If Saturday was supposed to provide us with answers, it produced just as many questions along with them.
Tennessee, after stumbling its way to 3-0 and going down 21-3 against Florida, scored 35 unanswered points to steal an astounding, befuddling comeback win over a hated rival. Texas A&M flexed its muscle over fellow SEC West contender Arkansas. Ole Miss left Georgia buried in the dust.
And Auburn-LSU showed us … well, that neither team seems to be especially good. But is either going to be that pesky team that upsets a true-blue SEC contender?
With all the madness taken into account, this week’s bowl projections have been updated accordingly:
|Fiesta (Dec. 31, Atlanta) — CFP||#1 Alabama||#4 Stanford||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Peach (Dec. 31, Glendale) — CFP||#2 Louisville||#3 Ohio State||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Orange (Dec. 30, Miami) — NY6||Tennessee||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||Washington||Big Ten #1 vs Pac 12 #1|
|Citrus (Dec. 31, Orlando)||Arkansas||Wisconsin||SEC #2 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Outback (Jan. 2, Tampa)||Florida||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)||Ole Miss||Notre Dame||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Texas (Dec. 28, Houston)||Missouri||TCU||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #4|
|Belk (Dec. 29, Charlotte)||Auburn||Virginia Tech||SEC #3-8 vs ACC #3-6|
|Liberty (Dec. 30, Memphis)||LSU||Oklahoma St.||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #5|
|Birmingham (Dec. 29, Birmingham)||Wake Forest||East Carolina||SEC #9** vs American|
|Independence (Dec. 26, Shreveport)||Kansas State||NC State||SEC #10** vs ACC|
|No bowls: Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky||**Replaced by fill-in|
Teams we can’t figure out
Just like that, Neyland Stadium went from a pantheon of angry, dejected Vols fans to a giant party for Tennessee coach Butch Jones and his program on Saturday. UT averted disaster, knocking off a very good Florida team in the process, and improved to 4-0.
With the first of a brutal four-game stretch on their schedule taken care of — and in light of how horrid Georgia looked against Ole Miss — the Vols have a mostly manageable path to Atlanta in sight. They pair nicely with Clemson, another stacked squad battling with early inconsistency, and I enjoy the image of Jones making bold proclamations about his team to confused sun-bathers on South Beach.
And then there are the Rebels, who collapsed twice against a pair of very good teams and then dished out a bunch of pent-up frustration on the middling Bulldogs. On a pure talent standpoint, Ole Miss is a top three SEC team. But you never know what you’re going to get week to week with them. The run defense has been the SEC’s worst (239.5 yards per game) and if the offensive line isn’t clicking, Chad Kelly turns into a turnover machine.
At this point, Ole Miss is too feast-or-famine for me to really bump Hugh Freeze & Co. higher. But the potential for a strong finish is absolutely there. Landing the Rebels and a big-name team like Notre Dame would be a coup for the Music City Bowl execs.
Teams that haven’t changed in our eyes
Texas A&M, a team I’ve had in the Sugar Bowl since it beat UCLA, has looked even better in recent weeks. The Aggies now have knocked off three quality teams and hold a fighter’s chance of winning every game left on their schedule.
Trevor Knight wowed with his legs, Trayveon Williams is explosive and that poor Austin Allen was brutalized by John Chavis’ pass rush. This is a fun team to watch, and it’s anyone’s guess who wins the Big 12 right now.
With the firing of longtime coach Les Miles, LSU now seems even more likely to play a Big 12 also-ran in the postseason. Chances that Leonard Fournette would play in some throwaway bowl game just before his NFL draft prep truly begins seems low.
Maybe Ed Orgeron, the school’s choice as interim coach, coaxes more fight out of this offense. But so far, it hasn’t been a pretty show on that side of the ball. On to 2017.
Other moves at the top
Alabama and Louisville rolled. Stanford rallied for 16 fourth-quarter points to slug out a road win against UCLA. Ohio State was off. The College Football Playoff field remains the same for at least one more week, before the Cardinals face Clemson in their second titanic prove-it game of the season.
Michigan stomped Penn State, Wisconsin convincingly knocked down Michigan State a few pegs, Washington survived against Arizona in overtime and Florida State beat 3-0 USF, which may turn out to be an underrated win by season’s end.
Is there still a shot we see Houston, or a second team from the SEC/ACC/Big Ten creep into the Playoff? Sure. Michigan, Texas A&M and Clemson are all sitting on the precipice. But Houston has to play Louisville, Michigan has Ohio State and the Aggies have Alabama. The Pac-12 and Big 12 would need to look like supreme November slop-fests in order for both to be left out.
Week 5 SEC games to watch
- No. 11 Tennessee at No. 25 Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET)
- No. 9 Texas A&M at South Carolina (4 p.m. ET)
- Missouri at LSU (7:30 p.m. ET)
Pretty weak slate this time around, but Georgia will be another good barometer for the up-and-down Vols, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Missouri can capitalize on Miles’ departure. The SEC East Tigers are starting to look like dangerous players in a weak division.
Projected SEC standings entering Week 5
|SEC WEST||SEC EAST|
|Alabama (12-0, 8-0)**||Tennessee (10-2, 6-2)|
|Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2)||Florida (8-4, 5-3)|
|Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2)||Georgia (8-4, 4-4)|
|Arkansas (9-3, 5-3)||Missouri (7-5, 4-4)|
|Auburn (7-5, 4-4)||Kentucky (4-8, 2-6)|
|LSU (6-6, 3-5)||South Carolina (4-8, 1-7)|
|Mississippi St (5-7, 2-6)||Vanderbilt (3-9, 0-8)|
|** = SEC champion|