1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

Alabama has won 2 games by an average of 40 points to begin the 2019 season, and suddenly looks vulnerable.

Alabama has played near perfect ball, and suddenly has significant hurdles on the road to its permanent spot in the College Football Playoff.

Welcome to the new and improved SEC, everyone. It’s no longer Alabama and the 13 Dwarves.

It’s pick-a-pair – any pair – from a pack of 5 teams good enough to find a way to the CFP.

“We all knew this day would eventually come,” one SEC coach told me Sunday. “Once LSU found an answer (at quarterback), we were all (expletive).”

But it’s not just LSU and its quickly emerging offense with a couple of Joes running the show (more on that later).

It’s Texas A&M traveling to defending national champion Clemson and making the Tigers’ point-a-minute offense look fairly pedestrian in a respectable loss – and thereby shedding light on what Jimbo Fisher is building in College Station.

It’s Auburn coming back from a double-digit deficit in the season opener – with true freshman quarterback Bo Nix making his first start — to beat Pac-12 favorite Oregon.

It’s Georgia doing what it’s supposed to (something that’s way overlooked these days), and setting up a huge nonconference game in 2 weeks against Notre Dame.

Now think about this: To advance to the CFP for the 6th consecutive season, Alabama might have to beat its 3 West Division rivals and Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Unless, of course, the right combination of 1-loss teams allows the Tide to lose once and still make it.

Want to know just how strong the first 5 in the SEC look? Texas A&M could lose an SEC game, win a likely West Division tiebreaker and win out – and advance to the CFP with 2 losses.

We’re at this point with the Big 5 in the SEC because only Clemson is recruiting at the same level as Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M.

We’re at this point because LSU finally found a quarterback (Joe Burrow), and Auburn got a quarterback legacy (Bo Nix) at the most important position on the field.

We’re at this point because the Pac-12 is already out of the race (I’m not buying Utah), and Texas is good enough to beat Oklahoma (it did last year), and the odds of Ohio State finishing the season unbeaten aren’t strong (it might not matter if the Buckeyes do, anyway).

It’s a process of elimination for the coveted 4 CFP spots: Clemson, the SEC champion and 2 wide open spots. Odds are one of those 2 spots will be gobbled up by a 1-loss SEC runner-up.

Of course, Notre Dame could beat Georgia, and the Big 4 in the West Division could cancel out each other with a crazy round robin of games that leaves everyone damaged – but that’s about as likely as Oklahoma playing Alabama in one CFP semifinal, and Georgia playing Ohio State in the other.

And if that happens, God help us all. Because the world as we know it is over.

2. Super Joe

You bumped your head, you were in a coma for a year, you woke up and I showed you this stat line:

LSU passing: 31-of-39, 471 yards, 4 TDs.

Your response: Heaven really is all they said it would be.

Earlier this summer, I spent some time in Baton Rouge for a profile I wrote on Joe Burrow. He was adamant that LSU would not only throw the ball well but lead the SEC in passing.

He said over and over that SEC teams would be “shocked” at what the new passing game looks like. Safe to say, we’re all blown away after that stat line performance of Burrow (and new passing game coordinator Joe Brady) against Texas.

It was as efficient as it was prolific and underscored not only the change in offensive philosophy but another critical factor Burrow explained earlier this summer: When he arrived at LSU last year, he hadn’t prepared to be a starting quarterback on a weekly basis in 3 years.

When he finally did win the job, he was forced into an offense out of the Flintstones. A year later, he’s back with the Jetsons.

“An offense that I’ve run since high school,” Burrow said. “Same ideas, same concepts. It didn’t take long to pick it back up.”

It didn’t take long for the offense to make an impact. LSU leads the SEC in passing, and Burrow is No. 2 in the nation in quarterback rating (trailing only Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma).

Burrow is tied for the lead in the nation in touchdown passes (9), is averaging 11.3 yards per attempt — nearly a whopping 4 yards more than last year, in a number where improvement is gauged by half-yard increments.

