Auburn got the nation’s attention with its 45-41 victory at No. 7 Texas A&M, a game that vaulted the Tigers (6-1, 3-1 SEC) from No. 24 in one poll to ranked in every poll --- as high as No. 11 in the Associated Press poll.
Suddenly, the prospect of reversing Auburn’s 3-9 finish of 2012 looks realistic. The chance for double-digit wins looks within the realm of possibility.
Thanks to the Auburn-A&M game other major upsets around the SEC, especially Ole Miss’ upset of then-No. 6 LSU, top-ranked Alabama’s Nov. 9 showdown with two-loss LSU loses luster. Suddenly, the Iron Bowl comes more into focus as a possible battle for the SEC West Division.
Assuming Alabama (7-0, 4-0) wins and goes back to Atlanta, suddenly Missouri looks like the likely opponent coming from the East Division. The unbeaten and now-fifth-ranked Tigers, who struggled in their initial SEC season a year ago, beat Georgia and Florida in successive weeks. Every other East team has at least two conference losses.
Alabama was the one constant in SEC play Saturday, routing Arkansas 52-0 for the second year in a row with a statistically near-perfect performance.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville State (5-2, 1-2 Ohio Valley Conference) was off this past week, after losing 31-15 to OVC contender Tennessee State at home.
OK, so anything Alabama accomplished Saturday came against a team the Tide has beaten 52-0 two years in a row, but the rout of Arkansas produced three leading indicators of good football for Alabama.
Zero on the scoreboard for the opponent.
That’s hard to do. Alabama had a turnover and one penalty for 15 yards in a 49-0 rout of Western Carolina in 2012. The Tide had one turnover and two penalties for 10 yards in the 49-0 rout of Auburn.
Alabama had no turnovers but seven penalties for 74 yards in last year’s 52-0 victory over Arkansas.
A year later, it could have been that Alabama and Arkansas found charitable referees. Arkansas had only two penalties for 20 yards.
Still, Alabama didn’t so much as fumble the ball, let alone lose a fumble. That, of course, was a point of emphasis after Alabama’s two lost fumbles in last week’s 48-7 rout of Kentucky.
It’s hard to lose with a triple-zero. It’s also hard to do, even against the least of opponents.
Auburn: Turning to eraser
Preseason is a time to go through schedules with a pencil. Thanks to Auburn’s victory at Texas A&M on Saturday, it’s time to flip to the eraser.
Erase Texas A&M as a penciled-in loss for Auburn.
While we’re at it, let’s erase the mark next to wounded Georgia? That game, at Auburn, goes from “L” to “T” for tossup.
It’s hard to see Auburn tripping up against the Arkansas team we saw play Alabama on Saturday. Tennessee’s breakthrough against South Carolina turns a “W” into a road “T” for Auburn.
Surely no change for top-ranked Alabama, right?
Well, Auburn has the Tide at home, and we saw how close Auburn came to beating a national-championship Alabama team at home in Gus Malzahn’s last first season at Auburn.
We also see the very comparable scores and stats between Alabama’s and Auburn’s games at Texas A&M this season.
If Alabama and Auburn hold serve between now and the Iron Bowl, that game goes from “M” (meaningless) to “C” --- for championship of the SEC West Division.
If there’s any eraser left after all of that, go ahead and erase that whole 2012 debacle from memory. Malzahn has clearly done that with his first Auburn team as head coach.
JSU: Mystery team
JSU faces major question marks going into this week’s OVC game at Tennessee Tech because of injuries.
Wide receivers Markis Merrill (hip) and Dalton Screws (collar bone) are out. Quarterback Max Shortell (knee) is expected back at practice this week, but will he be at full speed?
What kind of team will show up at Cookeville on Saturday? What can that team do?
The answers will begin to unravel what kind of season JSU can have, and that picture is starting to change.
The Gamecocks have lost two of three OVC games after a 4-0 start in non-conference play. A game against league heavy Eastern Illinois (6-1, 3-0) lies ahead. Eastern Kentucky (4-3, 2-1) also lies ahead and routed JSU a year ago.
But winnable games against Tech (3-5, 0-4), Austin Peay (0-7, 0-3) and Southeast Missouri (1-6, 1-3) also lie ahead.
Howe JSU finishes depends on the answers first-year JSU coach Bill Clark can find in his first major test.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.