Although Eastern Michigan doesn’t qualify as serious opposition, the Eagles were just what the doctor ordered for the Florida Gators. The Gators got to see their offense work against unfamiliar athletes and alignments and the defense got to strike people at full speed without fear of hurting a teammate for the first time since last November.
Now the focus has to shift to the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky comes to town this weekend believing it can end one of the longest losing streaks in all of Division I. The last time the Wildcats beat the Gators was in Lexington in 1986. The last time they beat the Gators in Gainesville was the 0-10-1 season of 1979. The Wildcats are certainly improved over the team that finished 2-10 last season, but are they good enough to win on the road in the SEC? And, are the Gators sufficiently prepared to make the step up in competition? Kentucky will run faster, hit harder and will have far more sophisticated schemes on both sides of the ball than Eastern Michigan.
The Florida staff has to be encouraged by the way Jeff Driskel spread the ball around to different receivers and the ability to keep fresh backs in the game at all times by alternating Kelvin Taylor, Matt Jones, Mack Brown and Brandon Powell. There are concerns on the offensive line where left tackle D.J. Humphries will sit at least two weeks with a bone chip in his ankle, meaning the lef tackle will be manned by freshman David Sharpe or Chaz Green moved from right tackle and then Roderick Johnson moved to right tackle. On the defensive side, the staff has to love the way Brian Poole played the corner opposite Vernon Hargreaves III and the way Neiron Ball gave the Gators pass rush from the side opposite Dante Fowler Jr. Caleb Brantley ate up space and made plays in the middle of the line. Keep an eye on freshman Duke Dawson. He’s a football player and he’s going to find his way on the field somewhere.
1. Georgia (1-0, 0-0 SEC): If we judge just by talent, Georgia should blow South Carolina’s doors off Saturday in Columbia. If we judge this by what is between Mark Richt’s ears when he faces Steve Spurrier, it’s a toss-up. Georgia’s stay at the top could be short-lived if Spurrier is already in Richt’s head.
2. Auburn (2-0, 1-0 SEC): The Tigers get Saturday off before going to Kansas State on September 18 for a Thursday night encounter. They are even better offensively than they were last year and the defense looks to be improved also.
3. Alabama (2-0, 0-0 SEC): With Trey DePriest back in the middle and Eddie Jackson at corner, the Bama defense looked night and day different than the one that faced West Virginia, but then again it’s not exactly like Florida Atlantic’s offense is going to scare anybody.
4. Texas A&M (2-0, 1-0 SEC): There is no question the Aggies have an offense that can move the ball and light up the scoreboard, but we still don’t know how their defense will hold up against good SEC offenses.
5. LSU (2-0, 0-0 SEC): When the kids at the skill positions and on the defensive line grow up, the Tigers are going to be downright scary.
6. Ole Miss (2-0, 1-0 SEC): There isn’t a go to guy in the running game and that has to be a concern moving forward.
7. Florida (1-0, 0-0 SEC): The Gators might have found tougher opposition than Eastern Michigan at a convent or a homeless shelter. This week we find out a whole lot about the Gators when they face Kentucky.
8. Mississippi State (2-0, 0-0 SEC): If the confusion we saw in the secondary against UAB is indicative of the future, then the Bulldogs are going to struggle against any team that’s willing to throw the ball down the field.
9. South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 SEC): The Gamecocks are going to have to play defense with their offense. Steve Spurrier is going to have to rely on the offensive line and Mike Davis to shorten games.
10. Missouri (2-0, 0-0 SEC): The offense seems less of a concern than a defense that hasn’t shown it’s very good stopping the running game even against two inferior opponents.
12. Arkansas (1-1, 0-1 SEC): Bret Bielema is determined to turn the Razorbacks into a Big Ten power team. What he’s doing probably would succeed in the Big Ten, but in the SEC even Alabama is going to the spread and running up tempo.
13. Kentucky (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Everybody in Lexington thinks the Wildcats are vastly improved. After starting the season with UT-Martin and Ohio U, Florida is the first of eight SEC reality checks.
14. Vanderbilt (0-2, 0-2 SEC): After three straight bowl years, Vandy suddenly looks like the Vandy we’ve grown accustomed to all these years.
The Associated Press Poll is out with Florida State maintaining its hold on the #1 spot despite the fact the Seminoles got 11 fewer first place votes than the week before. The top 25 go like this:
(1) Florida State; (2) Oregon; (3) Alabama; (4) Oklahoma; (5) Auburn; (6) Georgia; (7) Texas A&M; (8) Baylor; (9) USC; (10) LSU; (11) Notre Dame; (12) UCLA; (13) Michigan State; (14) Ole Miss; (15) Stanford; (16) Arizona State; (17) Virginia Tech; (18) Wisconsin; (19) Kansas State; (20) Missouri; (21) Louisville; (22) Ohio State; (23) Clemson; (24) South Carolina; (25) BYU
Having watched every team in the SEC, most of the teams in the Pac-12 and Big 12, some of the teams in the ACC and far too many teams in the Big Ten, here is how I would rank the teams if I had a vote:
(1) Florida State; (2) Georgia; (3) Auburn; (4) Alabama; (5) Oregon; (6) Oklahoma; (7) Texas A&M; (8) USC; (9) Baylor; (10) LSU; (11) Notre Dame; (12) Ole Miss; (13) Stanford; (14) Arizona State; (15) Kansas State; (16) Louisville; (17) Michigan State; (18) Oklahoma State; (19) South Carolina; (20) FLORIDA; (21) Missouri; (22) North Carolina; (23) Louisville; (24) Virginia Tech; (25/TIE) Ohio State and Clemson.
