After going 2-5 in bowl games last season, the SEC-West appeared wildly overrated. In fact, the division endured an offseason of slights and jabs and speculation that it was headed toward a down cycle.
Well, the SEC-West went 6-0 this past weekend.
“They rebounded quite well,” CBS Sports college football writer Tom Fornelli said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They put to rest that the SEC-West – or the SEC – is on the way down pretty quickly. Every single team in the division won except for LSU – and the only reason LSU didn’t win was because its game was canceled due to rain. But Arkansas had a big win. Ole Miss put up 76 points on some school I’d never heard of (Tennessee-Martin). Alabama played probably the most high-profile game of the weekend for the SEC against Wisconsin. And although it wasn’t a blowout, you never really got the sense that Wisconsin was in the game, either. Auburn played Louisville down in Atlanta, let Louisville get back in in the fourth quarter but was never really in danger of losing that game. And then Texas A&M played a very nice game in Houston against Arizona State – a ranked team, one of the favorites in the Pac-12 – and handled the Sun Devils pretty well, beating them by 21 points.”
Indeed, the Aggies may have had the most impressive win in the country this past weekend, beating a top-15 team and limiting an explosive offense to 17 points.
The biggest standout for me for the Aggies was the defense played pretty well,” Fornelli said. “For me, that was the biggest question about Texas A&M coming into this year because the last few years that defense has been atrocious and it looked really good on Saturday night. So that could mean good things for the Aggies going forward.”
Alabama, meanwhile, finally decided on a quarterback – at least for now. Jake Coker was an efficient 15-of-21 for 213 yards and a touchdown in a 35-17 win over Wisconsin. That was more than enough, as Derrick Henry rushed 13 times for 147 yards – 11.3 yards per carry – and three touchdowns.
“It’s nice when you have a running back like Derrick Henry to help you look a little bit better as a quarterback,” Fornelli said. “And for the most part – whether it’s Coker who continues playing quarterback for the Tide for the rest of the year, or if he loses his job to Alec Morris or any of the other stable of quarterbacks that Alabama couldn’t decide between – I think Derrick Henry and the ground game, as much as Lane Kiffin probably will be against the idea, is going to be the key for Alabama this year offensively. We’re going to see Alabama get back to what they did a few years ago where the passing game was part of the offense but the run game – when they had Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram and all those guys setting it up on a weekly basis – the quarterback is just going to be managing the game. He’s not going to be asked to do too much like he was last year.”
As a team, Alabama rushed 37 times for 238 yards – 6.4 yards per carry – and four touchdowns.
“So I think Coker’s performance – it was’t great, but if you look at it from the one perspective, he threw for 213 yards and a touchdown, which aren’t numbers that are going to pop off the page at you, but he also took care of the ball,” Fornelli said. “He didn’t turn the ball over. And when you have an offense as talented as Alabama’s and you have their defense – which is always phenomenal – as long as you’re quarterback’s taking care of the ball, you really don’t need too much more from him.”