football-fbs flag | September 20, 2014

Looking ahead

Third and Long primary media Alabama and Texas A&M are off to strong starts. But who's the early favorite in the Southeastern Conference?

1. The Southeastern Conference has five teams in the AP's top 10. It's early, but as of now, who's your favorite to win the SEC?

♦ Did anyone notice that all five of those teams hail from the SEC West? That should be the black and blue division of the league with all those teams beating up on each other. Whichever of those teams makes it to the championship game, you gotta like their chances against anyone from the SEC East -- after all, a team from the East hasn’t won the title since Florida in 2008. Texas A&M is rolling on offense, and the LSU defense is as stingy as ever. But Alabama has it going on on both sides of the ball and no way does Nick Saban lose again to Auburn on a fluke play, and the Iron Bowl is likely when the West will be decided.

♦ Speaking of the SEC East, my gut is telling me Georgia, a team outside the top 10. I know their defense was exposed at South Carolina last week, but I love the way Todd Gurley runs the ball and I'd like to think Mark Richt won't make the mistake of not pounding the rock with Gurley in the red zone with the game on the line. We'll really find out what the Dawgs are made of when Auburn comes to town on Nov. 15, but I think Georiga will make it to that game without another loss and have what it takes to pull one out against the SEC West representative in the SEC championship game.

♦ I would love to go with Alabama or LSU but I think No. 6 Texas A&M has the best chance to win the SEC and win it all. They've looked impressive through three games, outscoring opponents 163-48. Did you see what they did to then-No. 9 South Carolina in the season opener? They're dominant on both sides of the ball. Kenny "Trill" Hill will lead the Aggies. Just watch. I'd hate to jump on the bandwagon, but I don't think many people expected Hill to make such a splash. The guy has thrown for 1,094 and 11 touchdowns in only three games. How do you replace a Heisman winner and see no drop off in production? I wonder if the Aggies even remember who Johnny Manziel is. Ha! But yes, I believe Hill has all the measurables to lead the Aggies to an SEC championship. With a defense to complement him, the Aggies could probably win it all. Kevin Sumlin is sure doing something right over there.

Stephen Sellner: I love what Kenny Hill has shown so far this year, and the SEC West is an absolute gauntlet. That could either be an exhausting variable or just amp up those teams to take on the clearly inferior SEC East.

Tesalon Felicien: Alabama and LSU are still trying to find the right pieces at QB and two-QB systems never work in my opinion.

Jarrod Breeze: I considered Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri, Stephen, thinking whoever comes out of the West would be so beaten down, it might give the East representative a chance. But instead I think it will make the West champ that much more battle-tested and make it difficult on anyone from the East.

Stephen Sellner: I'm a bit skeptical on Alabama too, but as for the East, I just can't see anyone else other than Georiga making it to the championship game. I think the Dawgs have a better chance against Auburn than South Carolina does. Georiga's lucky enough to get Tigers at home. The Gamecocks have to go on the road.

Jarrod Breeze: Don't sleep on Mizzou, Stephen. Teams did last year and you saw what happened. The Tigers won't sneak up on anyone this year, but they will still be in the mix

MissouriMIssouri won't sneak up on anyone this year.
Tesalon Felicien: Missouri and Georgia are neck-and-neck in the East but just not enough to match up with SEC West powerhouses LSU and Alabama.

Stephen Sellner: LSU a powerhouse, Tesalon? I think your colors are showing...

Tesalon Felicien: I mean they have been under Les Miles' tenure. The record speaks for itself. Why has no one mentioned Auburn?

Jarrod Breeze: I thought I did. Remember, the Iron Bowl is where the West will be won. But I'm sticking with Bama.

Stephen Sellner: Auburn was the team I was going to go with if I went with the West. We'll get a glimpse of what the Tigers are made of against Kansas State.

2. Miami and Nebraska meet this week for the first time since the Hurricanes trampled the Cornhuskers in the 2001 Rose Bowl. Which of those two programs has the best chance to get back into the national title picture in the coming years?

Stephen Sellner: I'm going to define the national title picture as making it to the College Football Playoff. With that in mind, I'll go with the Huskers. Nebraska has the benefit of being in the Big Ten, which is clearly below the Atlantic Coast Conference with the presence of No. 1 Florida State. FSU hurts Miami on the scoreboard and in recruiting, while the Huskers do a consistent job of recruiting. All it takes is for the Blackshirts to up-end Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin (I guess I'll include them) to win the Big Ten. I don't see the Spartans or the Buckeyes being insurmountable forces for the Huskers. But if we're talking which team will win a national championship first, give me the Canes. If they can win the recruiting battle again, they have a better shot of winning it all. I'm not so sure Nebraska has what it takes under Bo Pelini to win it all.

