zach Abolverdi, SEC Country)
- LSU offensive line deserves, takes blame for loss to Tide (Nick Suss, SEC Country)
- Texas A&M’s biggest flaw falls at Kevin Sumlin’s feet (Alec Shirkey, SEC Country)
- Wildcats whiffed on a huge opportunity against Georgia (Kyle Tucker, SEC Country)
- In the clutch, Jacob Eason does it again for Georgia (Seth Emerson, DawgNation)
- Mousetraps part of Will Muschamp’s plan to keep Gamecocks focused (Mike Wilson, SEC Country)
- Tennessee adds cornerback commit, class now up to 27 prospects (Jesse Simonton, SEC Country)
- What Hugh Freeze had to say about Chad Kelly’s injury (SEC Country)
- What Dan Mullen said following Mississippi State’s upset win (SEC Country)
- Week 10 SEC bowl projections (Alec Shirkey, SEC Country)
- 2016 Iron Bowl Shaping Up to Be the Real SEC Title Game (Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report)
- 10 takeaways from a landscape-shaping college football Saturday (Pat Forde, Yahoo)
- Jalen Hurts proves to be Alabama’s X-factor but development as a passer remains key (Jon Solomon, CBS)
Reviewing the predictions
Here’s how I fared in last Friday’s column:
- No. 4 Texas A&M at Mississippi State: The game that sparks the ‘fire Dan Mullen’ talk — Or maybe the exact opposite of that. Giant whiff. False.
- Vanderbilt at No. 9 Auburn: Kamryn Pettway emerges as a Heisman sleeper — The nation’s No. 4 rusher in yards per game picked up a casual 173 yards on the ground. True.
- Georgia Southern at Ole Miss: Not the Sun Belt team you once knew — And yet the Eagles still gave the Rebels a game. False.
- No. 11 Florida at Arkansas: Austin Allen exposes Gators defense — Pick-6 and early struggles aside, he settled in for a nice 15 of 26, 243-yard performance. The second-highest passing total allowed by the Gators this season. True.
- Missouri at South Carolina: More Mizzou misery — Even the Gamecocks rolled up 428 total yards and 31 points. True.
- Tennessee Tech at Tennessee: John Kelly makes us forget all about Jalen Hurd — He picked up 104 yards on only 7 rushes. Yeah, the Vols run game is fine. True.
- Georgia at Kentucky: Upset alert — This time, the last-second field goal went against UK. False.
- No. 1 Alabama at No. 13 LSU: Less than 100 yards for Leonard Fournette — 35 yards on 17 carries. As a team, LSU picked up only 125 total yards. True.
What you need to know (besides football)
The other side: The Cubs won Game 7 of the World Series, 8-7. Since 1991, seven World Series have now gone to Game 7, and five of them have been decided by one run. This latest one is probably the best baseball game I’ve ever watched. Much of the country was rooting for the Cubs — the young team, the great tradition and the 108-year drought understandably made them appealing — but I couldn’t help but feel for the Cleveland Indians, which saw their own title drought extend to 68 years. They were missing some of their best players and improbably beat the Red Sox and Blue Jays, and forced the best team in baseball to the brink. The Cavs just won a championship, sure, but that doesn’t take the sting away any less. Anthony Castrovince, one of my former colleagues, captured the feeling well in a very moving, very personal piece he wrote off the Series. ESPN’s Wright Thompson exquisitely captured the emotion on the Cubs side. Both are excellent reads.
Eamus Catuli: I would’ve liked to end my baseball spiel there, but no, the Cubs had to insert their damn song into an SNL episode. Bill Murray looks like he’s been on a five-day bender — which, he probably has.
Taking a stand: I’m sorry to bring up the whole “Colin Kaepernick protest” mess again, because I know everyone is as tired of that as they are the NFL in general. But bear with me because I have here the single stupidest column I’ve ever read. It’s like he copy/pasted random figures and events out of a U.S. history textbook and then tried to weave them into a column about a professional quarterback. I pray for our country after hate-reading stuff like this.
“Movies are dead:” An interesting think piece on The Ringer about Hollywood and the entertainment industry’s treatment of the movie business, along with the rising popularity and quality of TV series and the ease with which people can watch them. There have been some phenomenal shows to come out on TV in the past few years — Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, House of Cards. A major factor hurting movies, as this article correctly points out, is the huge upfront cost for movie-makers. It’s riskier than TV in that there’s more money you could lose/not get back. In their fear of creating something that bombs, these companies are relying on the tried-and-true formulas to a fault. How many crappy superhero movies have we been forced to suffer through? Sequels, holiday event films and The Angry Birds Movie? There’s a growing quality gap that people are starting to notice.
Election season is over on Tuesday. Thank God. Go out and vote, because if you don’t, you have no right to complain!