For the eighth straight year, the SEC championship game will be won by a team from the West division. This is not solely because the West has great teams — No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M chief among them — but also because the East is as bad as ever.
We thought 2016 would be a turning point. Tennessee was ranked No. 9 coming into the season. Florida was supposed to improve on offense. Georgia got off to an impressive start.
On Saturday, that all came crashing down.
The wounded-and-weary Vols suffered their worst loss against Alabama in 110 years. This was a supposedly top 10 team that lost by 39 points in a rivalry game … at home. As stated last weekend, the magic act is over in Knoxville.
Florida won big on the scoreboard against lifeless Mizzou, but quarterback Luke Del Rio was ineffective in his return to the field, and it’s clear the Gators passing game has a long ways to go before it’s good enough to beat the West’s best teams. They’d be favored to lose against LSU at a neutral site tomorrow, and a matchup with Alabama would be an ugly repeat of last year’s SEC title game.
Georgia is the most disappointing of all. The Bulldogs allowed Vanderbilt to win its first SEC road game in two-plus seasons under Derek Mason. Jacob Eason and the Dawgs offense simply could not outscore the Commodores, who boast a strong defense but are completely one-dimensional on offense.
Then, there are the also-rans: Vandy, Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri.
They’ve been bad. Not “OK.” Bad. No passing offense. Few redeemable qualities. I’d be curious to see if any of those four could make a dent in the MAC standings.
If you toss UGA in that group, I can’t blame you. That would make five of the division’s teams that will have little to no say in the conference race, and would likely get laughed off the field against the four or five best teams from the West.
Tennessee and Florida fans bickering over the Gators’ rescheduled game against LSU now look like a pair of ants bickering over which one gets to step under a magnifying glass.
Bottom line: Whichever school steps onto the Georgia Dome turf in December appears to be toast (again).
The silver lining in Knoxville
In a crowded race for All-SEC spots at defensive end, Derek Barnett is neck and neck with Texas A&M superstar Myles Garrett and Alabama sack master Tim Williams.
For a short time, it appeared as if Barnett would be the star of Tennessee’s game against Alabama on Saturday, as the defensive end forced a fumble and intercepted a pass in the first half.
— Matt Caraccio (@Matty_OS) October 17, 2016
The Vols defense eventually imploded, but Barnett is still well on his way to an All-America selection in his junior season.
His 2016 line: 6 sacks for 43 yards (career highs are 10 and 52, respectively), and 11.5 tackles for losses for 56 yards (20.5 and 79, respectively).
He’s creeping up in the school record books, with only a pair of big names ahead of him in career sacks: NFL Hall of Fame inductee Reggie White (32) and NFL All-Pro Leonard Little (28). Barnett is up to 26 in 33 career games, and the Vols’ next opponent — South Carolina on Oct. 29 — has allowed 2.67 sacks per game this season.
Alabama’s blossoming superstar
Jalen Hurts has only played seven games in his career, but he already has more single-season rushing yards than any other quarterback that has played for Nick Saban.
His total stands at 428 after exploding for 132 yards and 3 scores on the ground in Knoxville.
Jalen Hurts' grin to the camera after scoring is great pic.twitter.com/e9gU0uLKej
— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) October 15, 2016
As our own Kyle Tucker explained, the performance showed it’s time to put “Hurts” and “Heisman” in the same sentence. He’s no Lamar Jackson at this stage of the season, but that gap may narrow down the stretch.
Defenses will have a tough time stopping him when he tucks the ball, but allowing him to throw hasn’t worked out too well, either; the true freshman is 19 of 24 (79.6 percent) for 242 yards when the game is tied, and he’s completed 16 of 22 passes for 229 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions when the Crimson Tide face third down and between 3-8 yards to go.
We’ll get a heavyweight quarterback matchup Saturday between Hurts and Trevor Knight of Texas A&M.
More SEC moments that caught our eye
- Mississippi State lost an entertaining two-overtime game at BYU on Friday night. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald put the Bulldogs up 7 points with a spectacular diving touchdown in the first extra period (see below), but the defense promptly allowed 14 consecutive points as MSU picked up its fourth loss.
Broadcast angle of Nick Fitzgerald's TD dive / leap / flip. All for naught in 2OT loss at BYU. pic.twitter.com/sEZgwF5WaY
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) October 15, 2016
- Your bizarre story of the week: Florida fans apparently brought a “Halloween cat” figurine — as the university later described it — to the Missouri game, and a pair of players were photographed messing around with it on the sideline. The problem? It seemed to be a pretty clear jab at LSU after the death of tiger mascot Mike VI.
— JAZZ ONE (@JazzOne) October 16, 2016
- One of the few bright spots for Missouri this weekend: 355-pound defensive lineman Josh August “ran” in a touchdown:
Yes, Brent. I do love it.
