This is the no-brainer of the week. Will Grier will start his fourth straight game Saturday when 3rd-ranked Ole Miss (4-0, 2-0 SEC) comes to The Swamp to face 25th-ranked Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC). Given Grier’s ability to play through tough situations, win a game on the road against Kentucky and then lead the Gators back from a 13-point deficit to a 28-27 win over Tennessee, there is no question he earned the start over Treon Harris, who didn’t play against Kentucky and was suspended for last week’s game with Tennessee.
Grier has proven in the wins over Kentucky and Tennessee that he can bounce back from bad plays and focus on what’s next, a skill that will pay immense dividends as the schedule gets tougher in October. With a win on the road and a fourth quarter comeback in his first two SEC starts, Grier (62-99 passing for 725 yards, 7.3 per attempt, 6 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; 114 rushing yards, 2 TDs) has gained the self-confidence and confidence of teammates he will need going forward.
While Harris (19-27 passing for 269 yards and 2 TDs; 55 yards rushing) has played well and has seven career starts under his belt (5-2 record), it’s fairly obvious from watching the offense in the first four games that Grier’s skill set is a better fit for what McElwain wants to do. Still, Harris is a valuable player to have on the team. The question moving forward is can McElwain keep Harris focused on the team and understanding that he’s a Grier sprained ankle away from regaining his starting job?
SEPTEMBER 1 VS. OCTOBER 1 IN THE SEC
Let’s take a moment to compare some of the conventional wisdom of September 1, 2015 and compare it to the stark reality of October 1.
On September 1:
1. Sporting News had Auburn #3 nationally behind national champ Ohio State and TCU. Sporting News predicted Auburn would win the SEC with an explosive offense and the next great defense in college football coached by Will Muschamp.
2. The only thing standing in the way of Auburn winning it all was Alabama.
3. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson was Auburn’s preseason Heisman Trophy contender and running back Derrick Henry was Alabama’s.
4. Arkansas was going to grind opponents into submission with its running game and would contend for the SEC championship.
5. Three straight great recruiting classes at Tennessee were about to mature and the Vols were ready to win the SEC East and get back to being a national program.
6. Alabama’s defense was as good as it gets in college football. Phil Steele rated Bama’s D-line the best in college football, the linebackers third best and the DBs #7.
7. Most preseason magazines predicted Texas A&M to finish sixth in the SEC West with Mississippi State a solid pick to bring up the rear.
8. Florida was thought too young by the “experts,” most of whom predicted the Gators would finish behind Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri in the SEC East.
On October 1:
1. Auburn is 0-2 in SEC play and the defense ranks dead last in the SEC. The no huddle, hurry up offense has been ditched for two reasons: (1) the offense is so bad that Gus Malzahn has to send in multiple substitutions every play because he doesn’t have enough who are on the same page on any given play and (2) the offense has to slow things down to give that very bad defense a rest.
2. Alabama turned the ball over five times and lost to Ole Miss in such a way that a 9-3 season isn’t out of the question. There are questions everywhere on the offense and the defense has a habit of no-show in big games. Nobody fears Alabama anymore.
3. Jeremy Johnson might go down as the most overhyped player in SEC history. He enters October riding the pine. Derrick Henry has only carried the ball 67 times this year (422 yards). He’s good enough that if he got the ball 20-25 times a game he might put up Leonard Fournette numbers.
4. Arkansas has thrown the ball all over the place, hasn’t gotten its ground game kicked into gear, has lost three straight games and looks as if it will be fortunate to go 6-6 in the regular season. Everybody in Arkansas loved Bret Bielema back on September 1. Will they still love him if the Hogs break even or finish with a losing record?
5. A slew of injuries and a coaching staff that suffers from massive fourth quarter brain farts have had a sobering effect on Tennessee expectations and Butch Jones’ job security.
6. The Alabama defense flunked its first real test and gave up 43 points in a loss to Ole Miss. The next test is Saturday at Georgia. If Alabama flunks this test, then it will be four straight F grades in games that matter most.
7. Texas A&M is 4-0 and while it hasn’t played a great game yet, expectations are that the Aggies will put it all together and be a force down the stretch. Mississippi State nearly took out LSU and beat Auburn on the road. The young guys, especially on defense, are growing up and the Bulldogs are looking like an 8-9 win team.
