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Sunday, October 7, 2012
3 up, 3 down: Alabama opponents

By Alex Scarborough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In the wake of No. 1 Alabama's bye week, a look at the good and bad from Alabama's six remaining conference opponents.

THREE UP
1. Mississippi State: Who would have thought that Mississippi State would be tied atop the SEC West with Alabama through five games, and not LSU? Those who paid attention to the Bulldogs' schedule might have considered it.

Mississippi State has torn through the likes of Jackson State, Troy and South Alabama in its non-conference schedule, only to beat up on a down Auburn team and a typically below-average Kentucky squad in its remaining two league games.

Give Dan Mullen credit, though. His Bulldogs are winning the games on their schedule, and next week things get a little tougher as they host the Tennessee Volunteers.

2. Texas A&M: That 3-point loss to Florida is starting to look better and better for a Texas A&M team that improved to 4-1 with a 30-27 win over Ole Miss on Saturday. Kevin Sumlin has the Aggies on the right track in their first year in the SEC, led by a quarterback some contend should be in the Heisman race.

Freshman Johnny Manziel is completing 69.3 percent of his passes and has 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions this season. His stewardship of the offense has led to 44.6 points per game for Texas A&M.

But beyond Manziel, what makes Texas A&M a threat in the SEC is its stout defense and solid offensive line. The Aggies have sacked the quarterback 17 times, while the offensive line has given up 11 sacks all year.

3. Tennessee: By default or process of elimination, Tennessee lands here. You can't lose on a bye week, though seven days to think about being 0-2 in the SEC couldn't have been a welcome vacation.

The pain of a 51-44 loss to No. 5 Georgia was left to fester in Knoxville, Tenn., as coach Derek Dooley's seat continues to warm. Tennessee looks utterly lost on defense, surrendering more than 500 yards of offense twice in the past three games. Even if Tyler Bray were making all the reads (see six interceptions in his last three games) and his receivers were playing up to snuff (see Cordarrelle Patterson's drop in the first half against Georgia), it would be tough for the offense to keep the Vols afloat.

That said, give Dooley credit as he has Tennessee playing competitive football. Much will be determined this week when the Vols travel to Starkville, Miss.

THREE DOWN
1. Auburn: It can't get much worse for Gene Chizik's Tigers after losing in embarrassing fashion at home to the previously 1-4 Arkansas Razorbacks. Auburn went through three quarterbacks and couldn't find success with any of them, though an offensive line that surrendered eight sacks to Arkansas was partly to blame.

The picture isn't pretty on either side of the ball with an offense prone to negative plays and a defense susceptible to giving up points in a hurry. The telltale stat is this: Auburn came into Saturday ranked 116th out of 120 in turnover margin. Against Arkansas, the Tigers lost the turnover battle five to two.

2. Missouri: The Tigers' welcome to the SEC has not been so kind. But their self-inflicted wounds have done little to help coach Gary Pinkel's cause. Just last week, Missouri fab freshman Dorial Green-Beckham, linebacker Torey Boozer and receiver Levi Copelin were suspended after being arrested for allegedly smoking marijuana near the football stadium.

For a team already struggling with the transition to a new league, the news couldn't have come at a worse time. Missouri is winless in three conference games after Saturday's loss to a previously 1-3 Vanderbilt team in Columbia, Mo. Adding insult to injury, Missouri will face Alabama without star quarterback James Franklin, who Pinkel said is out with a strained MCL.

3. LSU: Was it Florida playing that well, or LSU playing that poorly? Either way, the same issues that have plagued the Tigers all season -- poor execution on offense, too many turnovers -- were brought to light by the Gators.

Zach Mettenberger was supposed to be the upgrade at quarterback the Tigers needed after suffering through Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee last season. As it turns out, the pain for the LSU faithful was just beginning, as Mettenberger has yet to throw a touchdown or pass for more than 170 yards in two SEC games.

LSU's defense is good, but this year it hasn't been enough. When you're averaging more than two turnovers per game and falling on the wrong side of the time-of-possession battle, you're playing with fire. Florida just happened to be the team there to burn the Tigers.

Discuss this and more inside the TideNation forum The Tusk.