Five Things we learned about SEC football: Week 7

The 2018 college football season was overdue for a crazy, crazy Saturday and we finally got it on Oct. 3 as No. 2 Georgia, No. 6 West Virginia, Nov. 7 Washington, and No. 8 Penn State all went down. The first set of College Football Playoff rankings will be released two weeks from Tuesday.

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And when it came to craziness, the SEC was no exception. In fact, here are five things we learned about SEC football on Week 7:

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1--Ed Orgeron could be your SEC Coach of the Year: Saturday I sat in Tiger Stadium and watched an inspired LSU team that is sick and tired of people underrating them and, more importantly, underrating their coach. Yes, Ed Orgeron has the voice of a guy who’s been gargling with razor blades. And, yes, he always ends every interview with his often-imitated “Go Tigers.”

But you know what? This guy, who has been labeled as a great recruiter—a backhanded compliment for someone who the football intelligentsia believes is not quite up to par in the nuances of being a head coach—is now making a serious run at SEC Coach of the Year.

A lot of people (this writer included) had LSU finishing as low as fifth in the SEC’s Western Division. And after losing at Florida on Oct. 6 it looked like the Tigers would soon be out of the discussion. But LSU dominated No. 2 Georgia 36-16 and are back at No. 5 in Sunday’s Associated Press media poll and very much in the mix for the playoffs. Run the table and LSU is in.

We certainly don’t expect LSU to beat No. 1 Alabama in what will be a raucous prime-time game on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge. But won’t it be fun to watch the Tigers and Coach O give it a try? LSU has to beat Mississippi State at home on Saturday to set up the Alabama game.

“The best way we can defend our coach, who we love, is by winning football games,” said tight end Foster Moreau.

2—The loss at LSU leaves Georgia with a lot of questions: All season long Georgia (6-1) has received the benefit of the doubt because the Bulldogs really passed the “eye test.” In short, they are an impressive looking football team with a lot of speed and athleticism. They got the No. 2 ranking despite their youth and the fact that they hadn’t played a complete game all season. It caught up with them on Saturday in Baton Rouge.

Coach Kirby Smart had told his players that they were going to have to match the physicality that LSU would bring to the table. Georgia’s didn’t as LSU ran for 275 yards and held Georgia to only 113.

Smart said after the game that he had seen warning signs in games against Missouri and Vanderbilt.

“This is not just popping out of the ground,” he said.

Smart must also figure out what to do with freshman quarterback Justin Fields, who played very little despite the struggles of sophomore Jake Fromm.

Still, Georgia has to play No. 11 Florida, at No. 14 Kentucky, Auburn, UMass, and Georgia Tech. Win the three SEC games and Georgia will reach the conference championship game and a chance at the College Football Playoff.

But Georgia’s margin of error is gone and we’re left to wonder how good the Bulldogs really are.

3--Saturday’s win over Auburn was a huge building block for Tennessee: Understand that when you’re as far down as Tennessee, which had lost 11 straight SEC games, you’re grateful for any sign that the program is moving forward. After six difficult weeks for new coach Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee put together a complete game and beat No. 21 Auburn 30-24.

Yes Auburn is struggling to find itself in a season that started with so much promise. But Saturday’s win on the road means that Tennessee’s players are buying what Pruitt is selling. And that’s a start.

Yes, all of these nice feelings for Tennessee (3-3, 1-2) will get a reality check when No. 1 Alabama comes to Knoxville on Saturday. But by getting the Auburn win it is now possible that Tennessee could find three more victories from a schedule that includes Alabama, South Carolina, Charlotte, Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt. Getting to a bowl with this team would be a major accomplishment in Pruitt’s first year.

4--Florida’s comeback from 21-3 down against Vanderbilt speaks volumes about the new culture under Dan Mullen: I’ll put this as gently as I can: If Florida was still under the previous coaching administration, it is unlikely the Gators would have erased an 18-point deficit in the second quarter and won at Vanderbilt 37-27. Mullen’s guys looked like they were in big, big trouble on the road. But they just kept playing and in the process scored 24 straight points and found yet another way to win.

Before Saturday Florida had lost 26 straight games after trailing by 18 or more points. We haven’t seen the Gators (6-1, 4-1) be that resilient lately and that is something future opponents—like Georgia on Oct. 27 in Jacksonville—should watch.

Have you looked at the rest of the schedule? After Georgia, Florida will likely be favored in each of its last four games with Missouri, South Carolina, Idaho and Florida State. All but Florida State are in The Swamp. It’s pretty simple, really. If Florida wins out and Kentucky loses once more, the Gators go to Atlanta to play for the SEC championship. Now who would have thought that in August?

“We just seem to keep checking off all the boxes, said Mullen. His point is that the Gators have found a bunch of different ways to win this season.

And that’s a good thing.

5--Don’t forget about the Aggies: A veteran SEC coach once told me that the difference between 7-5 and 10-2 is a handful of plays in a handful of games. More simply put, there are going to be a lot of close games in this conference and your season will ultimately be defined by how you do in those games.

Exhibit A: Texas A&M.

The Aggies (6-2, 3-1) simply gutted out another close game on Saturday, beating South Carolina 26-23 in Columbia. Texas A&M took a 16-0 lead and then gave it all back. Usually when you blow a 16-point lead on the road, you lose.

Texas A&M didn’t.

“We’ve got some guys with heart and toughness. I’ll tell you that,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game.

The Aggies get this week off and still have road games at Mississippi State and Auburn, with home games against Ole Miss, UAB, and LSU on Nov. 24.

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