We’ve reached the kinda-sorta one-third mark of the college football season, so let’s zoom out and look at the college football landscape as conference play starts in earnest.
Winner: Nick Saban
I know, I know. Nick Saban is about as exciting as watching grass grow. But the Alabama Crimson Tide, who came into this season having lost their starting QB, RB and WRs, as well as their play caller and a host of defensive starters, have not missed a beat. Their closest call was against a top-ten team in Florida, who they got up big against and hung on to beat by two. But otherwise, the Tide has not seemed troubled. They have a big game this weekend against an explosive Ole Miss offense, then play a reeling Texas A&M, and coast until the end of the season, when they close out against a really good Arkansas and a really weird Auburn.
All of this to say, don’t be shocked if Bama rolls right back to another title. The one weakness you could probably point to might be their offense, which “only” scored 31 against Florida, but assuming they get by Ole Miss, the Tide will have a few weeks to get rolling again.
As always, it’s Nick Saban’s world, we’re just living in it. You don’t need gimmicks or flash or slogans or other stuff. We talked about style vs substance a few weeks ago. What really matters? Just win, baby.
Loser: Spencer Rattler
A few weeks ago, I was fond of referring to Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler as “future Falcons QB Spencer Rattler.” I said that because as a Falcons fan, I knew we were going to be awful this season. And with Matt Ryan in the final year of his megadeal, it has seemed pretty clear as the Falcons were setting up to flip the roster next season, many scouts had Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler at or near the top of their mock drafts.
Then I started watching Rattler play, and… well, I’m still not sold. First of all, he’s small enough that I had to pick up the phone to google his height. According to Wikipedia, Rattler is 6-1. And if he’s 6-1, I’m 7-2. But size can be overlooked, as with Rattler’s predecessors at OU, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Yet unlike those two, Rattler doesn’t seem to have the ability (or desire, perhaps) to use his speed to really spread the field. Last week against West Virginia, for instance, Rattler had 9 rushes for 0 yards. Instead, Rattler seems content to stay in the pocket and throw contested darts—last week someone on Twitter referred to him as Rex Grossman, and I nearly spit out my drink.
I could care less that Oklahoma hasn’t looked like a top 10 team, because at the end of the year their defense still isn’t good enough to keep them in games once they play a genuinely tough opponent. But considering the way the QB position in the NFL is trending, having mobility and extending plays with your legs is paramount. I don’t know if Rattler is the right fit for an NFL team looking to reach that next level.
Perhaps I should start referring to “future Falcons quarterback (and Atlanta native!) Malik Willis”?
Winner: Cats and Hogs
If you had told me one year ago at this time that Arkansas and Kentucky would become two of the more compelling teams in the SEC, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are, one year later, with Arkansas sitting pretty at 4-0 (including decisive wins over Texas and Texas A&M), and Kentucky also at 4-0.
Kentucky has played an easier schedule, but they’re 2-0 in the SEC so far, with wins over Mizzou and South Carolina. Last season they spent most of the year running into the line, using a wide receiver at QB. This season they’ve got a vertical offense, and while their win over South Carolina didn’t seem great — turnovers killed them — they still got the win. Most SEC fans probably couldn’t pick Mark Stoops out of a lineup, but to me he’s got Kentucky solidly in that third spot in the SEC East, with room to grow their share. (Well, at least until Texas and Oklahoma arrive and Alabama or Auburn flips sides.)
And I genuinely can’t believe Arkansas is where they are. They were a mess last season, with Feleipe “Ballpark” Franks at QB and coach Sam Pittman running around unifying the fanbase. This season the Razorbacks have a dynamic QB in KJ Jefferson, using an innovative offense that chews up yards on the ground, takes big shots through the air, plus what I think is an underrated defense. I don’t believe they’ve got enough to hang with UGA for sixty minutes this week in Athens (especially with Jefferson injured late last week), but I won’t be surprised if they cover the 18.5 point spread.
What in the name of Gene Chizik is happening on The Plains?
Ever since quarterback Bo Nix won the starting gig a season ago, he has had a tenuous hold on the job. He finally got yanked down the stretch last week against Georgia State, a game Auburn bounced back to win late. In the wake of that near-win over Georgia State, the Tigers fired their wide receivers coach this week, a move which new head coach Bryan Harsin described as “not ideal.”
You know what else seems to be not ideal? Being the head coach at Auburn, where every move is under scrutiny from an overly involved fanbase. It’s still very early in the Harsin era, but remember how many coaches were in the mix for a search that was basically hilarious before Auburn eventually landed on Harsin. Auburn has no shame making a change on the sideline, and while Harsin still has the cover of basically using Gus Malzahn’s players while settling into the job, that clock at Auburn ticks as loud or louder than it does anywhere else.
Winner: Presbyterian College Football!
We can forgive you if you don’t know much about Blue Hose football. Heck, I have a relative who teaches there, and I still don’t know much about it, at least historically. But a lot of college football nerds took notice of Presbyterian during the last offseason, when the FCS school hired Kevin Kelley as their head coach. Bring in a high school coach from Arkansas? Yes, but one who is deeply idiosyncratic, in all the best ways. Mostly, Kelley is known as the coach who never punts — he always goes for it on fourth down, figuring the odds will work in his favor. Similarly, he prefers going for two instead of one after scores. Their kickoffs? Usually onside kicks. Sometimes they win big, sometimes they don’t.
In Arkansas, Kelley won a few state titles. Thus far in Clinton, SC, Kelley and Presbyterian have had a wild ride. They opened with an 84-43 win, in which their QB threw 10 TD passes. Since then they’ve levelled out, and currently they have a record of 2-2, which also includes a 72-0 loss.
I don’t know if Kevin Kelley will turn Presbyterian into an FCS powerhouse or use the gig as a springboard to a bigger location, but I’m all for schools who are willing to do things differently.