Take one look at the SEC standings, and you'll notice that they look a little odd on the East side.
With one week to go in the regular season, Missouri is clinging to a half-game lead and can sew up the division title this weekend with a win at home over Texas A&M, Vanderbilt is cruising right along in the middle of the pack and Florida has a very crooked number in the loss column.
Is this a fluky season in the SEC East, or is this the new norm?
|Team||Conf. Rec.||Overall Rec.||Streak|
It's no fluke that Missouri is ranked No. 5 in the BCS and on the doorstep of a BCS bowl. With the exception of injuries that cost quarterback James Franklin and cornerback E.J. Gaines time in the middle of this season, the Tigers have stayed relatively healthy when compared to their East Division brethren.
But that isn't the reason this team is at the top of the division standings.
The Tigers offense is legit with Franklin at quarterback, a tall and deep wide receiving corps, a multi-dimensional running back corps, a defense that generates pressure and a secondary that capitalizes on mistakes.
Not only is this team legit this year, it's built for long-term success.
Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk filled in admirably in Franklin's stead at quarterback, tossing 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in four-plus games as the starter. Five of those touchdown passes were to sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who will be around for at least one more season and maybe two.
Barring an early departure from either Henry Josey or Marcus Murphy, the entire Missouri running back corps—which ranks second in the SEC with 238 yards per game—will be back in Columbia.
Star defensive end Michael Sam won't be around in 2014, but Shane Ray, Kony Ealy and Markus Golden likely will, which means that front four will still be able to generate pressure. Toss in sophomore linebacker Kentrell Brothers to the mix, and the Tigers defense should be just fine in the future.
Vanderbilt may be a different story, though. The Commodores have clearly stepped up to the big-boy table and are competitive within the division right now, but is it sustainable?
Head coach James Franklin is going to be mentioned for virtually every big-time job out there, and if he keeps getting Vanderbilt to bowl games—as he's done for three straight seasons for the first time in program history—some athletic director is going to back up a Brinks truck to his house in the not-too-distant future.
The Commodores will still have a solid foundation with Patton Robinette taking over at quarterback and a talented running back corps; but is losing star wide receiver Jordan Matthews and fellow wideout Jonathan Krause off an offense that's far from explosive with them.
If Franklin goes, Vanderbilt will have to hit the reset button, which could send the program back a step or two.
When the SEC split into divisions in 1992, it was "Florida and everybody else." Parity took over in the late 1990s and 2000s, as Georgia and Tennessee rose up to challenge the Gators, with South Carolina picking up where the Vols left off in 2010.
That parity will persist in the new-look SEC, with Missouri looking not only like a contender now, but one in the immediate future. If Vanderbilt is going to have staying power, it's going to need to hang on to its coach.