Time flies when you’re watching Tennessee flirt with disaster for six weeks. We blinked and the regular season is half over.
The SEC still has two undefeated College Football Playoff contenders in No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M, and they’ll collide next week. But first the No. 9 Volunteers, whom the Aggies finally made pay for living dangerously on Saturday, get a crack at the Crimson Tide this weekend in Knoxville.
Tennessee can revive its own national title dream with a win, which would seem unlikely if Butch Jones didn’t have a team full of zombies. Can they rise from the dead one more time?
While we wait to find out, please argue amongst yourselves about the Tuck Rules’ Midseason SEC Awards:
Player of the Year: Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight. He has 2,000 total yards and 18 total touchdowns through six games, including game-winning TD runs in overtime against UCLA and Tennessee. The Aggies (6-0, 4-0 SEC) would be lost without him. Runner-up: Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett.
Coach of the Year: Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. Remember when he was on the hot seat? Nope, me neither. The guy who went 12-1 his last season at Houston and 11-2 his first year at A&M is back after consecutive 8-5 records raised questions about whether he was losing his touch. Two great coordinator hires (OC Noel Mazzone and DC John Chavis) helped right the ship. Runner-up: Alabama’s Nick Saban.
Freshman of the Year: Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. The first true freshman to start for the Crimson Tide at that position since 1984 has certainly rewarded Saban’s trust. He’s completed 63.8 percent of his passes, thrown just two interceptions and produced a total of 1,538 yards and 14 touchdowns. With Bama’s defense, that’s more than enough to chase another national title. Runner-up: Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams.
Most Terrifying: Alabama’s defense. It’s the stuff of nightmares. The Crimson Tide ranks fourth nationally in sacks (23) and forced fumbles (11) and has scored seven defensive touchdowns in six games: three interception returns and four fumble returns – by seven different players. Saban has assembled his most athletic defense yet, and that should scare the ever-loving hell out of everyone.
Best Player on a Bad Team: Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb. Poor guy. He’s second in the league with 682 rushing yards despite zero threat of a Commodores passing game to keep defenses honest. Vanderbilt rides the powerful junior, whose 136 carries are 23 more than anyone else in the SEC. He’s gained at least 95 yards in 5 of 6 games this season and now has 2,741 career yards. Webb deserves better. Runner-up: Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham.
Play of the Year: Josh Dobbs’ 43-yard Hail Mary to Jauan Jennings in Tennessee’s win over Georgia. It traveled about 55 yards in the air, a perfect throw, and Jennings out-jumped four Bulldogs to pluck it from the sky, preserving (for a week) the Volunteers’ perfect season. Runner-up: LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White’s 60-yard punt return for a touchdown, during which he bounced off a defender, reversed field and retreated all the way to his 19-yard line before scoring.
Josh Dobbs : 16 of 26, 229 yards, 3 TD passes, 1 TD run & 1 INT (Game-winning 43-yard Hail Mary to Jauan Jennings) pic.twitter.com/SFzw0vgdYa
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) October 1, 2016
Game of the year: Tie. And you’ll be shocked to learn that both involve the Volunteers. It seemed impossible to top Tennessee erasing a 17-0 deficit at Georgia and winning on that Hail Mary, which was the last of three traded touchdowns in the final three minutes. But then the Vols erased a 28-7 deficit and overcame six turnovers at Texas A&M to force overtime in a game that featured 1,276 total yards. Tennessee’s seventh turnover finally proved too much in the second OT, but what a thriller.
Hottest Seat: After LSU fired Les Miles and Sumlin saved himself at A&M, it’s Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason. The Commodores are 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the SEC, and Mason has managed just nine total wins in two and a half seasons. Sure, the bar is lower at Vanderbilt, but we’re also talking about a program that had scratched out consecutive nine-win seasons right before he arrived. Elsewhere, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn (three straight wins) and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops (back to .500) seem to have cooled their seats – for now.
Best Drama: Alabama-Tennessee this weekend and Aggies-Tide the next will go a long way toward shaping the SEC championship race. Should the Vols lose Saturday, the league’s nightmare scenario is in play: a 6-2 Tennessee team, which beat Florida, losing the East Division title to the 6-1 Gators. That is possible after Hurricane Matthew postponed (and maybe cancelled) last week’s LSU-Florida game. The Tigers are refusing to buy out a non-conference home game on Nov. 19 to get this one rescheduled, thickening the plot. So as fun as the first half of this season has been, we’d all better buckle up for the second act.