Maybe heaven really is all they said it would be.

3. New and improved, The Epilogue

After Burrow was adamant about what he expected from the new LSU offense, I made a few calls to NFL scouts and a few guys in the coaching community to get an idea of Joe Brady and what he would bring to LSU.

One NFL scout said Brady will be a head coach in college football in “2 years” and that LSU was the perfect place for him to go because it would “be such a stark difference, university presidents and athletic directors would be drawn to him as “an agent of change.”

A personnel executive for one NFL franchise said of Brady, who will be 30 in two weeks, “He has been around two really smart head coaches (James Franklin and Sean Payton), and already has picked up a ton about organizational ideas and how to run an offense and a program. The move is to younger guys (in the NFL). I would imagine it will be the same soon (in college).”

Brady grew up in Florida and played high school football in Ft. Lauderdale, and played at William & Mary. Consider this meteoric timeline:

    • Graduated from William & Mary (2012)
    • Linebackers coach, William & Mary (2013-14).
    • Graduate assistant, Penn State (2015-16)
    • Offensive assistant, New Orleans Saints (2017-18)
    • Passing game coordinator, LSU (present)

“(Payton) loved the kid, he raved about him,” another NFL scout said. “It was kind of his protégé. Both very similar guys. Smart, cerebral and a vision of what’s right and what works. He has a bright future in this game.”

4. From Grumors to The Great Urb Hope

Just when it looked as though the Tennessee fan couldn’t be more tortured, along comes Urban Meyer to make it even worse.

During a weather delay in the Cal-Washington game, the former Florida and Ohio State coach was commenting on Fox’s telecast about Tennessee’s loss to BYU and the 0-2 start under Jeremy Pruitt — and if things will ever get better in Knoxville.

Then it happened. Urb actually sounded like he was interested in the Tennessee job. At least, that’s how those in Big Orange see it.

“I heard Tennessee is not a great state for recruiting,” Meyer said. “Nashville is a great area for high school football, Memphis is a great area. So I’m not sure what’s going on. I’m just shocked. Tennessee, you see the facilities, you see the investment in the program … I’m not sure what’s going on. You’re talking about one of the top 10 programs in America.”

From Urb’s mouth to the Big Orange veins.

Now understand this, Tennessee fans: Meyer doesn’t take jobs that are major overhauls. Hasn’t since he accepted his first gig at Bowling Green. Every other job since has been full of talent – and set at the quarterback spot.

Utah (Alex Smith), Florida (Chris Leak) and Ohio State (Braxton Miller) were all in good position with personnel, and Meyer went unbeaten in Year 2 at Utah, won the national title in Year 2 at Florida, and went unbeaten in Year 1 at Ohio State.

As intriguing as it would be to have him back in the SEC – in the East Division, no less – and coaching against his protégé (Dan Mullen) and his rival (Nick Saban), it’s just not happening.

When Meyer returns to the game (and he will most certainly return), it will be at a job that’s set up to win (personnel and commitment) quickly. His health won’t allow him to grind through a few tough seasons.

5. The Weekly Five

Five picks against the spread:

  • Alabama (-24) at South Carolina
  • Florida (-10) at Kentucky
  • Kansas State at Mississippi State (-7.5)
  • Colorado State (+10) at Arkansas
  • Kent State (+34.5) at Auburn

Last week: 2-3 (.400)
Season: 5-6 (.454)

6. The tape is your résumé

Each week and NFL scout breaks down an SEC draft eligible player. This week: DT Derrick Brown, Auburn.

“I think he might have played better in 2017 than last year. Two good seasons, though – with enough big plays to make you wonder what happens when it all comes together? A strong guy, very disruptive in the middle. He can get after the quarterback, too. He’s not going to be a double-digit sack guy, but he could get 6 or 7, and that’s all bonus because you want him in the middle as an anchor against the run. He has great hands; really strong and quick. Your strength only helps so much on the interior; you’ve got to have something else. Those hands are punishing. A lock first-rounder. The better he plays this year, the higher his stock rises.”

