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SEC West Talking Points: Week 7

Dissecting the biggest issues in the best division in the country.

Prairie View v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

SEC Freshman of the Year: Trayveon Williams or the field?

Joe Clarkin (@Joe_Clarkin): I think Jalen Hurts, not Williams, is in the driver’s seat for SEC freshman of the year. Don’t get me wrong, Williams has be great -- he’s incredibly explosive. But Hurts is handling the reins for the best team in the country. Both Williams and Hurts are first-team All-SEC for me so far this season, but what Hurts is doing at quarterback is just more impressive than what Williams is doing at running back. It’s not uncommon for a true freshman running back to have an impact, but it is unusual for a true freshman QB to look this good.

Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): I guess I’d have to take the field because that includes not only Jalen Hurts, but also any potential surprise candidates (what happens if Jacob Eason breaks out over the second half of the season?) Williams has been impressive, but it’s going to be really hard to deny the award to a true freshman starting QB for the SEC champs, and particularly since this isn’t a situation where Alabama is winning in spite of him. So that said… if Texas A&M wins in Tuscaloosa on the 22nd, this award is Williams’ to lose.

Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): Yeah, I'll take Jalen Hurts. Hurts beat out redshirt Blake Barnett and has been sensational for the Crimson Tide. Let's be real, even if Williams and the Aggies get to Atlanta, do you really think the SEC media is going to pick him over the Alabama quarterback?

With two losses in their last three games, what’s your assessment of Arkansas?

Joe Clarkin (@Joe_Clarkin): I don’t think it’s changed my opinion of them all that much. They’ve lost to two top ten teams, so it’s not like they’re getting upset, and they’ve looked at least relatively competitive in both contests.

They’re a good, middle-of-the-pack SEC team, which is what I thought they’d be coming into the season. The offense is explosive, but a bit turnover prone, and the defense isn’t quite good enough to keep points off the board when they give the ball away to the other team. They’re still a 7-5 or 8-4 football team to me.

Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): It’s dangerous, let’s say that. It’s not so much that they’ve lost but how they’ve lost. Austin Allen has been better than anyone thought he would be, and yet the run game is surprisingly pedestrian and the defense hasn’t been able to stop anyone with a pulse. The scariest part, though, is that per S&P+ their next four opponents are ranked in the top 12, and the final two games of the season are a bit easier (Mississippi State and Mizzou) but both are on the road. It’s possible that Arkansas could finish 5-7 and miss a bowl game, but unless either the run game or the defense gets fixed I can’t see this being any better than a 7-5 team. Which, we knew somebody would have to finish fifth or sixth in the West.

Alex Dusza (@alexdusza): At the risk of setting myself up for the wrath of Hogwild, they have not been as good as expected this year, but could be backing themselves into another #NovemBERT. Ole Miss has not won in Fayetteville since the Houston Nutt Bowl in 2008 (the 2012 game was in Little Rock) and the Rebels have frequently failed to get off the bus in Fayetteville under multiple coaching staffs so while I would not predict it, an Arkansas win this weekend would not surprise me. After that out of Auburn, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri, there’s no teams Arkansas couldn’t beat. And with both Florida and LSU at home, running the table is not out of the question.

Will Marshall (@awillmarshall): It hasn’t changed much. I wasn’t especially impressed after watching the TCU-Arkansas game, so losses to the two best teams in the SEC isn’t very surprising. In retrospect, the double overtime win at TCU even seems diminished. They arguably have the best quarterback in the SEC, and they play hard for four quarters, so they will definitely pick up some wins the rest of the way; however, I’m hard pressed to count more than seven regular season wins here, and wouldn’t be surprised if they finish 6-6.

Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): I really don't care how many games Arkansas wins because I'll always be all about being Bert Bielema.

Side note: When's his cooking show coming to the SEC Network.

It all seriousness, Arkansas has lost to the SEC’s two best teams in the past three weeks. I don't think you can fault the Hogs for either loss. I still see this team playing for a spot in one of the SEC’s New Years’ Day bowls.

Has the perception changed about Auburn?

Joe Clarkin (@Joe_Clarkin): Yeah, I definitely think you need to be more optimistic about them after these last few weeks. When they were 1-2, people were talking like the sky was falling. What’s wrong with the offense? Is Gus Malzahn going to make it to the end of the season? Blah, blah, blah.

But now you look back at those two losses (Clemson and A&M, albeit both at home), and it’s hard to get all that worked up about it. They hung right with Clemson, and it’s not like the Aggies blew them off the field. The offense has definitely shown an improved ability to run the ball over the last couple of weeks, and I think that’s probably sustainable considering who runs their offense.

