On the one hand, results indicate that Alabama’s SEC schedule is getting easier and easier. On the other hand, the finish may be shaping up to be a bear.
Most of the teams that were considered possible contenders for Alabama’s annual spot atop the SEC West faltered last Saturday, either losing (Arkansas, Mississippi State) or looking flawed even in victory (LSU, Texas A&M). But there were two notable exceptions: Auburn and Georgia. Both won in dominant fashion (yes, Auburn was playing a broken Missouri team) and, except when they face each other in November, both will be favored in every game they play between now and a possible matchup with Alabama. So that would leave the Crimson Tide with this possible stretch run: at Auburn, undefeated Georgia in Atlanta, and then a national semifinal and final if everything worked out favorably. That would be quite a challenge for any team, even Alabama.
(Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
1. Alabama (1) — Prediction: Alabama will not win 59-0 every week. Those performances are the exception, not the norm, no matter how good a team you have. But while the rest of the SEC doesn’t have to make up a 60-point deficit, there is still a gap.
2. Georgia (3) — More than any other time in Kirby Smart’s tenure, or Mark Richt’s for that matter, the Bulldogs looked like a Nick Saban team in pushing around Mississippi State. The question is whether they can sustain it.
3. Auburn (4) — The AU bandwagon was almost empty after the road loss at Clemson but, seriously, who will be favored against the Gusketeeers before they face Georgia? The defense will keep them in every game and the offense may get its problems solved before long.
4. Florida (6) — Exactly how much skin is on a ‘gator tooth? After two weeks in a row of escaping in that old-school proverbial way (does anyone have say “skin of their teeth” anymore?), Florida cannot have much left. Of course, Vanderbilt may not have much skin left on its hindquarters after the Alabama butt-kicking, either. So we’ll see which one grows back faster.
5. Mississippi State (2) — I don’t suddenly think MSU is terrible, or that the win over LSU was a fluke. I just think trying to survive an SEC schedule without great talent is like trying to make banana pudding without a full box of vanilla wafers.
6. LSU (7) — Everything that Ed Orgeron promised to fix when he became head coach has not been fixed. He’s like America’s Worst Sub-Contractor, which may in fact be his next calling.
7. Kentucky (5) — Given every chance to break a 30-year streak against Florida, Kentucky found every possible way not to win, to the surprise of no one in Lexington, where history not only repeats itself but also shouts down all hope.
8. Tennessee (9) — In a way, it’s a shame that UT came back and defeated Massachusetts last Saturday, if only because it prevented the Tuscaloosa News from using the headline “UMass Hysteria!” that we had ready for the upset.
9. Texas A&M (12) — For all the high-profile non-support Kevin Sumlin has been getting, the Aggies have been scoring points. Yes, their secondary is more porous than a slice of Swiss cheese on a porcupine’s back but Christian Kirk can score from anywhere so they are hard to put away.
10. Vanderbilt (8) — Don’t say anything, Vanderbilt. Not this week. If someone asks you a question about Florida, nod or point. Don’t speak. It’s safer that way.
11. South Carolina (10) — The Gamecocks squeaked out a one-point win over Louisiana Tech, which is as close to Full Will Muschamp as you can get without actually doing the Gator Chomp.
12. Ole Miss (11) — The Rebels had an off week, meaning quarterback Shea Patterson’s rocket arm will be in prime shape on Saturday night. That might not mean peak Alabama-Ole Miss craziness — no Hugh Freeze, after all — but will make things interesting.
13. Arkansas (13) — The “so close” champions of the SEC came up short against Texas A&M — for what seems like the 25th time in a row — because that’s what kicking to Christian Kirk will get you.
14. Missouri (14) — Meanwhile, still wandering in the woods:
“Why was Auburn so mean to us? They are Tigers, too.”
“Yes, but they are those mean Tigers. We need a league with NICE Tigers!”
“LSU seems like confused Tigers!! Maybe that will help?”
“We don’t play LSU, they are in the West and we are in the East even though our campus is further west than theirs.”
“I HATE being in the SEC!”