@Mike007 That statement is absolutely ridiculous! You think Mizzou joined the SEC so they'd have a BETTER shot at winning conference titles!? Joining the SEC had nothing to do with Mizzou's records against Big 12 competition. Who wouldn't leave the Big 12 for the SEC? It's a MAJOR confernce upgrade.
Time to put the wraps on a wild weekend that seriously damaged the SEC’s national championship hopes, gave fodder to all those people suffering from SEC fatigue, and was ruled by the up-and-comers and whippersnappers.
We’ll take it game by game and then toss in some other tidbits and observations below. Without further delay, your SEC Weekend Wrap…
Vanderbilt 31, Georgia 27
The wheels — and in this case they’re ambulance wheels — have officially come off for the 2013 Georgia Bulldogs. Once an offensive juggernaut, Aaron Murray and his rebuilt receiving crew could muster just 114 yards through the air against Vanderbilt’s improving pass defense. Add in another 107 yards and a team that once hung 500+ on Clemson and South Carolina totaled 221 measly yards in Nashville. So much for the Dawgs and their injuries. Credit needs to be given to Vandy coach James Franklin. His squad had gotten off to a disappointing 0-3 start in league play and a loss to the Bulldogs would have likely made bowl eligibility a real challenge. But the third-year coach kept his team focused despite those early losses, he rolled out a spectacular holder-hands-it-to-the-kicker fake field that went for six, and he pulled off the win with backup quarterback Patton Robinette subbing for injured starter Austyn Carta-Samuels. Big, big, and big. So while Mark Richt fights to keep his battered troops together, Franklin will be readying his for back-to-back road trips to Texas A&M and Florida. Suddenly, Aggie and Gator fans have a reason to take Vandy seriously. Kudos to Franklin.
Tennessee 23, South Carolina 21
Talk about much-needed victories. Tennessee entered the game having lost 19 in a row against ranked teams dating back to a 2009 Lane Kiffin-led upset of South Carolina. Saturday, Butch Jones grabbed the so-called “signature win” that folks have been jabbering about all season… and he got it against the same Carolina program. Tennessee’s defense and running game have improved over the past two weeks in an overtime loss to Georgia and then against USC. Unfortunately, the Vols’ next three dates are at Alabama, at Missouri and at home against surging Auburn. Forget all that. UT and Jones — already boasting a top five recruiting class — put forth some tangible evidence that the Volunteer program is at least pointed in the right direction again. Carolina, on the other hand, went from the penthouse to the outhouse in a single afternoon. Perhaps proving just how hard it is to survive in back-to-back SEC road games, the Gamecocks entered Knoxville after a 52-7 rout at Arkansas. Their offense was clicking (or clucking, as the case may be). But Steve Spurrier decided not to rely on the run game and once again attempted to fling the football all over Neyland Stadium. Connor Shaw — who would leave the game with a knee injury — was just 7-of-21 for 161 yards against UT. Carolina never found its rhythm and the Ol’ Ball Coach became the first opposing coach to lose seven times on Shields-Watkins Field. With Shaw hurt, Dylan Thompson will have to lead USC to victory at Missouri in yet another road game. Good thing Jadeveon Clowney has suddenly come to life. After a solid game at Arkansas, the star defensive end once again was allowed to make a few highlight reel plays when Tennessee made the bewildering decision to go in his direction in the first half. Carolina will need Clowney and the D to step up as the offense deals with Shaw’s injury. (Oh, and Spurrier needs to give the dang ball to Mike Davis 30 times a game, too.)
Missouri 36, Florida 17
“How ya like me now?” That’s got to be the mood from the Show-Me-State as Mizzou continues to show doubtful SEC fans that, yes, they are ready to compete with the big boys of Dixie. Not impressed with the Tigers’ James Franklin-led victory between the hedges at Georgia last week? Then howzabout a blowout win over Florida’s defense led by Franklin’s understudy, first-time starter Maty Mauk? The Gators brought the SEC’s top-ranked defense to Columbia on Saturday and the Tigers smoked ‘em for 500 yards including 205 on the ground. Yes, Will Muschamp’s defense has withered due to injury, but 500 yards? No one but the hopingest hopeful in the Missouri fan base saw that one coming. Florida, meanwhile, is reeling. Until Saturday, their defense had carried them. Offensively, the Gators haven’t had a truly dynamic offense since Tim Tebow was playing quarterback. Saturday might have been that unit’s nadir — a 151-yard performance on 60 plays (a 2.5 yards-per-play average). They managed just 59 rushing yards on 31 carries (1.9 yards per rush). If the defense has finally crossed over the River Styx due to injury, too, Gator fans might be in for a free fall in November. And as we wrote earlier today, that could make things awfully tough for the coach and AD Jeremy Foley.
Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41
Tiger quarterback Nick Marshall earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his spectacular game in College Station. Marshall — who had been more of a run-first quarterback for much of the season — threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns against the Aggies. He posted another 100 yards on the ground with two more rushing touchdowns. A&M’s Johnny Manziel put up better numbers (454 yards passing with four TDs and a fifth one via the rush), but he suffered an undisclosed injury to his right shoulder and was banged around all day. The Aggies’ defense and Manziel interceptions once again proved to be the difference, just as they were against Alabama. It wasn’t so long ago that many A&M fans were taking this site to task for daring to suggest that anyone in the SEC — aside from Alabama — could hand Manziel and Kevin Sumlin a loss. Well, welcome to the SEC. One day you’re up and the next your down. And while a matchup might look easy on paper in August, come October on real turf things tend to be a bit more tricky. That’s not to say A&M doesn’t have a tremendous offense, but the odds-on favorite to win the league at this point (Bama) is still built defense-first. As for Auburn, Gus Malzahn has quickly molded his team into a West Division contender. Most expected him to have the best start of the four new SEC coaches — he inherited the most talent — but few outside of the Plains would have thought he’d have the Tigers at 6-1 and ranked #11 in the BCS standings. AU’s quick rise suggests that Malzahn deserves some more of the credit for the Tigers’ BCS title in 2010. He doesn’t have Cam Newton, but his offense is still piling up the yards.
Ole Miss 27, LSU 24
One team was coming off a resume-building, slugfest win over Florida. The other was limping back home after three consecutive losses and an injury list that would stretch from Tishomingo to Vicksburg. Who won? The team running at half-strength, of course. Last season, the SEC’s elite dominated the SEC’s peasants. The league’s top six programs didn’t lose a game to the bottom eight. Ole Miss’ last-minute victory over LSU was just one example of the SEC’s balance in 2013. Bo Wallace deserves a lot of the credit for this Rebel victory. A year ago, he matched TD passes with INTs. On Saturday he completed 30-of-39 passes for 346 yards and nary a pick. His counterpart, Zach Mettenberger, came in with more hype, but he pitched three interceptions. Against a defense that’s been gutted by injuries, Cam Cameron’s once tip-top offense managed only 388 yards (compared to Mississippi’s 525). The loss closes the door on LSU’s national title hopes, but the Tigers can still play spoiler when they face Alabama in a couple of weeks. For Ole Miss, the mood in Oxford has flip-flopped. A week prior Hugh Freeze argued with an angry fan as he left the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Saturday night he exited to the raucous cheers of an elated fanbase. And rightly so. Even more impressive than his Xs and Os management was Freeze’s ability to convince his decimated troops — perhaps the most rag-tag bunch of Rebels in the state of Mississippi since 1865 — that they could win this ballgame despite their injuries and LSU’s accolades. Two big thumbs up to the second-year coach.
Alabama 52, Arkansas 0
There was a time when Bret Bielema wanted nothing to do with the SEC. After losing to Florida, South Carolina and Alabama by a combined score of 134-17, his feelings probably haven’t changed. A surprising 3-0 start and smashmouth rushing attack has given way to a five-game losing streak. Against Alabama, neither Alex Collins (77 yards) nor Jonathan Williams (48 yards) broke the century mark. Ditto quarterback Brandon Allen who completed seven-of-25 passes for just 91 yards and two picks while being terrorized by Kirby Smart’s defense. Bielema has a bye week to try and heal his team’s wounds and rebuild its psyche. If the Hogs decided to throw in the towel on this season, their next game against Auburn could be another ugly one. Alabama, on the other hand, is looking more like last year’s BCS title-winning squad with each passing week. Over their last five games, Bama has won by an average score of 40-3. In six games against opponents not named “Texas A&M” they have allowed just 26 points. In six frickin’ games. Next week the Tide will host long-time rival Tennessee. The Volunteers don’t have the talent on paper to compete with Bama. Heck, only a couple of schools in the country appear to have that much talent. But Alabama faces a test from LSU the following week. Nick Saban’s teams aren’t the kind to get caught looking ahead, but after this past week in the SEC… you never know.