— Dan Molloy (@DanMolloyTV) October 16, 2016
- Props to Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham. He finished with 19 tackles, including this game-clinching takedown at Georgia:
— A to Z Sports (@AtoZSports) October 15, 2016
- Ole Miss couldn’t pick up a win at Arkansas, but the return of the Rebels’ powder-blue helmets was a victory in itself:
- Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough celebrated a touchdown run by shoving his hand in a Tennessee fan’s face. The bewildered fan later responded.
Bo Scarbrough put his hand right in front of this pissed off Tennessee fan's face ??? pic.twitter.com/SEi9jeQDaB
— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) October 15, 2016
- Per tradition, the Crimson Tide broke out cigars after winning their Third Saturday in October rivalry game:
— Billy Napier (@coach_bnapier) October 15, 2016
- Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin — the SEC’s king of trolling, as we’ve learned on Twitter this year — celebrated by tossing his visor to a Tennessee fan:
— AL.com (@aldotcom) October 16, 2016
- For the second straight week, an SEC team botched its onside kick so badly that the opponent returned it for a touchdown. Last week, it was South Carolina failing to execute against Georgia. This time around, Missouri gave Florida’s Antonio Callaway the easiest touchdown of his life:
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) October 15, 2016
- At least one current Notre Dame player wants former LSU coach Les Miles to replace Brian Kelly in South Bend:
Notre Dame's best defensive lineman has some interesting recent likes. pic.twitter.com/R9qQ6oriTJ
— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) October 16, 2016
Non-SEC moments that caught our eye
- Your weekly reminder that college kickers are bad: Florida’s Eddy Pineiro missed from 32 (in his defense, he later hit from 54), normally reliable Ole Miss specialist Gary Wunderlich missed an extra point off the left upright and North Carolina State kicker Kyle Bambard missed a 33-yard field goal that would’ve defeated No. 3 Clemson.
Every single Clemson fan around the world just had this same reaction pic.twitter.com/qRdrk1sCcH
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 15, 2016
- Former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia was especially upset by the North Carolina State-Clemson ending (more on his latest exploits here):
I'm a surrender cobra
— Stephen Garcia (@StephenGarcia) October 15, 2016
- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen got amped for his team’s 5-0 start by chugging an energy drink on the sideline:
Dana Holgorsen's Blood Red Bull Content is currently .925. pic.twitter.com/khUmgPg3Ob
— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) October 15, 2016
- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez looked like he had chugged 17 Red Bulls before this moment went down:
RichRod was visibly perturbed after his QB threw a 4th down pass far out of bounds. pic.twitter.com/O8o0KCl135
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 15, 2016
- Ohio State’s Urban Meyer got smacked in the face by an official, and promptly received a penalty for sideline interference:
Ref hits Urban Meyer in the face, throws a flag on Urban Meyer (yes, I know it was a good call, but still) pic.twitter.com/4PTAaMLVps
— Dr Cork Gaines (@CorkGaines) October 16, 2016
- This Nebraska catch will bring back some bad memories for Missouri fans:
Ridiculous catch https://t.co/l7HRBQDCaN
— Kicks Deals (@KicksDeals) October 15, 2016
- A student organization at Baylor used its homecoming float to mock the university for attempting hide its recent troubles:
ICYMI: NoZe Brotherhood, secret society @ Baylor, with float themed "Sweep-It-Under-the-Rug" @ homecoming parade. pic.twitter.com/L1VjnzDVz8
— mgcsooner (@mgcsooner) October 16, 2016
- Per ESPN Stats & Info, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is the first player in ACC history to have 15 passing touchdowns and 15 rushing touchdowns in a single season … and he still has at least six games remaining.
- Michigan State had a rough weekend, allowing 54 points in a loss to Northwestern. The Spartans now sit at the bottom of the “Michigan standings” …
Michigan State football has as many losses as the rest of the Michigan schools combined.
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) October 16, 2016
- One week after a Kansas State player was socked in the gut by his own teammate for scoring a touchdown, an Oklahoma lineman unleashed a worse fate upon his fellow Sooner:
The TD celebration from this Oklahoma lineman might be just a little over the top. https://t.co/kon5DYwosK
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 15, 2016
Eye on the Playoff
This week didn’t do much to clear up a crowded College Football Playoff picture, but this is how I see it shaking out:
- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Louisville
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
Alabama defeats A&M this week and then runs the table. Ohio State wins “The Big Game” to knock out Michigan. Clemson passes a big test at Florida State, then breezes through a weak down-the-stretch schedule. One-loss Louisville watches the ACC championship game from home and then accepts the fourth seed after chaos envelops the Pac-12.
Simple, right? Let me know who you’re picking in the comments.