Florida and Alabama on a Collision Course to the SEC Championship
After Week Six, we all have a good idea of the SEC, we've all seen the surprises and the disappointments, the good and the bad, and in some cases, the ugly. Through all of this, two teams have emerged from the storm as front runners in their divisions.
In the West, we have the Alabama Crimson Tide. In the East, we have the Florida Gators.
Before Week One, many had a good idea of which teams would be going to the SEC Championship. For the SEC East, it was a no-contest. Florida simply brought back too much talent. Georgia lost their starting quarterback and starting halfback, and they took a shellacking from Florida last year anyway. There was no doubt in my mind that Florida would win the East.
What had most people confused was the situation in the West. Alabama ran the table last year, squeaking by LSU in overtime and holding on to beat Ole Miss. They survived a scare against Kentucky, and had a letdown against Tulane. Near the end of the season, they had emerged as the No. 1 team in the nation before taking a hard-fought loss to Florida and an embarrassing defeat to Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
Ole Miss opened up the 2008 season with a new coach, Houston Nutt. Houston came in to attempt to rebuild the Ole Miss team and get them back up to being a force in the SEC. He was pretty successful. Jevan Snead was an average quarterback at best during the first half of the season, throwing four interceptions in a loss to Vanderbilt. Through the second half of the season, he pulled it together and led Ole Miss to six consecutive wins, including a win over Texas Tech, proving 93 percent of college football fans wrong.
LSU opened up with a new quarterback and won four straight games, including a close call to then-overrated Auburn. Jarrett Lee struggled with bad decisions and interceptions all year. LSU took a beating against Florida, lost by 14 to Georgia, nearly knocked off No. 1 Alabama, survived a scare against Troy, lost to a momentum-fueled Ole Miss squad, and took a shot to the heart against Arkansas. In a bowl game against Georgia Tech, they came out and took care of business with a convincing win over the Yellow Jackets under QB Jordan Jefferson.
All teams posted convincing resumes.
Alabama just lost a starting QB and HB, an Outland Trophy winner and some more offensive starters. Nine players on the defense returned. We knew the defense would improve, but Alabama already had a lack of offensive firepower last year, how were they going to contend with the SEC defenses?
Jevan Snead had a very impressive run for the final half of the season last year and, after the win over Texas Tech, entered the 2009 year as a sleeper for the Heisman Trophy. Ole Miss fans were convinced that they were back. Ole Miss had finally returned, and they we're going to win the SEC Championship. We have a potential Heisman winner, right?
LSU seemed to finally find it's rhythm against Georgia Tech. Jordan Jefferson looked to be the definite starter for the Tigers this coming year, and with Charles Scott and Keiland Williams in the same backfield, they should have a rather potent rushing attack. Brandon LaFell also leads a pretty talented group of receivers. Can LSU deliver this year after a disappointing 2008 season?
Auburn, Arkansas, and Mississippi State were totally forgotten in all of this.
Six weeks into the season, not many would have seen this coming.
SEC West surprises:
Topping the list at No. 1...
AUBURN. Nobody saw this coming at all. Auburn jumps out to 5-0 right off the bat with an extremely explosive offense under Gus Malzahn, and looks to be playing some serious football this year.
Another Auburn surprise...their defense. Suddenly the defense has went downhill, and fast. Ryan Mallett had a field day out there against the Auburn D. They've got to get it together.
No. 2: Ole Miss. For a team projected by many to go to the SEC Championship ahead of Alabama and LSU, these guys just didn't deliver.
What happened? Jevan Snead happened. Ninety-three percent seemed to be wrong about how good Snead would be this year. He's thrown nine INTs and nine TDs, including three to Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt has more interceptions than they can keep track of right now against Ole Miss. Currently, Jonathan Crompton is having a better season than Jevan Snead is. How is that for a surprise? It's painfully obvious that Ole Miss' poor playing is a result of Jevan Snead.
No. 3: Alabama is back. Despite losing multiple offensive starters and a QB who led the team to a 12-0 regular season, Alabama has been rolling.
Greg McElroy has thrown ONE interception this entire year (and to his defense, he was hit from behind as he threw). He's set two completion records at Alabama this year, and we're not even halfway through the season. The Alabama offense appears to have a strong pulse this year, averaging 444 yards per game, compared to 367 last year. Mark Ingram heads a group of talented running backs while Trent Richardson takes a sick enjoyment in running over hapless defenders.