8. If Georgia stumbles against Alabama, then it’s possible a 2-loss team could win the SEC East. If Florida can go 2-2 in October with one of those wins over Georgia, the Gators will have a shot at the East title. They’ve already beaten Tennessee and look worlds better than Missouri at this point.
#13 Alabama (3-1, 0-1 SEC): In Alabama’s last three big games (Auburn and Ohio State in 2014; Ole Miss this year) the defense has given up a combined 1,600 yards and 129 points. Saturday the Crimson Tide will have to stop a Georgia team that is averaging 45.5 points, 491.3 yards of total offense and 257.75 rushing yards per game.
Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 SEC): The Razorbacks have spent plenty of time this week working with the offensive line, which has had its share of false starts and holding calls in the first four games. Fixing communication problems on the line are a priority. Says O-line coach Sam Pittman, “We have done some things to change our silent snap count, our shotgun snap count a little bit so ewe don’t get caught in somebody simulating our snap count on defense or something like that.”
Auburn (2-2, 0-2 SEC): Injuries continue to plague Auburn’s defense. Defensive end Carl Lawson (hip) is out for an extended period of time. Corner T.J. Davis (knee) is out for a few more weeks and linebacker Tre Williams (knee) is listed day-to-day.
#8 Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC): Georgia, which has one of the more liberal media access policies in college football when it comes to both coaches and players, is withholding quarterback Greyson Lambert from interviews and media functions this week as the Bulldogs prepare for #13 Alabama. Lambert, who has completed 33 of his last 35 passes, will be facing an Alabama defense that is holding opponents to 5.3 yards per pass attempt and 1.97 yards per rush attempt.
Kentucky (3-1, 2-1 SEC): With D1AA foe Eastern Kentucky coming to Lexington Saturday, the Wildcats shouldn’t be fazed by a slew of nagging injuries. Left tackle Jordan Swindle (groin) and defensive tackle Reggie Meant (shoulder) are questionable. Wide receiver Dorian Baker has a hand in a cast but might play if the cast comes off before Saturday. Tight end C.J. Conrad and nose tackle Melvin Lewis are in walking boots but both could play Saturday.
#9 LSU (3-0, 2-0 SEC): The Tigers are placing a lot of practice emphasis this week on special teams, particularly coverage units. LSU is giving up 37.8 yards per kickoff return and 23 yards per punt return, which ranks last in the SEC in both categories. Additionally, punter Jamie Keehn, who was All-SEC last year, is inconsistent and averaging only 38.82 per punt.
#21 Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC): Against LSU, Mississippi State gave up three sacks, five tackles for loss and eight QB hurries. This week the Bulldogs face an even better pass rushing team in Texas A&M. Dan Mullen says the Bulldogs will have to take care of Dak Prescott if they expect to win. “You’re going to have to mix it up and move the pocket and protect the quarterback by keeping more guys in protection and getting the ball out quick,” Mullen said Wednesday. “You’ve really gotta keep changing it up on them. The last thing you want to do is let those guys get in a pass rush mode.”
Missouri (3-1, 0-1 SEC): Who will pick up the slack in the ground game now that quarterback Maty Mauk has been suspended for Saturday’s game with South Carolina? Mauk was accounting for more than 36 of Mizzou’s 108.5 rushing yards per game. His replacement, true freshman Drew Lock, is a pure pocket passer who has taken three sacks for -9 yards in losses but hasn’t tried to run the ball even though he’s played in all four games.
#3 Ole Miss (4-0, 2-0 SEC): Hugh Freeze sees a lot of similarities in the Florida defense he will see Saturday in The Swamp to his own Land Sharks. Freeze said, “They’re a lot like us. Very athletic, very fast. Movement. Tremendous get-off, particularly at home where they know they’ve got you in a silent cadence issue. Their D-line has got really good get-off. Their defensive backs are as good as you’ll see. The whole defense is very talented, and they can run and they tackle well. It’s just one of the better defenses in the country.”
