Published September 26, 2012 - 9:35am
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Now that 25 percent of the college football season is in the dust, what can we take away from the first quarter?
Here are the SEC West Quarterly Assessments:
Alabama is the clear front-runner: Make no mistake about it, Bama opened up #2 in the AP Preseason Poll. That was okay at the time because we knew with Matt Barkley returning, USC would likely be the favorite, considering the Tide lost six defensive starters on defense and some guy name Trent Richardson. But all the Tide have showed in four short weeks is how dominant they are on both sides of the ball. We’ll call it reloading. Sure, critics argue that Bama hasn’t played anyone yet. They are #3 overall in total defense, and it’s amazing what Nick Saban is doing. You can pencil in Alabama against a whole other slew of teams pushing to get to Miami this season.
LSU is the same LSU with or without a throwing quarterback: Who didn’t think LSU would throw the football more with Zach Mettenberger with the keys to the offense? I thought he could be the very reason Alabama loses in November, but before that time, there is some work to be done and improvements to be made. Last year, LSU’s offense ran the football 68 percent of the time, compared to Alabama and Georgia who ran the ball 57 to 58 percent of the time. Through four games this season, LSU has run the ball 66 percent of the time, right on the mark of last year. So, this tells me through four weeks that LSU will not open up the offense for Mett even though he’s a strong-armed quarterback with a sick mustache. LSU is going to play LSU football, whether Boots Jefferson or Peyton Manning is the signal caller. I guess when you have a running team like LSU with four legitimate SEC running backs and a very good offensive line, it’s hard not to give it to them 66-plus percent of the time.
Mississippi State will start off 7-0: I’m a believer in MSU right now. Their ability to create turnovers in the secondary will get them to 7-0 heading into the Alabama game, and that includes a win over Tennessee. MSU is sitting at +13 right now in turnover margin, with what looks like the strongest secondary in the SEC and maybe the country. What Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are doing at corner, combined with Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley, is really something to keep an eye on. Quarterback Tyler Russell is playing very well this season. His completion percentage is a little lower than he’d like at 55 percent, but he’s playing turnover-free football. I like MSU to beat Kentucky, Tennessee and Middle Tennessee before facing Alabama, where both teams could be 7-0. The very next week, Bama plays LSU, and MSU has them right where they want them on their schedule. Can this team break into the top 10 at 7-0? We’re going to find out.
Texas A&M relies on Johnny Manziel too much: Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is doing unbelievable things at Texas A&M through his first three games. He totals 12 touchdowns. He’s tied for 18th in the country in that department, while everyone else above him has played four games to his three. With that being said, this team could struggle when it gets into conference play simply because the Aggies rely on him too much. We saw Manzel torch Florida in the first half, and a good SEC defense in Florida made an adjustment at halftime and shut him down in the second half. I see that type of scenario playing out in the SEC when teams like LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama come on the schedule. He can get away with that on teams like SMU and South Carolina State, but against better defenses, TAMU will need Christine Michael, Ben Malena, Ryan Swope and others step up and be his supporting cast.
Arkansas and Auburn are bottom dwellers for different reasons: Both find themselves at the bottom of the West because of very different reasons, with the commonality of losing. Arkansas has had a fiasco of a situation similar to the perfect storm. Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. It’s a snowball effect, and if it doesn’t change this week, Texas A&M will get their first-ever SEC victory. TAMU wants nothing more than to beat the Hogs for their first win. Auburn, on the other hand, is just rebuilding. The players aren’t there, especially at linebacker and quarterback, to make a difference and win football games. Both will be fighting (fighting!) for bowl eligibility with six wins. Who would have thought that?
There’s an offense in Oxford: Hugh Freeze has rallied the Rebels’ fan base, and Mississippi State fans hate every bit of it. Trust me, many of you have already replied to me on Twitter when I mention anything good about the Rebels. I get it. You hate each other. But Freeze has a nice little offense rocking. They are first in the SEC in rushing yards (259.8 ypg) and third in total offense (488 ypg). State fans are quick to point out the schedule. Who has MSU played? Exactly. My point is Ole Miss has some life and the program is on the rise. Quarterback Bo Wallace has done a great job, and wide receiver Donte Moncrief will be an NFL receiver. Jeff Scott and Randall Mackey have started hot in the running game. Who knows if Ole Miss will even become bowl eligible this season. There is a tough road ahead starting this week against Alabama. But I have a good feeling about Freeze, and the rest of Oxford does, too. They’re off to a great 3-1 start…soon to be 3-2.