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Will Moon's Deep Football Thoughts from Outer Space: Week Eight Recap

Julie Bennett/

On a Saturday where seemingly one half of the country beat the mess out of the other half, Auburn got in on the act with a 52-20 thrashing of Arkansas (or Ugly Gray Team #9). It wasn't the sharpest the Tigers have looked all year, but it stops the bleeding from last week a little and gets the team to its bye. We'll examine Auburn's second conference road win of the year and take a look around the country on a Saturday lousy with one-sided games.

Auburn Recap

Well, that little blurb up there pretty much spelled it out. Auburn romped on the road, but some first half sluggishness is probably all it takes for many Tiger fans to still be grumbling and moaning about how the game went. Arkansas fans, on the other hand, have a whole lot more to moan about, as the Hogs looked just as bad up close as you'd think they were given their record and the margins of some of their defeats. AU rolled up 629 yards of total offense, averaged 9.5 yards per pass and 7.3 yards per rush, and were able to get Bubba Pettway untracked for the first time in weeks (11 carries for 90 yards and 3 TDs). Really, it was the stretch where Pettway took over that was the difference, as Auburn had thoroughly dominated the first half, but only lead 17-6 at the break due to some sloppy football and spotty playcalling in key spots. But whatever oomph the Arky defense had in the first half was completely gone in the 3rd quarter, and Auburn took full advantage. All in all, it was a solid performance from the Tigers, one that equally helps salve the wounds from last week and also makes last week's come apart feel even more frustrating. Some inventiveness from Chip Lindsey and the offense was on display Saturday, just as it was in the wins over Mizzou, State, and Ole Miss, and just as it was early in Death Valley. Where it went in the second half of that loss is a question for the great philosophers of antiquity, as I'm sure no man alive can explain it.

Most importantly, the Tigers get to take a week off and get healthy, as a number of relatively minor injuries seemed to start piling up on the team over the last couple of weeks (along with some non-injury-related attrition), and I still do think that showed up more in the LSU game than some of us are willing to admit. Hopefully two weeks of prep time gives most everyone a chance to get back to something resembling full strength as the Tigers hit Amen Corner next month. I don't think anyone is under any illusions about how demanding that stretch of games will be, nor how important they are to the future of the program as we currently know it. With the season's endgame now becoming clearer, we're starting to get a better picture of both how the postseason might shake out and how the coaching carousel may look in a few weeks' time. Since I spent almost the entirety of this column on Auburn last week, we'll jump forward to some SEC bowl talk for a bit now.

Around the SEC

Getty Images

The SEC picture seems about as clear as you could imagine at this juncture of the season. Alabama and Georgia have national title aspirations; LSU, Auburn, and kinda A&M are still holding out hope for a conference title; and most everyone else is just trying to set up for a bowl game. The East outside of Georgia is horrific, and a bunch of teams may be changing coaches at the end of the year. There could be a few adjustments to those general statements over the next few weeks, but I don't know how comfortable I feel about any of those changes coming to pass. With that in mind, let's take a look at what the conference is looking at bowl-wise this season.

Obviously, the SEC champ gets an automatic invite to a New Year's Six bowl, with that very likely also being one of the playoff games (that's the Sugar and Rose Bowls this year). Multiple SEC teams can (and probably will) be selected for New Year's Six spots, though unlike last year (when Auburn qualified for the Sugar Bowl only because that bowl is contracted to the SEC), there is no non-playoff Big Six bowl that's required to take an SEC team. The only major bowl game that's tied to a conference this year is the Orange Bowl, which has to take an ACC team. There's also a formula attached to that game that determines who the other team in it will be, but it's very complicated and not worth getting into. The short version is that an SEC team could well appear in any of the Big Six bowls, with the Peach and Orange seeming like strong possibilities outside the playoff. (Also remember that the highest-ranked mid-major conference champ also gets an auto bid to one of the big games, with only the Orange Bowl precluded from possibly taking that team.)

Of the remaining bowls, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando (I don't care to mention the corporate sponsors here) gets first dibs on any SEC teams who don't appear in the New Year's Six. The opponent there would be either a Big Ten or ACC team. After that, the conference itself assigns the SEC representative in the following bowls: the Texas Bowl (in Houston vs a Big 12 foe), the Liberty Bowl (Memphis vs Big 12), the Belk Bowl (Charlotte vs ACC), the Music City Bowl (Nashville vs ACC or Big Ten), the Outback Bowl (Tampa vs Big Ten), and the TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville vs ACC or Big Ten). The bowls themselves can express preferences, but there's no true hierarchy here, so if the Texas Bowl has the hots for A&M, then the Aggies could end up there regardless of whether they go 9-3 or 7-5. (That's just a hypothetical. That bowl would love A&M for regional purposes, but it's also the bowl they went to last year, so they may not want to double dip.)