Based on what we’ve seen for the first two weeks of the season, this is how I would rank the five power conferences (plus Notre Dame):1. SEC
2. Big 12
5. Notre Dame
6. Big Ten
Questions that will have to be addressed this week:
#3 ALABAMA: It seems that Blake Sims has separated himself from Jacob Coker but he’s been running the same offense for five years so he should have an advantage. Will Nick Saban make it clear that Sims is THE guy or will he continue to give Coker opportunities to catch up?
ARKANSAS: The 10-game losing streak is a thing of the past, but what happens the next time the Hogs have to deal with adversity? How will they handle it if they take one on the chin at Texas Tech Saturday afternoon?
#5 AUBURN: The offense is actually better than last year. Can the defense continue to improve and become a reliable unit?
#6 GEORGIA: The Bulldogs have heard the hype for two weeks about how great they are. How will they handle the hype in a hostile atmosphere in Columbia Saturday evening?
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats haven’t beaten Florida since 1986. What happens to their psyche the first time something goes wrong in Gainesville Saturday night?
#12 LSU: The Tigers have NFL talent at every skill position except quarterback. Can they challenge for or win the SEC West with Anthony Jennings running the offense?
MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs gave up more than 400 passing yards against UAB. Was this a case of lack of focus or are there deeper issues with the defensive unit that Dan Mullen better deal with in a hurry?
#20 MISSOURI: Maty Mauk has seven touchdown passes in two games so the offense has an explosive element about it. The concern is on defense. Can the Tigers find some defensive tackles capable of stopping the run?
#14 OLE MISS: Bo Wallace can fling the football and there is no shortage of capable receivers. Running the ball is a problem, however. Is it an offensive line problem or do the Rebels lack that one back who can carry the rushing load?
#24 SOUTH CAROLINA: Is it a case of simply talent too young or not enough talent on the defensive side of the ball? Can Steve Spurrier ‘s ability to get in Mark Richt’s head offset the Gamecocks’ defensive deficiencies?
TENNESSEE: The SEC Network’s Greg McElroy thinks the Vols can spring the upset in Norman Saturday, but what happens if Oklahoma blows their doors off? Will the Vols be able to recover emotionally if they lose by five or six touchdowns?
#7 TEXAS A&M: The Aggies have such a weak September schedule. Will the lack of quality opponents the rest of the month hurt them down the road when they start going against SEC West opponents every week?
VANDERBILT: Can the Commodores find enough offense to at least give their defense a breather? Can Derek Mason decide on a starting quarterback?
If Josh McKown is good enough to start at quarterback in the National Football League then Tim Tebow is good enough to at least be the backup for one of the 30 teams in the league. We could say the same thing about E.J. Manuel. If he can start in the league, then Tim should be a backup somewhere. So why isn’t he? Although he has trouble making the reads, Tebow is no less qualified or capable as a lot of quarterbacks in the league. I have to believe the reason he’s not on an NFL roster has everything to do with what is perceived to be the Tebow sideshow. He’s got an entourage that follows him wherever he goes and there aren’t a lot of coaches willing to deal with it.
Right now the two guys who should be topping everybody’s Heisman discussions are Georgia tailback Todd Gurley and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ... USC athletic director Pat Haden could be sanctioned for storming the field and arguing with officials after the Trojans were penalized three consecutive plays against Stanford Saturday ... Charlie Strong dismissed another player at Texas following the Longhorns’ 40-6 loss to BYU. It might be a long season for the Horns but Strong is making it perfectly clear it’s his way or the highway ... Ohio State had national championship aspirations with Braxton Miller at quarterback. The Buckeyes are going to be in a second tier bowl with J.T. Barrett running the offense ... New coordinator Brian Van Gorder has brought a nastiness to the defense at Notre Dame ... Was Florida State just bored against The Citadel? That the Seminoles didn’t crack 40 points and won by only 25 against a below average D1AA team is shocking.
Through two weeks, what is the biggest surprise for you in the Southeastern Conference?
I recently got introduced to the music of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, a west coast group whose music is kind of hybrid between Sheryl Crow, The Band and The Eagles when they were going through their 1970s country phase. What makes it work is the solid vocal work by Nicki Bluhm who is backed up by some extraordinary harmony. Their 2013 album “Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers” is a nice compilation of blues, rock and country. This is “Hey Stranger,” the second track off the album.