Though a large number of Associated Press voters keep moving the needle for No. 3 Alabama (3-0), the Crimson Tide’s 41-0 scrimmage against North Texas on Saturday was yet another game that offered no reason to adjust expectations.
The first truly telling game comes in this week’s SEC opener against No. 14 Arkansas.
Results finally bowed to reality for now-unranked Auburn (2-1), and the question after the Tigers’ 38-24 loss at Clemson becomes just how far the needle will fall for a team that has shown no ability to stop anybody.
A non-conference game against Florida Atlantic this week promises to pull Auburn fans back off the ledge — we think.
The needle moved back in the right direction for Jacksonville State (2-1), No. 16 in Football Championship Subdivision. A 37-21 handling of Georgia State reversed the downward spike that followed a similar loss the previous week at Chattanooga, and the Gamecocks showed healthy signs.
Now, it’s back to Ohio Valley Conference play this week at home against struggling Eastern Illinois, another chance for a result that moves the needle closer to very real and oversold preseason expectations.
Alabama: It was that game
Short of North Texas threatening to go Appalachian State on Alabama, why does anyone read much into games like this?
It’s the final prep before the first conference game. Lots of teams play them. It’s about experimentation and depth development, and Alabama still won 41-0.
How that’s worthy of a poll drop is hard to fathom.
The Tide’s defense, on which hopes for a national-title run are anchored, showed no developing cracks. The second unit preserved the shutout with a goal-line stand after a turnover.
Fits and starts on offense owed to substitution.
It was that game, one often seen yet one often overblown. Just look back to Alabama’s national-title team of 2009.
That team with that defense beat North Texas by 46 points and didn’t even get the shutout. The next week, Alabama overcame the injury to linebacker Dont’a Hightower and stymied Arkansas 35-7 at home.
That Alabama team also had new starters at quarterback and left tackle. Just sayin’.
Auburn: Hitting the window
Turns out that ill-fated eagle flight before the Mississippi State game could become the metaphor for this season.
The Tigers were flying high, coming off of last season’s national-title run and still winning despite severe personnel losses. That 17-game winning streak carried two games into life beyond Cam Newton and Nick Fairley.
Then Auburn hit the window Saturday at Clemson.
“Spirit” the eagle landed just fine after his misadventure, but will this Auburn team?
The Tigers are 117th of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense. Forming their cushion are North Texas, the Kansas team that gave up 768 yards to Georgia Tech on Saturday, and the Memphis team that surrendered 59 points to Mississippi State.
One has to scroll all the way to No. 75 Ole Miss to find the next SEC team, and Ole Miss lost 30-7 to Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Auburn’s rankings in the most relevant defensive categories have triple digits: 116th in rushing defense; 100th in pass-efficiency defense; 107th in scoring defense; 100th in pass defense; and tied for 102nd in sacks.
Teams with rankings like that don’t call themselves SEC teams. They play SEC teams for paychecks.
Auburn’s defense hasn’t gotten better in three games, so it’s back to the feeling that arose from the Utah State game. It could be a long year for Auburn.
JSU: That’s more like it
While noting that JSU beat a team that’s in only its second year of existence, the Gamecocks showed signs of being the running team they need to be.
They have the running backs to do it. They have the quarterback to do it now that the more athletic Coty Blanchard has stepped in for injured starter Marques Ivory, though it’s unclear how a 180-pound quarterback will take the season-long pounding.
The question became whether a young offensive line could do it, and that unit finally showed it can force JSU coach Jack Crowe’s will to run.
That has ripple effects, even for a JSU defense that struggled mightily through the Gamecocks’ first two games. The more JSU’s offense runs, the less JSU’s defense stays on the field.
That and the debut of linebacker Clarence Jackson, the Ole Miss transfer who won his NCAA appeal for academic eligibility, made for an all-around better showing than JSU had at Chattanooga.
It wasn’t a showing indicative of what was billed as JSU’s Best Team in 12 Years, but it once again seems possible for this JSU team to win the OVC.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576
or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.