Just how good is ...?
Florida – The Gators can win the SEC East, but is nowhere near the level of Alabama and LSU. This young team is gaining confidence at an exponential rate.
Georgia – The SEC East frontrunner has a better shot at a league title than it did at this time last year. Remember, talented defenders Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree still haven't played.
West Virginia – Can we wait until the Mountaineers play someone better than Marshall before handing them the Big 12 hardware? The offense is terrific, but the D has a lot to prove against unfamiliar opponents.
Florida State – Some things are too good to be true. Florida State's impeccable start against lightweights, for instance. I'm still not convinced that the ‘Noles will win the ACC championship in 2012.
Clemson – Hmmm. I like the makeup of this Tiger team. Everything will come down to a defense that has gotten off to a decent start, but really hasn't been tested yet.
Notre Dame – I'm beginning to think that a BCS bowl game might be in its future. The D is rock-solid, and the schedule is suddenly not as daunting as it looked a few weeks ago.
Texas – Last week may have been a turning point, albeit versus a bad Ole Miss team. If David Ash keeps improving, the ‘Horns are every bit as good as Oklahoma and West Virginia in the Big 12.
Oklahoma – I expect to be disappointed by the Sooners this year. I'm not a huge Landry Jones guy, and there's something unsettling about a highly-ranked team that needs to escape UTEP in Week 1.
South Carolina – The Gamecocks are behind Georgia in the SEC East, with Florida gaining in the rear view mirror. At some point, the situation at quarterback will cost this team a game or two this fall.
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The Gators are improved and certainly have a couple wins against solid opponents on the road, but Jeff Driskel is still learning, the offense still needs to show that it can do what it did on Saturday consistently, and the schedule is a monster coming home. Florida could be the king in another conference, but in the SEC, I'm not sold that it's better than Alabama, LSU, or Georgia. It may be a coin-flip with South Carolina. Let's call Saturday what it was, a win against an over-hyped Tennessee squad that had barely cracked the top 25. The Gators are not a top-ten caliber team. End of story.
The Bulldogs are a legitimate top-ten team, and (this is a compliment), the third best team in the SEC. Of course that might mean the Bulldogs are the third best team in the country these days. Aaron Murray is the real deal and there are athletes up and down the roster. The schedule is perhaps the easiest of any SEC team squad (with no LSU or Alabama), meaning there is an outside shot of Georgia getting to the SEC Championship game undefeated. If it can pull off a shocker there, who knows? The game at South Carolina looms large.
Are we talking about the team, or the QB? Geno Smith is unbelievable, and has a very good shot at taking home the Heisman this year, but somewhere the defense is going to let the Mountaineers down. The good news? There isn't much defense being played in the Big Twelve anyway. WVU will finish outside the top ten. Oklahoma and Texas are better, and TCU and K-State are better teams than anything the Mountain-men faced last year in the Big East.
Okay. Begrudgingly I'm in. Because of past history, folks have been slow to jump on the bandwagon, but the Seminoles are electric this year and are healthy. Secretly, FSU has a legitimate shot at being national-title good. Seriously. No seriously. Let's leave it at that before Jimbo Fisher makes a fool of us all again.
See above. Nobody will recognize Clemson as a top-five, top-ten team until it can put it together for a full season. There is talent galore at the offensive skill positions, but Tajh Boyd has a tendency to force the issue and panic when the team gets behind. Top-fifteen or twenty, sure. Top-ten--I'm not getting fooled again.
Do we have to have this discussion again? Yes, yes we really do this year. Notre Dame is not going to put fear in Alabama, LSU, or Oregon, but is much better this year. The Irish are top twenty, and that's a good start--but it ends there. Look out in the future though as Everett Golson matures...
David Ash is still too wet behind the ears to expect really big things, but Texas is headed in the right direction. Realistically, Oklahoma is probably better, but it's not a stretch to think the Longhorns could be the second best team in the conference. That means there is an outside shot at a BCS bowl.
If there's one thing to look at for rationale on how good a team can be, gaze no further than the quarterback position. Bob Stoops has shown over the course of his tenure that quarterbacks in his system for multiple years push the team to big things. Landry Jones is the next guy and will take the Sooners to a Big Twelve title. And.....there is an outside shot at a national title if the cards fall in front of them just so.
