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.
Texas A&M did its best against the SEC schoolyard bully.
For three quarters, the Aggies had themselves a game in Tuscaloosa. Not many teams are equipped to even do that. They held their own on the bigger kid’s home turf and almost scampered away with that lunch money.
Now 6-1 after its 33-14 loss Saturday, Texas A&M is absolutely still a candidate for the College Football Playoff. Count Kevin Sumlin’s crew among 10 teams that have a real shot:
- Alabama (8-0)
- Michigan (7-0)
- Washington (7-0)
- Clemson (7-0)
- Ohio State (6-1)
- Louisville (6-1)
- Texas A&M (6-1)
- Nebraska (7-0)
- West Virginia (6-0)
- Baylor (6-0)
I include Nebraska, West Virginia and Baylor on the technicality that they’re still undefeated. As soon as this Saturday, all three of them might lose.
That leaves Ohio State, Louisville and the Aggies as the teams with a legitimate chance to crack the top four as a one-loss team.
So, how can Texas A&M pull off the improbable?
1. Run the table
Duh. The Aggies have winnable games against New Mexico State, UTSA, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The season finale against LSU will be the biggest roadblock, but they’ll have the benefit of hosting the Tigers at Kyle Field.
2. Alabama steamrolls through its remaining opponents
Because, let’s face it, a one-loss Alabama team still is getting into the Playoff, and the committee almost certainly wouldn’t let two one-loss SEC teams into the field. So the Crimson Tide need to stay undefeated, and if all of their victory margins are bigger than their 19-point win Saturday, it’s all the better for Texas A&M.
3. Ohio State loses to Michigan
A one-loss Ohio State team might have an inside track on the Aggies. The Buckeyes losing to an undefeated Michigan team ensures they won’t reach the conference title game, taking away a desperately needed chance for them to boost their resume.
4. Washington loses to Washington State
This saddles the Huskies with a loss right before the selection committee makes its decision, and assuming both teams enter rivalry week undefeated in conference play, would put Washington State in the Pac-12 title game instead of Washington.
5. The winner of Baylor-West Virginia has at least one loss
If I’m an Aggies fan, I’m not too worried about this one. The Mountaineers seem to have a little more staying power, so maybe they finish 11-1.
So, at this point, we have these teams vying for the Playoff:
- Alabama (12-0, SEC champion)
- Michigan (12-0, Big Ten champion)
- Clemson (12-0, ACC champion)
- Washington (11-1)
- Louisville (11-1)
- Texas A&M (11-1)
- West Virginia (11-1)
- Ohio State (10-2)
What it’ll come down to for the fourth spot, then, is strength of schedule.
A one-loss Big 12 team almost certainly would be left out. So we put the spotlight on a category that the Playoff committee considers important: wins against bowl-eligible teams. Here’s what I’m projecting:
- Texas A&M: UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU (six teams)
- Washington: Stanford, Utah, California, USC, Arizona State (five teams)
- Louisville: Syracuse, Florida State, Wake Forest, Houston, Kentucky (five teams)
Washington’s weak nonconference schedule (Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State) is less favorable than Texas A&M’s (UCLA, New Mexico State, UTSA, Prairie View A&M), and Washington State would be considered a worse loss than Alabama.
That’s how 11-1 Texas A&M can make the field of four. It’s really not as convoluted as it might seem above. As long as the Aggies take care of their own business and a couple of teams lose on rivalry week, they can be the SEC’s second Playoff team. Of course, a postseason rematch against Alabama probably ends about the same.
Nick Saban’s best pass rush?
Speaking of the Crimson Tide, their front seven has been downright fearsome this season.
Sure, a secondary full of talented corners who can cover man-to-man is a key ingredient to any great pass rush. The receiving corps is stacked, and Jalen Hurts is the equivalent of a college football unicorn — a true-freshman quarterback shining under Saban.
But still, the pass rush deserves credit for its ridiculous productivity. Anchored by Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson, Alabama’s defense has combined for a nation-leading 32 sacks through eight games, putting them on pace for 60 if the Tide return to the national title game. In the Arkansas and Texas A&M games alone, they got 12.
In 2015, the team led the nation with 52 sacks in 15 games; the three-headed monster of Williams, Allen and Anderson accounted for 28.5 of those QB takedowns.
No other Saban defense at Alabama has recorded more than 35 during a 14-game season.
Does any college football team in recent history come close period?
Actually, two do. In 2012, Stanford recorded 57 sacks in 14 games; Trent Murphy led the team with 10, and seven different players tallied at least 4 sacks. But the real shocker is 2014 Utah: 55 sacks in 13 games, led by senior defensive lineman Nate Orchard (18.5 sacks) and Hunter Dimick (10 sacks).
