Our midseason tour through FBS comes to a close with the SEC and Big 12. For those curious, we held those two for the end because of the ESPN-driven agenda to fill College Football Playoff with only teams from the SEC, Big 12 and Notre Dame. (Kidding, of course.)
Georgia (5-1, 3-1): Georgia suffered a painful loss to South Carolina in September, its only setback of the season. Of course, the last two times Georgia lost to South Carolina the Bulldogs won out from there, claimed the SEC East title, and then took leads in the SEC Championship game in the second half, despite ultimately losing. Georgia has a tough game against Auburn waiting – unlike 2011 and 2012 – but you’d be a brave man to put your money on anyone other than Georgia to win the East.
Kentucky (5-1, 2-1): Kentucky is a triple-overtime loss at Florida away from being undefeated and ranked in the top… 15? Higher? The best team Mark Stoop’s Wildcats have beaten is a South Carolina group that Steve Spurrier can’t wait to insult, so Kentucky fans shouldn’t start booking their New Year’s plane tickets to Florida just yet. It’s not a stretch to say every game remaining on the schedule (save for Tennessee, who Kentucky has beaten once since 1985) is more difficult than any game the Wildcats have played thus far.
Florida (3-2, 2-2): That LSU loss really dampens the possibilities of this season. If you assume losses to Georgia and Florida State, the best Will Muschamp can do is 7-4. Both games are winnable… but home dates with Missouri and South Carolina are also quite losable.
Missouri (4-2, 1-1): Yes, Missouri went on the road and beat South Carolina, but for my money the best game the Tigers have played so far is a 38-10 blowout of Central Florida. This feels like a season where an 8-4 final record would be a nice accomplishment for Gary Pinkel.
South Carolina (3-3, 2-3): What we were all thinking in preseason, “Man, it’s a good thing South Carolina gets Tennessee at home, because I’m not sure they go into the Swamp and win, and they still have Auburn and Clemson.”
Tennessee (3-3, 0-2): Turns out losing your entire offensive and defensive lines isn’t ideal. The Vols are getting better, but with Ole Miss and Alabama up next, they’re likely to be 3-5 with South Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri to follow. The good news is the entire fan base seems to be fully in support of Butch Jones, which they should be.
Vanderbilt (2-5, 0-4): The ‘Dores have beaten Massachusetts by three and Charleston Southern by one, and haven’t come within 10 points of anyone else. Let’s just check back next year.
Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0): Mississippi State has ridden the best three weeks in school history to the first No. 1 ranking in program history. You know that by now. Now here’s the scary part: despite their current post atop the mountain, Mississippi State’s non-conference schedule (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and UT-Martin) plus the draw of Vanderbilt as its rotating SEC East opponent means Mississippi State has the slimmest margin of error of all the SEC West contenders.
Ole Miss (6-0, 3-0): Ole Miss has two games remaining against ranked opponents, No. 6 Auburn and No. 1 Mississippi State, and both are at home. That will almost certainly come in handy. This is the part where I should caution against overlooking Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas, but did you see what this defense did to Alabama and Texas A&M?
Alabama (5-1, 2-1): If you’re pegging late risers, how about Alabama? The Tide gets Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn, three opportunities for impressive wins, all at home. Considering Alabama hit Florida for 645 yards in its last home game and 623 yards combined at Ole Miss and Arkansas, that seems important.
Auburn (5-1, 2-1): On the flip side, Auburn still has to visit Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. This season the Tigers average 47.5 points per game at home, and 21.5 on the road, with no road gimmes remaining.
Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2): What a first half it’s been for the Aggies. At one point Texas A&M was 5-0 and looked like it was ready to compete for the Playoff a year or two early. Now they’re 5-2 and lucky not to be 4-3 with a trip to Alabama coming Saturday. Johnny Manziel turned Alabama into his personal Heisman highlight reel (907 yards and seven touchdowns in two games), and Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital undoubtedly have some holes they’d like to exploit. Manziel is gone – as the Mississippi schools brutally reminded us – but getting Malcome Kennedy back will help.