Remember Sesame Street--one of these things don't belong? Yeah, that's the Gamecocks in the top-ten. Connor Shaw is tough as nails, but he's not the quarterback you'd expect to be pulling the trigger in a Steve Spurrier offense--even when healthy. To that end Marcus Lattimore will struggle to find wiggle-room all season because the deficiency in the passing game. As Lattimore goes, so too does the offense. As the offense goes, so does South Carolina's chances at a memorable season. The Gamecocks will likely lose three or four games this season and be sitting in the top-twenty waiting room--soon.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb
Florida – With road wins at Kyle Field and Neyland Stadium, against two good SEC teams (if better offenses than defenses), Florida might have the two best wins of any team so far in 2012. If sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel and the offensive line can play like this for the rest of their games, Florida will win the East. However, we remain worried about an offense that is still largely one dimensional - ranked 106 in the nation passing, behind even LSU, and 104 in sacks allowed.
Georgia – Georgia is undefeated and remains ranked in the nation's top ten, which is where it's offense is currently ranked: 10th best overall. However, its patchwork offensive line looked far from perfect against an over-matched Florida Atlantic squad, and the best team it's played to date (Missouri) will be lucky to go .500 in SEC play this season. The schedule still continues to favor the Dawgs…and they have the defensive front seven that can stop the Gators rushing attack.
West Virginia – Haven't missed a beat with Geno Smith leading Dana Holgorsen's high-powered offense. The Mountaineers appear to have picked up right where they left off from the Orange Bowl thumping laid on Clemson. Still, so far they've only played Marshall, a bye week, and James Madison…it's still too early to really know what 2012 has in store for WVU. Next up: a terrible Maryland team in Morgantown.
Florida State – The win over Wake Forest was comforting, particularly after Murray State and Savannah State. Though thrashing Wake Forest is hardly convincing in terms of identifying just how good this Seminole team is. Like WVU, FSU is another team that remains difficult to gauge: is it a major player or a simple pretender? FSU has only surrendered 3 points through as many games…we'll get a much better idea after Clemson's high-powered offense struts into Tallahassee this Saturday.
Clemson – Unlike FSU, Clemson can at least point to beating the Auburn Tigers in a tight game to kick off the season. However, a dismal Auburn performance in a loss to MSU, followed by a near catastrophe to Sun Belt team University of Louisiana-Monroe, have dampened the enthusiasm from the razor thin 4Q comeback in the Chick-Fil-A kickoff classic. Talented receiver Sammy Watkins is back…and not a moment too soon (see FSU above).
Notre Dame – 3-0 and nearly ranked in the top ten. We were skeptical of the Irish, given their (i) recent run of mediocrity, (ii) a fourth quarter drive to beat an average Purdue team, and (iii) facing in Michigan State not only a recent history of losses, but also a very good defense. The Domers were up to the test, and looked good last Saturday in perhaps every unit but the secondary. It's early, but it's always good for CFB when Notre Dame is playing well. Two of the next three are at home against Michigan and Stanford; both games that ND should win if it is indeed a top ten team.
Texas – A road thrashing of the SEC's Ole Miss. Nevertheless, surrendering 31 point in the blowout should warrant some pause…even to a good offensive team like the Rebs. After a bye for both teams, next up for Texas is a trip to Stillwater to play arguably the nation's best offense in Okie State.
Oklahoma – So far a rocky start under the leadership of senior quarterback Landry Jones. After struggling to put away a materially over-matched UTEP team in week one, the Sooners played an even weaker opponent in Florida Atlantic. It remains to be seen how good this Oklahoma team is…though we note OU teams with rebuilding offensive lines usually struggle.
South Carolina – Question marks still remain everywhere but defensive line. Connor Shaw may now be on a shelf for longer than many folks thought. Tailback Marcus Lattimore looks good, but does not yet appear to be at his top form. Against quality opposition, the OL and receivers look at best average, and this defensive secondary can be exploited, even when it's "healthy" and the roster full.
Russ Mitchell is CFN's lead SEC Columnist. Follow Russ for SEC and CFB analysis @russmitchellcfb
By Matt Zemek
FLORIDA: How good is this team? The answer is obvious: better than Texas A&M and Tennessee. No worries – we'll see how good the Gators are by the end of October, one way or another.
GEORGIA: Given that Missouri almost lost to Arizona State at home, beating the Tigers – a nice win on the road and at night – is not the same as, oh, I don't know… beating one of the SEC West teams the Dawgs don't have to play. South Carolina is the next big test.
WEST VIRGINIA: Let's get the Big 12 show on the road, shall we? Until then, we won't know much about Holgo's Heroes.
FLORIDA STATE: The joke circulating throughout the college football world is that Wake Forest was an easier opponent than Savannah State. Have three tomato cans left the Seminoles under-prepared for Clemson? It's up to E.J. Manuel and the offense to set the tone so that the defense knows it won't have to do all the heavy lifting.
CLEMSON: Showtime this Saturday in Tallahassee. The Tigers' offense gets all the publicity, but it's the defense that holds the keys to victory (or a blowout loss).
NOTRE DAME: This is the fascinating team at the moment, a poor man's Alabama. Notre Dame is showing that it will clamp down on offenses that do not have a competent playmaking quarterback. Denard Robinson of Michigan could very easily throw four picks against the Irish. Josh Nunes will likely struggle in South Bend when Stanford comes to town. Only the road trips to Oklahoma and USC look like probable losses at this point. If Notre Dame does beat Michigan this weekend, a 10-2 season – good enough for a BCS bowl invite – enters the picture as not just a possibility, but a better-than-even-money shot.
TEXAS: Wyoming lost to Cal Poly. New Mexico… is New Mexico. Ole Miss is an ol' mess. We're waiting for a real foe.
OKLAHOMA: The all-cupcake diet is over. Time to play big-boy football and see if the offensive line can hold up.
SOUTH CAROLINA: "I've got Georgia… Georgia… no peace I find… just an old sweet song… keeps Georgia on my mind…"
By Terry Johnson
Follow me @TPJCollFootball
Florida - While Florida has a long way to go before it's ready compete with Alabama and LSU, it does have the nation's most impressive body of work (so far), with back-to-back SEC road wins. If that's not deserving of a top ten ranking, what is?
Georgia - The Bulldogs are a top five team. Mark Richt's squad has already shown that it has what it takes to win the East by defeating Missouri in Columbia. Even though the victory over Florida Atlantic might not move the meter much, keep in mind that Dawgs put up 714 yards of total offense in that contest. That ought to ease any concerns that Red and Black fans have about the explosiveness of the offense.
West Virginia - I won't say that the Mountaineers have earned a spot in the top ten because they've only played against a mediocre Marshall team and a so-so James Madison squad. However, with Geno Smith under center, the West Virginia offense has moved the ball at will against opposing defenses. Expect a similar result when WVU faces Texas on October 6.
Florida State - It's tough to figure out how good the Seminoles are. Thanks to West Virginia's departure to the Big 12, FSU has played a non-conference schedule that's as soft as the skin of a newborn baby. Despite scoring 52 points against Wake Forest this weekend, the 'Noles still haven't done anything that wasn't already expected of them. Only a convincing win against Clemson will make them a legitimate national championship contender.
Clemson - The Tigers are clearly overrated. Even though the win against Auburn seemed impressive at the time, the victory has lost plenty luster over the past two weeks. Since then, Clemson turned in two underwhelming performances, including a poor showing against Ball State where it surrendered 252 yards on the ground. Unless the Tigers can upset Florida State and/or South Carolina on the road, they don't deserve their lofty ranking.
Notre Dame - After it's commanding victory over Michigan State last week, the Fighting Irish have earned a place in the Top 10. Saturday night's game left no doubt that Notre Dame's defense can carry the team to victory when the offense struggles. As long as Everett Golson continues to improve, the Irish will end up in a BCS bowl in January.
Texas - Sorry Longhorn fans: Texas is still a year away from getting back to where it was in 2009. While the offense looks better than it was a year ago, no one knows how the Horns will perform against a good defense. On the other side of the ball, UT has surprisingly struggled against the run, allowing 4.6 and 5.0 yards per carry against New Mexico and Mississippi.