Tesalon Felicien: Bo Pelini's a good coach but Nebraska has been stagnant in his tenure. They've always found a way to lose the "big game." Haven't really heard much from them since the 2009 Big 12 championship game. Miami on the other hand has made tremendous progress under Al Golden, improving each of the last three seasons. They've also had top 25 recruiting classes in the last two years. So I have to go with Miami on this one.

Jarrod Breeze: If I have to choose one -- because I'm doubtful either has the makings of a championship-caliber program in the near future -- I'll go with Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are solid, while Miami is too up and down. The way the Canes lost to Louisville in the season opener, I think, defines that program of late. So they need to build more consistency. I must confess, I can't argue the Nebraska "stagnant" comment though, Tes.

Tesalon Felicien: Yes, there's just something missing with that program. Miami however is gaining momentum. I predict a championship in the next decade ... maybe.

Nebraska-MiamiAre Bo Pelini, left, and Al Golden destined to get their schools back to the top?
Stephen Sellner: You're absolutely right about the "big game" stigma against Nebraska. That's been a problem under Pelini, as well as turnovers. Oh the turnovers. The Huskers always have talent, but they find a different way to lose a big game every year. Their best chance was that 2009 Big 12 championship game Tesalon mentioned, in which Ndamukong Suh nearly led the Huskers to victory against Texas. I wonder whether Nebraska is willing to part with Pelini because I don't know if there's a better option out there. Plus, it's not like the Huskers have been bad. Just not what Nebraska's tradition is used to.

You heard it here first! Miami will win a title in the next decade. BOOM! We're keeping record of that, Tesalon.

Tesalon Felicien: Yes! Plus they're in a football factory in South Florida. There's so much upside to that program.  

Jarrod Breeze: Did you know that Miami hasn't been to a New Year's Day or later bowl since 2004?

Stephen Sellner: Miami has really fallen from grace. I was watching highlights from that 2001 Rose Bowl and my jaw dropped when I recalled some of the names on that roster. How good was Jeremy Shockey in that game? Now you look at the Canes and it's just ... meh.

Jarrod Breeze: I will say, we're judging the future on what the team is doing now, and has in the recent past. That's no crystal ball for the future. But Miami ended a two-year bowl drought last year, so I need to see a little more from them to predict a brighter future.

3. Is Florida State’s matchup with Clemson on Saturday the Seminoles' biggest test of the year?

Tesalon Felicien: Clemson is the best team FSU will face all year. The Tigers have a bad taste in their mouth from last year's blowout at the hands of the Noles. And I believe they will play inspired football when they head down to Tallahasee this weekend. The only other ranked team FSU plays is Notre Dame and I don't see that being much of a contest. Also Jameis Winston is suspended for the the first half so that'll give Clemson time to rack up points.

Jarrod Breeze: Now that Jameis Winston is suspended for a half perhaps makes it so, but the second half of Florida State's schedule is filled with some trap games. Georgia has already exposed Clemson, so I don't know how much of a game the Tigers can give the Seminoles. Meanwhile, Notre Dame looms as do a couple of road games at Louisville and Miami to keep an eye on.

Stephen Sellner: Nope. Even with Winston missing the first half, I fully expect the Noles to have enough to pull away from Clemson once Winston comes back in the second half. Plus, you have to think he's going to be playing with a huge chip on his shoulder since all the spotlight is on him and his actions. He'll light up the scoreboard in the second half. I have my calendar marked for FSU's meeting with Notre Dame on Oct. 18. If the Irish get by Stanford at home on Oct. 4, that has the makings of a mega-showdown -- Winston vs. the Irish defense. Can't wait.

Interesting that you bring up the game at Louisville, JB. I had that one marked as a sleeper as well. Thursday night games can be a toss-up to begin with.

Jarrod Breeze: I don't know what to make of Louisville, Stephen.  They dismantled Miami then lost to Virginia. But you can't dismiss them. And as Tes already pointed out, Miami is young and talented and on the uptick, so maybe they start playing to that level.

Like I mentioned before, they are a hard team to get a read on. But Notre Dame isn't. You pretty much know what you are going to get with the Irish, and Florida State will get tested -- more so I think than it will against Clemson.

Stephen Sellner: Are we buying into the Irish this year? That schedule will make you cringe. As much as I want to say they're legit, I keep coming back to that.

Jarrod Breeze: I wouldn't necessarily say I'm buying into the Irish this year, especially as an upper echelon -- or playoff-contending -- team, but they are better than Clemson.

Tesalon Felicien: Probably one of the tougher schedules Notre Dame has had in years but Clemson will play FSU close this weekend. They probably won't win but they'll put up fight.

Jarrod Breeze: Keep in mind also, the Notre Dame, Louisville and Miami games all come in a five-week span. That will be the most difficult portion of their schedule, with only Virginia thrown into the mix.

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