A few things to keep in mind this week
Ryan Mallett Watch
The game against Alabama this weekend will give us more than just an answer to the question of whether Arkansas can win the SEC West -- it will give us a clue as to whether Ryan Mallett can have one of the all-time great seasons in league history.
Through three games, Mallett has 1,081 yards, putting him on pace for more than 4,300 yards. The current record for most passing yards in a season by an SEC quarterback is 4,275 yards, set by Kentucky's Tim Couch in 1998. Mallett already has one of the Top 10 seasons in the SEC -- his 3,624 yards last year is No. 8 all-time.
Mallett is ahead of his pace last year, when he had 877 yards after the first three games. Then again, his first three opponents last year were Missouri State, Georgia and Alabama; this year's opening slate was Tennessee Tech, Louisiana-Monroe and Georgia.
Mallett, by the way, is No. 1in the FBS passing and 376 yards ahead of the No. 2 signal-caller in the SEC: Greg McElroy, his opponent this week. The game will feature the only two league quarterbacks in the Top 30 in passing in the subdivision; McElroy is No. 27.
The next highest SEC quarterback in terms of yardage? Mike Hartline, believe it or not, with 680. That's good for the No. 34 ranking in the nation.
Interceptions? Who cares?
I've never been a fan of chalking up all turnovers to luck, because there's at least one kind of turnover that is usually based on skill: Interceptions. And man, does Mississippi State have a lot of interceptions this year. Seven, in fact, tied for last in the FBS.
Don't be so quick to blame Chris Relf. Relf isn't blameless, but he has three picks so far in the year, two of them in last week's loss to LSU. Tyler Russell has the other four, including three in the game against the Bayou Bengals. The five interceptions over the weekend would rank last in the SEC on their own. Tennessee and Ole Miss have the next-highest interception total at four. Mississippi State is on pace to throw 28 interceptions this year, which would have been by far the largest number in the FBS last year.
For all the criticism of Florida's offense, the team from Gainesville remains one of two in the league that have not yet thrown an interception; Kentucky is the other. The other pick-less teams in the FBS are Army (which doesn't throw that much), Cincinnati, Connecticut, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, N.C. State, Northwestern, Oregon State, Stanford and Temple.
How much does it matter? Maybe not as much as you might think. Ole Miss won nine games last year despite throwing an FBS-leading 21 interceptions, tough State was tied with Georgia for second in the league with 17.
Then again, LSU picked off six passes against Mississippi State in 2007. That year, the Western Division Bulldogs went to the Liberty Bowl, the only postseason trip of the Sylvester Croom Era.
The West could determine how the East is won
We could know by Oct. 9 whether this is actually going to be a special season in Columbia.
If South Carolina is going to make it to its first league title game in 2010, it's going to have to do so facing arguably the most difficult schedule in the SEC East. Of the three teams given the best chance of winning the division -- Florida, Georgia and the Gamecocks -- only South Carolina faces three of the four teams given the best chance at winning the West -- Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn.
The Gamecocks are also the only one of the front-runners that won't face Mississippi State this year -- even if you count Kentucky as a contender. Georgia travels to Starkville this Saturday and Florida hosts the Western Division Bulldogs on Oct. 16. State still appears to be an improved team this year, but they still would probably be anyone's choice if the alternative were Alabama or Auburn.
It's not an academic question. Only two teams have gone to the SEC Championship Game with a losing record against the other division: 2001 LSU and 2002 Arkansas, which went in the place of Alabama when the Tide were facing a postseason ban from the NCAA.
The next two games on South Carolina's schedule -- Auburn this weekend and Alabama on Oct. 9 -- features two-thirds of the interdivision docket. If the Gamecocks don't win at least one of those, it's probably time to dial back the consideration of them as a possible East representative in Atlanta.