Below that chunk of bowls are the two stragglers: the Birmingham Bowl (vs an American Athletic Conference team) and the Independence Bowl (in Shreveport against an ACC team). I believe those two get to pick in that order, but don't quote me on that. I'll do my customary grumbling that there's no tie-in with the Pac-12 and that the TaxSlayer Bowl still has that godawful name later, so let's get to some scenarios.

Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, and LSU are all already bowl eligible (Auburn and LSU have six wins with one being over an FCS team, but they could count it towards bowl eligibility if they needed). South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Kentucky are all one win away. Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss all have three wins, and Arkansas and Missouri are in real trouble with just two victories. Even with that said, every team (except Ole Miss, who was naughty) still has a shot at making the postseason, and that's before figuring in how many 5-7 teams make it this year because there are too many bowl games. Let's look at how everybody stands.

Alabama (8-0) - Obviously, the Tahd have designs on the playoff, and anything less would be a disappointment. If Bammer wins out, they'll almost certainly be the top team in the playoff rankings and get to choose which of the two playoff bowls they want to play in, which would probably be the Sugar Bowl. Should the Pachyderms drop a game between here and the end of the season, they'd still have a good shot at making it to the playoff, but they'd have less control over which game they play in. As loath as I am to write this, Bammer probably has to lose twice to miss the playoff, but I can't imagine any realistic scenario where they fall out of the New Year's Six (even if they lose to LSU, State, and Auburn, which is, like, hella improbable).

Best case scenario - Sugar Bowl

Worst case scenario - Peach Bowl (the big bowl I think is most likely to feature a Group of Five team)

Georgia (7-0) - Most everything I said about Bama also holds true for Georgia. If the Dawgs win out, they'll almost certainly be #1 going into the playoff, and also would likely pick the Sugar Bowl. UGa does have a bit of tougher remaining schedule than Bammer, with games left against Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech. Still, I kinda think that Georgia needs to lose thrice before we can even start to talk about them not making a New Year's Six bowl. Also, Bama could realistically lose the division title with even just one slip-up. Georgia has a full two-game lead in the crappy East, so it would take a major meltdown for them not to make it to Atlanta (though their reward for getting there would be a matchup with another strong team, thus potentially hurting their major bowl chances). Basically, their ceiling is the same as Bama's, but their floor is just a touch lower. Still, I'd be really surprised if the Bulldogs lost more than two games the rest of the way.

Best case scenario - Sugar Bowl

Worst case scenario - Citrus Bowl

LSU (6-2) - Well, three weeks after losing to Troy, Ed Orgeron's Tigers now have designs on stealing the division title away from Alabama. I don't know how realistic that is, but who am I to question somebody's dreams? After their visit to Bama, LSU has very winnable games against Arkansas and Tennessee before hosting a solid A&M team at the end of the year. 9-3 is very much in play, and anything less than that would probably have to feel a little disappointing for the Bayou Bengal faithful. Like Auburn, they probably feel that winning a conference title would mean getting in the playoff, but until I see more of the requisite chaos that'd be required to allow a two-loss team to make it in, I'm gonna set their ceiling a little lower.

Best case scenario - Orange, Peach, Cotton, or Fiesta Bowl

Worst case scenario - Outback or Texas Bowl

Auburn (6-2) - Auburn's in much the same position as LSU, which is frustrating since AU would be in great shape for a New Year's Six bowl at least had it not pooped the bed last week in Baton Rouge. Again, I'll limit any two-loss team to just a New Year's Six game for the time being, and give Auburn a similar floor, though I feel like AU has a much more difficult schedule remaining.

Best case scenario - Orange, Peach, Cotton, or Fiesta Bowl

Worst case scenario - Music City or Belk Bowl

Texas A&M (5-2) - The Aggies are sitting pretty after that terrible start, and have an extremely manageable schedule remaining. State comes to College Station this week, with Auburn visiting the weekend after. Games against New Mexico and a Shea Patterson-less Ole Miss team should be no problem, and then a trip to LSU closes things out. I think highly enough of State, Auburn, and LSU to believe it's not ridiculous that A&M loses all three games, but anything worse than that would be a head-scratcher. Still, A&M has a pretty solid shot at eight wins, with nine not out of the question. A major bowl would be in the offing if they win out, but I'm not quite ready to go that far.

Best case scenario - Citrus Bowl

Worst case scenario - Liberty Bowl

Mississippi State (5-2) - How State and A&M stack up will be cleared up quite a bit when they play this week in College Station. State also has a visit from Bama remaining on the slate, but they really shouldn't be troubled by any of their other games. 8-4 or 9-3 should lock them into a pretty solid bowl berth.

