As a Mizzou fan, I am concerned about our defense. By the way, how do you like the new silver tiger-head helmet? :)
Each week throughout the 2013 football season we here at MrSEC.com will provide you with our views on the SEC’s best and worst football teams. But rather than give you a boring #1 through #14 ranking, we’ll instead assign each team to one of four different categories. (Inside those categories schools will be listed alphabetically.) Our category assignments are based upon how well each team is playing, what they’ve accomplished to date, and what we believe each squad’s ceiling to be at this moment.
Here’s how we see things shaking out at this point; plenty of movement from last weekend…
National Title Contender
Alabama (3-0 overall, 1-0 SEC) — In terms of who in the SEC has accomplished the most so far, it’s the Crimson Tide. There’s no FCS win on their ledger. They have two wins over BCS-level competition and both of those teams (Virginia Tech and Texas A&M have three wins on the season). Obviously, the Tide isn’t rising to last year’s heights yet. Bama’s offense and defense have yet to show up on the same day. This week’s game with Ole Miss will be telling as either a “get well” game or another reason for UA fans to fret.
Georgia (2-1 overall, 1-0 SEC) — Like most teams in the SEC last week, the Bulldogs looked like they had little interest in playing last Saturday. But UGA’s offense has looked so good previously we’ll forgive them of that sloppy outing last weekend. Having already rolled up 500+ yards on Clemson and South Carolina, Aaron Murray and crew will likely get theirs against LSU on Saturday. But will the defense be able to slow the Tigers at all?
LSU (4-0 overall, 1-0 SEC) — The other team in this week’s showcase SEC matchup enters on a four-game roll. The Tigers controlled last week’s game with Auburn and never appeared to be in jeopardy of losing. Still Gus Malzahn’s crew fought back to within 14 (and almost seven by game’s end) and the could be lesson for the young Tigers: Don’t let up. If LSU wins on Saturday, they’ll finish off Georgia’s BCS hopes. If the Dawgs win, the Tigers may still be listed in our top category next Thursday.
Top 25 Contender
Ole Miss (3-0 overall, 1-0 SEC) — An SEC road win at Vandy. A 21-point road win at Texas. That’s a nothing-to-sneeze-at kind of start for Hugh Freeze’s second batch of Rebels. Last season, Ole Miss showed the a no-huddle attack could at least move the ball against Alabama’s defense (a point Texas A&M later hammered home). This year, Bama’s defense looked extremely suspect at College Station two weeks ago. So as Reb quarterback Bo Wallace would tell you, on paper it looks like Saturday’s game could be a tight one. Win it and Mississippi will start getting a lot more love on the national level.
South Carolina (2-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) — The Gamecocks offense has been firing on all cylinders in 2013. On the ground, in the air, USC has had no problems scoring. But Saturday shapes up as a bit of a trap game. Central Florida is 3-0 (including a 34-31 win at Penn State). The kickoff will be at noon in hot, sticky Orlando. The Golden Knights went 10-4 last year and lost to Missouri by five. In 2010 they beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. If Carolina doesn’t slip up and if LSU can upend Georgia, the Cocks could find themselves right back in the East Division driver’s seat.
Texas A&M (3-1 overall, 0-1 SEC) — When it comes to Johnny Manziel and the Aggie offense, there are no worries. So long as Johnny Football doesn’t toss too many picks, A&M should be able to put points on anyone and everyone they face. But on the other side of the ball it’s a different story. D-coordinator Mark Snyder believes his guys improved last week against SMU. The reality is that TAMU’s defense has allowed 509 yards to Rice, 390 yards to Sam Houston State, 568 yards to Alabama and 434 yards to SMU. This week they’ll try to slow Arkansas’ ground attack and improve upon their SEC-worst defense (1901 yards allowed through four games).
