We are knee deep into the “Ain’t played nobody!” portion of the college football season, where fans believe every team is overrated, no team has a quality win, and loads of teams are on the verge of being exposed as pretenders.
This is a familiar early October refrain, and there’s a degree of truth to it.
Power Five schools usually feast on a couple of cupcakes during September, leaving a flimsy strength of schedule before some of the meatier conference matchups ahead.
Fans have their knives sharpened, ready to carve up weak résumés. I whipped up a hot debate after a Monday appearance on “The Paul Finebaum Show,” when I said: At this point, we have to start taking Tennessee seriously as a contender to get to Atlanta.
"At this point, we have to start taking Tennessee seriously as a contender to get to Atlanta." - @btoppmeyer gives us his assessment of the Vols.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) October 3, 2022
Woo boy, Georgia fans did not like that one.
Note, I did not predict No. 8 Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) would win the SEC East, only that we must take the Vols’ chances seriously.
Georgia (5-0, 2-0) and Tennessee are the only SEC East teams without a conference loss. The Vols are the top threat to Georgia for the division crown after Kentucky lost at Ole Miss.
Tennessee’s defense is weak, particularly in the secondary, but its offense remains a threat to any opponent, and Hendon Hooker is playing as well as any quarterback.
The Vols face a brutal path to the College Football Playoff, with both Alabama and Georgia on the regular-season schedule, but the Alabama game is mostly irrelevant to UT’s chance to win the division. Lose to Alabama but upset Georgia on Nov. 5 in Athens and run the table elsewhere, and the Vols are headed to Atlanta for the first time since 2007.
Still, Georgia fans pointed out that the Vols, well, they ain’t played nobody!
The Red and Black pack aren’t impressed by a road win at Pittsburgh – not after the Panthers lost to lowly Georgia Tech last week. And what, Georgia fans wonder, is the big deal about Tennessee beating Florida? The Gators aren’t at their mightiest, and they had a chance to win the game on their final possession.
Tennessee fans fired back, pointing out that Georgia hardly played up to its No. 2 ranking in ugly wins against Kent State and Missouri. Georgia’s schedule weakened after it trounced Oregon in the opener.
When Alabama fans waded into the conversation, opposing fans were ready with sharp elbows: The Crimson Tide nearly lost at Texas in Week 2. Ain’t played nobody!
Here are the brass tacks: Neither Tennessee nor Georgia has faced a rugged slate.
ESPN’s Football Power Index ranks Georgia’s strength of schedule, to date, as No. 12 in the SEC – one spot ahead of Tennessee.
Fellow undefeated Ole Miss has the worst FPI strength of schedule among SEC teams, but the Rebels possess one of the best victories by beating Kentucky.
We’ll learn more about Tennessee’s contender-or-pretender status after it plays LSU in Baton Rouge (noon ET Saturday, ESPN).
Georgia’s upcoming slate features Auburn, Vanderbilt and Florida. The Bulldogs may not be seriously tested again until hosting the Vols, although a team that barely escaped Missouri should be on guard against any SEC foe (OK, maybe not Vanderbilt).
So, which SEC teams have played somebody?
Alabama is the only SEC team with two wins against teams ranked in the Sagarin top 30 (Texas and Arkansas).
Florida and Arkansas are the only SEC teams that have played three Sagarin top-30 teams, but each is just 1-2 in those games.
I think LSU deserves more strength-of-schedule credit than it is receiving for beating Auburn on the road (ugly as it was) and Mississippi State after losing to Florida State by a point in Week 1. And I applaud MSU’s wins against Texas A&M and at Arizona, along with a triumph over Memphis, a quality Group of Five foe.
So, a few SEC teams have played somebody.
Also, a weak strength of schedule after five weeks does not necessarily signal a weak team.
Email of the Week
BoLo writes: I don't think Bryan Harsin gets the boot until the season is over. I think it's likely that he will at that point. Winning the Bama game, which he should have won last season, even a miracle like that won't save his (butt).
I think two years of this inept crap is enough. I was so disappointed when he was hired. … He thought because he was a big cheese at Boise State that would translate to the SEC, but anybody with one eye and half sense should have known better. Except Allen Greene.
Wife's calling me for waffles. Gotta go.
My response: Schools are firing coaches earlier and earlier these days. Firings that used to happen in November and December now occur in September and October. I think he gets the boot before the Iron Bowl.
Waffles sound good.
Three and out
1. Bryce Young (sprained shoulder) remained day to day, Nick Saban said Wednesday, and questionable to play against Texas A&M. The Aggies are so pitiful on offense, Alabama shouldn’t require Mr. Heisman. In fact, the Tide might benefit more long-term if Jalen Milroe starts Saturday (8 p.m. ET, CBS). Navigating a full SEC game could be helpful if Milroe is needed later in the season – a possibility that can’t be ignored considering Saban said the Arkansas game wasn't the first time Young injured his shoulder.
2. Tennessee fired Jeremy Pruitt in January 2021 after a 3-7 season while under NCAA investigation. If I had told you then the Vols would be a three-point favorite at LSU, less than two years later, you might have thought I’d omitted an ‘S’ and that the Vols were playing Lake Superior State University. (A reasonable thought, considering Tennessee canceled games against Army and BYU in favor of inferior opponents. I’m surprised LSSU hasn’t graced UT’s schedule.) Josh Heupel has exceeded every reasonable expectation through his first 17 games, but a road win against LSU’s high-dollar man, Brian Kelly, would be his best achievement yet.
3. What a shame if Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson cannot play at No. 23 Mississippi State (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network). He’s questionable after suffering an undisclosed injury against Alabama. He had not practiced this week as of Wednesday morning. Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) vs. MSU had profiled as one of the weekend’s best matchups, featuring two of the SEC’s best quarterbacks, Jefferson and MSU’s Will Rogers. The betting line is shifting to more heavily favor MSU, meaning Vegas oddsmakers don’t expect Jefferson to play.
The "Topp Rope," is his twice-weekly SEC football column publishing throughout the USA TODAY Network. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or access exclusive columns via the SEC Unfiltered newsletter.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Tennessee football, Georgia ain't played nobody, fans say. Alabama has