By Jimmy Hyams
The biggest SEC surprise in the current AP top 25 poll is Kentucky.
Nobody projected the Wildcats to be ranked in the preseason polls, and many had Kentucky fifth or sixth in the SEC East Division.
But talented running back Benny Snell, production from quarterback Terry Wilson, a solid offensive line and a surprisingly good defense have carried Kentucky to a 5-0 record with impressive wins over Florida and South Carolina and its first 3-0 SEC start since 1977.
Just as surprising is LSU at 5-0 ranked No. 5 in the nation with two wins over top 10 teams. LSU was a top 25 preseason team but I thought LSU was a 7-5 team that surely would lose at Auburn.
Based on a brutal schedule, LSU could still end up with five defeats, but that appears unlikely, thanks to the emergence of quarterback Joe Burrow (388 total yards against Ole Miss) and a stout defense.
The Florida game this week could determine if LSU has a special season.
Surprising on the flip side is the slide of Mississippi State, which returned 17 starters and some difference makers but has struggled mightily on offense. The Bulldogs have scored just 13 points in two SEC games and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald looks like the two-star quarterback he was rated coming out of high school. The Bulldogs appear to miss the offensive mind of former coach Dan Mullen.
Another slight surprise is South Carolina, which won nine games last year but is 1-2 in the SEC with losses by 24 and 14 points. If the Gamecocks fall to Missouri this week, Will Muschamp could have a .500 team this season. Play calling seems to be an issue.
I am also surprised at how explosive Alabama’s offense is (I knew it would be good, but not THIS good) and how bad Arkansas is.
Recap of last week:
The hits: Florida getting 8 points against Mississippi State. The Gators won outright … I picked Alabama 54-7 over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Tide led 49-0 at half and won 56-14 … Kentucky beating South Carolina … On a TV show, I took the over on Georgia rushing for at least 250.5 yards against Tennessee. The Dawgs rushed for 251.
The misses: I missed by at least double digits on the point spreads of Texas A&M-Arkansas, Auburn-Southern Miss, Vanderbilt-Tennessee State, LSU-Ole Miss … I took Mississippi State over Florida. What in Feleipe Franks was I thinking?
Last week: 7-1 (1-1 on SEC best bets)
My picks for this week
Alabama 51-13 over Arkansas. How do you not pick the Tide to score at least 50 points in almost every game it plays. The Tide did set a program record by scoring at least 45 in five games in a row.
Auburn 20-16 over Mississippi State. The Tigers’ offense has been stuck in neutral at times, in part because Auburn doesn’t have a big-time running back. State has been a big disappointment, especially on offense.
Florida 20-17 over LSU. At some point, the bubble will burst for LSU. Florida’s defense is darn good when healthy and suspension free.
Texas A&M 27-24 over Kentucky. At some point, the bubble will burst for Kentucky. The Aggies almost took down then-No. 2 Clemson at home. Kyle Field is the difference.
Georgia 34-17 over Vanderbilt. Bulldogs lost at home two years ago to the Commodores. No chance history repeats.
Ole Miss 40-24 over Louisiana-Monroe. Rebels should finally be able to score at will against a non-SEC defense after being throttled by Alabama and LSU.
South Carolina 27-24 over Missouri. One of four tough games to pick in the SEC. Tigers have more offensive weapons and Gamecocks have been held to 17 and 10 points in two of three SEC games, but the Tigers in recent years haven’t played well on the road.
SEC best bets:
Over 55 points in the Alabama-Arkansas game.
Florida getting 3 points against LSU
Kentucky getting 7 points at Texas A&M
Auburn giving 3 points against Mississippi State