Predicting Exactly How SEC Will Play Out from This Point Forward

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 8, 2012

Saturday was a landmark day for the SEC in 2012.

Florida's 14-6 win over LSU established the Gators as a legitimate threat for the SEC and national titles, while the South Carolina Gamecocks proved to the world that they are for real with a 35-7 trouncing of Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

Now that we've separated the contenders from the pretenders, how will the SEC play out the rest of this season?


SEC West

Judging from what we saw out of LSU over the last three weeks, particularly the squeaker at Auburn and the loss at Florida, it's clear that the Tigers aren't ready for the big stage in 2012 and that the West is Alabama's to lose.

It won't lose it.

Alabama answered all of its pressing questions in the first half of the season opener vs. Michigan and hasn't looked back since throttling the Wolverines at Cowboys Stadium.

The only other reasonable competitor to the SEC West throne is LSU, but the Tigers have major issues.

Zach Mettenberger hasn't emerged as the legitimate downfield threat that he was hyped up to be, the offensive line has been a disaster due to both ineffectiveness and injuries, and we saw the front seven get physically dominated in the second half of last weekend's loss to Florida.

After taking a 7-6 lead on LSU with 5:15 to go in the third quarter, Florida didn't attempt a single pass for the rest of the game. The Gators imposed their will on LSU.

Think about that for a second—imposed their will on LSU.

If that's not an indictment of the current state of LSU's football team, I'm not sure what is.

Texas A&M and Mississippi State still have shots at making a run at the West, but neither of those teams has a signature win on the season. Texas A&M's close loss to Florida is probably the most important bullet point on either resume, but until I see more, I'm not counting either as a legitimate title threat.


SEC East

Man, this could get really confusing.

Georgia got smoked on the road at South Carolina and Florida outmanned LSU, which altered the title discussion from Georgia/South Carolina to Florida/South Carolina.

At least for this week.

But considering South Carolina has games at LSU and at Florida, and the Gators have the Gamecocks and one-loss Georgia, things could change quickly before the end of October.

Based on what we've seen so far this season, South Carolina is the better team than Florida—but that gap isn't very wide at all.

Florida ranks last in the SEC in passing offense with 158.6 yards per game—nearly 14 yards per game behind 13th-place Auburn. That's a little deceiving, though, because Mike Gillislee's impact on the Gators' running game has made such an impact that they haven't asked quarterback Jeff Driskel to do an awful lot other than to take care of the football.

Despite that, South Carolina can hurt you in so many ways. Connor Shaw has emerged as a legitimate dual-threat weapon at quarterback, running back Marcus Lattimore looks like he's close to 100 percent after tearing his ACL last fall, and that defense—particularly Jadeveon Clowney and that front seven—is relentless. Let's not forget about punt returner Ace Sanders, who is averaging 15.47 yards per punt return and has already taken one to the house.

The Gamecocks and the Gators will meet in the Swamp on Oct. 20 in a game that could decide the SEC East championship. I'll give the edge to South Carolina in that one, but I don't love the pick.


SEC Championship Game

Whether it's South Carolina or Florida out of the SEC East, either can give Alabama a major test in the Georgia Dome at the SEC championship game.

Alabama currently has the nation's top defense at 191.6 yards per game and hasn't missed a beat after losing six starters to graduation and the NFL draft last season. Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon comprise a dangerous one-two punch, and quarterback A.J. McCarron has proven to be more than just a "game manager" after throwing for 999 yards, 12 touchdowns and zero picks through five games.

I'd still give the edge to the Crimson Tide over either of those two foes, but that game will probably be much more competitive than Tide fans want.


Will the SEC Get Two Teams in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS)?

Alabama will get that automatic bid to the BCS, and the loser of the SEC championship game—I'm saying it's South Carolina as of now—will find its way to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl as an at-large.

It may not be the all-SEC BCS National Championship Game that the SEC enjoyed last season, but a one- or two-loss season and a Sugar Bowl appearance for the Gamecocks would certainly signify the next step in the building process of the South Carolina program.


Will an SEC Player Win the Heisman Trophy?

If we are talking about the Heisman Trophy in its truest definition as going to "the most outstanding player in college football," it's hard to make an argument against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Alabama center Barrett Jones or Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones.

But those aren't glamour positions, so count those players out as legitimate possibilities.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray's 11-of-31 performance on Saturday won't help him much, and even though it's patently false, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron is still viewed by the majority of the country as a "game manager."

No, the Heisman won't go to an SEC player this year. Geno Smith has it under control so far, and I don't see him losing control of it at this point.