Best case scenario - Citrus Bowl

Worst case scenario - Music City or TaxSlayer Bowl

Kentucky (5-2) - For a team that just got all kinds of clobbered, UK's still sitting in fair position at 5-2. Being an East team automatically makes them harder to rely on in their upcoming games, so the Wildcats' floor is definitely lower than that of the two previous teams on the list. 9-3 isn't an unreasonable hope for Big Blue fans (with just a loss to Georgia), but I don't feel 100% comfortable that UK's gonna win any of the games they have left (Tennessee, Ole Miss, Vandy, Georgia, and Louisville). I'll grant them at least one more W, but doing just that would leave them stuck in Birmingham or Shreveport.

Best case scenario - Citrus Bowl

Worst case scenario - Independence Bowl

South Carolina (5-2) - Even though the Gamecocks lost to UK earlier in the year, I feel a little more comfortable with where Cocky's headed come the postseason. They still have games left with Georgia and Clemson, which ain't great, but I feel very good about their chances of getting at least two more wins, if not three. Again, this is all pretty solid work from Will Muschamp in year two.

Best case scenario - Outback Bowl

Worst case scenario - Music City or Liberty Bowl

Florida (3-3) - Things start to get pretty hairy from here. The cancellation of UF's rent-a-win game with Northern Colorado could loom large for the Gators come bowl time. They have to win three of their last five to get bowl eligible the traditional way. Georgia's up first and that looks like a big fat L. The subsequent games against Missouri, South Carolina, UAB, and Florida State are more up in the air. I figure the Gators should pick up Ws against Mizzou and UAB, so they'll need to take one off either SCar (away) or FSU (home) to get to six wins. Both are doable, but it's hard to really trust the Gators right now.

Best case scenario - Outback Bowl

Worst case scenario - no bowl

Ole Miss (3-4) - Ole Miss can't go to a bowl as part of their self-imposed punishments for the various scandals plaguing the program of late, but they looked like they had a chance to at least get to six wins before QB Shea Patterson went down for the rest of the year against LSU Saturday. Now 4-8 looks like a reasonable number for this team, though their remaining schedule isn't exactly murderer's row. While no one in the conference office will admit this, they're probably all low-key rooting for Ole Miss not to play spoiler very much down the stretch.

Best case scenario - no bowl

Worst case scenario - no bowl

Tennessee (3-4) - Stunningly, the Volunteers still have a non-zero chance to go bowling this year. UT traditionally has a soft late-season schedule, and this year's no exception, home date with LSU excepted. Given the state of both Tennessee and the East, they could conceivably beat Kentucky, Southern Miss, Missouri, and Vandy or lose to all of them. I'm not sure which option Vol fans would prefer, as pulling a middling bowl berth out of this season might make them think there's a non-zero chance that Butch Jones comes back as head coach next year (a truly horrifying thought for any UT fan this Halloween season).

Best case scenario - Belk or TaxSlayer Bowl

Worst case scenario - no bowl

Vanderbilt (3-4) - Vandy's in pretty much the same position Tennessee's in, and the game between them after Thanksgiving could be what decides which one of them, if either, gets to play in the postseason. The Commodores got a much-needed bye last week, and travel to South Carolina this week. Western Kentucky, Kentucky, and Missouri all visit Nashville after that before a trip to Rocky Top closes out the schedule. Again, they could win all of those games or none of them, and when you're dealing with such mediocrity, it's hard to make any confident predictions.

Best case scenario - Belk or Music City Bowl

Worst case scenario - no bowl

Arkansas (2-5) - Now, obviously that garbage Arkansas team that Auburn just demolished doesn't look like it's in any shape to go bowling, but their schedule actually makes it kind of a possibility. They'll need to pick up wins over lousy teams like Ole Miss, Coastal Carolina, and Missouri, plus upset either LSU on the road or Mississippi State at home (that second one seems much more likely, as there have been many upsets in that series over the years). (Note: They can count that win over Coastal Carolina towards bowl eligibility even though the Chanticleers are an FCS team.) I'm not holding out much hope, and Arkansas fans probably feel the same way Tennessee fans do. They'd rather get rid of Bret Bielema than risk making a crappy bowl game and him avoiding the executioner come season's end.

Best case scenario - Birmingham or Independence Bowl

Worst case scenario - no bowl

Missouri (2-5) - Mizzou coach Barry Odom's been talking up his team's chances of having a strong finish after such a horrid start to the year, and his squad roasted poor Idaho last Saturday in response. An odd road game at lousy UConn is on the slate this week before a return to SEC play in November sees the Tigers close the year out with games against Florida, Tennessee, Vandy, and Arkansas. Those are all winnable, but stop me if you've heard this one before, they're all losable, too. Honestly, I'm pulling for 'em, as I'd rather see Mizzou pull themselves up by their bootstraps at the expense of underachieving BS teams like Florida, Tennessee, or Arkansas than see those dumpy squads stink it up in the postseason. I'm not giving Odom's boys an even money chance, but them squeezing six wins out of this season wouldn't be the craziest thing that's ever happened.

