Well, that was fun. Week 2, I mean. Not as much fun as it supposed to be, of course–blowouts don’t make for riveting viewing, unless it’s Oregon’s punt returner running away from the Vol punter like, um, a very fast man running away from a very slow one*–but fun nonetheless.
As for what it means for Auburn’s once and future strength-of-schedule, that’s why we’re here:
Week 3: Clemson. Cousin Clem took on their second straight tomato can to start the season, beating up on the Presbyterian College Blue Hose–GO BLUE HOSE!–to the tune of 58-21. 21 seems like a lot of points to give up to a team that wasn’t even FCS until recently (if I’m not mistaken), and the 414-279 yardage margin not entirely dominating, but Clemson did put up the first 52 points of the game before a late Blue Hose burst made things look not quite as New Mexicoesque. I don’t think there’s anything to learn here one way or the other, aside from maybe the fact that CU’s third-string defense isn’t ready for primetime.
Worry Level: Steady.
Week 4: South Carolina. When Auburn was recruiting Marcus Lattimore, we all confidently stated that he should enroll on the Plains, since Steve Spurrier had proven himself totally unwilling and/or unable to get a running game going in Columbia. But as it turns out, Spurrier’s not actually unwilling nor unable–he just needed Marcus Lattimore to do it. Which is how the big freshman racked up 37 carries (!) and 182 yards in Carolina’s pivotal 17-6 win over the Dawgs. With Lattimore and a suddenly functional offensive line, a confident-looking Stephen Garcia, and some of the most difficult matchups in the league at receiver, this is a frightening and frighteningly balanced offense, all opposite what’s clearly Ellis Johnson’s usual fundamentally-sound defense.
We’ve assumed for a while that Auburn might be favored in every game until the Iron Bowl, and at least would be until Arkansas or LSU rolled into town. But if Auburn doesn’t dominate Clemson, it’s now entirely possible the Tigers will be an underdog as soon as Week 4.
Worry Level: Up.
Week 5: UL-Monroe. The Warhawks started their season off in fine form, holding Arkansas to one touchdown in the first half. Too bad they allowed 24 more in the second and only scored 7 themselves.
Worry Level: Flatlined
Week 6: Kentucky. The poor Hilltoppers at Western Kentucky have made a habit of kindly offering up points by the bushels to SEC foes, but they may have topped themselves (sorry) by yielding 42 in a half to Kentucky. The ‘Cats would go on to score 63 in all–their most in a single game since 2002–to win by 35. It’s just WKU, sure, but it’s still a powerful warning that the ‘Cats Cobb/Locke time-bombs are still around and can go off at any time. At least the ‘Cats might have some defensive problems: they allowed Western tailback Bobby Rainey to go off for 184 yards on just 22 carries.
Worry Level: Up, but just a tick
Week 7: Arkansas. As mentioned, the Hogs wallowed around in failed third downs and turnovers for a half before turning it on against ULM in the second 30 minutes. It’s just nice to have the reminder that Mallett can still be erratic and scattershot (yes, both!), even if just for a half, against even the most uninspiring competition and at home.
Oh, and remember that turnover thing? Arkansas has committed six for the season and are already at -4 for the year.
Worry Level: Down, just a tick
Week 8: LSU. It took four quarters for the Purple Tigers to make their statistical supremacy count on the scoreboard, but 17 fourth-quarter points eventually put the ‘Dores away in Nashville, 27-3. The LSU defense did a number on the poor ‘Dores (“‘Pores”?), holding them to 135 yards total and only allowing them to cross midfield twice.
And still the game was 10-3 after three. You can’t really criticize LSU for not putting them away earlier on the road, but you can’t give them too much credit, either, not when Vandy’s in one of those “I think we’ll give up a 15-yard penalty or fall over our own feet for a sack, just for the hell of it” kind of moods.
Worry Level: Steady (at “Not very worried.”)
Week 9: Ole Miss. Man, second halves are just not the Rebels’ thing this year; this time, they took a 24-3 lead into the break against Tulane, but failed to score a second-half touchdown and let the Green Wave claw within 24-13 before tacking on a late field goal for a 14-point victory. This is the same Tulane team, by the way, that eked past Southeastern Louisiana 27-21 Week 1 despite being outgained by a handful of yards. Ole Miss’s yardage margin in this one? All of 62 yards.
The game was held down in the Superdome, so at least the Rebels weren’t at home, but this is still not the way you want to make up for the previous week’s embarrassment. As of today, Ole Miss is the worst team in SEC West, and it’s not even close.
Worry Level: Down. Yes, even more.
Week 10: Chattanooga. The Mocs were the latest victims of Jacksonville St.’s reign of comeback terror, taking a 17-0 second-half lead against the ‘Cocks before giving up 21 unanswered and losing 21-17. So I guess they’re maybe a little worse than Ole Miss.
As with last week’s loss to Appalachian St., the feedback we’re getting here is “above-average FCS team,” but nothing more.
Worry Level: Flatlined.
Week 11: Georgia. As mentioned, the Dawgs didn’t put many points up on the scoreboard in Columbia, but they weren’t all that toothless: three of their eight possessions (that’s right, each team had as many shots at the ball as Auburn and Arky St. both had in their shared first half) ended in the red zone, the Dawgs managed a respectable 5.4 yards per-play, and theoretical weak link Aaron Murray hit 14-of-21 for better than 9 yards an attempt. So, some good things. They just happened to be outweighed by their subsequent failures in the red zone (two field goals, a backbreaking Washaun Ealey fumble) and inability to keep Lattimore from bleeding the clock to its death throes.
Not a great Georgia performance, no. But not the kind that makes me think just yet the game in Jordan-Hare is anything other than a tossup.
Worry Level: Steady
Week 12: Alabama. On the one hand, yes, the Tide choked the life out of a ranked team, simply annihilated their front seven, and had the game won by halftime. You can’t quibble with that … much. But what quibble room there is comes in the from of those long Penn State drives that ended in turnovers in the first half; 10 points out of those, and the end result is still the same, but it’s at least a little more interesting. And I have to point out there’s a reason I haven’t ranked Penn State at all in my BlogPoll ballot; I think they’re kind of crap.
My point: 24-3 or no 24-3, the jury is still very much out, if you ask me, on whether this is actually a 2008 or 2009-style juggernaut … or, more likely, not.
Worry Level: Steady (well … maybe up a very slight amount)
THE CONQUERED (AND THE CONQUERORS)
Ryan Aplin proved his Auburn performance was no fluke, hitting 25-of-45 for 438 yards against Louisiana (i.e. UL-Lafayette), but it wasn’t enough to vault Arkansas St. past the homestanding Ragin’ Cajuns, 31-24 winners. The problem for ASU? First-half defense, as three Cajun TDs dug the Red Wolves a 24-7 halftime deficit even Aplin couldn’t dig them out of.
THE BIG PICTURE
Not much change from last week, though Carolina’s obvious quality (and even Kentucky’s volatility) make it less likely than ever Auburn makes it into the Arkansas/LSU back-to-back unscathed. But still no reason to think either of those games or the Georgia tilt are any tougher than they were when the season started, so it could be worse.
*It’s Monday morning. You’ll get better analogies later in the week.