The college football season gets another week older, and many eyes will be focused on the SEC. Here is a rundown of the key storylines to watch for in the second half of the season as Kentucky takes on Vanderbilt in Lexington on Saturday.
1. Malzahn Officially on the Hot Seat
The SEC has seen many surprises both good and bad so far this season, however, no surprise has been bigger than the utter disappointment that the Auburn Tigers have been.
Remember when they were ranked in the top 10 at the start of the season and they just won a huge game over the Washington Huskies?
Well fast forward to the unofficial halfway point of the 2018 season, and the Auburn Tigers are in sole possession of sixth place in the SEC West after losing at home to hapless Tennessee.
What on earth has happened to the squad that was supposed to give Alabama a run for its money? It all starts with the head ball coach. Gus Malzahn was once prophesied to be the man who would take down Saban’s Alabama powerhouse after he led the Tigers to the National Championship Game in the 2013 season.
Almost five years later and underneath Malzahn in that timespan the Tigers are just 37-23, 1-3 in bowl games, and 1-3 against Alabama. They also only have one double-digit win season in that timespan, and unless they win out completely (including their potential bowl game) that will not be the case again this season.
Auburn Fans: “I’m tired of Auburn playing like crap…”
Gus Malzahn: pic.twitter.com/hcPgZYxcMu
— . (@csmit___) October 13, 2018
Seven games into a 7-year $49 million contract for his head coach, Auburn's AD was asked this question: "How do you assure fans Gus Malzahn is the coach for Auburn in the future?"
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) October 15, 2018
With an offense that has been as bad as Auburn’s, who knows if the Tigers can even defeat an average Ole Miss team this weekend on the road. For Malzahn’s sake, he had better get this win.
Remember, Auburn still has Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama all still left on the schedule. The writing will be on the wall for Malzahn if he falls to a very beatable Rebels squad.
2. Disappointing Quarterback Play
Let’s get one thing straight here: this part of the post excludes Tua Tagovailoa completely. He is having (so far) the single greatest season a college football quarterback has ever had. That’s not an overstatement either just check the stats.
This is an analysis from top to bottom of the quarterbacks in the SEC until this point in the season. In short, this group has been underwhelming at best once we exclude Tua.
Guess who has the fourth highest quarterback rating in the conference? That would be Jarret Guarantano of Tennessee. Yikes. Guess who is second in passing yardage? That would be Kellen Mond of Texas A&M. Yikes again.
Out of all of college football in total QBR there is only three quarterbacks from the SEC in the top 30 which are Tua, Jordan Ta’amu from Ole Miss, and Guarantano.
Let me breakdown every starting quarterback really quick just so you can see how disappointing they have been.
Ta’amu is having a nice season thanks mostly in part to the best receiving core in the nation. Mond has played well but is still inconsistent. Guarantano has been bad his entire career until last week’s game against Auburn.
Jake Fromm has been lethargic lately and everyone is calling for Justin Fields to start. Feleipe Franks somehow has a completion percentage of 56% and is fifth in the conference in quarterback rating (plus he is bad). Drew Lock has disappointed so far as well as Jake Bentley. Kyle Shurmur is Kyle Shurmur.
Jake Fromm and Jarrett Stidham pic.twitter.com/NeAuVhm5kk
— Connor (@McCartyConnor) October 13, 2018
Jarrett Stidham and Nick Fitzgerald have had disastrous seasons and those entire fans bases are calling for them to be benched. Ty Storey is bad, and the last time we saw Terry Wilson he was scared to throw a football (plus he is second to last in quarterback rating among starters in the conference).
Jarrett Stidham: Will you marry me?
Kennedy Brown: Only if you give up your heisman hopes and completely stop trying to win.
Jarrett Stidham: ……..deal
— caleb (@calebcoons_) October 13, 2018
Also, don’t bring Joe Burrow into this as your savior. I doubled down on him two weeks ago as being good and that’s been my worst opinion of the season. He is 12th out of the 14 starters in quarterback rating and he has a completion percentage of 53%. Burrow is not a good passer.
