Week 5: UL-Monroe. I guess the bright side for the Warhawks is that there are worse things than turnover-fueled one-point escapes from lower-level FCS opponents in which you average a mediocre 4.2 yards an offensive snap. Of course, most of them are “actually losing to lower-level FCS opponents.”
Worry Level: Flatlined
Week 6: Kentucky. The ‘Cats waited longer than a quarter to completely collapse this time, but in the end they still offered up their usual mystifying choke job against the Gators, giving up two touchdowns on Florida’s first two possessions and losing 48-14 in Gainesville. Still, it wasn’t all bad for the ‘Cats: they racked up 23 first downs and a fairly impressive 352 yards on the road against one of the nation’s better defenses. We’ve seen worse from them against Meyer’s bunch … but it nonetheless looks like those first few games may have been mostly illusory.
Worry Level: Down some
Week 7: Arkansas. We all know what happened to the Hogs. But this doesn’t do much to change my opinion of them: their defense is better, the receivers are terrific (when they’re not contracting their occasionally, horribly-timed case of the dropsies), the line and backs are competent at worst … but it’s not going to mean a thing if Mallett decides to go off on one of his spiritual journeys of football enlightenment through ball sharing again. Arkansas could beat anyone in the country–anyone–but could also lose to anyone other than Vandy, probably, in the SEC. This still looks likes Auburn’s toughest game that’s not in Tuscaloosa, but it’s definitely doable if they can rattle Mallett.
Worry Level: Steady, maybe Down just a tick now since Mallett’s still so easily bothered by pressure
Week 8: LSU. Some respect is due for John Chavis and the LSU defense, who have been lights-out since the North Carolina game. They held West Virginia to all of 177 yards and a completely miserable 3.2 yards a play. Of course, they’ve had to be lights out, because I think Gary Crowton might be in the midst of the worst SEC coaching job since Tony Franklin; the LSU offense managed only 230 yards and 12 first downs themselves, and poor Jordan Jefferson is a total wreck by this point: 10-for-22, 75 yards (3.4 YPA), 0 TDs, 2 picks. The LSU defense may be capable of keeping the Bayou Bengals in any game they play, but it’s hard to see them doing enoiug hto actually win too many games against the SEC’s upper tier.
Worry Level: Down.
Week 9: Ole Miss. We’ve all known that Ole Miss was going to beat someone of importance this year, and if Fresno St. doesn’t quite qualify, the Rebels showed how they plan on doing it: by cramming it smack down the opponent’s throat. Ole Miss gouged Fresno for 425 yards (!) on the ground, an average of 9 per carry. Masoli connected on only 8 passes (on 12 attempts), but with so much emphasis on the run, those went for a healthy 153 yards (12.8 YPA) and 2 TDs. The problem: the Ole Miss defense was nearly as generous, yielding 420 yards of offense to the Bulldogs, and things won’t get any easier for Tyrone Nix without his best defensive end. Still, if the Matt Jones days for Nutt are alive and well with Masoli, the visit to Oxford won’t be easy.
Worry Level: Up a bit
Week 10: Chattanooga. Whoops–a six-point win over perennial SoCon sad-sack Western Carolina isn’t going to do much for the Mocs’ profile.
Worry Level: Flatlined
Week 11: Georgia. Oh heavens, Dawgs. I thought State would pick off someone down in Starkville this season, but falling behind 24-6 in the fourth? Yeesh. A.J. Green isn’t capable of solving this many problems. We’ll see what happens when he returns, but at this point, it’s tough for me to see a Dawg offense this stagnant (and this insistent on shooting itself in the foot) keeping pace in Jordan-Hare.
Worry Level: Down, down, down
Week 12: Alabama. Credit where it’s due: I doubt anyone other than maybe an Ohio St. or Oregon comes from 13 points behind to win that game in Fayetteville. It took two weeks for Ingram to get back to being the best all-around back in the country, and that offensive line is worth the hype. But Mallett showed that the defense is worth its hype, too; there are chinks in the armor. Overall, the Tide are who we thought they were: an incredible, deservingly No. 1 team … that has just enough flaws that I don’t see why a team like Auburn has to live in terror of them.
Worry Level: Steady (at “Very High, But Not as High As Last Year”)
THE CONQUERED (AND THE CONQUERORS)
Clemson took the week off–Kyle Parker thinks that’s some pretty shrewd foresight there, Tiger brass–but as we’ve already seen, Mississippi State did Auburn a favor by proving that however difficult winning in Starkville may or may not be, Georgia sure as hell couldn’t do it. With Houston’s top two quarterbacks out, all State should need in the SEC is a win over Kentucky or Ole Miss to make a bowl.
Arkansas St. looked to be on the cusp of a huge win, taking a 28-27 lead at Troy with less than a minute remaining, but the Red Wolves gave up the game-winning touchdown just 34 seconds later and lost 35-28, essentially ending any hope of a dark horse run to the Sun Belt crown. Oh well.
THE OVERALL PICTURE
With LSU and Georgia looking so unimpressive and the trip to Kentucky looking a little less terrifying, the “Iron Bowl for a trip to Atlanta” might not qualify as a likelihood just yet, but it could be just another couple of weeks away.