Phillip Marshall Analyzes The SEC

Phillip Marshall discusses his take on the SEC three weeks into the 2005 college football season.

Thoughts and impressions from an interesting weekend of Southeastern Conference football:

Ball State coach Brady Hoke needs to have a talk with his athletic director. The Cardinals opened their season with Iowa and lost 56-0. They played Auburn last Saturday and lost 63-3. They play Boston College on Oct. 1.

Programs like Ball State have to play those kinds of games now and then to pay the bills, but three in one season? That's not fair to the kids who work hard to be part of that team.

There was nothing fun about wearing a Ball State uniform at Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday. There was no conceivable set of circumstances in which Ball State would have had a chance even to be competitive, much less win against Auburn. All the inspiration in the world doesn't help when your opponent is bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic at every position.

From Auburn's perspective, it was an impressive day, even against an overmatched opponent. In all my years of watching college football, I can't recall ever before seeing a team score a touchdown on every offensive possession. That's impressive execution, regardless of the strength of the opponent.

I wouldn't expect more of the same next Saturday. Western Kentucky is ranked No. 2 in Division I-AA and is probably more talented than Ball State. The Hilltoppers won't have a chance to win, but they might be good enough to make homecoming a little uncomfortable for a while.

Western Illinois, a highly ranked I-AA team, went into the fourth quarter just a touchdown behind LSU in 2003, the season the Bayou Bengals won the national championship. I don't expect anything similar for Auburn against WKU, but it could happen...

The most shocking turn of event of the weekend came when I plopped down on my couch to watch Arkansas play at Southern California and was treated to a game very similar to the one I'd just seen at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

I believed and wrote here last week that a betting man could have made a lot of money by taking Arkansas and 31 points. That's why I'm not a betting man.

Houston Nutt's Arkansas team has stumbled out of the gate in 2005.

It's one thing to be blown out. It's one thing to be embarrassed. But 70-17?

I don't believe I've ever seen a more humiliating defeat for a supposedly legitimate SEC team. USC is probably the best team in the country. It might be one of the better college teams ever. But the Razorbacks, for whatever reason, did not show up to compete.

USC quarterback Matt Leinart said after the game it didn't look like Arkansas had even prepared for the Trojans' offense. I'd second that. Receivers were so wide open I could have thrown them the ball. Runners were in the open field as soon as they got the ball.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt is taking a lot of heat, and that's not surprising. But Nutt didn't play a down. His players should take a long, hard look at themselves. There is honor in competing with all you have and falling short. There is no honor in what happened to Arkansas on Saturday night...

Three weeks into the SEC season, there are still more questions than answers. A great team might emerge, but I haven't seen one yet. Everyone seems to have issues.

Tennessee was widely viewed as the favorite to win the championship, but the Vols look to be in some trouble. Their offense is ordinary, and that's putting it kindly. They squeaked past UAB 17-10 and lost at Florida 16-7.

Tennessee coaches need to settle on a quarterback in a hurry. Personally, I think Rick Clausen gives them the best chance to win, but they seem more enamored with Erik Ainge. They also need to do a quick fix on special teams, which were the difference in the game at Florida.

Things don't get any easier. The Vols go to LSU on Saturday. LSU has its own issues. Had it not been for a blocked punt and blocked field goal for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, they would have lost at Arizona State. They gave up more than 450 yards passing...

Speaking of Florida, the Gators were impressive on defense. Urban Meyer's much-ballyhooed spread option was, as I suspected all along, more hype than substance. It's one thing to devise an offensive scheme that works against Brigham Young and another to devise a scheme that works against the speed and athleticism of SEC defenses. I'll have to be shown that you can win consistently against the better teams in the SEC in an offense that lines up in the shotgun on every snap.

I think Meyer is probably a good head coach. A great one? I'm a long way from buying into that...

Is there anyone who doesn't feel good about Vanderbilt's 3-0 start? With Richmond and Middle Tennessee State up next, the Commodores should be 5-0. They will need only a win over South Carolina or Kentucky to be bowl eligible.

If that happens, coach Bobby Johnson would be wise to send out his resumes. Quarterback Jay Cutler will be gone after this season, and Vanderbilt will be Vanderbilt again...

Senior quaterback Jay Cutler has put Vandy back in the hunt to be bowl eligible.

Alabama seems to have the best team it's had since 2002, but I'm not ready to proclaim the Tide a championship contender just yet. A 37-14 win over South Carolina in Columbia seems impressive, but the Gamecocks aren't likely to win many games.

At one time, it seemed next Saturday's game against Arkansas would be a big test. It still could be, but the Razorbacks are reeling. Florida visits Tuscaloosa on Oct. 1. A win in that game would make the Tide difficult to ignore …

Start the countdown on Kentucky coach Rich Brooks. It seemed there might have been some progress in the Bluegrass when the Wildcats rallied against Louisville before falling 31-24. A week later, they struggled to beat I-AA Idaho State. Last Saturday, they were blown out 38-14 by Indiana.

Look for a new coach on the Kentucky sideline next season...

Reality has hit home in Oxford. First-year coach Ed Orgeron's bluster, chest-bumping and shirt-ripping might make good theater, but players win games. And Ole Miss doesn't have enough of those.

The Rebels have a schedule that could produce six wins and a bowl bid. Maybe that will be enough to make Orgeron bellow and high-five everybody in sight.

Meanwhile, a lot of Ole Miss folks wonder just what was so bad about David Cutcliffe.

Until next time...


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