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SEC Talking Points: West Division

What are the hot topics of discussion in the West this week?

Mississippi State v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

So, Texas A&M. Legit, or just another mirage?

Christopher Novak: Tough to figure out of course with a full two months to go in the season (doesn’t that sound weird?) but so far, consider me in. The Aggies defense looks outstanding, especially up front with Myles Garrett and Daylon Mack wreaking havoc. The offense has been great too as Trevor Knight has played well above the expectations I personally had for him. The Aggies run game has been great and Christian Kirk hasn’t really even gotten it going yet. I might get burned for this later on, but for now, A&M looks pretty damn good to me.

Jonathan Waldrop: This A&M team looks a lot different from the last three. The team that got destroyed by Bama 59-0 in 2014. The team that didn’t have an offensive identity with two former five-star quarterbacks. The addition of Noel Mazzone as offensive coordinator has been a real shot in the arm for the Aggies. Trevor Knight is playing like a 5th-year senior. His maturity is trickling down to the younger guys on his team.

What’s really been most impressive to me about the offense is the running game. They’re actually finding success on the ground not only from the quarterback, but an actual running back, as well. Trayveon Williams is killing it, thus far, and THAT’S what this offense was missing.

Also, John Chavis’ defense is taking shape in his 2nd year. They fly to the ball. And it’s not just Myles Garrett, either. To me, this is a 10-2 team at worst and a genuinely capable 12-0 team. They look that good.

Joe Clarkin: Depends on what you mean by legit. I think they’re one of the best 15 teams in the country, so by that standard, yes they are legit. But I still think they’re ultimately the third-best team in the West. Alabama is perpetually in the division’s driver’s seat, and despite their two come-from-ahead losses, Ole Miss still has more talent in my opinion. Doesn’t mean the Rebels will finish with a better record, necessarily, but I’d favor them in a neutral field matchup, and a one game lead in the SEC standings for A&M is not insurmountable, even with Ole Miss traveling to Kyle Field on November 12th.

We’ll know whether Texas A&M is actually as good as it’s looked by the end of October. A trip to Columbia east should be no problem this weekend, but games against Tennessee (at home) and in Tuscaloosa on the 8th and 22nd will really give us a better idea of whether this team is a real conference title contender, or just got off to a hot start. After years of preseason expectations falling short of in-season performance, the Aggies need to prove their worth a little more than most teams.

To this point in the season, who poses the biggest threat to Alabama? The Aggies or the Razorbacks?

Christopher: I will go with the Ags. A&M can spread you out wide and in the past, Alabama has struggled against spread offenses. The Aggies have a dossier of weapons at their disposal and their defense is just stupid good and could pose the Tide some problems when they eventually meet. I don’t think the Hogs are too far behind, but right now, the Aggies are the bigger threat.

Jonathan: Arkansas has put up a bigger fight with Bama the last two seasons and even though the game is in Fayetteville this year, I’m going to say A&M. From a personnel standpoint, they just look like they’re ready to beat anybody. It’s always a tall order with Bama, because they’re so deep at every position, but Ole Miss made Bama’s D look silly at times. A&M has the same kind of weapons to get it done.

I wouldn’t put it past either team, though, to pull the upset.

Joe: It’s A&M. Jonathan is right, Arkansas has played better against the Tide than the Aggies have recently, but this A&M team has a much better defense than they’ve ever had under Kevin Sumlin. In order to beat Alabama, you’re going to need a superlative performance from a star player, and Texas A&M just has more stars. Whether that’s a four sack game from Myles Garrett or 200+ yards from Josh Reynolds or Christian Kirk, Arkansas can’t compete with A&M when it comes to players capable of singlehandedly taking over a game.

Is there a player who has broken out more thus far than Evan Engram?

Christopher: I don’t think there’s anyone who’s impressed me more in this conference than Engram so far. He’s been an absurdly good weapon for Chad Kelly to throw to and with a crop of good pass catchers on Ole Miss’ offense, Engram has definitely stood out the most. He is building up a very strong case to be the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Jonathan: No. He’s pretty much destroyed all the competition up to this point. And it’s been really good competition, too. Freeze is doing an excellent job of creating misdirection with Engram. It’s easy to forget about the tight end when you have autobots like Damore’a Stringfellow, A.J. Brown and Quincy Adeboyejo roaming the field.

Traveyon Williams is a close runner up for me. He’s put major yards on three very good defenses and he’s a true freshman.

Joe: The term “breakout,” to me, implies surprise at how well the player is performing. I can’t say I’m surprised by how good Engram has been. He’s been very productive from the moment he stepped on the field. I think the uptick in Engram’s performance is more due to Laquon Treadwell’s departure for the NFL. With Treadwell gone, Engram is clearly the most talented pass catcher on the roster, and he’s being treated like a number one option. As I’ve said in my All-SEC column, no player is more superior relative to the other guys at his position than Engram.

So if I’m picking my breakout player from the West, it’s probably going to be LSU defensive end Arden Key. He’s been, bar none, the best pass rusher in the conference so far. Better than Derek Barnett. Better than Myles Garrett. Better than Tim Williams. LSU’s season has gone downhill fast, but in four games, Key has already surpassed last year’s sack and tackle-for-loss total, and I’m completely terrified of what he’s going to do to Drew Lock and my Tigers on Saturday night.

Give your thoughts on the Les Miles firing.

Christopher: Initially my reaction was mostly that if LSU wanted to do this, the song and dance that happened at the end of the year should’ve just been the end of it. What changed in the past few months? LSU had been dominating the recruiting scene with Miles at the helm. You knew what you had and another four weeks wasn’t going to change that in my opinion.

It’s probably the right move for everybody involved to finally put the fire out. LSU is a very, very good job and they should be able to attract a very good coach to Baton Rouge. We’ll see what the fallout of this will be with regards to the 2017 recruits who are currently committed to LSU, and whether they’ll stick it out or not. It’s disappointing, but few times in sports or in life are you able to go out on top.

Jonathan: It makes me sad in the sense that it’s an “end of an era” type thing. 12 seasons and lot of entertaining outcomes. However, it was obviously time for him to go. His unwillingness to change the offense in the offseason when he almost got fired the year before speaks volumes about not only his inflexibility, but also a kind of arrogance that said, “I’m untouchable.”

We’ll all miss the soundbites and the affable demeanor, but he was doing some really talented skill position guys a disservice. Not getting Brandon Harris to pan out is one thing (he would be perfectly fine if he were the QB for Bama or Ole Miss), but misusing guys like Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural at receiver is unconscionable. You have defenses loading the box to stop Fournette and you can’t figure out a way to use these two ridiculously talented guys on the edge? Here’s hoping Coach O recognizes this heresy.

Joe: In the moment, it sucks. This feels a lot like the Mark Richt firing last season, where LSU may well come to regret moving on from the guy that had led them to so much success. Had LSU underachieved recently? Certainly. But it feels like Miles deserved a longer leash than he got. That’s the nature of the business, however.

What will ultimately determine whether it was the right move or not obviously depends on who they end up hiring. If they really can get Tom Herman, then that’s a home run and nobody should feel bad about moving on from Miles. If it’s anyone short of Herman or Jimbo Fisher, I think it’ll be fair to question the decision making.