We are now in the middle of October football; it is officially Fall. Well, it is in most places, as it’s still in the upper 80s daily here in the south. Regardless of heat waves, we have reached the halfway point of the 2017 season and it’s time for midterm grades for each SEC squad. Some teams are right where you would expect, some teams are exceeding expectations, and other teams have placed their respective coaches squarely on the hot seat.
Midterm Grades – Individual Honors
Game of the Year – Florida Gators 28 – Kentucky Wildcats 27
It was tempting to select the Gators last second win over Tennessee the week earlier, but that game was hard to watch for three quarters. Kentucky was trying to end a 30-game losing streak to Florida, but once again came up agonizingly short. The Wildcats played well all game, taking a 27-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Luke Del Rio led the Gators to two late touchdowns to reclaim the lead. The last score came on a play where Kentucky forgot to cover a Florida wideout inside the five yard line. The Wildcats’ last second 57-yard field goal attempt came up a few yards short. To lose a 31st consecutive game to a team on a play like that was heartbreaking to Big Blue Nation.
Coach of the Year – Mark Stoops
Mark Stoops’ Wildcats sit a 5-1 at the halfway point. One of the biggest reasons to have him as coach of the year so far, is that he didn’t let that painful loss to Florida linger around his team. Kentucky is already only one win away from bowl eligibility. The defense has improved immensely since last season, and that is Coach Stoops’ forte. Winnable games with the four teams from Tennessee and Mississippi are next, before ending the year with Georgia and rival Louisville.
Player of the Year – Nick Chubb (Georgia Bulldogs)
The Bulldogs tailback leads the SEC in rushing at 618 yards through six games. He is also second in scoring with eight touchdowns. Chubb is a powerful runner, in a long line of powerful Georgia tailbacks. He has 328 yards and four scores in the Bulldogs’ three conference wins.
Head of the Class
Alabama Crimson Tide 6-0 (3-0): A+
Bama is once again the cream of the crop in college football. They are the number one team in the country and have been dominant. To give Alabama anything other than all A’s for midterm grades is unthinkable. The Tide’s 27-19 win at Texas A&M last weekend was their closest game of the year so far. For the season, Alabama is outscoring opponents 258 to 62. Jalen Hurts has remained steady running the Tide’s offense, and the defense is as ferocious as ever.
Georgia Bulldogs 6-0 (3-0): A+
Coach Kirby Smart is trying to immolate what Nick Saban has done at Alabama. Midway through year two, he is right on track. The Bulldog defense has been suffocating, allowing just 17 points in three SEC contests. Georgia is spearheaded on offense by its rushing attack. Alongside Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift are also racking up yards for the Bulldogs. The offensive line has made great strides since last year. Now the Bulldogs can control games on both lines of scrimmage.
Auburn Tigers 5-1 (3-0): A
The Tigers offense took a few weeks to get going, but they are certainly rolling now. The defense has been operating at peak performance all season. Since a close 14-6 loss at number two Clemson in week two, Auburn has crushed teams. They have scored 40+ points in three straight SEC wins. The Tigers have three consecutive SEC road games before facing Georgia and Alabama at home in the last few weeks.
Texas A&M Aggies 4-2 (2-1): B+
Coach Kevin Sumlin’s team had an auspicious start to 2017. They blew a 34-point second half lead on the road against UCLA and fell by a single point. The Aggies have recovered nicely from that debacle though. After winning their first two conference games, they lost to Alabama in a hard fought contest this past weekend. The ground game has been key for A&M this season, and true freshman Kellen Mond is becoming more comfortable at the quarterback position each week. He engineered come from behind victories versus both Arkansas and South Carolina.
Kentucky Wildcats 5-1 (2-1): B+
Benny Snell has 523 yards rushing this season to lead the Wildcat offense. Stephon Johnson has been steady as he has claimed the quarterback position for himself. Josh Allen has 6.5 sacks on the year for a much improved Kentucky defense. This is by far Coach Stoops’ best team in Lexington. Kentucky has the most surprising of the midterm grades, as they have exceeding expectations so far. This basketball school has a chance to enjoy one of their best ever football seasons if the team can continue playing at its current level. Tight end C.J. Conrad has only nine catches so far, and needs to get more involved.