Best case scenario - Birmingham or Independence Bowl

Worst case scenario - no bowl

If I'm to predict an order to this after eight weeks, I'd go with...

Sugar Bowl - Alabama vs Notre Dame

Orange Bowl - Georgia vs Miami

Peach Bowl - LSU vs Central Florida

Citrus Bowl - Auburn vs Michigan State

Outback Bowl - Mississippi State vs Michigan

TaxSlayer Bowl - South Carolina vs Georgia Tech

Texas Bowl - Texas A&M vs West Virginia

Belk Bowl - Kentucky vs North Carolina State

Music City Bowl - Florida vs Minnesota

Liberty Bowl - Tennessee vs Texas Tech

Birmingham Bowl - Vanderbilt vs Memphis (Vandy qualifies at 5-7)

Independence Bowl - no SEC team available

Those are a rough guess, but I know it's looking pretty hairy for the league to fill out all its bowl ties, especially if three teams make it to the New Year's Six. Notably there, with 12 spots to fill out, Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech, NC State, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Washington, Washington State, and Notre Dame all look like pretty solid contenders for spots. I gave the Peach Bowl to LSU up there, but they or Auburn might get squeezed out, which would bump everybody down a slot.

Calling All Stations

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I alluded to it above, but Notre Dame had their coming out party in a 49-14 thrashing of USC. The Irish have lost to an excellent Georgia team by one point and clobbered everyone else (everyone else being Temple, Boston College, Michigan State - who's good this year - Miami of Ohio, and North Carolina). USC appears to have been pretty solidly overrated, but combine this with the win over Michigan State and the narrow loss to Georgia, and the Irish have a pretty solid body of work going. After being largely ignored for much of the season, the ND bandwagon's about to get pretty full, which is convenient since the Fighting Irish have to fight their way through a pretty difficult schedule from here on out. #14 North Carolina State visits South Bend this Saturday for a matchup of top 15 teams, followed by a visit from middling Wake Forest, a trip to currently undefeated Miami, a home date with a pretty solid Navy team, and then a road trip to Stanford. All of those teams are over .500 and three are legitimately good. If the Irish win out, they most likely make the playoff. I don't know if they'll win out, but we're going to see some pretty meaningful games on NBC for the rest of the year.

Most of the rest of the ranked teams slaughtered their opponents, which leads me to...

Massacre Island Recap

As expected, Alabama throttled Tennessee, though 45-7 seems pretty tame considering how bad it could've been. North Carolina is now 1-7 after being totally nuked by Virginia Tech 59-7. I'll never figure the Larry Fedora era out. Michigan hung around with Penn State for a while, but the Nittany Lions showed out in the second half and romped 42-13. Point blank, the Wolverines just aren't a very good team. TCU's 43-0 win over Kansas also seems kind of tame, but Gary Patterson definitely called off the Frogs when his team took that 43-point lead into the 4th quarter. Auburn was a bit sluggish at Arkansas for a while, but it's worth noting that the Tigers have now beaten the Sausage 108-23 combined over the last two seasons. That's pretty horrible on Arky's part. Kentucky's actually a decent team, but resembled one in no way at Starkvegas Saturday in a 45-7 caning at the hands of Mississippi State. And for the second time this year (in their only two wins), Missouri absolutely kerploded a badly overmatched opponent, vandalizing Idaho 68-21. They scored 34 points in the 1st quarter alone, and QB Drew Lock threw six TD passes. (He now has 23 on the season, which comfortably leads the conference, though 13 of those came in the two games against Missouri State and Idaho.) After a bunch of upsets last weekend, most everybody of note housed some poor sucker this weekend.

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

The video is brief, but a punchy season among Alabama fans continued Saturday with a brawl in the stands at Bryant-Denny. Fair warning, these guys' noses were probably already bleeding because of the seats they were in, and that combined with the angle the cameraphone is shooting from may make it seem like this fight was taking place on the edge of a cliff somewhere. We don't get much of an idea who won, although Mr. Business Casual appears to be outnumbered. He got his licks in, though. (Fortunately, the link above also features video of two better fights from earlier in the year, the dust-up between Florida State and Bama fans in the season opener, and the Rocky Top Royal Rumble that took place during Georgia's evisceration of Tennessee a couple weeks back.) We may never know what caused this bro-fight, but it's entirely possible that the dudes were arguing about which of them specifically was being flipped off by UT's Rashaan Gaulden, who went double guns on the Bammer crowd after scoring Tennessee's first touchdown in approximately 29 years in the 3rd quarter. Clearly, he was flipping off both guys, but they must not have seen it that way.

And that's all the news that's fit to print for this Monday. Check back Thursday for some pre-open date musings, but let's all try to keep our heads. After all, this is the harrowing bye week that no one enjoys.

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