In some quarters of the SEC, it’s heating up. In others, not so much.
Our weekly look at Hot and Not in the SEC:
The who’s No. 1 debate: Florida State and Oregon both can make legitimate claims that they’re the No. 1 team in the country. Florida State (No. 2 BCS standings) owns lopsided wins over a pair of top 10 teams (Clemson and Miami), and Oregon (No. 3) has been a blur against everybody. The Ducks get their toughest test Thursday against No. 5 Stanford, and if they knock off the Cardinal, you can bet they will leap back into the No. 2 position in the BCS standings. But Alabama remains No. 1 and is a virtual lock until its first loss. If all three teams keep winning, the debate over which one is truly the best team will only heat up. But here’s the thing to keep in mind: If Alabama had to face Florida State or Oregon next week or with a week to prepare, it might be a stretch to pick the Crimson Tide in either one of those games. But with a month to prepare, which is the case leading up to the BCS National Championship Game, have we seen anything in the past that would lead us to believe that coach Nick Saban isn't going to get it done in that scenario?
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel: He might not win his second straight Heisman Trophy, especially with Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston putting up huge numbers and playing on unbeaten teams. But for my money (and, please, no money finger jokes), Manziel is still the most outstanding player in college football. He passed for four touchdowns and ran for two more in Texas A&M’s 57-7 rout of UTEP. His zigzagging 49-yard touchdown run was vintage Johnny Football.
Mississippi State’s ball security: Mississippi State had committed an SEC-low six turnovers entering Saturday’s game at South Carolina, but the bottom fell out in a 34-16 loss to the Gamecocks. The Bulldogs turned it over five times, leading to 20 of the Gamecocks' points. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott was responsible for four of the turnovers, with three interceptions and a fumble. He had thrown just three picks going into the game. Making it even worse for Mississippi State was the fact South Carolina didn’t turn it over at all.
South Carolina at home: The Gamecocks have won 15 straight at home, tying the school record. The previous home loss came against Auburn during the fifth week of the 2011 season.
Tennessee on the road: The Vols have lost 12 in a row on the road after getting blown out 31-3 on Saturday at Missouri. Nine of those 12 losses have been by double digits. In four losses on the road this season, Tennessee has been outscored 114-17 in the first half.
Auburn running back Tre Mason: In all of those conversations about the top running backs in the SEC this season, don’t forget about Mason. He was a battering ram for Auburn last week in its 35-17 win at Arkansas. He carried it a career-high 32 times for 168 yards and scored four touchdowns. Mason is third in the SEC in rushing with 921 yards and has a league-leading 13 touchdowns. Mason is also just 79 yards from his second straight 1,000-yard season (he rushed for 1,038 yards last season).
Arkansas’ bowl chances: The Razorbacks (3-6, 0-5 SEC) have lost six consecutive games, their longest losing streak since 1990, when they dropped seven in a row in what was Jack Crowe’s first season in Fayetteville. Unless they can win all three of their remaining games (at Ole Miss, Mississippi State in Little Rock and at LSU), they’ll miss the postseason for the second straight year.
Florida: Nobody expected the Gators to have four losses at this point, but nobody expected them to be this decimated by injuries. Still, the facts are this: They’re 4-4 and coming off their third straight loss to bitter rival Georgia, still have tough games remaining against ranked foes South Carolina and Florida State, and there is growing restlessness among the fans over the continued struggles on offense. That’s where third-year coach Will Muschamp has to get it fixed if he’s going to be in Gainesville long term, and he knows that as well as anybody.
The Gators are ranked 110th nationally in total offense. They’ve yet to finish higher than 103rd in total offense since Muschamp arrived in 2011. That’s almost unfathomable, when you think about all of the talented skill players the state of Florida produces each year. But the Gators also have to play better on the offensive line and find something they can hang their hat on. They've just never been able to develop any consistency offensively on Muschamp's watch. Despite some of the unrest in Gainesville, don’t look for Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley to pull the plug on Muschamp after just three seasons, especially after Muschamp squeezed out 11 wins a year ago with a killer schedule. But Muschamp almost certainly will have to make some changes on his offensive staff.