Arkansas (3-1 overall, 0-0 SEC) – Speaking of Arkansas, the Razorbacks would be a much better test for Texas A&M if injured quarterback Brandon Allen were healthy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that he is. Last Saturday’s loss at Rutgers served as a wake-up call for Hog fans who might have allowed themselves to get a bit too excited over Bret Bielema’s 3-0 start. While the offense sputtered without Allen on the field, it was the defense that caved late, allowing Rutgers to score the final 14 points of the game. Worse, UA’s special teams got burned for a 58-yard punt return for a score. The Razorbacks’ bowl situation will clear up over the next month with Florida, South Carolina and Alabama following the Aggies on Arkansas’ schedule.
Auburn (3-1 overall, 0-1 SEC) — Auburn showed us a tad more in a defeat at LSU last week than we expected. Sure Gus Malzahn’s club fell behind 28-7, but the Tigers showed the will to battle back in Baton Rouge. Juco quarterback Nick Marshall continues to grow as well. His total offense totals have improved from 126 yards (Washington State) to 200 yards (Arkansas State) to 361 yards (Mississippi State) before falling back to 270 yards against a stingy LSU defense. Of the new coaches in the league this year, Malzahn appears to be the only one coaching a truly dangerous team at the moment.
Florida (2-1 overall, 1-0 SEC) — The Gators take a drop this week even after a two-touchdown win versus Tennessee. Why? Because Will Muschamp’s crew is losing bodies left and right. And they’re bodies of starters and stars, not backups. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is done for the year after breaking bones in his leg last weekend. Despite Tyler Murphy’s solid showing in the second half last week, there’s got to be a reason that the redshirt junior’s last appearance was as a receiver versus South Carolina last season. On defense, the loss is even more critical. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley blew out an ACL in practice costing himself a senior season to wow pro scouts and costing his team its defensive leader. UF could be in for a bumpy ride the rest of the way.
Missouri (3-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) — Gary Pinkel and most everyone else yelling M-I-Z-Z-O-U are happy to have the old James Franklin back. The Tiger QB is second only to Mr. Manziel of Texas A&M when it comes to total offense per game (351.7 yards). Granted, Mizzou has faced Murray State, Toledo and Indiana, but Pinkel’s squad is leading the SEC in rushing with a 270-yard-per-game average. That’s a big improvement over a squad that looked outmanned against SEC foes last season. Obviously, we’ll learn more about MU when they enter SEC play with Vandy, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in October.
Kentucky (1-2 overall, 0-0 SEC) — The Wildcast enjoyed an open date last weekend as they prepped for Florida, a team that’s beaten them in 26 consecutive contests. Quarterback Maxwell Smith has made strides in coming back from yet another shoulder injury, but Mark Stoops won’t say if he’s going to start against the Gators. On the other side of the ball, Florida will most assuredly try to pound the ball time and again down the throat of the SEC’s 13th-ranked run defense. The Cat roster just looks too thin to foster much hope in 2013.
Mississippi State (2-2 overall, 0-2 SEC) — The Bulldogs are off this week after ripping Troy to shreds last Saturday. They’ll face LSU next week in Starkville in what could be a Custer’s Last Stand-type moment for MSU’s 2013 campaign. One thing is for certain a month into the season — The amount of fan support for Dan Mullen isn’t nearly as high as it was when he led his Dogs to a 7-0 start in 2012.
Tennessee (2-2 overall, 0-1 SEC) — The Volunteers have too little depth and speed on defense, too few playmakers on offense, and nary a quarterback to be found. With Nathan Peterman now dealing with an injury, Butch Jones has elevated true freshman Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs to second-string status. If the coaches want to break ‘em in easy they’d better do it tomorrow against South Alabama. As UT learned last week at Florida, it’s probably not wise to yank Justin Worley from the starting lineup before a date with an SEC power. And the Vols will face Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama in their next three games.
Vanderbilt (2-2 overall, 0-2 SEC) — Just how much of a distraction has an offseason rape case been? The case eventually cost five Commodores their spots on the team. It was in full swirl when the Dores’ fell in a high-scoring affair to Ole Miss in Week One. If not for the distractions might VU have won that opener? And would that have created a different mood in and around the Vandy program? We’ll never know the answer. For now, James Franklin needs to take care of business against UAB and then knock off Missouri in Nashville if he’s to turn around his team’s season.