Two weeks ago, things seemed so clear in the Southeastern Conference’s West Division. Alabama appeared to be team to beat, clearly. The rest of the division seemed daunting, though, a series of games in which the Crimson Tide would be tested at every stop with the exception of Arkansas.
Two weeks later, Alabama has run through two division opponents by a combined score of 107-30, and other results among the teams in the West make it seem like the separation between the Crimson Tide and the other six teams is wide. That doesn’t mean Alabama won’t face some challenges in November, but which team will provide the toughest test remains to be answered. There is even a case to be made that last weekend’s game against Texas A&M may, in hindsight, turn out to have been the key game in the division.
Yes, LSU is undefeated and highly ranked. Transfer quarterback Joe Burrow doesn’t make your jaw drop with his arm talent — watch Tua Tagovailoa if that is your cup of tea — but he does seem to have given his team, and the yearning Tiger fan base, more confidence in the position than they have had in years.
LSU isn’t spoken about in College Football Playoff terms yet, but from a scheduling standpoint, no team can do more for itself in its remaining games. Both Georgia and Alabama have to come to Baton Rouge in the coming weeks. Running the table and beating those two would give LSU a clear shot. The irony is that they would have to beat Georgia a second time in Atlanta (and, given the Saban Curse that drifts up from the bayou in the postseason, they’d probably draw Alabama again in the College Football Playoff.) Plus, for all their early success, LSU looks like a team that could stumble somewhere else. Credit to Ed Orgeron for what he has done so far, though.
Then there is Auburn. I do not profess to know what goes on behind the scenes on The Plains, but what has bubbled to the surface, from transfers to a miserable-sounding defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, puts out an odd vibe. Maybe the Tigers are simply unfinished, waiting for time to correct some problems. That’s what happened last season, although there’s one big difference — the closing Georgia/Alabama run is not in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers have just two SEC home games left, and no margin for error.
Mississippi State looked like the other rising threat, especially after mauling Kansas State on the road. Then came a loss to Kentucky that has people rethinking the divisional balance of power. Ole Miss followed up its blowout loss to Alabama with a lackluster performance against Kent State.
So is it possible that, despite two losses to nation Top 3 opponents, Clemson and Alabama, Texas A&M could be the second-best in the West? “Respect” in the college football world is an ephemeral concept but it’s fair to say that the Aggies are trending, and will continue to do so if they post a convincing win against Arkansas on Saturday.
Through it all, I’d still say the SEC West is the best division in college football, but that might mean Alabama on the top and a tangled knot of parity in the middle.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.