South Carolina (2-2, 0-2 SEC): In yellow, non-contact jerseys at South Carolina’s Wednesday practice were Spur Jasper Sasser (ankle), center Alan Knott (ankle), running back Brandon Wilds (ribs), wide receiver Deebo Samuel (hamstring), tight end Connor Redmond (back) and center Cody Waldrop (ankle).
Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC): For the Vols to remain in the SEC East race, they have to beat Arkansas Saturday and that means finding a way to get the Razorbacks off the field. Against Texas A&M, the Hogs controlled the ball 39:28, leaving time for the Aggies to run only 48 offensive plays. Arkansas opponents have averaged just 52.5 plays per game.
#14 Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0 SEC): How big an impact has freshman Christian Kirk had on the Aggies? In the four games of September, Kirk has caught 24 passes for 442 yards and four TDs, averaged 37.3 per punt return (1TD) and 20.9 per kickoff return. He has 275 yards after the catch and hasn’t dropped a single pass.
Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2 SEC): Quarterback Johnny McCrary is playing with much more self-confidence than last year, but the confidence extends to his teammates. Says head coach Derek Mason, “He (McCrary) trusts the guys around him. He doesn’t feel like he has to do it all.”
TOUGHEST OCTOBERS IN THE SEC
1. Florida: #3 Ole Miss, at Missouri, at #9 LSU, #8 Georgia (Jacksonville)
2. Ole Miss: at #25 Florida, New Mexico State, at Memphis, #14 Texas A&M, Auburn
3. Texas A&M: #21 Mississippi State, #13 Alabama, at #3 Ole Miss, South Carolina
4. Alabama: at #8 Georgia, Arkansas, at #14 Texas A&M, Tennessee
5. Tennessee: Arkansas, #8 Georgia, at #13 Alabama, at Kentucky
6. South Carolina: at Missouri, #9 LSU, Vanderbilt, at #14 Texas A&M
7. Georgia: #13 Alabama, at Tennessee, Missouri, #25 Florida (Jacksonville)
8. Missouri: South Carolina, #25 Florida, at #9 Georgia, at Vanderbilt
9. LSU: Eastern Michigan, at South Carolina, #25 Florida, Western Kentucky
10. Arkansas: at Tennessee, at #13 Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee-Martin
11. Auburn: San Jose State, at Kentucky, at Arkansas, #3 Ole Miss
12. Kentucky: Eastern Kentucky, Auburn, at #21 Mississippi State, Tennessee
13. Vanderbilt: at Middle Tennessee, at South Carolina, Missouri, at Houston
14. Mississippi State: at #14 Texas A&M, Troy, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky
There are 29 remaining unbeaten teams in Division I. The Big 12 leads the way with six unbeaten followed by the SEC and Big Ten with five each. The ACC and American Athletic Conference each have four, the Pac-12 three and followed by the MAC with one and Notre Dame.
Per Forbes Magazine, Microsoft co-founder and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen is worth $17.8 billion, which is $10.2 billion more than the second richest NFL owner, Stan Kroenke ($7.6 billion) of the St. Louis Rams. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is the fifth wealthiest at $5 billion. Allen ranks #51 on the list of the richest people in the world.
Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Enberg, originator of the “Oh my!” after an exciting play, will retire as the play-by-play man of the San Diego Padres after the 1980 season. Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire were probably the best college basketball announcing team of all time.
Both Kentucky and Kansas continue to wait for the NCAA Clearinghouse to rule on the eligibility of the top players in their 2015 recruiting classes. There are numerous issues surrounding Skal Labissiere (7-0, 230), the centerpiece of the Kentucky recruiting class, some of them academic and some of them surrounding his AAU handlers. Labissiere is originally from Haiti. Cheick Diallo (6-9, 225) is originally from Mali. His NCAA issues involve his high school, Our Saviour New American School on Long Island. The school has had numerous players who have had problems gaining NCAA eligibility.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
When you look back at the pre-September hype, are you surprised that Auburn has struggled so mightily on both sides of the football?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
While driving today, I listened to some Deep Purple for the first time in a couple of months and that reminded me of seeing the band in concert in Melbourne in the spring of 1969. Ritchie Blackmore was sensational that day and my ears took a beating like never before. I think it was a week before I could hear again. Today’s music is a digitally remastered version of their “Machine Head” album from 1972.