Besides that pair of squads, it’s hard to find a team — statistically or talent-wise — that could compare to this year’s Alabama pass rush. I mean, Allen alone was responsible for 8 quarterback pressures against the Aggies on Saturday, according to Pro Football Focus.
It’s just not fair.
Hottest SEC coordinators
To what extent Auburn’s resurgence was bound to happen and to what degree Rhett Lashlee deserves credit for the offensive rejuvenation is an interesting debate. However, it’s pretty clear that the play-calling prodigy, still just 33 years old, is doing a pretty good job running Auburn’s offense on game day.
Under his watch the past four weeks, the Tigers have averaged 535 yards and 42.5 points per game. Their ridiculous output on the ground vs. Arkansas (543 yards, 7 touchdowns) came without star sophomore Kerryon Johnson even playing.
Suffice it to say, Lashlee’s name might begin to pick up steam on the coaching carousel. Here’s a mini-ranking of how he and some of the SEC’s other assistant coaches have stacked up in 2016.
1. John Chavis, Texas A&M DC
How he’s been able to rebuild the Texas A&M defense — and its secondary in particular — is remarkable. The Aggies held Alabama to a season-low 33 points on Saturday. They’ve forced 19 turnovers on the year and are limiting opponents to 21.1 points per game (fifth best, SEC). In 2014, the year before Chavis was hired, Texas A&M had 13 turnovers in 13 games while allowing 28.1 points per game. Overall, the secondary is much more aggressive and physical. The development of linebacker Shaan Washington has been another major key.
2. Lane Kiffin, Alabama OC
He seems destined to become a head coach again. If not in 2017, then when? The Crimson Tide have a top-10 scoring offense with a true freshman at quarterback, and they lead the nation in offensive plays of 40-plus yards this season (20). Sure, he has more talent to work with than just about every coordinator out there, but winning a title isn’t just some box you easily check off (even if Alabama does make it look easy). Kiffin might have two championship rings in three years under Nick Saban.
3. Kevin Steele, Auburn DC
The defense went from “pretty bad” under Will Muschamp to “pretty scary” under Steele. Maybe this was an eventuality — a healthy Carl Lawson can make a world of difference — but the fact remains that Auburn has fielded a consistently tough, disciplined defense all year. In fact, the Tigers are fourth best among all FBS teams in penalty yardage per game (31.6). The defensive line probably was going to be pretty good regardless, given how they recruited, but the emergence of linebacker Tre’ Williams and cornerback Carlton Davis has been huge.
4. Rhett Lashlee, Auburn OC
Offensive line coach Herb Hand is also probably owed credit for getting the line to improve as the season’s worn on. But Lashlee’s play-calling has been a refreshing spark for Auburn. No longer does it feel like the Tigers are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole offensively; Lashlee, though he seldom calls upon Sean White, is catering to the quarterback’s strengths. And that first-play touchdown against Arkansas? Beautiful call. That’s how you take advantage of an opponent’s weakness.
5. Dave Aranda, LSU DC
There’s been much hand-wringing over the LSU offense this season, but the defense has been dominant every week. Not even Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly could crack 300 yards passing last weekend in Death Valley. Sophomore Arden Key is thriving in Aranda’s system (8 sacks), while the secondary has been as good as ever. Aranda, like Kiffin, was handed a boatload of talent, but making sure they still execute at a high level is half the battle of coaching.
Honorable mentions: Noel Mazzone (Texas A&M OC), Geoff Collins (Florida DC)
Missouri is in a bad place
In one season, the Tigers went from having one of the SEC’s best defenses to maybe its worst. They allowed 51 points and 584 total yards to Middle Tennessee on Saturday; the Blue Raiders averaged a shade over 7 yards per play.
Being a first-year head coach comes with a major learning curve, even if you’re familiar with the program and were a successful defensive coordinator. We’ve seen as much with Kirby Smart at Georgia.
Mizzou, in Barry Odom’s defense, has dealt with a number of injuries (linebacker Michael Scherer was among those who went down on Saturday). And the school and administration haven’t exactly been in a stable place during the past 12 months. I mean, Odom’s former boss (athletic director Mack Rhoades) bolted for Baylor — of all places — during SEC Media Days.
Replacing the school’s all-time great coach and leading Mizzou through this mess never was going to be an easy assignment.
But there’s no excuse for a defense regressing this much this quickly. Even Odom seems confused. I’m not saying it’s time for a complete reboot on that side of the ball, but something needs to change.
Odom wants to figure out source of penalties: "Is it a habit we're allowing in practice?"
— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) October 23, 2016
Here’s how I voted in this week’s edition of the official SEC Country Power Poll:
- Alabama — The plan hasn’t changed: Deploy Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. Enjoy ensuing havoc. Rinse. Repeat.
- Texas A&M — For three quarters, the Aggies had themselves a game in Tuscaloosa. Not many teams are equipped to even do that.
- Auburn — Hot damn, Rhett Lashlee is earning his paycheck! That game should scare other teams.
- Tennessee — The bye week and soft November slate couldn’t be coming at a better time.
- LSU — Since losing to Auburn in Week 4, the Tigers have outscored their opponents by a 125-38 margin.
- Arkansas — The Hogs’ three losses are to Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn. Excluding the blowout last Saturday, it’s hard to fault them much.
- Florida — The only real test has been Tennessee. If the Gators handle Georgia like they should, everything’s A-OK in The Swamp.
- Ole Miss — The Rebels are the best [insert number of losses here] team in the country. Or maybe their defense is just not very good.
- Georgia — How Kirby Smart and pals respond after the Vandy loss will tell us a lot.
- Kentucky — The Wildcats are looking more and more like a bowl team, and there’s a slim chance they could get Drew Barker back at some point this season.
- Vanderbilt — Beating Tennessee State is fine but won’t move the dial much.
- Mississippi State — Samford might be the only win left on the Bulldogs’ schedule, meaning Dan Mullen is staring at 3-9.
- South Carolina — Barely hanging on against 1-5 UMass at home is bad. Giving up 247 passing yards against said team is an even worse look for Will Muschamp.
- Missouri — Middle Tennessee ran all over the Tigers. Someone pull the fire alarm.
Headlines from around the league
- There is no stopping Superman and Alabama’s devastating defense (Kyle Tucker, SEC Country)
- Ed Orgeron winning over LSU fans, but Alabama towers as formidable roadblock (Alex Smith, SEC Country)
- Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen simply can’t keep taking beatings like this (Jason Kersey, SEC Country)
- Will Auburn’s rebirth set up monstrous Iron Bowl? (Shehan Jeyarajah, SEC Country)
- Jim McElwain has elevated Florida through 20 games, but hurdles lie ahead (Zach Abolverdi, SEC Country)
- Don’t step on the AU: Pregame ‘disrespect’ fuels Auburn to blow out Arkansas (Justin Ferguson, SEC Country)
- A single game and so much more was riding on Kentucky’s last-second field goal (Joe Mussatto, SEC Country)
- No kidding, kid: Jake Bentley is South Carolina’s key ingredient in 2017 and beyond (Alec Shirkey, SEC Country)
- Eddie Jackson thanks Alabama fans for support after season-ending injury (SEC Country)
- Welcome back, Leonard: Fournette smashes LSU rushing record in return (David Ching, ESPN)
- Alabama’s Jalen Hurts is redefining what true-freshman QBs can accomplish (Jon Solomon, CBS)
- Forde-Yard Dash: Can somebody dethrone Alabama? Can anybody? (Pat Forde, Yahoo)
Reviewing the predictions
I fared dang well in my predictions column last Friday:
- UMass at South Carolina: The Gamecocks finally score more than 20 points — Against a bad defense, freshman Jake Bentley looked pretty good. True.
- No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama: The Aggies will cover their ridiculous spread — The line had Alabama by 18.5, and the Aggies lost by 19 points. Close enough.
- Middle Tennessee at Missouri: The Tigers hang on in a Show Me State shootout — I was right about the “no defense” part. Man, Mizzou is in a bad place. Half-true.
- No. 17 Arkansas at No. 21 Auburn: Carl Lawson wreaks havoc — Half a sack and 7 quarterback pressures. Lawson (and everyone else in an Auburn jersey) had a day. True.
- Mississippi State at Kentucky: Upset alert for the Bulldogs — Kentucky hung on at home for a much-needed 40-38 win. True.
- Tennessee State at Vanderbilt: QB mistakes scare Commodores early — Kyle Shurmur took care of the football, but Tennessee State did stick around for the first half. False.
Do we live in a culture of extravagance? Dropping $54,500 at a “rookie” team dinner, as the Dallas Cowboys just did during their bye week, is some pretty compelling proof.
“Yeah, the whole team was there, and it was amazing,” safety Barry Church said to Scout.com’s Mike Fisher. “The rookies took care of everything. We had an amazing time.”
The real question: Did Dak Prescott order what appears to be an $18 shrimp cocktail? That better be a good shrimp cocktail. Like, garnished with gold flakes or something.
— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) October 19, 2016