The SEC’s big picture: Florida separates itself from the pack in SEC East
This Saturday did not disappoint as the other SEC playoff hopefuls made some noise with both LSU and Alabama idle.
No. 11 Florida dominated Georgia to the tune of a 27-3 victory in Jacksonville, Fla., to improve to 7-1 (5-1 SEC). By defeating the SEC East rival Bulldogs, Florida all but punched its ticket to the SEC Championship game.
Bigger picture: The Gators remain very much alive in the College Football Playoff picture. The only SEC foes that Florida trails in the AP Top 25 are LSU and ‘Bama, and we all know that the Tigers and Tide play each other next week.
Florida’s status is a testament to first-year coach Jim McElwain, who has had to endure quarterback issues with the suspension of Will Grier and the transition back to Treon Harris. The defense also showed up in a big way Saturday, holding Georgia to three points; it marked only the second time the Bulldogs failed to score a touchdown against the Gators since 1959.
Florida is for real, and the Gators remain very much alive in the hunt for an SEC title and a playoff spot.
Here’s a breakdown of the SEC title race after Week 9:
Ole Miss puts forth historical effort at Auburn
It’s been 12 years since Ole Miss came to Jordan-Hare Stadium and left with a win. In fact, that was the Eli Manning-quarterbacked Rebels team that last defeated Auburn on its home field.
Manning wasn’t quarterbacking this Ole Miss team, but another star made the difference.
Laquon Treadwell hauled in six passes for 96 yards in the second half of Saturday’s game, including a 21-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that sealed the Rebels’ 27-19 victory.
Treadwell now has four consecutive games with at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown, the first SEC player to do so since Florida’s Reche Caldwell in 2001. He also became the seventh player in school history with 2,000 career receiving yards.
The win puts Ole Miss in control of its SEC West destiny with home games against Arkansas and LSU over the next three weeks.
Kyler Murray helps Texas A&M snap losing skid
After a 5-0 start, Texas A&M dropped back-to-back games to Alabama and Ole Miss. Looking to spark the team, coach Kevin Sumlin turned to true freshman quarterback Kyler Murray in a move that ultimately paid off.
Murray, who went 42-0 in high school, improved to 1-0 as Texas A&M’s starting signal-caller. He helped the Aggies amass 544 yards of offense and did not turn the football over. Murray was an effective dual threat, piling up 223 yards passing and 156 yards on the ground to go along with a touchdown.
Murray became the first Texas A&M quarterback with 200 yards passing and 100 rushing in a game since none other than Johnny Manziel, who did it against Ole Miss in 2013.
Clearly, the Aggies needed some new life after Kyle Allen struggled over the past two games, and that’s precisely what Murray provided. It appears the rest of his teammates have faith in him to be the new leader of the team, and that’s a promising sign for these Aggies.
Idle LSU, Alabama preparing for epic clash
No. 4 LSU and No. 7 Alabama will meet Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with an SEC West title very much in the balance.
Either the Bayou Bengals will escape the game with a perfect 8-0 mark or the Tide will continue their second-half push and win their sixth consecutive game.
LSU remains the favorite to represent the West in the SEC Championship game but faces its toughest test to date against a suddenly red-hot Alabama team. Alabama lost to Ole Miss at home this season but has rebounded strongly and found new life heading into the stretch run.
Interestingly enough, both teams were idle this past week as the rest of the SEC jockeyed for position in the conference race. Ole Miss capitalized with a win over Auburn to keep pace with Alabama as the other one-loss team in the SEC West, so the Rebels have the most to gain if the Tide slip up against LSU.
An LSU loss, however, would give the Tigers, Tide and Rebels all one loss in SEC play and make the race that much more interesting — and confusing — in the final month of the season.
Projected SEC Championship game, Week 9:
LSU (10-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. Florida (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
The LSU-Alabama game next week will be the first of a handful of marquee SEC West tilts in November that will ultimately decide who represents the division in the conference championship game.
LSU will travel to Alabama and Ole Miss in two of the next three weeks. The Tigers host Arkansas in between and end the season against a suddenly feisty Texas A&M squad.
‘Bama has found its stride late in the season, and after hosting LSU must travel to Starkville, Miss., to take on Mississippi State. The Tide end the season at Jordan-Hare Stadium for their annual showdown against Auburn.
It’s hard to imagine that LSU can survive Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M without a blemish, but one slip-up along the way won’t end their hopes of playing for the SEC Championship.
Florida gets Vanderbilt and South Carolina, as well as an in-state showdown against ranked Florida State, but is on the fast track toward the title game. LSU and Florida already provided us with a memorable first meeting, so it’ll be interesting to see if a second meeting can live up to the hype.