Hey Georgia Bulldogs, lift those chins up and poke those chests out. You've got a playoff run to make.
Then, the first tattered domino fell Tuesday night. The College Football Playoff committee wasn't very impressed with you. Couple that bad, early-season loss to a less-than-impressive South Carolina team with what the committee must have thought was a soft first-half slate, and you debuted in the College Football Playoff Rankings at No. 11. I even agree that the best win Georgia has is against Clemson, which just happens to be ranked No. 21, but come on. Eleventh? This team is better than that.
However, that wasn't the most disheartening news. On Wednesday, you found out that Gurley will have to sit out two more games for accepting more than $3,000 in cash from multiple individuals for autographed memorabilia. The NCAA then arrogantly boasted that it could have made things even worse for Gurley, adding a little gasoline to the already effervescent flame dancing on the program.
But fear not, Dawgs. Grab those hoses, because there's plenty of time to prove the committee wrong.
Don't like the committee or Twitter tell you that you aren't a beautiful butterfly. Don't let esteemed ESPN colleague Andrea Adelson try and steal your shine! (I heard what she said about you guys on our Spreecast, too.) You guys are the real deal, right now, and you have a chance to really impress the committee with what you have ahead in November.
Plus, you'll start the month without Gurley. Yes, he's out against a struggling Florida team and a Kentucky team still looking to grow, but Nick Chubb will once again have to carry the rushing load with Keith Marshall and Sony Michel sidelined. Hey, if he keeps trucking along without help, the committee will have to take that into account. This kid is a true freshman, yet he's dazzling fans and punishing defenders barely removed from his senior prom. Not to add anymore pressure to his already piled plate, but he does look like a young Gurley.
People want to trash your schedule? You know, the one you were dealt and had no control over this season? Well, you still have No. 3 Auburn (at home), and chances are you're headed to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, unless you get really sloppy. I understand that the East is, well, like an old horror movie, but that's not your fault. Don't beat yourself up because there is no real East challenger at the moment. Just take care of business, and the committee will start to come around. A win over Auburn will have you skyrocketing up the rankings.
Even though people aren't impressed with your early state, you're a better team now than you were after the South Carolina game.
I was wrong about this defense not having what it took to sustain success through the entire season. The secondary still doesn't exactly wow me, but the front seven is playing better than I thought it would, thanks to new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt deciding to go with a more aggressive plan by getting those linebackers more involved in the backfield. The defensive line has been disruptive at the right times this season.
This is a defense that is getting better each week. Do not dwell on what happened during the second half of the Arkansas game. I get it, you built a commanding 38-6 halftime lead and coasted in the second half. Hey, it happens. Look at Alabama against Tennessee for crying out loud.
Before that game, you shut out Missouri 34-0 on the road in the first of two games without Gurley.
I've learned that this team doesn't need to stretch the ball with the deep pass because it runs so well. Hutson Mason would like to chuck it around, but he hasn't had to, yet, even though he's getting more comfortable with his receivers. And once Gurley gets back for the Auburn game, Mason might be able to do even more with Gurley and Chubb helping out.
The SEC and the Playoff are both there for the taking, Georgia. So ignore the Twitter tough guys. Shake off the hatin' committee. Just continue to do what you're doing, and people will come around.
I know I did.
Three teams -- Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss -- found their way into the top four of the rankings, nearly causing a viral revolt. Let's get one thing straight, though. There is no SEC bias, but there are some very talented teams in the SEC. The committee sees it and decided three SEC teams were worthy of their high placements.
These folks complaining about the SEC's initial playoff outlook might not have much to gripe about in a few weeks (when the rankings actually matter) because the conference is in for a bloody, bloody month. The SEC West, which owns four of the top six teams in the country, is about to beat its ever-loving brains in.
The SEC now finds itself in an interesting situation. A week ago, everyone was talking about the possibility of the SEC getting two teams in. Then, Ole Miss lost to LSU.
After the first set of rankings were released, it's clear the committee is impressed with what the SEC West has done to this point. But things are about to get a little complicated for the league, as it begins to devour itself even more, starting with No. 4 Ole Miss hosting No. 3 Auburn on Saturday in what is essentially an elimination game in the Grove.
"This is the time of year where the good teams really come up to the top because they've got to be consistently good," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "It's hard to get better this time of year. Most teams can't do it."
There are four regular-season games remaining between top-six teams, and they all involve SEC West teams. Shame on you if you can't get excited about the cannibalization that is about to ensue in the SEC.
