Bernie’s 5 Chicken-Fried Questions on SEC Football, Before Week 9

My Five Smoking, Smoldering, Burning, Chicken-Fried Questions of the Week on SEC Football

1. Which team had the worst week in the SEC?

You probably assume I’m going to say Mizzou, which embarrassed itself and the conference by losing to Middle Tennessee.

Or you may go with Arkansas, which was run out of Auburn in a humiliating 56-3 loss.

Worthy nominees for sure.

But I’m going with Ole Miss, which got stomped 38-21 by Leonard Fournette and LSU on the road Saturday.

And that’s just the start of it.

I go with Ole Miss because the standards are higher for coach Hugh Freeze’s program.

Before the season, there was a lot of talk about Ole Miss being the upset special to win the SEC West, and the Rebels climbed as high as No. 11 in the AP Poll.  But with the loss, Ole Miss is 3-4 in the conference, the first time the Rebs have been under .500 this deep in the season since 2012.

And the Ole Miss remaining schedule includes Auburn and Texas A&M, who rank third and 15th respectively in the nation in rushing yards. Ole Miss ranks 107th nationally in total defense and 113th in rushing defense, getting flattened for 227 yards per game overall. SEC opponents have stampeded through the Ole Miss defense for 269 yards rushing per game.

We’ve seen a familiar pattern in the Ole Miss losses: strong start, then a fast fade, with few if any coaching adjustments made at halftime. Ole Miss hasn’t trailed at the half in any game this season, but opponents have outscored the Rebels 78-34 in the third period.

On top of that, Ole Miss lost two recruits last week, with a highly rated and defensive end and a top linebacker that de-committed to look elsewhere.

And one more thing: quarterback Chad Kelly has real talent, but he’s the most overrated player in the SEC. So many careless throws, dumb mistakes, and drive-killing lapses in discipline.

2. Kentucky plays at Mizzou on Saturday. Why is Mizzou favored to win by 4.5  points?

Beats me. Look, I get it … there’s nothing great about Kentucky. The Wildcats are 4-3 overall, 3-2 in the SEC.

barry-odom-2
Barry Odom’s Missouri Tigers have allowed an average of 44.3 points per game in their current three-game losing streak.

Four seasons into the job, Coach Mark Stoops has a 16-27 record. Kentucky opened 2016 with a home loss to Southern Miss, a Conference USA team that’s rated at about the same level as Middle Tennessee, the C-USA team that upset Missouri last week. And the Kentucky wins this season have come against New Mexico State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. And heck, even the Mississippi State affair wasn’t settled until Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis hit a 51-yard field goal on the final play.

That said, after a stumbling 0-2 start Kentucky has won four of its past five games and needs two more wins to secure a bowl invitation. Unlike Missouri, at least Kentucky seems to be trending the right way. In the SEC East, that 3-2 Kentucky record is good for second place, a half-game behind 3-1 Florida.

As for Mizzou? Winless in the SEC, and dragging through a three-game losing streak in which the Tigers have allowed an average of 44.3 points per game, 580 yards total offense, and 335 yards rushing.

3. Top-ranked Alabama paid a price in the win over Texas A&M, losing senior safety Eddie Jackson for the season with a fractured leg. How big of a loss is this? 

Pretty big. I know, I know … Alabama has a ridiculous amount of depth. And after losing Jackson, head coach Nick Saban can plug in junior Hootie Jones, a top recruit in 2014 who hasn’t been able to crack the lineup. But Jackson is a special and experienced player who is tied for the career starts, 23, by a member of the Alabama defense. He’s a senior team leader, essential to maintaining Alabama’s team culture. Saban entrusts Jackson to direct the defense on field. As an athlete Jackson is an excellent safety with 10 career interceptions, more than any active SEC player. And Jackson is a dangerous return specialist, having scored five touchdowns over the last two seasons on punt returns or INT returns.

4. Among SEC coordinators which assistant is having the best season and making the most impact?

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin would be an easy choice here — but he isn’t the answer. I can’t say enough about the work being done by first-year Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who has put together one of the best units in the nation. And frankly, no one expected that for two reasons: First, Steele was fired by LSU. Second, even during the best of times with head coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn has been soft defensively. When War Eagle played for the BCS championship in 2013, the defense was blasted for 421 yards per game.

Steele has changed all of that. Auburn ranks third nationally in scoring defense, yielding only 14.1 points per game. The Tigers have given up multiple touchdowns in only three games this season, and the 10 touchdowns scored by opponents are the fewest against an Auburn defense through seven games since 2006. Despite facing a row of quarterbacks that includes Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight and Arkansas’ Austin Allen, Auburn has been nicked for only six TD passes in seven games.

5. What’s the latest on the LSU coaching front?

Interim coach Ed Orgeron has done an impressive job after taking over for the deposed Les Miles. The Tigers are 3-0 since the switch. On top of that they’be looked dominant, outscoring the three vanquished foes by a margin of 125-48. According to the Bookmaker.eu site, Houston coach Tom Herman is still the favorite, followed in order by Jimbo Fisher, Kliff Kingsbury, Gary Patterson, Bobby Petrino, Lane Kiffin, Mike Gundy, Larry Fedora, Orgeron, Sonny Dykes, Todd Graham, Art Briles. And a few others not worth mentioning. Except for two or three names, the list isn’t very inspiring.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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