The gap between Alabama and the rest of the SEC remains Grand Canyon-sized
Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you might have missed over the weekend. Here’s what we’re stewing over …
1. Let’s get to the bad news immediately
Four weeks is usually the sample size needed to determine whether a college football team is Good or Not Good. And here’s some unfortunate truth for SEC fans: More than half the league looks like it belongs in the latter category.
Texas A&M-Arkansas? Fantastic game between two flawed, mediocre teams. Same goes for Florida-Kentucky. Tennessee struggled to beat UMass (more on that later), LSU needed four quarters to dispatch Syracuse and South Carolina needed some Jake Bentley heroics to escape Louisiana Tech. I haven’t even typed the words “Missouri Tigers” yet.
Alabama, which shoved 3-0 Vanderbilt into a Nashville-themed cannon and launched it into the stratosphere during a 59-0 obliteration Saturday, is head and shoulders above the other 13 SEC schools once again. Georgia and Auburn look alright, sure, but do we really think Jake Fromm and Jarrett Stidham are equipped to dismantle a Crimson Tide defense? Not in 2017, and probably not in 2018-19 either.
Nick Saban has won five of the last eight SEC championships, including the last three, and he looks on track to capture his sixth in nine years. The average margin of victory in those wins: 20.8 points.
This remains Saban’s roost to rule for one obvious reason: the cast of coaches trying to end his reign.
This isn’t just a matter of perception. The SEC went 11-15 against Power 5 opponents last season, including a 4-10 mark against the ACC, and its collective Power 5 winning percentage from 2014-16 is .529.
Let’s take a look at the SEC’s head coaching ranks in 2013, when the league went 18-10 against Power 5 schools. There was Mark Richt at Georgia, Les Miles at LSU, Gary Pinkel at Missouri, Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and James Franklin at Vanderbilt. Rewind a few more years and you had Urban Meyer at Florida, Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and even Rich Brooks at Kentucky.
Those coaches have been replaced with names including Ed Orgeron, Barry Odom, Will Muschamp, Butch Jones and Bret Bielema. None of those five guys has a career conference winning percentage above .500 (including Orgeron’s time at Ole Miss and Muschamp’s time at Florida).
Dan Mullen remains a sharp coaching mind, but he’ll always be playing with a handicap at Mississippi State. So who’s going to take up an SEC mantle and finally challenge Saban? Is it his defensive protege, Kirby Smart?
2. Georgia and Auburn could provide some silver lining
Both teams field still-growing offenses run by young quarterbacks, but the talent and upside are there. Paired with what look like top-10, College Football Playoff-caliber defenses, Georgia and Auburn can handle the bulk of their remaining schedules.
They might be two rungs down on the team strength ladder from Alabama, but there’s reason to think both squads can win 10 games and contend for a New Year’s Six bowl. History is on their side, if nothing else:
- Three: That’s the number of combined losing seasons both schools have produced since 2000. Georgia went 6-7 in 2010, while Auburn went 5-7 in 2008 and 3-9 in 2012.
- 1994: That’s the last time neither school made a bowl game in the same season. Auburn was actually 9-1-1 but ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA violations.
- 10: The number of combined times these teams have finished a season ranked since 2007. Georgia wound up at No. 9 and Auburn ended at No. 22 in 2014.
You’ll also recall that Auburn is one of two teams to unseat Alabama as SEC champ since 2009 (LSU is the other). Georgia, meanwhile, pushed Saban’s 2012 championship team to the brink during one of the most exhilarating conference title games in recent memory.
The two programs have recruited well, as they tend to do, with both hauling in top-10 classes this past February. But Kevin Steele and Mel Tucker deserve a ton of credit for developing those recruits into bona fide SEC stars like Roquan Smith and Carlton Davis. Both have recruited defensive linemen like madmen, as well, assembling three-deep rotations that could compete with Alabama’s own.