Defensively, these guys are top-notch and easily have a top-5 defense this year. Rolando McClain is one of the top three linebackers in college, and even without Dant'a Hightower they're still playing just fine.
No. 4: LSU's offense. These guys have some serious talent on offense. They've got a 1,000+ yard rusher, another formidable back, one of the fastest players in the nation, and a great group of receivers, headed by Brandon LaFell. They also have finally found a replacement for Jarrett Lee with a quarterback who shows a lot of potential.
Tell me then how these guys are last in the SEC in yards per game. The offense could have only gotten better from last season, how did it get worse?
Here's where I'd rank the teams in the SEC right now:
1. Florida —The Gators may miss Dan Mullen (now Miss. State head coach), but will still lead the division through their defense. Offensively, they have been incredible at rushing but show an obvious weakness through the air without Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy.
2. Tennessee —Lane Kiffin came in to Tennessee with the intent to create some noise... not necessarily in a good way. He called out Urban Meyer for a recruiting violation (which wasn't against the rules) and took some shots at many other coaches in the SEC. Either way, they stomped Georgia and stood up pretty nicely against Florida. By no means are they a great team this year, but they've got a pretty solid defense. Unfortunately, the offense is very mistake prone with Jonathan Crompton.
3. Georgia —The Dawgs had a disappointing 9-3 regular season finish last year, and this year, it doesn't look to be any better. The offense has had its moments, but the defense is really looking bad. I rank this Georgia squad ahead of South Carolina only because they beat them in a head-to-head game. Otherwise, SCAR would be ahead of them right now.
4. South Carolina —The Gamecocks rushed out to a 5-1 start, but don't get excited yet. They're notorious for starting well and finishing hard. Either way, they've won games. They might not be impressive games, but they've got the will to win.
5. Kentucky —Kentucky just doesn't have the team right now to contend with the upper four teams of its division. Rich Brooks had the unfortunate event of facing the No. 1 team in the country and the No. 3 team in the country in back-to-back weeks, making this team look worse than it really is. They're not ranked this low because they're bad, it's just because the other teams are better.
6. Vanderbilt —Vanderbilt had a shocker last season and became bowl-eligible for the first time since 1982. They won it too, against Boston College. Vandy is up to 2 wins right now, but have lost to some teams they definitely would have beaten last year, like Army. I don't see a reason to move these guys up until they show me something spectacular, and I don't think it's going to happen.
1. Alabama —The Crimson Tide proved many doubters wrong as they rolled on to defeat Virginia Tech and have slayed all other teams in their way, including Arkansas and Ole Miss. The offense looks to be a force this year, and good luck scoring many points on that defense.
2. LSU —LSU just doesn't look like a good team this year. They haven't done one thing to impress me on offense, despite the amount of talent there. Defense is playing pretty well, aside from the Washington game. The sole reason LSU is second up here is because of their will to win. They win games. It may not be pretty, but it's still a W in the column.
3. Arkansas —The offense is racking up numbers like a pinball machine at Fayetteville. Unfortunately, so is the defense. While the offense might be buying out the defense's problems for now, this won't be the case against teams that can shut down Arkansas' potent offense (such as Alabama).
4. Auburn —Auburn is impressive this year, and I would have them at No. 3 if they didn't lay an egg against Arkansas. These two teams are very similar, except Auburn is a little bit more extreme. The offense is ridiculously effective under Gus Malzahn, but they can't keep buying the defense out like that. If Arkansas can beat Auburn, there's no question in my mind that LSU and Alabama can too. Either way, this team is top-to-bottom better than last year. Aside from defense.
5. Ole Miss —I can't bring myself to put Ole Miss above Auburn and Arkansas until they earn it. Jevan Snead is absolutely awful, and the defense can't make up for his incredible amount of mistakes. They have played a bunch of scrubs in the non-conference, and have lost two conference games, one to an average South Carolina team. All of their wins are against mediocre teams. They've got a pretty strong defense, but that doesn't make up for the offense they've got.
6. Mississippi State —Mississippi State needs a few years to catch back up to the rest of the SEC right now. I'm liking the offense, it actually looks like it intends to score now when they get the ball. The defense is down there with the likes of Auburn, Arkansas, and Georgia, but the offense is surprisingly active. Miss. State is a much-improved team from last year.
Finally, I'm done. Questions, comments, statements? I'd love to hear them, and thanks for reading my article.
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