Posted: 12:54 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013
The Crimson Tide is just one of two SEC teams to make it out of September unscathed, so that's worth an A, no? The Tide still gets a minus for not appearing to be up to its recent standards, which, to be fair, are ridiculously high. The offense struggled mightily against Virginia Tech and the team nearly gave up a large lead against Texas A&M;, so it hasn't been all domination. However, the Tide still won those games, and shutting out Ole Miss is only going to look more impressive as the year goes along. So far, so good.
The Razorbacks are going through a transition period and lost their starting quarterback for some time, so I can't give them too bad a grade here. However the team didn't look all that impressive in any of its tune-up games, and it gave away a big lead to Rutgers. Merely hanging in there with A&M; might count for the team's most impressive performance to date, and it was still a 12-point loss. With five teams that are currently ranked still left to go, it's hard to see things getting better quickly. This program is rebuilding, and everyone knows it.
There's definitely some grading on a curve here, as Auburn is not, in absolute terms, a B-level team. But, for an outfit that won two games last year, it's doing pretty good. It managed to beat Washington State (which USC didn't, don't forget), had an appropriately low level of trouble with Arkansas State, and edged out Mississippi State to get the SEC season off to a good start. AU wasn't really that competitive with LSU, but that's going to take some time. It's been a good start for the Tigers.
Yes, LSU just lost. Yes, I'm going to give the program an A- anyway. The minus is for losing to Georgia, but it was by a field goal on the road. The final margin of three points would represent 3.5% of the total points scored in the game. I don't feel like I can dock a full letter grade for that close of a loss when the most glaring problem on the team from past years, namely the offense, is so vastly improved. The defense has some questions, but Georgia's offense is tremendous and everybody knew that side of the ball is inexperienced. This team has reasons for optimism and can still accomplish all of its goals. I'm not going to stress over last Saturday's result.
Ole Miss: B+
Few people, if anyone, picked the Rebels to begin the season 3-1, so it's been a good start for the guys in Oxford. So why no A (or A-) like with LSU? Getting shut out by Alabama is a cause for concern, even granting that Bama's defense is still pretty great. Plus, all of the turmoil at Texas kind of lessens the value of that win a bit. Just speaking to my expectations, I had this team going 7-5. Now, after the first month, the Texas win merely turns that into 8-4. That is good enough for an above average grade, but I'm not so pleased with what I've seen that I can go with an A.
Mississippi State: C
Good: holding Oklahoma State to just 21 points. Bad: managing just three points in that game. Good: blowing out Alcorn State and Troy. Bad: blowing the lead against Auburn. It's been a mixed bag in Starkville, and they've already got a quarterback controversy brewing. Frustrations have arisen with every conservative decision from the coaching staff, particularly with choices that fall in the "playing not to lose, not playing to win" category. There still is time to turn things around, but there's plenty of time for things to sour even further.
Texas A&M;: B
I have no complaints about the offense. Johnny Manziel is doing Johnny Manziel things, and even when he makes questionable decisions on throwing into crowds, his excellent receivers are there to bail him out. You also could hardly say enough about what a great player Mike Evans is. So why the B? The defense is giving up way too many points. We knew that it wasn't elite last year and lost some key players, but it simply is not adequate. The offense can still outscore just about anyone left on the schedule, so a gaudy record is definitely on the table. I just don't have any faith that the D can get a stop at any given time, much less a critical time in a close game. With that kind of glaring weakness, I can't give this team an A.