Florida Gators 3-2 (3-1): B+
The Gators luck finally ran out on Saturday in the Swamp. LSU beat them 17-16 due to a missed extra point. This is after two wild finishes against Tennessee and Kentucky where the Gators were able to come out on top in the final seconds. The defense is solid as it usually is. The offense has gotten better during the season, but is still not as efficient or consistent as it needs to be. Freshman Malik Davis has emerged as the lead back, with 409 yards at 7.2 per carry.
LSU Tigers 4-2 (1-1): B-
LSU rebounded from a disappointing loss at home to Troy by beating the Florida Gators last weekend. The offense has yet to show any of the progress promised over the off season. Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams both have over 350 yards and five touchdowns through six games. The defense has also struggled to live up to the high standard in Baton Rouge. LSU still has Auburn, Alabama, and Texas A&M remaining. Coach Ed Orgeron will need a victory in one of those games for this not to feel like a lost season.
South Carolina Gamecocks 4-2 (2-2): C+
The Gamecocks finally found some points in a blowout of Arkansas. After failing to top 17 points in three straight games, they beat the Hogs 48-22 in a game that wasn’t that close. The defense had three scores. Midterm grades aside, the Gamecocks were not picked to be 4-2 at this point by many. The offense is still figuring things out, but has shown signs of improvement. Coach Will Muschamp’s defense has held this team in every game, and had its best performance in year this past weekend. Turnovers, third downs, and the kicking game are the key areas for South Carolina moving forward.
Mississippi State Bulldogs 3-2 (1-2): C+
The Bulldogs were flying high after a dominant win over LSU. Then they faced Georgia and Auburn in back-to-back on the road and were brought back down to earth. When quarterback Nick Fitzgerald can get the running game going they are dangerous. If not, then they have struggled. They have a huge matchup with Kentucky in two weeks.
Not Failing, But Close
Tennessee Volunteers 3-2 (0-2): C-
Coach Butch Jones is feeling the pressure. An embarrassing 41-0 loss at home to Georgia turned up the heat to an all-time level. His team had a bye week to try and fix a multitude of problems. They have struggled to move the ball consistently and to finish off drives once in the red zone. If not for a wild comeback win over Georgia Tech in the opener, their midterm grades would be much worse. They have a pivotal game at home with the Gamecocks this weekend. Another painful loss could push Jones closer to the door.
Vanderbilt Commodores 3-3 (0-3): D
Vandy had finally done it. They turned the corner and Derek Mason had his signature win. That was the feeling a month ago when the Commodores beat a ranked nonconference opponent for the first time since 1954. Since that victory over Kansas State, Vanderbilt has allowed over 1,100 rushing yards in three SEC losses. Mason’s team will need to regain its defensive edge or this once promising season will go completely off the rails.
There’s Always Next Year
Arkansas Razorbacks 2-3 (0-2): D-
The Razorbacks just can’t get things figured out. They have long been known as a power running team, but haven’t gotten that rolling this season. They have a successful senior quarterback in Austin Allen, but can’t protect him. Their switch to a 3-4 defense is also a work in progress. Coming off a blowout loss to the Gamecocks, they now face Alabama and Auburn in the next two weeks.
Ole Miss Rebels 2-3 (0-2): D-
With all the happened to this program in the off season, its 2-3 record at the midway point is of little concern. Quarterback Shea Patterson and receiver A.J. brown will at least provide plenty of highlights if not wins.
Missouri Tigers 1-4 (0-3): F+
Coach Barry Odom’s group was at least able to show a pulse coming out of their bye week. They fought hard and had a chance to tie the game late at Kentucky. Before that outing, there was a need to petition the school board to give out something lower than F for midterm grades.
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