Midseason review: SEC’s 10 biggest disappointments
Five of the current AP Top 10 reside in the SEC, but this season hasn’t always looked good within college football’s most competitive conference. Here’s this season’s 10 biggest disappointments at the halfway point:
10. Tennessee’s offensive line — Expectations were low up front coming into the season considering the Vols were faced with the task of replacing every starter along the offensive line, but there hasn’t been any progress over the first seven weeks. Rattled in the pocket, quarterback Justin Worley’s been a punching bag for opposing defenses and has played through pain at times. Tennessee’s 119th nationally in sacks allowed (23.0), eight more than its next closest SEC competitor.
9. Auburn WR Sammie Coates — Projected as the West’s second-best receiver behind Amari Cooper, the junior freak of an athlete’s fallen behind JUCO transfer D’haquille Williams as Auburn’s go-to wideout. Hampered by an early knee injury, Coates hasn’t yet returned to his explosive self and is fifth on the team in receiving touchdowns (1) through six games. Drops have also been an issue at times.
8. Alabama’s rushing attack — Considering the Crimson Tide’s stable of running backs was considered amongst, if not, the best unit in the country at SEC Media Days, Alabama’s running game has underachieved at the midway point ranking fifth in the SEC at 211.3 yards per game. Neither T.J. Yeldon or Derrick Henry are on pace to hit 1,000 yards during the regular season and 12 rushing touchdowns is next to last in the West.
7. Mizzou QB Maty Mauk — Remember Mauk’s torrid start to the season with 12 touchdowns over his first three starts? That quarterback’s no more. First came the loss to Indiana followed by an anemic effort at South Carolina involving 10 punts. Saturday’s 0.9 quarterback rating against Georgia was a career worst outing, one scouts look at and simply shake their head. Mauk’s 54.4 completion percentage is last in the SEC and his eight interceptions is tied with Jeff Driskel’s total at the bottom.
6. Florida’s philosophical change on offense under Kurt Roper — Since running off 655 yards in 86 plays during a 65-0 thumping of Eastern Michigan in the opener, Florida’s offense is back to being a turnover-filled, three-and-out mess, eerily similar to last year’s disaster. Hired to spark a struggling unit, Roper’s fast-paced scheme hasn’t panned out because of the lack of first downs and a struggling quarterback. Much of the blame falls on Will Muschamp by not making personnel changes, but Roper’s inability to get the ball in the hands of playmakers has also crippled the offense.
5. Home field advantage — It doesn’t exist this season in the SEC. Outside of the Magnolia State’s dominance, there hasn’t a clear-cut edge for teams in their own stadium. Florida won at Tennessee with a backup quarterback scoring 10 unanswered points, Texas A&M obliterated South Carolina’s 18-game winning streak at Williams-Brice Stadium and a record crowd of 110,000-plus in College Station watched the Aggies fall behind by 21 points in the second quarter.
4. Alabama TE O.J. Howard — The SEC’s biggest bust through six games, Howard’s caught just six passes for 150 yards without a touchdown in Lane Kiffin’s West Coast offense. His first reception didn’t come until Week 4 against Florida. When he has been targeted, Howard hasn’t come through. During Alabama’s loss at Ole Miss, Howard dropped two passes that would’ve moved the chains and let Senquez Golson, a defensive back who is nine inches shorter, out-jump him for the game-winning interception in the final minutes.
3. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason — Quarterback failures and an overall lack of relevancy has plagued the SEC’s worst team during Mason’s first season in Nashville. The Commodores had positive momentum heading into fall coming off consecutive nine-win seasons, but now the program’s heading back to where it used to be — in the cellar — prior to James Franklin’s arrival. The sample size is small for the first-year head coach, but a loss last weekend to FCS opponent Charleston Southern would’ve ignited the seat beneath him.
2. South Carolina’s defense — From the front four to the secondary, the Gamecocks’ defense — at least statistically — is the worst it’s been under Steve Spurrier. Plagued by explosive plays and the lack of turnovers, South Carolina hasn’t generated a pass rush (110th nationally with 7.0 total sacks) and has blown a pair of two-touchdown leads in the fourth quarter to fall out of the Top 25. We knew Lorenzo Ward’s unit would take a step back after losing All-Americans Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, but at times, South Carolina’s play on that side of the ball’s been downright embarrassing. Ward moves to the coaches box this week for a better view of the game. We’ll see if it helps.
1. The SEC East — Will a real contender please stand up? South Carolina was terribly overrated, Tennessee still stinks and Florida’s a couple losses away from hiring a new coach. Defending champ Mizzou lost to INDIANA at home and the division’s best player, Todd Gurley, is currently suspended. That leaves Kentucky to carry the torch. A win for the Wildcats at LSU on Saturday would give the East two ranked teams heading into Week 9. That’s a start, right?