Oklahoma - Don't let the slow start against UTEP fool you - The Sooners are one of the best ten teams in the land. Now that Mike Stoops is calling the defense, this year's unit has regained some of the nastiness and swagger that it lost in recent seasons. As long as the team remains healthy, there's to no reason why OU can't win another Big 12 title in 2012.
South Carolina - The answer to this question depends on the health of Conner Shaw, who could determine whether USC finishes in the Top 15 or out of the rankings altogether. If Shaw is completely healthy, the Gamecocks can generate just enough offense to beat anybody. However, if he's not in the lineup, South Carolina will need to rely on its defense and special teams to keep them in the game. Sure, it's possible to win games in this manner, but it's a tall task to do it against the explosive offenses of Georgia, Florida, and Clemson.
By Bart Doan
Follow me @Bart_cfn
West Virginia- You might not know it from all the fattening up they've done on cupcakes to this point, but with a potent offense, a Heisman caliber QB in Geno Smith, and a favorable schedule, their tilt against Oklahoma late in the season is just as much a "National title" play-in game as Alabama-LSU.
Clemson- The narrative on Clemson will be written in about five days when it visits 5th ranked Florida State. Certainly buoyed by the return of Sammy Watkins, they can put points on that FSU defense. Or anyone's for that matter. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Saturday that their first half against Furman made him want to "throw up." He'll need his D to help keep his food down on a consistent basis, and they can play for a national title.
Florida State- We know zilch about them. Every year is the year they're "back," and this might very well be the case for 2012, but how are we supposed to tell when your local high school has a higher SOS rating right now? That's a rant for another time. Hard to think they win a title though with such key losses. Their stock looked higher three months ago.
Notre Dame- And while we're on the topic of teams that are "back" on a yearly basis, exhibit A through Z, the Irish. Though with a stout D and finally a mobile QB to fit Brian Kelly's scheme, it makes this version of them being "back" easier to believe than the rest. Still, many an Irish ship sailing smoothly back to national relevance has hit the ole iceberg from Ann Arbor and crashed. Deja vu on Saturday?
Oklahoma- Another team we know little about, but kudos to them for having the sack to open up the regular season on the road vs a mid major. We know Landry Jones is good, but has the defense improved to the level needed if the O has a hitch in their giddy up one weekend? How much did losing Brent Venables hurt, or will it? Another team with more questions than answers currently.
Florida- Much like the women in my dating life in college, Florida continues to find ways to make me look dumb. Each week, they're looking more diverse, more self assured, and more explosive. We already know the defense is SEC contending caliber. I'll just continue to help out their fan base and say I feel like they're probably a year away still.
Georgia- I think the Dawgs are pretty good. They have all the hallmarks of a title contender. Weak schedule paired with solid coaching and then elite QB play from Aaron Murray. It probably ends up being a winner take all (and by all, I mean the SEC East) in Columbia against the Ole Ball Coach and his Gamecocks.
Texas- Safe to say they're back. At one point they scored six consecutive touchdown drives against the SEC's Ole Miss (look, if we're going to attach the other 13 teams to every one of their wins, how about in their losses?), and David Ash ripped off a career high 326 yards for the unit on the team that was considered the biggest question mark. The D is up to snuff as usual. Their next three weeks are more important than any other team in the country will have, at Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and then the yearly brouhaha with Oklahoma.
South Carolina- Beginning of the year I picked this group to play for the national title. After their opening night win against Vandy that was the visual football equivalent of every Nickelback song ever made, it looked like stubbornness. But lo and behold, three weeks in their defense has still yet to allow a single red zone touchdown. It seems odd to say, but all the questions are on offense.
That's right, the Ole Ball Coach is winning with defense and the sky's the limit. Connor Shaw's injury though would be the bugaboo that might keep them from the promised land. Shaw, ever the double threat QB, has what was termed as a non surgery requiring shoulder injury. Supposedly he will get better with time, but it has to be concerning that in three games, their star QB has been booted twice with injuries. On a smaller scale, it calls to mind Denard Robinson's first year starting at Michigan.
Can they win a title with Dylan Thompson if need be? Hard to tell at face value. They're not an unblemished product by any means, but there are improvements. They've advance to say "Train's" music. Not yet raking in Grammy's yearly, but a far cry from being compared to Nickelback.