LSU (5-2, 1-2): That Florida win was massive for saving this season from something worse than just your garden variety down year. The Bayou Bengals are decided underdogs at Kentucky, and then they host Ole Miss and Alabama.
Arkansas (3-3, 0-3): Arkansas has to be the most frustrating team in college football this season. I don’t say that as snark, but as a point of empathy for their fans, students and coaches. The Razorbacks go toe-to-toe with Auburn for a half, and then get outscored 24-0 in the second half. Then they build a 28-14 lead over Texas A&M, have not one but two certain scoring chances called back due to penalty, and lose 35-28 in overtime. Then they outrush Alabama by nearly 100 yards and generally stymie everything the Alabama offense tries to do, but lose because their kicking game can’t get out of their own way. This either needs a friend to hug or a wall to punch, and possibly both.
Baylor (6-0, 3-0): Baylor is the last undefeated team remaining in the Big 12, which means they are all but guaranteed to lose at Oklahoma on Nov. 8. It’s happened every year of the Big 12’s round-robin era: Oklahoma State was undefeated until November in 2011, and then lost at Iowa State, Kansas State was undefeated until late November, and then lost at Baylor, and last November Baylor was undefeated until a loss at Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State (5-1, 3-0): The Cowboys have an argument for the nation’s toughest remaining schedule, with road games at No. 12 TCU, No. 14 Kansas State, No. 4 Baylor and No. 11 Oklahoma remaining, plus home games against an improved West Virginia and a rapidly improving Texas.
Kansas State (4-1, 2-0): The Wildcats have rebounded nicely from one of the season’s most maddening losses, a 20-14 Thursday night setback against Auburn, and have a chance to make some noise both inside and outside the conference provided they get better quarterback play from Jake Waters than they got against the Tigers.
Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1): If you’re looking, Alabama style, for a late riser in the Big 12, Oklahoma gets Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State in Norman, where the Sooners are (usually) unbeatable.
West Virginia (4-2, 2-1): Give Dana Holgorsen a healthy quarterback, and he’ll give you a good team. The Mountaineers are up 77 spots in passing efficiency, from 102nd to 25th, and the defense has also jumped about 20 spots in scoring defense and yards per play. If there’s one thing West Virginia absolutely must do to take the next step, it’s to turn their home-field advantage into a scoreboard advantage. WVU is just 4-7 in Big 12 home games.
TCU (4-1, 1-1): For this week, at least, the sixth-place team in the Big 12 is ranked No. 12 in the latest AP poll. This is Gary Patterson’s best team since TCU joined the Big 12, and one awful 12-minute stretch doesn’t change that.
Texas (2-4, 1-2): Aside from the moral victories of close losses to Baylor and Oklahoma, there is real proof that Charlie Strong is turning things around in Austin. Texas is fourth nationally in yards per play allowed, third in passing defense, fourth in pass efficiency defense, fifth in yards per attempt allowed, has a near 1-to-2 touchdown pass allowed-to-interception ratio, and just hit Oklahoma for 482 yards of total offense and 24 first downs. Keep that up from here on out and the Longhorns will like where they end up.
Kansas (2-4, 0-3): The only odd thing about the Charlie Weis hiring? It came soon after his only two-touchdown win over FBS competition during his tenure in Lawrence. Sure, it was a 24-10 win over Central Michigan, but still.
Texas Tech (2-4, 0-3): In the running for the most disappointing first half in college football, West Virginia poured salt on the wound by rallying from a 34-20 deficit to beat Texas Tech 37-34 on a 55-yard field goal as time expired last Saturday. Time heals all wounds, though, and so does getting Kansas at home, which the Red Raiders do Saturday.
Iowa State (2-4, 0-3): I believe Paul Rhoads is the right coach for Iowa State, and judging by the constant supportive crowds at Jack Trice Stadium, the fan base apparently does, too. But then there’s this: Rhoads has never posted a winning conference record in Ames, and is 2-10 in Big 12 play since the beginning of last season.