Nobody wants to win the SEC East, it seems.
Heavy preseason favorite Tennessee has turned its fluffy nonconference schedule into an injury-riddled high-wire act. Florida has won its first three games by a combined score of 101-14, but starting quarterback Luke Del Rio is now out with a knee injury. Georgia has needed a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks — combined with a 2-point “triumph” over Nicholls State — to remain undefeated.
At the moment, those three teams — Tennessee, Florida and Georgia — appear to be the only hopes for the East to end a 7-year losing streak in Atlanta.
(Missouri looked like it might become an overnight contender on Saturday before a last-second loss to the Bulldogs. Vanderbilt, Kentucky and South Carolina are lost causes.)
So, which team in the top trio is ready to take another step and bring dignity back to the East?
If it seems like a three-way tie to you — and, unless you think Tennessee looks ready to shake off some Harambe-sized monkeys this season, it’s a tie — the only rational thing to do is compare how their remaining schedules shake out.
Georgia has the easiest path to an undefeated conference run, with only one threatening West game (next week at Ole Miss) compared to Tennessee (at Texas A&M, vs. Alabama) and Florida (vs. LSU, at Arkansas) with two apiece.
The Dawgs also get Tennessee at home and Florida in Jacksonville, making Georgia the only one of the three to not play a true road game against the other two.
With the race being so tight, those factors should make a big difference.
A rivalry is born
Missouri-Georgia has been a fun series in their first five games as conference rivals, but the latest chapter — featuring Drew Lock vs. Jacob Eason — was the most entertaining.
Eason’s game-winning touchdown pass on 4th-and-10 was the first signature moment of his young career, while Lock put up 322 yards in the first half before crashing in the back frame.
4th down go ahead TD pass by Jacob Eason! https://t.co/lKgwJ74Kr7
— Kevin Causey (@CFBZ) September 18, 2016
The quarterbacks combined for 4 second-half interceptions, but their positive moments will get far more headlines. We’ll get a rematch in Athens next year (the road team has won four of the five games), and then another in 2018 unless Lock takes his cannon to the NFL early.
Drew Lock cookin' in the first half for Mizzou. Still impressed he was able to split defenders here (two angles)… pic.twitter.com/vFdoWUo3SN
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) September 18, 2016
Twice in the series’ first four years, the winner has gone on to take the SEC East. And if you were paying attention to this post’s introduction, it very well could be three out of five by December.
Ole Miss’ second disaster began here
Per ESPN Stats & Info, the 2016 Rebels are the first Power 5 team in a decade to blow two different games in which they led by at least 21.
If there’s one sequence to blame for Saturday’s loss to Alabama, it began on the Mississippi fumble return that gave the Rebels a 24-3 lead late in the first half. Defensive lineman Breeland Speaks picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty on the play, and then the Rebels proceeded to biff the ensuing kickoff out of bounds.
Alabama, which up to that point had not found the end zone, took over at the 50-yard line and needed just three plays to cancel out the huge Mississippi scoop and score.
Just like that, the momentum was gone, and the Crimson Tide would outscore the Rebels 45-6 before Ole Miss snapped out of its funk. There were plenty of things to blame for the loss — poor blocking, Hugh Freeze’s conservative decision making, Alabama’s general beastliness — but the bad mojo got rolling with Speaks’ dumb hit and an errant kickoff.
Alabama's 21-point comeback was its largest overcome in a win since 1989 vs. … Ole Miss. Tide trailed 21-0, scored next 62, won 62-27.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 18, 2016
SEC moments that caught our eye
- Chad Kelly launched a surprise 49-yard punt in the first half. According to the CBS broadcast, he’s been working on punting since he was 8 years old.
Lost in Saturday's madness… Chad Kelly ripped a 49-yard punt: pic.twitter.com/88svwJVLuy
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) September 18, 2016
- What was more impressive on Jonathan Allen’s fumble return… The fact that Ole Miss receiver Quincy Adeboyejo sprinted to catch up, or that Allen had the wherewithal to put two hands on the football as he crossed the goal line? The secret: You can see him sneaking peeks at the end zone video board during the run.
Jonathan Allen: 294-pounds worth of rumblin', stumblin' down the field! pic.twitter.com/uBJ8u8mCH4
— Justin King (@JustinKing) September 18, 2016
- Many viewers felt that the Alabama-Ole Miss game was over when the home team got up 24-3, including “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” host Chris B. Harrison (did no one learn after last year’s comeuppance?).
Why is it so enjoyable to watch Saban lose? Looks like new blood in college football
— Chris Harrison (@chrisbharrison) September 17, 2016
- For whatever reason, Alabama receiver ArDarius Stewart had an axe on the Crimson Tide sideline after he left the game with a knee sprain.
— Matt Pjesky (@Matt_Pjesky) September 17, 2016
This pair of first-half plays undoubtedly had NFL scouts drooling over Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes:
Jalen Hurts was destroyed. Might want to block Marquis Haynes https://t.co/dnh8xJKWj5
— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) September 17, 2016
More Marquis Haynes (top of screen). He just destroyed future NFL 1st rounder Cam Robinson… pic.twitter.com/u9Ai5cUVsa
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) September 17, 2016
- Olympic broze medalist and Missouri wrestler J’den Cox sang the national anthem before Saturday night’s game. Later, he confirmed to SEC Network that he will be joining the Tigers football team in 2017 after his wrestling eligibility runs out.