Hopefully I’ve made my case clear. Tua and Ta’amu (both from Hawaii) are the only consistent starting quarterbacks in the SEC and we are heading into week eight.
Thank you very much Hawaii.
3. Is the SEC East Back?
In much more positive news, the SEC East has had an extremely impressive first half of the season when compared to how the division has played in recent years.
Now, three teams from the East are ranked within in the top 14 teams in the nation: Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky. That is simply an incredibly improvement from what we have come to expect from this division.
If Georgia beats Florida next week, then the Missouri game also becomes somewhat irrelevant for UK
The SEC East would come down to UK beating Georgia in Lexington. It is all there for the taking
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) October 13, 2018
The only question is can this success be sustained? We just saw Georgia play terribly at LSU and Kentucky fall at Texas A&M. Florida has been hot, but just how good are the Gators?
Considering that there are two head-to-head matchups left between these three teams, we will truly see who is for real. Florida and Georgia both have their bye this week and Kentucky gets Vanderbilt so expect the top of the East to still look great heading into week nine.
4. Mississippi State’s One Last Chance
There has been no denying that Mississippi State has had a disappointing season thus far. For a team that many people thought could contend for a SEC Championship, starting off 3-2 was terrible.
However, the Bulldogs were able to bounce back strongly with a huge win over Auburn, and they got a much-needed week of rest as they are coming off their bye.
It would be incredibly difficult, but this team can still contend for possibly second place in the very talented SEC West which means the Bulldogs could still make a large bowl game. Considering they are ranked once again (No. 22) they can still salvage their season.
The bad news is that they must travel to Death Valley today to take on the red-hot No. 5 LSU Tigers. The conventional wisdom here would be that the Bulldogs have no chance against a squad seemingly destined for this glory year especially when that team is playing at home.
I just don’t think it will be that easy for LSU. This will be the fourth ranked matchup in their last six games. It doesn’t matter how good you are that kind of wear and tear will start to show.
If Mississippi State wins it will reload their entire season and put them back near the top 15. They should be more motivated in this one, they are coming off a week of rest, and despite a bad season so far, the Bulldogs will have the best quarterback in this game with Fitzgerald.
Nick Fitzgerald has done it!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 7, 2018
Call me crazy but I think Mississippi State will cover the spread (6.5 points) in this matchup, and I would not be surprised at all if they won this one.
5. Time for Missouri to Hit Panic Mode
Missouri has been another disappointing team from the SEC so far. With Drew Lock at quarterback, many thought that they would have a great chance to place second in the East behind Georgia.
Well that did not work out the way people thought it would considering that it is halfway through October and the Tigers have failed to win an SEC game yet (0-3).
After losing three straight games, it is time for Missouri to start playing with an overall sense of urgency. They still have two ranked opponents on their schedule plus a Tennessee team that seems rejuvenated.
This week they play a nonconference game against the electric Memphis Tigers. If Missouri is not careful they could easily mess around and drop a game they should win. After all, Memphis has the nation’s leading rusher in Darrell Henderson who is averaging an insane 10 yards per carry!
CFB 20+ YARD PLAYS
1 Darrell Henderson/MEM 21
2 Jerry Jeudy/BAMA 14
3 AJ Brown/OLEMISS 13
3 Tylan Wallace/OKST 13
5 Travis Fulgham/ODU 12
5 Andy Isabella/UMASS 12
5 Jermar Jefferson/OREST 12
5 Dillon Mitchell/ORE 12
5 Jace Sternberger/TAMU 12
5 Papi White/OHIO 12
— CFB Focus ? (@cffmwachsman) October 14, 2018
— Evan Barnes (@evan_b) October 15, 2018
Missouri has more talent and they are playing at home so they I think they should be able to win this one relative ease. However, if they underestimate Memphis’s offense they could get embarrassed.
And if they were to lose this game they would have to win three of their next five games against SEC opponents just to be bowl eligible. That’s just how fast things can fall apart in college football.