The X-factor is whether these offenses can really gel over these next nine weeks. Auburn beat up on Missouri as expected, while Georgia surprised some with a solid performance against a good Mississippi State team. Continued development out of Fromm and Stidham will determine how far each team goes.
And for the record: I’m of the opinion that Fromm should keep his starting job when Jacob Eason is healthy — he not only looks better than Eason did at this point last year, but he seems more comfortable running Jim Chaney’s offense than Eason has ever been. Kirby Smart has one heck of a tough decision on his hands.
3. 3 seats got hotter, and 1 cooled just a bit in Week 4
Barry Odom, Missouri: 5.5 flames
This scale was supposed to max out at “5,” but the longer Mizzou continues to look absolutely lifeless, the more likely it is that Odom — a Tigers alum and Gary Pinkel’s former coordinator — is shown the door. This team could very well end up 3-9.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: 4 flames
Beating Arkansas is enough to keep the Aggies faithful from completely losing it — Kellen Mond looks like a gamer, even as his defense continues crumbling in the second half — but they’ll be waiting for the next disaster when it inevitably arrives. What happens when the rubber meets the road against Alabama, Florida and Auburn?
Butch Jones, Tennessee: 4 flames
Scoring zero second-half touchdowns at home against 0-4 UMass, a team that lost to Coastal Carolina, is simply inexcusable. Here’s a wild stat: Jones and Odom are both 2-5 in their last seven SEC games. This and the agonizing Florida loss have left plenty of anti-Butch tinder around Rocky Top. If Georgia comes into Knoxville and wallops the Vols this weekend, expect some serious heat in Neyland Stadium.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: 4 flames
He’s now 0-5 against the Aggies and 10-23 in the SEC. Yes, the Hogs showed much more life in this game than it did against TCU, but the offensive line still looked horrendous. Austin Allen looks like a rag doll in the pocket.
Highlight of the week: Just pitchin’ and catchin’
This throw required some real cajones. Jake Bentley channels his inner Brett Favre and lets one rip with the game on the line, and Bryan Edwards pulled through with an unbelievable catch (here’s a better angle than the one below). Holy smokes, that defender went down like a bowling pin. The play set up an eventual game-winning field goal that allowed the Gamecocks to squeeze past Louisiana Tech.
What a catch, and South Carolina makes the FG to defeat Louisiana Tech 17-16 pic.twitter.com/ulndj42sEH
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 23, 2017
Interesting SEC stats from Week 4
- Believe it or not, Alabama’s 59-point margin of victory against Vanderbilt was the largest of the Saban era — more than Georgia State, Charleston Southern or any of the other sacrificial cupcakes who were paid to play the Tide. It was also the biggest SEC blowout since Saban’s Tide beat Texas A&M, 59-0, in 2014. Michael Casagrande of AL.com offers a nice rundown of records produced by that history-making game worth checking out.
- Through four games at Georgia, Jake Fromm has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 650 yards, 7 touchdowns and an interception. For comparison, Jacob Eason had a 52-percent completion rate, 780 yards passing, 5 touchdowns and 3 picks through his first four games. Aaron Murray had 60.9 percent completion, 879 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Matthew Stafford threw 7 touchdowns to 13 interceptions at a 52.7 percent clip through his entire freshman season.
- By the way, Fromm only attempted 12 passes against Mississippi State, something the SEC East Bulldogs haven’t done since their 2010 win over Kentucky — Murray’s freshman season.
- Mississippi State managed just 280 total offensive yards on 70 plays for an average of 4 yards per play. That’s the fourth-lowest mark for MSU in the last six seasons; Dan Mullen’s squad fared worse only against Alabama last season (3.61), Alabama in 2013 (3.4) and Ole Miss in 2013 (3.61).
- Jalen Hurts is averaging 90 yards rushing per game, which would put him above 1,250 yards over a 14-game season. He is currently tied for fourth place on the SEC’s rushing leaderboard.
