These teams dominated last year and they were thought to have taken a small step back this year due to losing some key cogs. Not so fast my friend. Alabama tore up Denard Robinson and Michigan in the opener and LSU tore up Keith Price and Washington this week. What separates these teams from the competition right now are their elite defenses.
Coming into the season the Bulldogs and Gamecocks were seen as the "favorites" to win the SEC East. After disappointing showings in week one, it wasn't so clear. In week two, both teams had much better games and showed why they are the front runners in the East. Once Georgia gets Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo back they are going to be really tough to beat. South Carolina on the other hand may have found a competent back-up quarter-back and that come in handy if Connor Show doesn't develop a down-field passing game this season.
Tennessee had a fantastic opening win against NC State and then they took apart under-manned Georgia State. The question now is if NC State is really that good. They barely escaped UConn last week and UConn is basically a team with a good defense and an anemic offense. Tennessee will be tested this week by a Florida defense that has a ton of talent. On the flip side, Florida hasn't looked good this year but they have won both of their games. This is a huge game for both teams and it will let us know which of these teams to take seriously. Can Florida outscore Tennessee this weekend?
Arkansas is in trouble
There is just simply no reason for Arkansas to lose to a Sun Belt team, ever. Yes, they lost their quarterback but Knile Davis is supposed to be one of the best running backs in the league alongside Marcus Lattimore. In the second half, without Wilson, Arkansas had a 28 to 7 lead. In their next four series, they ran the ball a total of three times. If you are a top ten team that plays in the SEC then you must be able to run the ball against a team from the Sun Belt. If you can't then you are in trouble. This off-season Arkansas also moved back-up QB Brandon Mitchell to WR. I don't know about his availability for this game but he didn't catch a pass and instead the Hogs trotted out freshman Brandon Allen at QB who promptly went 6 for 20. And what about this "much improved" defense under new leadership? They allowed three TD drives by ULM in the second half and gave up the game winning TD in overtime. With Tyler Wilson, Arkansas might barely be the third best team in the SEC West. Without him they are in deep, deep trouble.
Auburn is a complete mess on offense
Moving from a spread offense to a pro style is not easy, especially when you don't have a QB to run it for you. Some were surprised when Kiehl Frazier took so long to nail down the starting QB job this off-season. We should have seen that as a sign of things to come. It's also hard to run a pro-style offense when you don't have running backs who can run the ball between the tackles. A lot has been made of Auburn's recruiting but they have also had some misses at key positions that they need to have a successful move to the pro-set. Incoming freshman RB Jovon Robinson is described as Scout.com as a "big back with very good balance....not a speed guy...downhill runner." Sounds like a great pro-set back. He's ineligible. Incoming freshman QB Zeke Pike was also dismissed from the team. He probably wasn't an immediate answer but any type of competition at QB would have helped. They also lost WR Jacquay Williams as he went to prep school. Those were Auburn's top three offensive skill position recruits this past season and none of them are eligible. Auburn will continue to have trouble winning games this season.
Mississippi State is the third best team in the West
The Bulldogs look like are primed to have the good season that many thought they would have last year. Last year, they botched a last minute goal line drive against Auburn. This year, they rolled Auburn. The QB spot is more settled, Ladarius Perkins looks like a solid option at RB and they actually learned how to throw the ball to Chad Bumphis this season. Sure it was just a win over Auburn and maybe I'm crazy but the Bulldogs look like the third best team in the West (does that make them the fifth, sixth or seventh best in the conference) after two weeks.
The Tigers and the Aggies looked like they might be on the way to victories in their games based on their first half performances. But, Florida and Georgia went into the locker room and made adjustments. After half-time A&M and Missouri looked like different teams and so did their opponenets. Was it game-planning, was it depth or was it conditioning? Maybe it was a little of all of those things. These teams will be competitive this season but they will definitely have to make adjustments (not just half-time) to win consistently in the SEC. They had respectable debuts, but I'm assuming they aren't going to want to come to the SEC just to lose.
Vanderbilt...you are dead to us
In week one, Vandy teased the fans with an upset over South Carolina but they left points on the field. This past week they traveled to play Northwestern and once again laid an egg on offense. In two games so far this season, Vanderbilt has now scored six (yes SIX) points in the second half of their games. Zac Stacy and Jordan Matthews are two really good offensive players and they have good young talent in Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate. If you can't figure out how to score with them against Northwestern's defense then it's going to be a long season.
The early returns are that both of these offenses look better than last year. Sure Kentucky only scored 14 against Louisville in the opener but their QB play seems to be more competent this year and if they can keep their RBs healthy they might be more competitive this year. Ole Miss looks like they have a QB who can actually complete a forward pass this season and that's a step in the right direction. It's going to be small steps for these teams and showing significant improvement for them might not necessarily show up in the win/loss column. We will find out more about these teams in the coming weeks.
I remember someone in the SEC preview saying that Knile Davis wasn't that good. (Who could that have been?) He's not the type of back you can saddle up and ride to victory. Bad news if Wilson can't go this weekend.
@J.Martin I thought they were a tad overrated too but mainly because of the defense and the talent they had to replace on that side of the football. I still thought they would be a Top 15 team.