Our first big taste of SEC play produced a couple of thrillers, and none proved more entertaining than the titanic clash between Alabama and Ole Miss.
It was four quarters of bedlam in Oxford, and though the Rebels went down swinging and Alabama looked far from perfect, the biggest regular season road block on Nick Saban’s quest for perfection crumbled in Saturday’s 48-43 shootout.
Despite the toughies left on the Alabama schedule — at Arkansas, at Tennessee, Texas A&M — none of those teams match up as well as Ole Miss did. There are flaws for the Crimson Tide to confront, for sure, but their path back to the College Football Playoff is clear and straight ahead.
Here are our updated projections for the Playoff, New Year’s Six and other SEC bowl games through three weeks:
|Peach (Dec. 31, Atlanta) — CFP||#1 Alabama||#4 Stanford||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Fiesta (Dec. 31, Glendale) — CFP||#2 Louisville||#3 Ohio State||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Orange (Dec. 30, Miami) — NY6||Florida||Clemson||Big Ten/SEC/ND vs ACC #1|
|Sugar (Jan. 2, New Orleans) — NY6||Texas A&M||Baylor||SEC #1 vs Big 12 #1|
|Cotton (Jan. 2, Arlington) — NY6||Florida State||Houston||At-large vs at-large|
|Rose (Jan. 2, Pasadena) — NY6||Michigan State||Washington||Big Ten #1 vs Pac 12 #1|
|Citrus (Dec. 31, Orlando)||Ole Miss||Michigan||SEC #2 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Outback (Jan. 2, Tampa)||Tennessee||Nebraska||SEC#3-8 vs Big Ten #2-4|
|TaxSlayer (Dec. 31, Jacksonville)||Georgia||Miami||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville)||Arkansas||Wisconsin||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Liberty (Dec. 30, Memphis)||Missouri||Oklahoma St.||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #5|
|Belk (Dec. 29, Charlotte)||Auburn||Virginia Tech||SEC #3-8 vs ACC #3-6|
|Texas (Dec. 28, Houston)||LSU||Texas||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #4|
|Birmingham (Dec. 29, Birmingham)||Georgia Tech||East Carolina||SEC #9** vs American|
|Independence (Dec. 26, Shreveport)||Middle Tenn.||NC State||SEC #10** vs ACC|
|No bowls: Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky||**Replaced by fill-in|
Heavy at the top
Louisville blew the wheels right off Jimbo Fisher’s wagon on Saturday in a 63-20 rout of Florida State. Lamar Jackson looked as immaculate as he did against Charlotte and Syracuse, and the Cardinals now have a massive Oct. 1 matchup with Clemson on the horizon. Given Clemson’s sluggish 2016 start and how Louisville is obliterating foes big and small, the Playoff edge goes to Bobby Petrino and the gang for now.
Otherwise, the Playoff field remains the same.
In Norman, Ohio State convincingly dispatched an Oklahoma squad that still may be the best team in the Big 12 — which tells us plenty about the state of the conference. J.T. Barrett threw for for 4 touchdowns while the Buckeyes rushing machine rolled up 291 yards on 48 carries in a 45-24 victory. And Stanford notched a workmanlike 27-10 win against Southern Cal. Christian McCaffrey led the Cardinal in both rushing and receiving, and was effectively about 59 percent of his team’s total offense.
Coming in behind ‘Bama…
Luke Del Rio’s Florida coaches and teammates might have feared the worst after the quarterback got rocked on a low hit from a North Texas pass rusher. But the big news of the day, as reported by SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi, is that Del Rio’s injury is not season-ending. The injury is thought to be a knee sprain, per sources.
This keeps 2016 hopes alive for the Gators returning to the SEC title game. Austin Appleby is likely a downgrade from Del Rio, but Florida’s defense is elite. Also recall that this team won 10 games with half a season of Treon Harris at quarterback. If the Gators can survive the Tennessee and LSU games, you cannot count them out, especially given the current state of the SEC East.
On a more promising note, one of the most impressive performances of the weekend came courtesy of Texas A&M, which handled a stingy Auburn defense on the road in a 29-16 win. The play of the game — freshman Trayveon Williams busted an 89-yard touchdown run to give his team a 19-point cushion — reminds us that this offense is more balanced than in years past, and that makes the Aggies quite dangerous. They didn’t even really need Christian Kirk (5 catches, 22 yards) in this one.
Best of the rest
After nearly becoming football Lazarus and coming back from the dead — or in this case, a 48-30 deficit — to beat Alabama, Ole Miss making the New Year’s Six would be tough unless it won out. But that doesn’t mean its bowl prospects are totally shot. With a quarterback who can make throws like this, a fast-paced spread offense and an inability to put opponents away that leads to close games, the Rebels have the perfect recipe to entice bowl committees and wind up with an exciting matchup.
The only other significant change is swapping South Carolina for Missouri, which fell one play short of upsetting Georgia and turning into a surprise SEC East contender (again). Drew Lock still leads the conference in passing after throwing for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Bulldogs (oh, and 3 interceptions), and J’Mon Moore looks like a breakout star. If the Tigers can figure things out on defense — last year’s lone strength — there’s little question they can win another five games with Delaware State, Middle Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina on the schedule.
Projected SEC standings entering Week 4
|SEC WEST||SEC EAST|
|Alabama (12-0, 8-0)**||Florida (10-2, 7-1)|
|Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2)||Tennessee (9-3, 5-3)|
|Ole Miss (8-4, 5-3)||Georgia (8-4, 4-4)|
|Auburn (8-4, 5-3)||Missouri (6-6, 3-5)|
|Arkansas (8-4, 4-4)||South Carolina (5-7, 2-6)|
|LSU (7-5, 4-4)||Kentucky (3-9, 1-7)|
|Mississippi St (5-7, 2-6)||Vanderbilt (2-10, 0-8)|
|** = SEC champion|