With Ole Miss playing Auburn and Mississippi State, Alabama playing LSU and Mississippi State, and Auburn playing Georgia, the SEC will feast on itself during the month that houses our most gluttonous holiday -- Thanksgiving.
As of this moment, what playoff scenarios still lurk for the SEC? Well, let's take a look:
(Note: I think we can all agree that the SEC champion will make the playoff, regardless of if it has one or two losses. Three losses could complicate things, but we're going off the assumption that the SEC champ won't have three losses.)
This is the simplest scenario. If No. 1 Mississippi State wins out and wins the SEC, the Bulldogs are in. Duh. Same for No. 4 Ole Miss. No questions asked.
Well, what happens if Ole Miss wins out and Mississippi State's only loss is to the Rebels on the road? I think the committee would have a tough decision involving Mississippi State, because its only loss would be an Ole Miss squad that probably wouldn't dip below fourth in the rankings. Mississippi State beat three top-10 teams in a row earlier this season and No. 6 Alabama (on the road) still looms.
Ascending in Alabama
Alabama or Auburn wins out. Now, there's a chance one of these teams could still make it to Atlanta, but they both need help. Auburn needs Mississippi State to lose at least two more games, and Alabama needs Ole Miss to lose at least one more.
But even if neither makes it to Atlanta, a one-loss Alabama or Auburn could make it into the playoff. Think about the gauntlet both teams would have gone through only to escape with one loss to a team currently ranked inside the top four. It's similar to Alabama making it into the BCS title game in 2011 without playing in Atlanta.
Also, Alabama is currently ranked first in ESPN’s Football Power Index and second in ESPN's strength of record metric and Auburn still has to play three teams on the road ranked inside the top 11.
Georgia ... Oh, Georgia
These Bulldogs could really stir things up. If Georgia wins the East, then a win in Atlanta will send the Bulldogs to the playoff. Even with a loss to Auburn in two weeks, an SEC-winning Georgia would make the playoff.
And that's where things get interesting. What if unbeaten Mississippi State loses to Georgia? Is Mississippi State left out? Would a two-loss Georgia team eliminate Mississippi State altogether?
You think that's tricky? What if Alabama or Auburn wins out, but either Mississippi State or Ole Miss goes to Atlanta and loses? Who do you send? Chances are a two-loss Ole Miss team would be eliminated, but how does the committee look at one-loss Mississippi State and one-loss Auburn? Mississippi State won head-to-head, but will the committee care later? You'd think so, but these are imperfect humans we're talking about.
Honestly, this is what everyone should be rooting for. There's a chance the SEC might have four two-loss teams from the West before the SEC championship game.
Here you go: LSU wins out, beating Alabama; Alabama beats Mississippi State and Auburn; Ole Miss loses to Auburn and beats Mississippi State; Auburn beats Georgia. Now Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss all have two losses. Or Alabama beats LSU and Mississippi State, but loses to Auburn; Ole Miss beats Auburn and Mississippi State, but loses to Arkansas; Auburn beats Georgia and Alabama. Now, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss all have two losses.
A tiebreaker decides the West, and then the winner of the SEC title goes to the playoff. Chances are the loser, which would have more than one loss, won't make it.
How the committee views the SEC in the coming weeks will be interesting. If everyone starts losing, hold onto your Tiger Rags and pour another hot toddy, because there are going to be a lot of sleepless nights in the month of November.
