It was a topsy-turvy week for many teams across the college football landscape. In the SEC, Alabama made a big statement in the West, while losses by Georgia and Florida opened up the race in the East.
After five weeks, I give you the first SEC Gridiron Gradebook.
The Crimson Tide did more on Saturday night than even they may be fully aware.
First, they remain one of only three teams in the SEC without a loss, which ultimately means that they have an inside track to winning the Western Division. By beating No. 3 Georgia, they shook up the race in the Eastern Division as well. Finally, by blowing out the Bulldogs, they sent the message that Alabama football is back.
Alabama scored five times and led 31-0 before their first punt midway through the third quarter and never seemed fazed by the hostile crowd in Athens. John Parker Wilson was as confident on the field, surrounded by guys who wanted to tackle him, as he no doubt is on Friday nights when surrounded by college girls who want to do the same thing.
The Tide defense was downright scary in the first half, and it’s entirely possible that they got bored in the fourth quarter.
The most important number of all for the Tide is two. That’s how many games they play away from the friendly confines in Tuscaloosa: first against a Tennessee team that has a huge question mark at QB, and then against an unproven LSU team that continues to serve up some kind of whacky Kool-Aid to poll voters like they’re Jim Jones.
The Commodores are 4-0 for the first time in decades, and with an extra week of practice before their toughest game of the season so far against Auburn, they actually have a shot to get to 5-0.
More important than the extra week of preparation may be the fact that they didn’t have to play on a day when ranked college football teams decided to fall down the stairs.
The funny thing is that Vandy dominates teams by not dominating them, if that makes sense. They wore down South Carolina in Week Two. Offensively, they aren’t spectacular, but they play well enough to win. They’ve only turned the ball over five times all season, and all have been fumbles.
Quarterback Chris Nickson is proving to be a solid leader, leading the team with almost three hundred yards rushing and passing, and six touchdowns, three passing and three rushing.
With only one major road test left in the SEC, at Georgia on Oct. 18, the Commodores could do something special this year. Saturday’s game against Auburn marks the first time in school history that Vanderbilt has hosted College GameDay.
The thing about LSU is that they somehow manage to win games. On Saturday against Mississippi State, they just didn’t seem to want to put the Bulldogs away.
The Tigers have picked on weaker teams so far. Their most impressive victory so far came at Auburn, and we’ve seen how overrated Auburn is.
Despite their tough remaining schedule, LSU only plays at Florida, South Carolina, and Arkansas, all of which they will enter as the favorite. Arguably, the two biggest games they have left are at home against Georgia and Alabama.
Until they prove me wrong, they are the fifth-best team in the country, and only time will tell.
4. (tie) Florida and Georgia
At this point in the season, the Gators and Bulldogs are the same team. Both were upset at home on Saturday, and both had glaring weaknesses exposed.
For Florida, Tim Tebow has not lived up to the expectations after last year’s Heisman Trophy.
Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt outcoached the Gators' golden boy, Urban Meyer—and if Nutt can do it, odds are any one of four coaches left on Florida’s schedule can do the same.
Prior to the 2008 season, Tebow stated that his main goal was to win an SEC Championship. To do so, he may need to return for his senior year.
Georgia is left wondering what might have been. After Alabama thumped them on Saturday night, the Bulldogs learned the hard way that a weak non-conference schedule hurts. Offensively, they couldn’t convert on third and long. Defensively, they couldn’t get a stop on third and long.
Now they have to worry about whether Knowshon Moreno will be available against Tennessee.
Florida was caught off guard and exposed by a lesser team. The Bulldogs simply weren’t ready for Alabama. Georgia and Florida could both lose four more games. Vanderbilt and LSU are looming for both, and Georgia still has to travel to Auburn.
If not for a gift-wrapped touchdown following a Jonathan Crompton fumble on the goal line, Auburn would have lost Saturday to Tennessee. Defensively, the Tigers were solid. They contained the Vols’ passing game and limited Tennessee to only 191 total yards, plus they scored the Tigers’ only touchdown.
As good as the defense played, the offense played that poorly. For most of the second half, Auburn stayed behind the 50-yard line, with four three-and-outs in the fourth quarter, and they needed a fluke play to keep the final drive—if you could call it that—alive. The road doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers.
The Wildcats are severely untested this season. Their 27-2 victory over Louisville isn’t nearly as impressive now as it was when it happened, and they play at Alabama this weekend in what may become known as the Blood Bowl.
They dominated Western Kentucky on Saturday, 41-3, but allowed Hilltopper Bobby Rainey to gain 99 yards on just nine carries. Alabama is much better than Western Kentucky. Still, Kentucky is unbeaten entering SEC play.
8. Ole Miss
Ole Miss put the rest of the country on upset watch, where we stayed for the remainder of the night. They exposed many weaknesses in Florida’s game plan, forced three turnovers, and limited Tim Tebow on the ground, where he is most dangerous.
Offensively, the Rebels made big plays, including the 86-yard touchdown pass to Shay Hodge that put the Rebels up 31-24 with 5:26 left.
Think about this. If not for their two-point loss at Wake Forest and a heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt in the final minute, the Rebels would be undefeated. Then again, “if” is the middle word in life.
Phillip Fulmer began the week by announcing an open competition for the starting quarterback job, which has to be music to the ears of Volunteers everywhere. That remains their only major question, and Gerald Jones is likely to get more chances there.
The defense kept Auburn pinned deep in their own end for most of the second half, and if not for a first half fumble in the end zone, which Auburn recovered for the deciding touchdown, they would have won.
The weirdest thing is that Tennessee isn’t out of the running for the Eastern Division. If they want to make a move, they need Crompton, or whoever else plays at quarterback, to complete more than eight passes for 67 yards.
10. South Carolina
The Gamecocks squeaked past UAB, 26-13. One bright spot was quarterback Stephen Garcia, who stepped up to lead South Carolina with 131 yards and a touchdown through the air, as well as 86 yards rushing and another touchdown.
Defensively, the Gamecocks played well, forcing three turnovers and limiting UAB to just over 200 yards.
Without teams like Wofford and UAB to beat up on, the season is about to get a lot longer for South Carolina. They play at Kentucky, Florida, and Clemson, and host LSU.
11. Mississippi State
Mississippi State showed a lot of heart by hanging with LSU. The Bulldogs refused to go away. They gained 110 yards rushing against a Tiger defense that was allowing just over 50 yards per game, and they have played one of the toughest schedules thus far in the SEC.
The Razorbacks beat Western Illinois 28-24 and Louisiana-Monroe 28-27 to open the season. Then they were blown out by Alabama, 49-14, and steamrolled by Texas, 52-10. I call that bad karma for Bobby Petrino.
The only thing worse than their offense is their defense. The Hogs could get blown out five more times this season.