7. Powered up

This week’s SEC Power Poll (and one key thing):

1. Alabama: Tide cruising along through next 3 games (at South Carolina, Southern Miss, Ole Miss), keeping everyone healthy and setting up crucial road test at Texas A&M on Oct. 12.

2. LSU: No one has a better win in 2019, no one looks more improved (in college football) than the Tigers.

3. Georgia: Can freshman WRs George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock develop into 2 top receivers? They’re the most talented among an inexperienced group.

4. Texas A&M: A breather this week against Lamar couldn’t come at a better time: Ags are beaten up from a physical loss to Clemson.

5. Auburn: One more week for Bo Nix to work out the bugs (47.1 completion percentage, 5.6 yards per attempt) before a key trip to College Station.

6. Florida: Gators catch a break with new Kentucky QB Sawyer Smith taking over for Terry Wilson (knee, out for the season).

7. Mississippi State: One more week of churning big numbers for TB Kylin Hill, before the games that matter begin.

8. Missouri: The easy win over West Virginia was the Missouri everyone expected. That loss to Wyoming will sting when Mizzou begins the season 7-1.

9. Kentucky: The revamped defense has been an issue after 2 weeks. The injury to Wilson now compounds those problems.

10. South Carolina: Star-crossed QB Jake Bentley is out for the season, and probably played his last game in Columbia (hello, transfer portal).

11. Tennessee: As top heavy as the SEC is, the bottom 4 is brutal. Somehow, Tennessee isn’t the worst team in the league – by a long way.

12. Ole Miss: QB Matt Corral gets 1 more tuneup with Rich Rodriguez’s offense before back-to-back games vs. elite defenses (Cal, Alabama).

13. Vanderbilt: The defense, the backbone of Derek Mason’s tenure in Nashville, is a mess. The offense might be worse. Perfect time for bye week.

14. Arkansas: Maybe Chad Morris found something with backup QB Nick Starkel. The offense is brutal, and at least found some rhythm with Starkel.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: I kept hearing before the season about how Kellen Mond was going to have a great year in Year 2 under (Texas A&M coach) Jimbo (Fisher). Am I missing something? Because he didn’t look so good against Clemson.

Cher Slayton

Cher: Let me explain what Mond did Saturday afternoon: He busted his tail for 4 quarters against one of the top 3 defenses in college football, knowing full well his margin for error was scant, at best, because of the scoring ability of Clemson’s offense.

He made the most of his plays out there, and frankly, got his butt kicked. He still threw for 236 yards and a score.

He was limping on an injured foot/ankle much of the game, and as he walked off the field after the game, had lacerations on his face that looked like they needed stitches. Then he hopped on a team bus to, I’m guessing, the Greenville/Spartanburg Airport, where he took a flight back to College Station, went to bed, woke up Monday morning too sore to walk – and had to go to class.

Cut the kid some slack. The season is young, he’s talented and he’ll play well all season — and he’s not getting paid to do it.

9. Numbers

303. Kentucky snapped a 31-game losing streak to Florida last year not because of poor play from Gators QB Feleipe Franks or because of Kentucky’s stingy defense with Josh Allen. The Wildcats beat Florida because they rushed for 303 yards.

In 2 games this season – without graduated star TB Benny Snell Jr. — Kentucky has rushed for 415 yards against Toledo and Eastern Michigan. If Kentucky wants to start a streak against Florida, TBs Asim Rose and Kavosiey Smoke have to rush for more than 200 yards to take pressure off new QB Sawyer Smith.

10. Quote to note

“We’re playing the best teams that we can get to play us. Why don’t you start calling around and see if you can get somebody else to play us? We’ll play them. We’ll play anybody you can get to play us.” – Alabama coach Nick Saban on scheduling nonconference games.