Hard as it might be to believe, we have reached the midpoint of the college football season for many of the SEC teams. We look at what's happened to each of them and where they might go from here.
Would it be going too far to say that, of all the expected and unexpected contenders for the SEC title this year, the most surprising and yet complete of them all might be the Auburn Tigers? That maybe Gene Chizik is the guy who can return greatness to the Plains? That Auburn has to be talked about as not only a real threat to win the SEC, but to take the field in Glendale as well?
In all likelihood -- yes, it's just a bit too early to go that far. After all, you would expect the most complete SEC contender to actually be able to field a defense in the top half of the league. And it would also be nice if one player didn't account for 62.5 percent of the team's total offense. If it didn't need overtime to defeat a terrible Clemson team at home. If it won by more than three at Mississippi State or Kentucky.
Lost in all the excitement about Auburn's best start since the perfect season of 2004 is the reality that the Tigers have lived on the edge more than once this season. Sometimes, that leads to a national title for a "gutsy" team that "just knows how to win." It can also lead to a season of woulda, coulda, shoulda.
But what Newton has done so far is amazing, and should be recognized. He has run over, around and through defenses across the conference en route to an average of 112 yards a game. He ranks second in passing efficiency in the NCAA and 17th in rushing yards per game.
The offense as a whole has also churned out jaw-dropping statistics. Only once have the Tigers failed to ring up more than 400 yards of offense; they've topped 500 yards in half of their games. They are gaining 7.2 yards per play.
Now if only the defense would play along. Or so goes the narrative. It's not that the defense has been awful -- just uneven. The Tigers allowed 3.6 yards a play against Mississippi State. Against Kentucky, that number jumped to 5.7. And because of the speed with with Gus Malzahn's offense moves up and down the field, those numbers can produce stats like the 407 yards Clemson piled up in the faceoff with the other Tigers. (Of course, it's easier to allow 400 yards here or there if you're going to gain more than 400 yourself.)
Then again -- if the Tigers can win against Arkansas this weekend, who's going to stop them before the Iron Bowl? Are we to believe that LSU can suddenly solve its own offensive riddle long enough to take advantage of Auburn's problems on defense? Because it's not looking likely that Mississippi, Chattanooga or Georgia are going to defeat Auburn the way the season is going right now.
No, it's not time to jump on the Auburn bandwagon just yet, but you might want to keep an eye on it just the same. Another win or two for the Tigers, and it will be hard to find any room.