SEC East Title Up For Grabs Heading Into Week 8

J. PreissContributor IOctober 18, 2010

More than halfway through the 2010 season, the SEC East resembles the Wild West. The natural order of things has gone by the wayside, and no one team is in charge.

Since the SEC championship was created in 1992, no East Division champion has ever entered the title game with three losses. That record could be broken this year.

Florida lost control of a division they have dominated for more than a decade.

Consistent contenders like Georgia and Tennessee are struggling through varying degrees of chaos.

South Carolina and Kentucky have winning records but a history of inconsistency.

Only Vandy is keeping with tradition as the division’s perennial underdog.

Here’s how the teams stack up heading into Week 8.

Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC)

Urban Meyer looked shell-shocked following the Gators' loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. It was their third in a row, and the longest regular season losing streak since 1988.

Although Florida won its first three games, they did so in unconvincing style. Their uninspired play leaves you to wonder if Tim Tebow packed the heart and soul of the offense in his suitcase when he left for Denver. Without him, they are a schizophrenic mess of play calls and revolving quarterbacks.

Not surprisingly, the Gators sit at No. 91 in the nation in total offense.*

Starting QB John Brantley simply doesn’t fit Meyer’s traditional offensive scheme. Freshmen back-up Trey Burton, who does, is stretched too thinly across the spread offense. Coordinator Steve Addazio has stuck him all over the field—at quarterback, tight end, fullback, receiver and special teams. Lack of a permanent assignment forces Burton to be a jack of all trades and master of none.

Seven weeks into the season, Meyer and Addazio can’t seem to make up their minds about who should steer the ship. Their lack of commitment is reflected in the team’s performance. Without clear direction, the Gators are left to stumble around the field searching for an identity.

Florida gets a much needed bye this weekend, giving them time to regroup before facing Georgia in Jacksonville. They wrap up their SEC schedule playing Vandy in Nashville and South Carolina at home.

Georgia (3-4, 2-3 SEC)

Georgia pulled itself out of a frightening freefall with two huge back-to-back wins. Sure, they did it against teams that aren’t very good, but they stopped the bleeding.

Most of the Dawgs’ troubles this season were self-inflicted. A lack of discipline on and off the field, predictable play-calls and a new defensive scheme took their toll. 

Yet despite their worst start since 1993, Georgia now has reason to believe they will weather the storm.

QB Aaron Murray continues to impress and improve with 1,653 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions on the season. In the SEC East, only Kentucky’s senior quarterback Mike Hartley has more passing yards.

Wide receiver A.J. Green, back from a four-game suspension, keeps adding to his highlight reel with stunning displays of agility, speed and super-human snatches in the end zone. Other playmakers like Kris Durham and Tavarres King have emerged to give Murray more options when Green is covered up.

Georgia’s running game has improved in spite of the antics of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, who have suffered fumbles, bad attitudes and game suspensions.

Much credit for Georgia’s improved offense goes to the line. At long last, they have settled into a rhythm since shifting around positions after the ridiculous loss to Colorado.  

The defense finally seems to understand their new assignments under Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme. They delivered a shutout against Vanderbilt, holding them to 140 yards of offense and only one third-down conversion. The week before, they held Tennessee to 269 yards of offense and only nine on the ground.

The Dawgs “D” is currently ranked No. 14 in the nation in total defense. Versus SEC teams, only LSU and Alabama rank higher.

Georgia has three remaining SEC games—all on the road—versus Kentucky, Florida and Auburn.  

Kentucky (4-3, 1-3 SEC)

After three consecutive losses, the Wildcats pulled off an impressive come-from-behind win against the Gamecocks on Saturday finishing 31-28. It was their first victory over South Carolina in 10 attempts and their first win ever versus a Spurrier-coached team.

QB Mike Hartline put together the best game of his career, throwing for 349 yards and four touchdowns. He is ranked No. 11 in the nation in passing yards and is second only to Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett in the SEC. 

Kentucky’s top rusher, Derrick Locke, has 574 yards this season, despite sitting out the South Carolina game with a shoulder injury. That’s more than Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram and South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore.

The Wildcats’ receiving duo of Chris Matthews and Randall Cobb has been consistently good. Matthews is ranked No. 50 in the nation in receiving yards, and Cobb is No. 31 in receptions.