Why Georgia wins big: Even without Todd Gurley lining up for Georgia, the Bulldogs still have an absolute stud in freshman Nick Chubb. In two games as a starter, Chubb has rushed for 345 yards and three touchdowns. The kid just tosses people around out there and certainly has a little Gurley in him. Florida is starting the Treon Harris era at quarterback, but the offense has been lousy for the better part of the season, while Georgia's defense is on a roll. It'll be tight early, but Georgia pounds away in the second half. Georgia 28, Florida 14 -- Edward Aschoff
How Florida keeps it close: This is Harris' game at quarterback, and he certainly provides more of a spark than Jeff Driskel. If Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor can run the football and negate some of the pressure from Georgia's talented pass-rushers, Florida could have some success moving the football. If they can even out the time of possession battle, you'll see a much more effective defense from the Gators. Georgia 21, Florida 13 -- Alex Scarborough
Why Kentucky wins: Missouri just can't seem to get it together. Just look at last weekend's game against Vanderbilt. Sure, the Tigers won, but not convincingly. And Kentucky is no Vanderbilt. The Wildcats gave Mississippi State a run for its money and beat South Carolina a few weeks ago. With a true playmaker at quarterback and a better-than-expected defense, Kentucky will give Missouri fits on both sides of the ball and win on the road. Kentucky 30, Missouri 20 -- Alex Scarborough
Why Missouri wins: Ever since a 34-0 beatdown at the hands of Georgia, the Tigers have looked shaky, especially on offense. But things are gradually getting better as quarterback Maty Mauk re-learns how to take care of the ball. This game offers the improving Wildcats a plum opportunity to show they can win conference games. But look for the home team to squeeze out a hard-fought victory. Missouri 26, Kentucky 23 -- Jeff Barlis
Why Ole Miss wins: The Rebels were injected with some playoff hope after the first batch of College Football Playoff rankings were announced. That should energize a team that lost an ugly one at LSU. Bo Wallace has to regroup, and he has to follow what his coaches tell him. The Rebels haven't had a consistent running game all season, but Auburn's pass defense ranks 75th nationally, and that should help Wallace regroup after a bad showing in Baton Rouge. Watching Ole Miss' defense try to tackle Auburn's running game might be the highlight of the day. A late turnover will seal it for the Rebels. Ole Miss 31, Auburn 28 -- Edward Aschoff
Why Auburn wins: Ole Miss' sideline was like a M*A*S*H unit last week against LSU, with multiple key players leaving with injuries. Even if most of those guys play Saturday -- and it looks like they will -- the Rebels aren't going to be at 100 percent against arguably the best offense they'll face all season. If Wallace doesn't play better than he did a week ago, Auburn might win easily. Ole Miss' quarterback is the X factor here, and I suspect he'll fare well against Auburn's mediocre defense at home, but the Tigers have way more firepower at their disposal right now. Auburn 31, Ole Miss 24 -- David Ching
Why Mississippi State wins big: Playing its first game with the No. 1 ranking, Mississippi State came out tight against Kentucky. Dan Mullen even admitted that. Look for the Bulldogs to play more relaxed at home Saturday in front of the familiar sound of cowbells clanging. They’re the No. 1 team in the country, and Dak Prescott, Josh Robinson and the defense will prove it against the Razorbacks. Mississippi State 35, Arkansas 14 -- Greg Ostendorf
How Arkansas keeps it close: It should be a triumphant return to Davis Wade Stadium for the nation's No. 1 team, but things aren't perfect for the Bulldogs. Kentucky's offense exposed some issues with the MSU secondary. While Arkansas doesn't have the same caliber of passing attack, the Hogs do have a stable of talented runners, a veteran quarterback and two good tight ends. Mississippi State 37, Arkansas 26 -- Jeff Barlis
More unanimous picks:
Texas A&M over UL Monroe: The big storyline will be who starts at quarterback for Texas A&M, Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen? Either way, the Aggies should roll against a lesser opponent. Texas A&M 52, UL Monroe 14
South Carolina over Tennessee: Steve Spurrier won’t have to go for it on every fourth down against the Vols, but don’t be surprised if he still has a few tricks left up his sleeve. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four games in this series. South Carolina 35, Tennessee 24
Vanderbilt over Old Dominion: Vandy is looking for its third win of the season, but it won’t come easy against Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke and his 54 career touchdown passes. Vanderbilt 31, Old Dominion 28
Edward Aschoff: 64-11
Greg Ostendorf: 64-11
Jeff Barlis: 63-12
Chris Low: 63-12
David Ching: 62-13
Alex Scarborough: 61-14
Sam Khan Jr.: 57-18
More than $3,000 in cash, actually.
2. Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian echoed Volunteers coach Butch Jones' prediction that senior quarterback Justin Worley will not be available Saturday against South Carolina. Maybe that won't be such a bad outcome. Sophomore Josh Dobbs offered reason to believe he might be the Vols' quarterback of the future with a strong performance off the bench last Saturday against Alabama. But the Crimson Tide had not prepared for the youngster. South Carolina will have the entire week. He might be the X-factor in Saturday's game at Columbia. Or for the superstitious Gamecocks among us, maybe it will be South Carolina's uniforms. South Carolina will wear black jerseys and black pants on Saturday for the first time since losing 24-14 to Florida in 2009.
3. Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) is clearly the favorite to win the SEC East, but Missouri (6-2, 3-1) can still make some noise if the Bulldogs fall into any sort of slump. The Tigers haven't played particularly well lately, but they have only one conference loss as Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) prepares to visit on Saturday. Both teams will be looking to get back on track for the stretch run. Perhaps Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk found his stride last week against Vanderbilt after several rocky games in a row. Meanwhile, Kentucky needs just one more win to achieve bowl eligibility, but it hasn't won a true road game since the 2010 opener. Not the greatest sign, particularly since its previously productive running game has underperformed lately and coaches are questioning whether they should use fewer backs in the regular rotation.
Around the SEC
" The State asks how South Carolina's disappointing season might impact its 2015 recruiting class.
" Formerly suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead does not appear close to returning to Auburn's starting lineup.
" Derrick Henry is leading an unusually thin group of Alabama running backs this week in practice with an open date ahead.
" LSU is focused on cleaning up its mistakes from last Saturday's Ole Miss game with Alabama ahead next weekend.
" John Kadlec, better known as “Mr. Mizzou” after serving the school as an athlete, coach, administrator and broadcaster, died Wednesday at age 86.
Tweets of the day
The cruel twist in this whole Todd Gurley mess is that the NCAA’s archaic rules may end up being the only thing with any prayer of stopping the Bulldogs’ splendid junior running back.
And that’s a shame, because those rules are outdated.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that Gurley must sit for a total of four games, meaning he will be eligible to return Nov. 15 against Auburn, after acknowledging that he received money for autographs.
At the crux of this debate is whether a college athlete should be able to profit from his own name and likeness.
Earlier this week, NCAA president Mark Emmert told USA Today Sports that schools should revisit the rules regarding autographs and decide if they’re still proper.
My immediate reaction: It’s about time.
This is a battle the NCAA is going to lose. The August ruling in the Ed O'Bannon federal court case was just the start. If this were a football game, there would be about a minute to play and the NCAA's opponent would be lining up in the victory formation.
Right after Gurley was suspended Oct. 9, you were able to go to Georgiadogs.com, the school’s official site, and purchase a Nike No. 3 Georgia home jersey for $134.95. Guess what number Gurley wears. A quick check now of Georgiadogs.com produces only a No. 11 jersey -- worn by former star quarterback Aaron Murray.
All of these big-time college athletes, who receive a free education but also are watching everybody else around them getting rich, have noticed. Of the 14 current SEC football coaches, 12 are making at least $3 million per year. You’ve got assistant coaches making $1 million or more per year, and athletic directors approaching that same figure. Emmert, by the way, is raking in a cool $1.7 million annually.
The revenue being generated today in college sports is akin to Monopoly money and makes the premise that athletes don’t deserve a slice of the pie -- or at the very least the opportunity to profit by signing their own names -- all the more absurd.
Yes, it would be complicated to set up a system where players could cash in. Maybe a fund could be created that would be spread out among teammates and the school. After all, Gurley doesn’t pile up those yards on his own.
Surely there’s a way to figure it out without having this same issue crop up year after year. Players have long been signing memorabilia for money. They’re still doing it, and they’re going to keep doing it.
Did you see former Georgia offensive lineman Chris Burnette’s tweet right after Gurley was suspended? Burnette tweeted: “Man the NCAA is full of crap. Being a college athlete who can’t profit off your own name?! NCAA didn’t give him his talent or his name. Wow.”
I’d say Burnette’s tweet echoes the sentiments of the large majority of college athletes right now.
The NCAA says Gurley acknowledged breaking rules, so he’s not an innocent victim. He knew the rules, as out of touch as they may be. All college athletes know them. They’re browbeaten with the NCAA dos and don’ts from the time they walk onto campus.
But what’s at issue here is that the rules are obsolete, with all the money that is being made.
The NCAA is an easy target right now, no question. But just maybe the fact the best player in college football has been sidelined will finally bring everything to a head.
It's time for some real reform that makes sense, and not just dollars and cents for everybody but the players whom the fans come to see every Saturday.
Georgia issued a statement Wednesday saying it plans to appeal the decision immediately. The NCAA membership committee that oversees the reinstatement process will review the appeal this week. The committee can reduce or remove the conditions the staff has imposed, but cannot increase them.
According to the NCAA, Gurley received the cash for signing memorabilia and other items over two years and must repay a portion of the money he received to a charity of his choice and also complete 40 hours of community service as conditions of his reinstatement.