Missouri Proving Its Worth
The Tigers are sitting pretty at 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC. They currently hold a two-game advantage in the loss column over South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. So, yes, Missouri might actually reach the SEC Championship Game before Texas A&M after all. Entering the 2012 season, Mizzou was seen as a darkhorse in the weaker East Division while A&M was expected to struggle in the much tougher West. But A&M had a fella named Manziel and Mizzou had a rash of injuries that Georgia, Florida and Ole Miss fans can now relate to. Those SEC fans who scoffed at the Tigers’ entry into their conference felt that Mizzou’s inferiority was proven during their 5-7 2012 campaign. Wrong. In a year and a half MU has already beaten every East Division rival except for South Carolina… and they get their shot at the Gamecocks this week. After Carolina, Missouri hosts Tennessee, then travels to Kentucky and Ole Miss and ends the season with a visit from A&M. There are some dangerous game in that bunch to be sure. Losses could be on the horizon. But regardless of Mizzou’s finish, Gary Pinkel has proven that he’s the man to lead the Tiger program into the future. And his Tigers have already proven that — like A&M — they absolutely belong in the SEC.
BCS Outlook Not To Positive For The SEC
Upset Saturday might have been fun in October, but it could prove painful in January. At the moment, only two SEC squads look to have legitimate BCS title hopes — undefeated Alabama and undefeated Missouri. Auburn has a loss and is currently #11 in the BCS standings. The Tigers would need to win out and get a lot of help elsewhere to jump the Florida States, Oregons, and Ohio States of the world. While Mizzou has had a tremendous start to the season, it’s hard to project them going undefeated. That leaves Alabama as the SEC’s best hope for a BCS title game bid and if Saban’s gang stumbles as it did last year against Texas A&M there may not be a way to recover. It’s early. Very early. Things can change quickly and it’s possible everyone winds up with a loss. If that happens, then clearly the SEC’s BCS odds will improve. But looking at the standings after Saturday’s visit from mayhem, the SEC doesn’t have an easy road to winning BCS crown #8 in a row.
One Week At A Time
With SEC teams once again beating each other up, it’s time to bring out an old adage. Fans, your SEC teams need to take things one week at a time. Fans and media like to take big picture views of things. “Well, this team’s defense looked good for three weeks, but then look what happened on Saturday, and I don’t think they’re really all that if you think about it.” Etc, etc. The reality is that we all need to just watch this roller-coaster on a week-by-week basis. And that means teams don’t have to be the best team for 12 weeks of regular-season play. Teams need only be better than their opponent this week. And then they need to be better than their next opponent the next week. There was nothing on paper that suggested a wounded Ole Miss team could slay an LSU team that appeared to be on a roll. There was nothing on paper to suggest that a Missouri team with a backup quarterback could run roughshod over what had been a strong Florida defense. There was certainly nothing on paper that suggested Tennessee had the talent to go toe-to-toe with South Carolina, one of the league’s hottest teams. But those teams were better than their foes for one game. Sixty minutes. Coaches talk about one game at a time, one week at a time and we all tune it out. We’re more interested in the big picture. Which is why Saturdays like October 19th, 2013 take us by jawdropping surprise.
SEC Defenses Not As Good And That’s Why America Is Catching Up
The SEC’s defenses are not as dominant in 2013 as they’ve been in recent years. Youth, injuries, early NFL departures… blame it on whatever you like, the SEC is just not as sound — aside from Alabama — on the defensive side of the ball this year. Thus the out-of-conference losses and wacky weekend we just viewed. America is catching up this year — repeat: this year — because what’s set the SEC apart isn’t setting the SEC apart this season.
Having said that, anyone pointing to Saturday as proof the SEC’s downfall is reaching. Last year the SEC was dinged for being a top-heavy league when the haves pretty much owned the have-nots. Fast forward a year, the weaklings rise up for a week, and suddenly the SEC is being dinged for its parity. Obviously, some folks want to rip the SEC so badly that they’ll use conflicting arguments depending on the day. The rest of the country is catching up with the SEC this year, but that doesn’t mean the SEC is a bad football conference.