Kentucky’s defense has faltered against the run. They rank No. 87 in the nation in rushing defense. That can hurt them against upcoming opponent Mississippi State, which is No. 21 in rushing yards.

The defense is much better protecting against the pass and come in at No. 29.

The Wildcats have three remaining SEC games, including Mississippi State and Tennessee on the road and Vandy at home.

South Carolina (4-2, 2-2 SEC)

South Carolina went from the highest highs to the lowest lows in the space of a week. After knocking off No. 1 Alabama, they traveled to Lexington for a date with Kentucky.

The Gamecocks led the entire game. With 1:15 left on the clock, the Wildcats scored a touchdown followed by a two-point conversion to secure the win.

The defense may have faltered in the waning minutes, but South Carolina’s offense was shut-out by Kentucky in the second half. Not coincidently, running back Marcus Lattimore suffered an ankle injury early in the third quarter and spent the remainder of the game with his foot on ice watching his team unravel.

Lattimore scored three of the Gamecocks’ four touchdowns and accounted for the majority of the team’s offense. He accumulated more than double the receiving yards of leading wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who posted his lowest stats of the season.

QB Stephen Garcia is ranked No. 5 in the nation in passing efficiency. It appeared his sometimes strained relationship with fans and coach Steve Spurrier was a thing of the past. He may have reopened old wounds in Kentucky.

Despite throwing for 382 yards and two touchdowns, Garcia gave up two interceptions, including a game-ending one in the end zone with four seconds left on the clock.  

Steve Spurrier was seething on the sidelines in Commonwealth Stadium for much of the fourth quarter. Following the game he said, "We can't put a team away. We just can't do it. I don't know why. We just can't do it."

The road to the championship game in Atlanta doesn’t get any easier for the Gamecocks who have four SEC games ahead of them. They meet meet Vandy and Florida on the road and Tennessee and Arkansas at home.

Tennessee (2-4, O-3 SEC)

Most of the Vols' problems this year have been involuntary. They had to break in their second new coach in two years and piece together one of the youngest teams in the country.

Tennessee's roster is loaded with new faces. They have 52 freshmen, 26 sophomores, 25 juniors and 20 seniors. Fifteen true freshmen have suited up this season, the third highest number among Division I-A teams.  

Lack of depth is especially evident on the offense where the Vols returned only four starters. Matt Simms got the nod at quarterback after Jonathan Crompton left for the NFL and backup Nick Stephens transferred. Simms has a 57.1 percent completion ratio and 1,136 yards on the season.

The offensive line is a patchwork of mostly inexperienced players. Center Cody Pope had three starts last year and moved to the center position at the end of the season. No starters return to the offensive tackle position.

The Vols have a true freshman, a redshirt freshman and a sophomore at guard. Senior Jarrod Shaw had three starts last year at left tackle and saw time in eight games with stints at guard.

With so much youth on the line, it’s not shocking that Tennessee’s offense has struggled mightily. They have only converted on 11 of 58 third-down attempts, which ranks them No. 119 of 120 teams in the nation.

Given the challenges at offense, the defense's No. 78 ranking seems not so bad. They too are inexperienced, returning only six starters. The most tenure comes at defensive end and cornerback positions. Sophomore Janzen Jackson filled the vacancy left by Tennessee’s highly-decorated safety Eric Berry.

The Vols face a steep and rocky climb up from their 2-4 record. They have five remaining SEC games, including Alabama, Ole Miss and Kentucky at home and South Carolina and Vandy on the road.

Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-2 SEC)

The Commodores season is likely sunk following a shutout in Athens. They will try to avoid a repeat of last year's 2-10 record, which included eight straight losses.

Vandy’s interim coach Robbie Caldwell has had his hands full since taking over in mid-July after former coach Bobby Johnson unexpectedly called it quits.

The offense has scored just 65 points this season and is ranked No. 102 in nation in total offense. QB Larry Smith has only thrown for 863 yards. Leading rushers Warren Norman and Zac Stacy have combined for 630 yards on the ground.

The defense, which ranks No. 75, has fared slightly better, but not much.

They have been more successful protecting against the pass than the run. Credit for pass protection goes largely to cornerback Casey Hayward, who leads the SEC in interceptions and has picked one off in four consecutive games.

Vandy plays South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee at home and Kentucky and Wake Forest on the road.


Comment below to weigh in on your team's chances in the SEC East.

* Source for all ranking stats, USA Today


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