Gurley, whom the NCAA said acknowledged violating NCAA rules, has already missed two games for the No. 11 Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) and would be eligible to return Nov. 15 against No. 3 Auburn.
"We can only control certain things,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said Wednesday. "My goal is to control how well we practice and how hard we prepare. That's been our focus all season long, and maybe a little bit more the last couple of ballgames.
"There are questions and things swirling around that could become a distraction. But I think our players have done a really good job of only worrying about things they can control.''
Georgia is nearing the three-week mark since Gurley, a star tailback who had been among the top Heisman Trophy candidates, was indefinitely suspended Oct. 9 while the school investigated allegations he received improper benefits for signing autographs.
Gurley, a junior, has rushed for 773 yards with eight touchdowns and has averaged 8.2 yards per carry.
In its release, the NCAA said Gurley's punishment, which equals 30 percent of his team's competition, "is consistent with precedent in similar cases. Additional withholding was strongly considered because the violations occurred over multiple years with multiple individuals and the student received extensive rules education about the prohibition of receiving payment for autographs."
The NCAA also said: "The university's due diligence in its investigation and the student's full disclosure of his involvement in the violations were factors in not imposing a more severe withholding condition."
Earlier this month, ESPN.com reported that Bryan Allen, a memorabilia dealer from Rome, Georgia, had hired Atlanta attorney Ed Garland because of Allen's relationship with Gurley. Garland confirmed to WSB-TV in Atlanta on Thursday that Allen paid Gurley $400 to sign several UGA mini helmets.
In the weeks before Gurley was suspended, Allen sent emails to several news outlets, claiming he'd paid Gurley "thousands of dollars" over the previous 18 months to autograph large quantities of footballs, helmets, photos and other memorabilia.
In Gurley's absence, freshman Nick Chubb
Why would Alabama not be "thrilled?" They play No. 1 and No. 3 at home..— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) October 28, 2014
2. As the AJC's Chip Towers said, "Gurley Watch" reached Day 19 on Tuesday and still no update on the Georgia running back's status for Saturday's big game against Florida. The Bulldogs are cautiously optimistic, as Todd Gurley continues to practice. Meanwhile, the Gators' defensive players say they are expecting, preparing and actually hoping to face the Heisman candidate on Saturday. Despite Florida's downward spiral in the past two seasons, the Gators say they're confident. The history of this bitter rivalry suggests the game is usually closely contested. At least one thing that's guaranteed is a good time at the ol' Cocktail Party. It's always cool to see the intermingling of red, black, orange and blue inside and outside the stadium. On Saturday, we'll see it on the field as well. Georgia is the home team, but both teams agreed to wear home jerseys in what should make for a neat visual.
3. Determined to snap its three-game losing streak, Texas A&M underwent a sweeping round of soul-searching during its bye week with a willingness to re-evaluate every position on the team. That includes the quarterback position, where sophomore starter Kenny Hill is now battling with freshman Kyle Allen with a decision to come on Thursday. It's a stunning turn of events for Hill, who started the season with a school-record 511 yards passing in the opener and has thrown for 2,649 yards in eight games. Allen actually went to offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's office to ask if the starting job was really up for grabs. Yes, he was told, this is really happening. The same could be said for the Aggies' tailspin, but at least the bye week came at a perfect time. A&M is still reeling from its last game, a 59-0 loss at Alabama. Saturday's home game against Louisiana-Monroe ought to do wonders in boosting some confidence in Aggieland. Especially for the QB, whoever he is.
Around the SEC
" Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott ditched his walking boot and practiced on Tuesday. He's not sure what all the fuss was about, saying: "I'm sure there's some boots Beyonce or somebody's worn before that people have made a big deal about."
" Ole Miss changed its play-calling terminology after a former intern left in the offseason to join the Auburn staff.
" Michigan native and current Tennessee coach Butch Jones swatted aside speculation that he could be a candidate to be the Wolverines' next coach.
" Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary will be the "lead dog" against Old Dominion, but coach Derek Mason also hopes Patton Robinette will play after being medically cleared last week from a concussion suffered on Sept. 20.
Tweet of the day
It should be an eight-team playoff. Bama, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee should be in there— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) October 28, 2014
Three SEC teams in the top four of the playoff committee's rankings? I actually didn't see that coming. While I do agree that those are three of the four best teams in the country, I figured the committee would lean toward not having three teams from the same conference -- let alone the SEC -- take three slots up top in the first set of rankings.
