- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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The college football season is heating up as we head to the final week of October.
In some quarters, though, it’s starting to feel a little chilly.
Here’s our weekly look at who’s hot and who’s not in the SEC:
Momentum on the Plains: There’s been quite a buzz in the state of Alabama over one college football team in particular during the last few years. The last four BCS National Championship trophies currently reside there. Obviously, three of them belong to Alabama, which has won the last two. But Auburn won in 2010. Given the Crimson Tide’s incredible success under Nick Saban, the Tigers had sort of been a forgotten entity in the state over the last two years. But not anymore. First-year coach Gus Malzahn has Auburn rolling after a gritty 45-41 win at Texas A&M this past weekend and, more importantly, Malzahn has done something he promised to do when he got the job. He’s restored Auburn’s edge, and the Tigers (6-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) are playing with the kind of confidence, chemistry and purpose they did in 2010 when they won the national title. They debuted at No. 11 in the first BCS standings Sunday night and are probably too far down to climb into the national championship mix this season, but this is a team that’s improving each week and could very realistically get to 10 wins this season. Not only that, but Auburn gets Alabama at home to close the season. If the Tigers can take care of business against Arkansas and Tennessee on the road and then Georgia at home, the Iron Bowl would be for the Western Division championship and the right to go to Atlanta and play for the SEC title. After a miserable season a year ago, things are looking up on the Plains.
Bo Wallace on third down: Ole Miss’ junior quarterback was money on third down in the Rebels' 27-24 win over LSU. The Rebels were 11-of-18 on third down, and Wallace was responsible for nine of those conversions. He kept the winning drive alive with a 6-yard scramble on third-and-6 and came back a few plays later and connected with Ja-Mes Logan for 13 yards on third-and-9. Wallace was 7-for-8 for 140 yards on third down.
Quarterbacks’ health: At least nine of the 14 teams in the SEC this season have had injuries at the quarterback position, some more serious than others. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (shoulder), South Carolina’s Connor Shaw (knee) and Vanderbilt’s Austyn Carta-Samuels (left leg) were all injured last weekend. Manziel was able to return to the game but had to play through obvious pain. Shaw won’t need surgery but is iffy for South Carolina’s game at Missouri this Saturday, and Carta-Samuels could be lost for the season.
Marquez North's catch: In each of his last two games, the Tennessee freshman receiver has made fabulous catches. He had a toe-tapping 19-yard touchdown catch against Georgia on Oct. 5 and followed that up with the play of the game (and maybe the catch of the year) in Tennessee’s 23-21 win over South Carolina. On third-and-10, North pulled in a 39-yard heave from Justin Worley with his left hand as he was falling backward to keep the Vols’ game-winning drive alive.
Bret Bielema’s SEC welcome: Arkansas was hammered 52-0 at No. 1 Alabama last weekend, extending the Hogs’ losing streak to five straight games. In their last three games, they’ve been outscored 134-17. It’s the first time in Bielema’s head coaching career that he’s lost five in a row. Not that Bielema needed to be reminded, but he ain’t in the Big Ten anymore.
Missouri defensive end Michael Sam: Anybody pick Sam back in the preseason to be the SEC’s leader in sacks at this point? The Tigers’ fifth-year senior defensive end is playing lights out. He had three more sacks Saturday in the win over Florida and leads the league with nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also had a fumble return for a touchdown two weeks ago in the win at Georgia.
South Carolina in the fourth quarter: The fourth quarter hasn’t been kind to the Gamecocks this season, and their late woes caught up to them in their 23-21 loss at Tennessee. They managed just 12 total yards in the fourth quarter against the Vols and seemed to forget that Mike Davis, the SEC’s leading rusher, was on the field.
Texas A&M’s defense: Watching the Aggies play offense is about as entertaining as it gets. But boy, you have to feel for the Aggies’ fans when that defense trots out onto the field. They’re not just bad on defense, they’re woefully bad. And holding anybody under 30 points right now is a pipe dream. Most of the problem is up front and at the linebacker positions. The Aggies are 112th nationally (out of 123 teams) in rushing defense. They're giving up 226.6 yards per game on the ground and, even worse, 5.87 yards per carry. Only five teams in the country are giving up more yards per rush -- Eastern Michigan, UTEP, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Nevada. That's not the company you want to be keeping when it comes to stopping (or not stopping) people on the ground in the SEC. The Aggies are also 104th nationally in scoring defense and are giving up 33.9 points per game. They've allowed more than 30 points in five of their seven games, and one of those came against an Arkansas team that has scored a combined 17 points in its last three contests against Alabama, South Carolina and Florida.
5dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
6dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf