SDS Mailbag: Mac Jones hype, SEC defensive struggles and which Power 5 programs are most likely to cut football
The Big Ten is back this weekend, starting with Illinois at Wisconsin tonight! I’ll be rooting for my home-state Illini to pull off an upset win over the Badgers for the second year in a row.
But, the Big Ten isn’t the only conference returning this weekend. Let’s also give a shout out to the Mountain West, which will be providing an important service this weekend.
What service is that, you ask? Well, 2 MWC games are scheduled to kick off at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, so late-night football is officially back! I can’t wait.
Here are your questions for this week’s SDS Mailbag:
Is it time to recognize that Mac Jones is the best QB in the country?
As good as Mac Jones has been this season, I think a golden-haired quarterback at Clemson might have something to say about him being the best QB in America. Also, Ohio State’s Justin Fields returns to action this weekend.
That’s not to say Jones doesn’t deserve to be mentioned with those guys. He’s shown he’s the best QB in the SEC to this point (though Florida’s Kyle Trask is in the discussion), and he leads all Power 5 quarterbacks with 379.5 passing yards per game.
The seamless transition from Tua Tagovailoa to Jones is the biggest reason Alabama finds itself atop the SEC standings and firmly in the College Football Playoff picture. By the end of the year, he may very well be hoisting the Heisman Trophy. But, for now, let’s just say he’s “among” the best QBs in the country.
What is the likely cause of the decline in defensive play across the SEC? Is it the COVID-related changes, the emergence of spread offenses (Lane Kiffin/Mike Leach) or something else?
Well, after a record-setting Week 1 performance against LSU, I’d say Mike Leach’s Mississippi State offense (or lack thereof) has actually been helping SEC defenses. Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M have all managed to shut down that spread attack.
However, I do think offense has a lot to do with the defensive struggles. Look at Alabama’s loaded offense. No college defense is going to slow that attack down. Same thing with Florida. You can only hope to keep up with them on the scoreboard.
But, I would say the biggest reason for the defensive struggles is indeed the COVID-related practice changes. There wasn’t much on-field time to get ready for the season. That has hurt defenders’ tackling ability.
No spring practices and limited fall instruction also meant defenses didn’t get much time to learn new systems or to integrate new players into schemes. Yes, offenses were also impacted by that, but the way the game is going today, more elite athletes are playing offense.
I think this year will end up being a bit of an anomaly, but don’t expect a resurgence in elite defenses any time soon.
Outside of Alabama at the top and Vanderbilt at the bottom, are all the SEC teams pretty much equal this year?
That’s a fair question, and I understand your point, but I think there are actually 4 tiers of teams this year.
Alabama is in a tier by itself, as it has proven to be the only truly elite squad in the league thus far. And, of course, Vanderbilt is down at the bottom of the rankings, as the Commodores have been hit hard by COVID-19 cases, opt-outs and transfers.
In the tier below Alabama are the teams I consider contenders. There are 3 of them — Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M. They aren’t as good as Alabama, no, but they’re better than the next group of teams, which is truly a mess.
That leaves us with 9 teams — Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Mizzou, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee — in the wildcard tier. Those teams can win on any given weekend and they can also implode and lose on any Saturday. It’s probably safe to expect continued chaos from that group.
Not that it’s likely, considering the revenue it brings in, but I was thinking which Power 5 schools would most likely drop football in each conference — Vandy, Cal, Kansas, Rutgers. But I couldn’t think of a most likely ACC school. Thoughts?
Did Kansas not already drop football? Hey-o!
Anyway, you’re right, I don’t see any Power 5 school dropping football any time soon since it’s a big-money sport, but this is an opinion-based Mailbag, so we don’t have to deal with pesky realities like that!
I agree with 3 of your choices — Vanderbilt in the SEC, Kansas in the Big 12 and Rutgers in the Big Ten. I’d argue that Oregon State or Washington State would be the more likely choices from the Pac-12.
As for the ACC, my first thought was Boston College, but then, the Eagles have the history of the Doug Flutie era. What about Wake Forest? That seems a little more believable to me. I’m on the record as saying I wish the Demon Deacons were more competitive in things, since that’s one of my favorite nicknames in sports, but they hardly seem relevant on a national scale.
Give me Vandy, Kansas, Rutgers, Oregon State and Wake Forest as the 5 schools I think would be most likely to cut football.
Have a question for next week’s Mailbag? Tweet at us using #SDSMailbag or email me at ASpencer@SaturdayDownSouth.com.