But that's what happens when you deal with the human element, and that's what is going to make the next few weeks in college football delightful.
So how does that affect our bowl projections for this week? Well, for starters, we can go on ahead and put two SEC teams in the two semifinal games. I think folks below the Mason-Dixon Line were kind of expecting that anyway.
I'm not ready to put three SEC teams in, though. It's just not going to happen. These rankings are fun to look at and make projections with, but let's face it, no conference -- not even the big, bad SEC -- is going to get three teams into the playoff.
So for now, the SEC is left with two teams in the final four. The good news for the conference is that those two teams won't play each other in our fictional first round, making for a possible fictional all-SEC national championship.
Oh, the country would just LOVE that!
I have 10 SEC teams making bowl games this year:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual): Auburn
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Cotton Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: LSU
TaxSlayer Bowl: Kentucky
Outback Bowl: Missouri
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken -- and it likes the SEC.
At least for now.
The first of seven Top 25 rankings compiled by a 12-member selection committee was released Tuesday night. The selection committee will ultimately pick the four teams to play in the national semifinals and set the matchups for the other four big New Year's Day bowls that are part of the playoff rotation.
"It was extremely difficult, more difficult than any of us had expected having gone through our mock selections before," Arkansas athletic director and committee chairman Jeff Long said. "There are 18 one-loss teams in FBS at this point in time, and the difference between many of them is very slim."
Oregon was fifth and Alabama was sixth, giving the Southeastern Conference's West Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining matching those SEC West rivals, starting with Saturday's matchup of Auburn and Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.
"We don't analyze it by conference," Long said. "We look at those teams and evaluate the teams they played and the success they had, or the failures they had."
The final rankings will be released Dec. 7, the day after the most of the conference championships are decided.
"Everyone on the selection committee recognized that our rankings will change over the next six weeks," Long said. "I think that's important for us to emphasize. We expect our rankings to change over the next six weeks. One week's rankings won't influence the next week's rankings."
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has been masterful this season, and he might have played his best/gutsiest game in the Bulldogs' 45-31 win at Kentucky.
All season, we've seen Prescott dominate games from start to finish, but against the Wildcats, he really had to work for his numbers. Let's face it, Prescott wasn't comfortable for the early part of the game. He was actually struggling.
But as the second half continued on, Prescott started to get his groove back, as he was a part of two touchdowns. He didn't have the numbers he's used to producing, but he kept the chains moving in the second half. He helped will his team to a tough win on the road against a much-improved Kentucky team. Did you happen to see that 38-yard run where he shook off about 20 defenders?
On the year, Prescott has been the SEC's best dual-threat quarterback. He has 2,393 total yards of offense with 26 touchdowns. His 664 rushing yards rank him seventh in the SEC in rushing, and his 10 rushing touchdowns are tied for first.
Prescott isn't just the leader in the SEC, he's your Heisman favorite nationally. Here are three other players to keep an eye on:
- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: What can't this kid do? He ranks second nationally with 71 receptions and 1,132 yards. He also has nine touchdowns. He's fresh off a record-setting performance against Tennessee, in which he caught nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
- Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: He might be the most underrated player in the country. Robinson found a way to slip by just about every Kentucky defender on Saturday for a career-high 198 yards. He also scored two touchdowns. He joins Prescott as one of only three players in the SEC to rush for a touchdown in six straight games. He leads the SEC with 887 yards and 10 touchdowns.
- Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: No, he hasn't seen the field for a couple of weeks now, but if Gurley can get back on the field, watch out, because he'll be right back to his old self. Despite missing two games, he's fourth in the SEC with 773 rushing yards and has eight touchdowns. He leads the SEC with 8.2 yards per carry.
There was no way four teams could run the table in the West. Someone -- in fact, many someones -- would have to take a loss.
First it was Alabama. Then it was Texas A&M and Auburn's turn. Finally, Ole Miss finally fell in Death Valley.
The only one standing -- as one of two unbeaten teams left in college football's Power 5 conferences -- is Mississippi State.
But for how long will the Bulldogs' perfect record remain intact?
That question is no small part of today's Take Two debate: Can anyone in the SEC run the table from here on out?
In fact, I can easily see no one in the SEC finishing with fewer than two losses. That includes you, Mississippi State.