- Your weekly reminder that college kickers are bad: Georgia’s William Ham missed from 23 yards and 38 yards in the span of 8 minutes in the second half (both kicks were pulled left in ugly fashion). Ham atoned for the misses by hitting the game-winning extra point with 1:29 remaining.
- Punters are cool, though. With LSU forced to give the ball back to Mississippi State one final time in the fourth quarter, Tigers punter Josh Growden booted a 61-yard kick that put the Bulldogs all the way back at their own 23-yard line, where they turned the ball over on a 4th-down fumble.
- Missouri and LSU both went with bold, gold outfits. The all-yellow Mizzou uniforms were more “gross” than great, while the Tigers of Baton Rouge pulled off a passable retro getup:
— Colton Pouncy (@CTPSports) September 17, 2016
LSU sports the gold throwback jerseys during pregame warm ups . pic.twitter.com/9aGE4Xw6ZO
— Bill Feig (@FeigPic) September 17, 2016
- LSU pass rusher Arden Key dominated the final moments of the Tigers’ narrow win. On third down, he forced an errant Damian Williams pass with a good lick, and then came through with a violent strip sack on fourth down. His timing was crucial on that last play; Williams had Bulldogs receiver Fred Ross open for a big gain downfield.
- Much like Key, Tigers running back Leonard Fournette had no regard for human life:
- Shaquille O’Neal also made an appearance on the sideline, and made us sad that he never got to realize his full potential as a Tigers cheerleader:
— Joshua G. Foxworth (@JoshFoxworth91) September 18, 2016
- Texas A&M star Myles Garrett — the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft — opened the Aggies’ win over Auburn by easily sprinting around a pulling guard and sacking Sean White. Garrett later added a second sack on White, who was eventually replaced by John Franklin.
- Speaking of Franklin, he did enough to re-insert himself into the Tigers quarterback competition, but his final play drew the ire of college football fans everywhere. Down 13 in the final minute and facing 4th-and-17, Franklin scrambled near the first-down marker and … stepped out of bounds instead of fighting to move the chains.
- The visiting team has won each of the first five SEC matchups between Texas A&M and Auburn. The Tigers travel to College Station on Nov. 4 next autumn.
- Kentucky came away with a 62-42 win over New Mexico State, but few people are smiling in Lexington:
There are 128 FBS teams. Kentucky now 127th in third-down D, 122nd in total and scoring D, 116th in run D, 112th pass D, 92nd in sacks.
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) September 18, 2016
- Former baseball player and South Carolina true freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain scored two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter against East Carolina. He didn’t do much after that, but the Gamecocks are sticking with him.
- South Carolina’s 20-15 win featured an odd box score. ECU quarterback Philip Nelson completed 44-of-58 passes for 400 yards but didn’t find the end zone until the game’s waning moments. Pirates wideout Zay Jones caught 22 passes (one off the FBS single-game record) for 190 yards, but never scored.
- We hope you prayed for this man at your Sunday service (video includes vulgar language):
Everyone please look at what I have to deal with on a daily basis.
Go dawgs? pic.twitter.com/lj9CXKO3Nr
— Jeff Moore (@jeffrey_moore7) September 18, 2016
Non-SEC moments that caught our eye
- Louisville broke out special “ALI” stickers to pay tribute to city legend Muhammad Ali, who died earlier this year, and then stung the bejesus out of Florida State.
In honor of The Greatest! We pay tribute to the late Muhammad Ali. pic.twitter.com/WMF3xzBCL1
— Louisville Equipment (@UofLEquipment) September 16, 2016
- Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson now has 18 total touchdowns through three games (the most at the FBS level in two decades). His scary dual-threat ability has drawn comparisons to Virginia Tech legend Michael Vick, who sent the following tweet after watching Louisville-Florida State:
Lamar Jackson 5x better than what I was at V-Tech….Enough said!! #future
— Mike Vick (@MikeVick) September 17, 2016
— Mike Vick (@MikeVick) September 17, 2016
- Clemson’s 59-0 win over South Carolina State was so ugly that the teams decided to cut the game short. On one play, the visiting FCS team tossed a live ball to the referee, and Clemson pounced on it for a touchdown:
— FOX Sports South (@FOXSportsSouth) September 17, 2016
- There probably will not be a better catch this season than the one Ohio State receiver Noah Brown made against Oklahoma:
Are you kidding?!
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 18, 2016
- When’s the last time you saw a team kick off from the opponent’s 20-yard line? Eastern Michigan got the opportunity after Charlotte was called for three personal fouls:
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) September 18, 2016
We see it clearly now
Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team very well could be the best in the country. The Buckeyes thrashed No. 14 Oklahoma in Norman, and are now 19-0 in their 19 true road games under Meyer.
Last year, we were robbed of an Ohio State-Alabama rematch in the College Football Playoff when Michigan State upset the Buckeyes in November. The same could happen this year, as the Spartans and the hated Michigan Wolverines will provide a pair of huge tests before the final poll is announced, but it certainly looks as if the Bucks are headed for another conference title.
It’s fair to wonder if the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide would have enough firepower to avenge their 2014 semifinal loss if we get another Saban vs. Meyer matchup.