LITTLE ROCK — One month into college football, there is nothing to suggest the power structure is shifting in the SEC.
Although no team is better than 2-0 in league play, a _September snapshot of both divisions has that rich-get-richer look. That would be Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M in the Western Division and Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina on the other side.
In effect, the other four teams in each division are reduced to pool play with New Year’s Eve in Atlanta or New Year’s Day in Florida in store for a team that is 3-0 in Pool A or B.
For Arkansas, the round-robin does not begin until November when the Razorbacks play Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State during a four-week stretch. Coach Bret Bielema’s task is to get the Razorbacks through October and have them maintain the enthusiasm they displayed against Texas A&M last week.
I am on board with the first half of his post-game quote, "I can tell you this, this team is going forward" and reserved about the second half, "… and it’s going to continue going forward."
The Razorbacks will be underdogs in each of their next three games and, if they lose all three, the resiliency they displayed at 7-17, 10-24, 20-31, and 27-38 against the Aggies will be tested. In that scenario, team leaders will be on the spot to sell their cohorts on laying a foundation for 2014 and beyond. On a five-game losing streak, that can be difficult.
At this point, Alabama and LSU are the teams to beat in the West and A&M appears capable of outscoring any opponent, just as the Aggies did in Fayetteville, because of the freakish skills of Johnny Manziel.
In the Eastern Division, both Florida and Georgia are 2-0 and on a collision course for Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla. South Carolina is No. 3 at the worst.
Last year, each of those six was 6-2 or better in the SEC and none of them lost to any team outside of the elite. At 5-3, Vanderbilt was the only other team to top .500 in the league and the Commodores accomplished that by beating three league teams with a combined 5-19 record by a total of nine points.
During September, Arkansas, and many of the others in the second tier had opportunities to change perceptions of their place in the SEC and failed.
Ultimately, the Razorbacks could not stop A&M’s running game. Ignoring the pass, the Aggies had touchdown drives of 68 and 57 yards in the second half in the 12-point victory. Effective much of the game, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen was 2-of-10 in the fourth quarter, including four misses from the A&M 16 midway through the fourth quarter.
Ole Miss and Kentucky also took shots at the big boys during the weekend. Averaging 38 points and 490 yards per game through three games, the Rebels netted 205 yards against Alabama, including 46 on 25 running plays. They failed to convert on fourth down a few times and wound up with a goose egg.
Kentucky’s 173 yards against Florida included 25 on a fake field goal for the Wildcats’ only score in a 17-point loss. Playing in place of Jeff Driskel, seldom-used Tyler Murphy threw for 156 yards for the Gators and will take the snaps against Arkansas on Saturday.
Earlier in the month:
—Auburn trailed LSU 21-0 and 35-14 and only a late touchdown made it respectable. Auburn made 437 yards, but gave up 456.
—Tennessee managed only 220 yards against Florida and scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make the final 31-17.
—Vanderbilt trailed South Carolina 35-10 entering the fourth quarter and lost by 10. The Commodores made 268 yards and gave up 579.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.