As I wrote in my Monday column, it's about time everyone accept that there is no dominant team in the league this season. We're not looking at Florida in 2008 or Alabama in 2009. Instead, we're talking about five playoff contenders that all possess significant flaws: Mississippi State's special teams are an Achilles' heel, Ole Miss is guided by an inconsistent quarterback, Auburn can't play defense, Alabama struggles on the road and Georgia is one-dimensional offensively.
I could go on, but those are the lowlights.
I like to rely on statistics whenever possible, and I trust the good folks at ESPN who put together the Football Power Index. According to their calculations, no one has a particularly strong shot at running the table with Alabama (17 percent) and Georgia (14.5 percent) leading the pack. I don't know about you, but while I think Auburn and Mississippi State are strong football teams, I don't like their 5.2 and 4.5 percent likelihood of going undefeated from here on out.
Sam Khan Jr.: Stats are nice and can often be useful. I'm not going to go as far as "stats are for losers," but remember when TCU had a 98 percent win probability in the fourth quarter against Baylor earlier this month? How did that work out for the Horned Frogs?
Here's what I know: Mississippi State is the best team in the conference at this moment. They also have the best player in the conference, quarterback Dak Prescott and the best one-two punch in Prescott and running back Josh Robinson. I haven't even touched on their talented receivers or strong offensive line. On defense, Preston Smith says hi. So does Benardrick McKinney.
Mississippi State's schedule has some peaks and valleys moving forward. After having to play four winning SEC teams in a row in the last five weeks (LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn and Kentucky) the Bulldogs remain unscathed. Arkansas comes to StarkVegas this week. Then the Bulldogs get some relief with UT-Martin. That's perfect the week before Alabama, where the Bulldogs can take a commanding lead, get their guys out early and rest up for the showdown in Tuscaloosa.
A similar thing happens before the Egg Bowl: the Bulldogs get Vanderbilt at home, which hasn't won an SEC game yet. Are the road games at Alabama and Ole Miss tough? No question. But when you have the best player on the field on your side, that can make up for a lot of deficiencies.
I think you're right Alex: there are many flawed teams in the league and no real dominant ones. That means they can all be beat and Mississippi State might have enough magic to beat them all on the strength of 'Dak Attack' and the 'Bowling Ball.'
Scarborough: Let's see if we can make this simple.
Just take a look at what's ahead for the SEC's playoff hopefuls:
- Alabama: Good luck going to Death Valley in two weeks. Survive that and you get Mississippi State and Auburn.
- Auburn: You think Ole Miss is just going to roll over this weekend? Beat them and you get Georgia and Alabama on the road.
- Ole Miss: There's no time to look your wounds with Auburn coming to town. Then to end the season you get Mississippi State.
- Mississippi State: Enjoy Arkansas and UT Martin because in a few weeks you have to go to Alabama. If you beat the Tide, you still have to face Ole Miss in Oxford.
- Georgia: OK, so the East is a bit of a joke. But best of luck to you in the SEC Championship Game when you go up against a battle-tested team from the West.
Do you see an undefeated team in there anywhere? Me neither.
Khan: I'm glad you brought up Georgia. I was just about to mention the Bulldogs. Their upcoming schedule? Florida, at Kentucky, Auburn, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. The Kentucky game could be sticky if the Wildcats keep this up, but Auburn is the main threat here and Georgia gets to host the Tigers. The schedule sets up great and if Georgia gets Todd Gurley back, watch out.
If Ole Miss bounces back to beat Auburn on Saturday, the Rebels have a great chance to do it. Presbyterian, Arkansas and the Egg Bowl follow. And the Egg Bowl is in Oxford. Anything can happen.
I don't think Auburn will do it. That schedule is too daunting. If Alabama does beat LSU, the Tide get to host their final three games. That's a plus for them.
I'll cheat a little and throw another team at you: South Carolina. It won't matter, because the Gamecocks are pretty much out of the SEC East title race, but their schedule finishes as such: Tennessee, at Florida, South Alabama and at Clemson. We all know Spurrier's history against Clemson and if you don't, he'll tell you about it. You said anyone in the SEC, right?
Drive Through: Rankings Reaction
12:00 PM ET Louisiana-Monroe Texas A&M 3:30 PM ET Florida 11 Georgia 4:00 PM ET Kentucky Missouri 7:00 PM ET 3 Auburn 4 Ole Miss 7:00 PM ET Old Dominion Vanderbilt 7:15 PM ET Arkansas 1 Mississippi State 7:30 PM ET Tennessee South Carolina