If there’s some reason for concern, it’s that this past week against Mississippi State was the first time they had to leave Jordan-Hare Stadium all season. I don’t think the Bulldogs are all that good, so how do they look once they hit the road again? They get Arkansas at home next weekend, but they play at Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama over the final five weeks of their season. So while I’m feeling better about Auburn than I was a few weeks ago, I definitely think there’s still a lot we need to learn about the Tigers before we can definitively call them a good team.

Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): BUY BUY BUY. Which, of course, means that they will promptly lose their next four games. But the defense is legit, and while Mississippi State isn’t very good, Auburn did exactly what you’re supposed to do against inferior teams. And now the offense seems to be coming around with a couple of solid if unspectacular backs and the passing game is starting to become a strong suit now that the coaching staff has settled on Sean White. Auburn is playing now like a team that will finish 9-3 and maybe even spring an upset in the Iron Bowl to end the season. And Gus Malzahn will, against all odds, keep his job.

Alex Dusza (@alexdusza): Joe nailed it above. The end of the season could be rough for Auburn but even if they lose those three games (and win the rest), that puts them at 7-5. Great season? No, but better than last year and probably better than most would have expected. The question going forward is the offense. While the defense is knocking on the door of the top ten in the S&P+, the offense is 28th. If the Tigers can improve those numbers and develop a consistent offensive identity, it will be a step forward for Auburn.

Will Marshall (@awillmarshall): I’m not quite sure if the perception has changed completely, but it is getting close. The defense has been fantastic all season, and I’ll be darn if Sean White hasn’t been playing better completing over 70% of his passes the last three games. At this point I’m not sure if beating a Les Miles-led LSU, ULM, and Mississippi State in a three week stretch announces their arrival, but if they win one of their next two versus Ole Miss and Arkansas then we should all take notice.

Julian Council (@JulianCouncil):Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): Look people, Auburn beat Mississippi State. Not Dak Prescott Mississippi State, but normal SEC West doormat Mississippi State. This offense works best with Sean White, but has yet to look competent against a quality opponent. Until that happens I'm not buying into Auburn “turning around” their season. Gus Malzahn did say after the LSU win that they would carry the momentum over the rest of the season. Well, we’ll see how true that is when the Tigers play Arkansas and at Ole Miss after their buy.

What do we make of Mississippi State?

Joe Clarkin (@Joe_Clarkin): I suppose I spoiled the surprise in my last response, but I don’t think Mississippi State is very good, at least relative to the rest of the SEC. (We’re always grading on a curve in this conference.) It would not shock me if they missed a bowl game, and S&P+ agrees, as they’re only favored to win two of their final seven games and have just a 36 percent chance of finishing 6-6 or better.

Missing a bowl game is not the end of the world for this program, however. Rebuilds are the norm in Starkville, not the exception. It’s not a bold claim to say that this team really misses Dak Prescott, and although Nick Fitzgerald has been fine, it’s going to take a year or two to get back to being really competitive. They’re in a similar spot to where Missouri was last year, coming off of a nice multi-year run, but back at square one after losing a lot of talent. They’ll be fine long-term, but this season may well be a disappointment.

Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): They’re cursing the fact that they’re in the West. I think they’re better than Kentucky, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, and they might have a good shot at beating Missouri at home… but they don’t play those teams. Instead, they’re stuck in a situation where getting to 6-6 is going to be an uphill fight, and they’ll be cursing the loss to South Alabama, which might have made the difference between the Bulldogs bowling and spending the holidays in Starkville. The good news is that Nick Fitzgerald is going to be a good quarterback for the next couple of years and it’s otherwise a pretty young team, so it’s not difficult to see them bouncing back in 2017. It’s just not happening this year.

Alex Dusza (@alexdusza): Once upon a time in Mississippi, after losing a generational type quarterback talent, a team went 4-8, fired their coach and spent years in the wilderness. That was Ole Miss in 2004. This Mississippi State team is better than that 2004 Ole Miss team but great quarterbacks can mask many flaws that are underneath the surface. Even if Mississippi State misses a bowl game, Dan Mullen should not be fired, but with a new athletic director coming in one never can tell if that new administrator wants to put his stamp on a program and have “his guy.”

Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): They don't have Dak Prescott. Mississippi State wasn't exactly the team to beat in the West until Dak came around and things have gone back to normal, per se. I think Dan Mullen is a great coach but to be successful at Mississippi State he needs an experienced quarterback, along with talented upperclassmen. That's hard to come by every year. Come back in two years and the Bulldogs should be competing at the top of the West.