What a crazy weekend we had in college football last weekend. Half of the top 10 teams got beat, as well another teams ranked in the top 25. We also saw the emergence of two more SEC teams with potential to make some noise in the College Football Playoff: the Ole Miss Rebels and Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Last Saturday, the Bulldogs, led by Heisman candidate quarterback Dak Prescott, put a beat down on the Aggies of Texas A&M 48-31. The game was not as close as the score may show, but Mississippi State controlled the entire game. Later in the day, the Rebels pulled off a big upset by beating Alabama 23-17. It was such a big win that students and fans rushed the field and tore down the goalposts. The wins led to both teams being ranked in the top 5 after the weekend. It is the first time both teams have ever been ranked in the top 5 at the same time. With these wins comes even more complications in the SEC West. There are just so many good teams in the division. You could argue that five of the teams in the West are worthy of winning the conference and making the College Football Playoff. With this many good teams in just a single division of a conference, we can expect the rest of the season to be quite exciting.
After the first six weeks of the season, the West has three teams that have not yet lost a game. The Auburn Tigers are ranked second behind last years champion Florida State, although an argument could be made that they are the superior team so far this season. The Tigers have played two SEC teams, Arkansas and LSU, and have outscored them 86-28. Talk about total domination. Gus Malzahn’s offense is an absolute machine, and they have the perfect guy running the show in Nick Marshall. Marshall’s been extremely efficient so far, throwing for 755 yards and 8 touchdowns with only 1 interception. Where he has really been big though is running the ball, going for 392 yards and 4 scores. Cameron Artis-Payne came in this season as the new starting running back, and hasn’t disappointed. So far, he has 594 yards and 5 touchdowns. Between these two guys and a good receiving group led by D’haquille Williams and Sammie Coats, this offense has been dominant and plan on continuing that throughout the season. With a great offense and a defense that doesn’t give up too many points, the War Eagle has another legitimate shot at making the Playoff.
Everything I said about Nick Marshall having a good season, well multiply that by ten, and that’s the season Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is having. The junior came in to the season with a little Heisman hype, and he has exceeded those expectations, becoming a possible frontrunner for the coveted prize. Prescott has simply taken over every game he’s played in this season. So far this season, Prescott’s thrown for 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns and has run for 455 yards and 6 scores. Through 5 games, those sure look like Heisman numbers to me. The scary thing about this Bulldog offense is that they have weapons all over the field. Josh Robinson ranks fourth in the SEC with 592 yards, and they have a duo of receivers that have explosive playmaking ability. De’Runnya Wilson and Jameon Lewis have both been big time players in this offense, combining for 470 and 6 touchdowns. This offense looks the part of an SEC champion, but where they struggle is on defense, particularly in their secondary. They have a very good front seven, but teams are able to throw the ball all over them. Opponents have passed for 1,641 yards and 9 touchdowns against State so far.
While Auburn and Mississippi State have staked their claims among the SEC elite on the offensive side of the ball, it’s been the Ole Miss defense that has been dominant so far. No team has given up fewer touchdowns than the Landshark D. They are ranked fifth nationally in total defense. They have a dominant defensive line led by super sophomore Robert Nkemdiche and and secondary led by All-American safety Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson, who leads the SEC in interceptions. They have speed all across their defense are sound tacklers. While they don’t have huge sack numbers, they always seem to have a guy in the backfield getting in the quarterbacks face. The Rebels have gone with the old football adage that “defense wins championships,” and this defense is certainly championship worthy. Their offense hasn’t been too shabby either. We have seen some shaky play by senior quarterback Bo Wallace, but nobody can argue that his game against Alabama was anything but spectacular. He has thrown too many interceptions this season, but he’s also thrown for 1,522 yards and 14 touchdowns, which are both near the top in the SEC. Their running backs haven’t put up huge numbers, but they also use a committee approach. They have 5 guys who have 20+ rushes, led by speedster Jaylen Walton with 238 yards and 3 scores. Where this offense is very good is its receiving corps. They have a true number 1 in Laquon Treadwell, and guys like Cody Core, Evan Engram and Vince Sanders that have all made big plays this year and seem to play well with each other. Laquon is the star, with 25 catches for 362 yards and 4 scores. Cody Core has home run ability, averaging nearly 16 yards per catch. Evan Engram is the tight end that they move all around the field and he still seems to make plays. Vince Sanders has a great set of hands and is a guy Bo can rely on to make the catch. These receivers are the studs of the offense, and are who make this unit dangerous.
This weekend, College GameDay will be making a trip to Starkville for the Auburn vs. Mississippi State game. With Auburn ranked 2 and State ranked 3, this game will have major implications in the West and the national stage. One of the favorites to win the West will be handed their first loss. This one will be an offensive showcase, and those are always fun to watch. I think that the team with the better defense will ultimately come out of this matchup on top. Can the Tigers defense be the first to keep Dak Prescott contained, or can the Bulldog D stop the machine that is the Auburn offense? This will be a great game, and could be even more exciting than last season’s when Auburn scored a late touchdown to seal their win. All college football fans should check this game out, because it will be a good one.
On Saturday night, Ole Miss will travel to College Station and take on the Aggies. This is the first big road test for the Rebs, which makes Rebel fans nervous. They really haven’t played a tough game on the road yet. Fans will be anxious to see how they will respond coming off their win last weekend against Alabama. The Aggies will be hungry to bounce back from their loss to Mississippi State and prove that they are still worthy of being the top team in the SEC West. While the biggest storyline will be the nasty Landshark D against Kenny Trill and the Aggies dangerous offense, equally as important will be how the Rebel offense and Aggie defense will match up. The Rebels have come out slow in the first half of games this season, and if they do this week, they could potentially dig a hole and look up to see themselves down in the game. This game will be equally as important to the SEC West standings and could shake things up in the division.
Alabama will be looking to bounce back from their loss to Ole Miss, facing off against Arkansas. The Hogs are much improved this season, and like to play a physical brand of football. Alabama will come out angry and prove that they are still the class of the SEC by pounding the rock with their stud tailbacks. Overall, this will be a pound-it-out, bruising game that old school football fans will love, but I expect the Tide to came out mad and shut the Razorbacks down.
LSU will try to snap their 2-game losing streak against the equally disappointing Florida Gators. If you like a good quarterback duel, then don’t watch this game. Neither team has a quarterback they are sold on, and this game will come down to who can stop the other teams running game. LSU was simply mollywhopped by Auburn last weekend, which was the teams worst loss under coach Les Miles. Florida is coming off a close win in Knoxville against the Vols, and are looking to get their struggling quarterback Jeff Driskel on track. Expect an ugly game that will come down to which defense has the best day.
With the Mississippi teams emerging, the SEC West has without question the most dominant division in college football. If Arkansas can sneak in the top 25 at some point this season, then every team in the West will have been ranked. We can’t sleep on Alabama either, who hasn’t lost more that 3 games since 2007. They always seem to make a push for the SEC championship, and have the players on both sides of the ball to make that push. Texas A&M may have cooled off since their red hot start courtesy of Kenny Hill, but they still have the offensive firepower to beat anyone. LSU may be suffering from a down year by their standards, but they can still compete with anyone in the SEC. With all this talent in the West, these teams are going to pound each other. I would be surprised if any team goes through the season undefeated. With that said, I think that there could also be two teams from the West that could make the playoff. It’s going to be fun watching these teams as the season goes on, and make sure to expect the unexpected.