After going 2-5 in bowl games last season, the SEC-West was supposed to re-announce its presence with authority this year.
Well, that hasn’t quite happened.
Arkansas (1-2) has lost two straight home games, including an embarrassing 16-12 clunker to Toledo. Auburn (1-2) barely survived 0-3 Louisville, needed overtime to beat Jacksonville State and got thumped 45-21 by LSU. No. 17 Texas A&M (3-0) has been solid, albeit slightly untested. Mississippi State (1-1) looks okay but not as good as it was last year. And No. 12 Alabama just lost to Ole Miss for the second year in a row. In fact, the Tide trailed by 19+ points on two occasions – in Tuscaloosa, no less.
So, where does that leave us? Exactly how good is the SEC?
“It’s pretty good,” Sports Illustrated senior writer Andy Staples said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It’s still pretty good. Probably one of the deeper divisions in college football. But is it that much better than the Pac-12 South? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. I think there’s some pretty good teams everywhere and I think the fact that the Pac-12 and Big Ten and the Big 12 started spending a lot of money on coaches, well, guess what? Those really good coaches are really good recruiters, and they’ve managed to get the talent to kind of disperse a little bit and I think there’s a little more parity now. I don’t think the SEC is the colossus (anymore). I do think – and it probably is – top to bottom the deepest league right now. There’s not as much chum as there is in the SEC to feast on. But I would argue that the Big 12 is pretty darn deep and the Pac-12 is very deep too. So I think this is one of those cases where everybody is kind of bunching together at this point because everybody’s got a lot of money to spend on coaches thanks to television.”
One program that has a great coach and a ton of talent? That would be No. 1 Ohio State (3-0) – even if it didn’t show it this past weekend, needing a late defensive stop to hold off unranked Northern Illinois, 20-13. The Buckeyes’ 20 points were their fewest since a 17-16 win over then-No. 20 Michigan State in September 2012 – Urban Meyer’s fifth game at Ohio State.
Just how troubling was Saturday’s performance for the Buckeyes?
“A little troubling on the offensive side,” Staples said. “I thought the defense played great and Darron Lee bailed them out with the pick-six. I said after the Virginia Tech game that their biggest opponent between then and Nov. 21 (when they host Michigan State) would be boredom, and clearly boredom won last week at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
No, boredom didn’t win, Doug Gottlieb pointed out; it covered – as in, it helped Northern Illinois cover the 34.5-point spread.
“Boredom definitely covered,” Staples said. “But I think they’ll get it figured out. Maybe that’s all they need is a little scare. The quarterback situation will work itself out. And the scary thing about this – and I hate to agree with Bret Bielema when everybody’s ragging on him right now – but Northern Illinois might be the best team that was left on their schedule until they play Michigan State. They just got the craziest draw from the Big Ten West. There’s not much there.”