- Three SEC teams already have allowed more than 10 sacks this season: Arkansas (11), Texas A&M (12) and Auburn (16). For comparison, four SEC teams allowed fewer than 20 all of last season (Missouri, Mississippi State, LSU and… Auburn).
SEC power rankings after Week 4
- Alabama: There are teams that can give the Crimson Tide a game, but they don’t reside in the SEC. (Last week: 1)
- Georgia: The Mississippi State drubbing was legitimately impressive; Tucker and Smart have assembled a ferocious defense that should give the rest of the East fits and the very least. (Last week: 3)
- Auburn: Missouri was a cakewalk, as it should be, and Stidham looked efficient if nothing else. More importantly, the offensive line finally didn’t look like a lumbering mass of hastily-assembled puzzle pieces. Keep feeding Kam Martin, Gus!
- Mississippi State: Yes, Georgia painfully unmasked Mullen’s Bulldogs on a national stage. But you know what? I can’t think of a team more deserving of this prestigious No. 4 spot in the Crock Pot power rankings. And that’s a problem — one that says more about the SEC’s weakness than Mississippi State’s strength. (Last week: 4)
- Florida: Somehow, some way, the Gators managed to sneak away with a win once again — with Luke Del Rio at quarterback no less. The UF offense didn’t look nearly as awful as South Carolina did against Mark Stoops’ sneaky-good defense. (Last week: 5)
- LSU: Struggling against Syracuse is not a good sign, especially when it involves another pedestrian Danny Etling passing performance. DJ Chark is the only LSU player with double-digit catches this season… yikes. (Last week: 6)
- Kentucky: Cursed though they may be when playing Florida, the Wildcats still might be the second- or third-best team in the SEC East. Again, none of these middle-tier teams seems much better than the others, but UK seems to be slightly ahead of the sad divisional pack.
- Vanderbilt: Is 59-0 incredibly embarrassing? Yes. Is Vanderbilt going to lose that badly to any team in the East? No. The Commodores can easily wind up 7-5 this season. (Last week: 7)
- Texas A&M: Arkansas might not be very good, but a win is a win! Mond is slowly coming into his own. (Last week: 11)
- Tennessee: I repeat: 0-4 UMass almost beat the Vols. (Last week: 9)
- South Carolina: How exactly did the Gamecocks beat NC State? Is this the same team we saw in Week 1? (Last week: 10)
- Arkansas: The improvements aren’t happening nearly as quickly as Hogs fans would like. Will the Razorbacks make a bowl this season, and will Allen even be in one piece if that happens? (Last week: 12)
- Ole Miss: A bye week gives us the Hugh Freeze apology that nobody asked for — one the rest of the SEC can’t help but smirk at. (Last week: 13)
- Missouri: SEC defensive rank: 14th. Offensive yardage per game against Power 5 opponents: 322, which would put them above only Vanderbilt among conference counterparts. Reasons to keep following this team in 2017: Zero. (Last week: 14)
Hittin’ the links: SEC Country coverage you don’t want to miss
- After Spurrier-esque gamble, Florida’s Jim McElwain should now take a page from Urban Meyer (Zach Abolverdi)
- Vanderbilt player during 59-0 loss to Alabama: ‘I don’t even wanna play anymore’ (Alex Martin Smith)
- One day, Kentucky beat Florida; the next, she was born: ‘I hope I’m not married to the curse’ (Kyle Tucker)
- Friends turned foes for a day: Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason and Alabama assistant Karl Dunbar (Christopher Walsh)
- Ed Orgeron’s handling of quarterbacks another misstep for LSU (Alex Hickey)
- Tennessee coach Butch Jones furious after ‘unacceptable’ 17-13 win (Mike Griffith)
- Bret Bielema’s words, tears no longer resonate with Arkansas fans (Eric Bolin)
Sports tweet of the week: Hit the books, kiddo
Tfw you should've just gone to the library like everyone else pic.twitter.com/6cJpYLQ2K1
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) September 23, 2017