True confession time: I had Alabama and Ohio State 1-2 on my preseason ballot. I felt Alabama was still loaded despite heavy losses of talent and that Urban Meyer had his best defense as the head coach of the Buckeyes.
When Ohio State got boat-raced by Oklahoma and Clemson beat Auburn 14-6 on Sept. 9, I moved the defending national champions into the No. 2 slot.
At the time I wondered if giving Clemson that much love was wise because the Tigers lost so many great players, among them being quarterback Deshaun Watson.
I don’t wonder about that any more. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
After watching Clemson go on the road and dominate Louisville (47-21) and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (Lamar Jackson), I’ve made a decision: I’m keeping Alabama and Clemson in the top two spots until somebody beats them.
More simply stated: After three games I believe that the best two teams from the past two seasons are also the two best teams this season. Yes, Alabama has to go to Mississippi State (Nov. 11) and Auburn (Nov. 25). Clemson has to go to Virginia Tech (Sept. 30) and Florida State (Nov. 11).
In fact, there is an argument to be made that with wins over two top 15 teams (Auburn, Louisville) Clemson deserves to be No. 1. A writer from the Greenville (S.C.) News makes the argument. I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Here are some other things we learned during Week 3:
DAN MULLEN IS THE SECOND BEST COACH IN THE SEC. AND IT’S NOT CLOSE
Mississippi State is enjoying the most consistent period in its football history under Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs have been to seven bowls in eight seasons and in 2014 Mississippi State held the No. 1 national ranking for five weeks.
Mullen is one of the best around at recruiting average to good (on paper) athletes and turning them into very good players. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is the classic example. Middle Tennessee State was the only other school that offered Fitzgerald a scholarship but Mullen saw something special in the 6-5, 230-pound junior who threw only 78 passes as a high school senior.
Fitzgerald had 180 yards passing and 84 more rushing in a stunning 37-7 domination of LSU in Starkville Saturday night.
“There is nothing more fun than going out there and kicking someone’s butt,” said Fitzgerald to reporters after the game. “We had a great time.”
Fitzgerald, who grew up in Richmond Hill, Ga. (about 20 miles south of Savannah), takes his Mississippi State team to Athens on Saturday to play Georgia.
One other thing about Mississippi State: Right now they look like the second-best team in the SEC West.
CONVERSELY, LSU IS NOT A VERY WELL-COACHED TEAM
At LSU, Coach Ed Orgeron calls the first day of the week “Tell the Truth Monday.”
“On Mondays we are brutally honest about what is good and bad about our team,” Orgeron told me when we met in his office last spring.
Hopefully, Coach O didn’t wait until Monday to tell the truth about his team. Because late Saturday night this much was clear: His football team is not very well coached.
I wasn’t surprised that Mississippi State beat LSU. I was surprised that LSU got embarrassed 37-7. LSU committed nine penalties for 112 yards after being penalized 21 times in the previous two games. Two touchdowns were called back due to penalties (although one was a questionable call). Not one but two players were ejected for targeting.
“Maybe we’re not as good in some spots as we thought we were,” Orgeron told reporters after the game.
KENTUCKY’S WIN AT SOUTH CAROLINA WAS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE OF THE MARK STOOPS ERA
With the way that South Carolina had played in its first two wins against N.C. State (35-28) and Missouri (31-13), nobody outside of Lexington, Ky., gave Kentucky a chance Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
But the fact is that the Wildcats, who rallied from an 0-2 start to make a bowl last season, were in control after the first play. That first play was a 68-yard touchdown pass to Deebo Samuel that gave South Carolina a 6-0 lead. Kentucky never lost its poise and won 23-13.
GEORGIA LOOKS LIKE THE MOST COMPLETE TEAM IN THE SEC EAST
Although Tennessee and Florida played a dramatic and entertaining fourth quarter, it’s clear from watching them that they are very, very flawed.
Georgia (3-0), which beat Samford 42-14 Saturday night in Athens, is also flawed. The offensive line is pretty average, the Bulldogs are still looking for a big-play receiver (despite the catch of the season by Terry Godwin at Notre Dame), and the young quarterback (Jake Fromm) is still finding his way.
We’ll find out for sure about Georgia over the next three weeks as the Bulldogs get Mississippi State at home, Tennessee on the road, and Vanderbilt (which beat Kansas State 14-7) on the road.
**--Tennessee running back John Kelly ran the ball 19 times for 144 yards against Florida. He should have carried it 30 times against a Florida defense that was clearly gassed midway through the third quarter. Tennessee was the better team and had a bunch of wasted opportunities (3 missed field goals). You can’t do that on the road and win. Thus the heat is turned up on Butch Jones—again. The Vols get UMass this week and then face a critical home game with Georgia on Sept. 30.
**--Texas A&M (2-1) trailed Louisiana-Lafayette 21-14 at halftime in College Station and, yes, the natives were restless in Kyle Field. Then the Aggies let their talent kick in with 31 straight points to put the game away. Saturday’s game between Texas A&M and Arkansas in Arlington, Tex., is going to be huge for both Sumlin and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
And it didn’t help the mood of the Texas A&M fans to see freshman wide receiver Will Gunnell as he appeared to be flipping off the crowd as the team headed to the locker room at halftime. Gunnell, according to Sumlin, did not return to the field in the second half. It was just another aggravation the team didn’t need.
**--Vanderbilt’s 14-7 win over No. 18 Kansas State was the school’s first against a non-conference ranked opponent since 1946 (N.C. State). The Commodores are 3-0 and host No. 1 Alabama on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS). The Commodores have allowed only 13 points in three games. Head coach Derek Mason is also the defensive coordinator.
**--Things only get tougher for Ole Miss (2-1), which lost a late night game at California, 27-16. After the long flight home the Rebels get this week off. Then they play six straight SEC games against Alabama, Auburn, Vanderbilt, LSU, Arkansas and Kentucky.
**--All injuries are bad. Some are worse than others. And South Carolina’s loss of Deebo Samuel (broken leg) for the season is just critical. He had returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and caught a 68-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the Kentucky game. He is a difference maker. It is just an awful turn of events for the Gamecocks.