- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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We’re down to one unbeaten team in the SEC this season.
And yes, the thermostat seems to be fluctuating wildly across the league.
In fact, let’s delve a little deeper into who’s hot and who’s not.
Eastern Division race: Missouri was one fourth-and-15 stop away Saturday from all but punching its ticket to Atlanta to play in the SEC championship game. The Tigers may still get there, but it’s going to be a wild race to the finish now. What South Carolina’s 27-24 double-overtime victory against Missouri did was bring Florida and Georgia back into the equation and also give the Gamecocks perhaps the best chance of those three to emerge as the East champion. Missouri (3-1 SEC) still controls its own destiny but has four conference games remaining. The Tigers face Tennessee at home this week, travel to Kentucky the following week, travel to Ole Miss after a bye and then close the regular season at home against Texas A&M. South Carolina (4-2 SEC) faces Mississippi State at home this week and faces Florida at home after a bye. Florida (3-2 SEC) and Georgia (3-2 SEC) square off this weekend in Jacksonville, and the loser of that game can say so long to its chances of going to Atlanta. Missouri would win any two-team tie with Florida and Georgia because the Tigers beat both of those teams head-to-head. If Georgia wins in Jacksonville this weekend, the Bulldogs still have to play at Auburn on Nov. 16. Should Georgia and South Carolina both win out, and let’s say Missouri loses to Ole Miss or Texas A&M from the Western Division to create a three-way tie, Missouri would win the tiebreaker in that scenario based on a better division record. What South Carolina needs to happen, in addition to winning its last two league games, is for Georgia to lose again to either Auburn or Florida and for Missouri to lose one of its last four. The Gamecocks would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri in that scenario. Florida probably has the toughest road. The Gators would need to beat Georgia this weekend, then Vanderbilt at home and South Carolina on the road, and then hope Missouri loses two more games. Georgia is probably going to need Missouri to lose two more games as well to have a chance. If that happens, and Georgia and South Carolina finish in a two-way tie, the Bulldogs would go based on their victory over the Gamecocks the second week of the season. Looks like some high drama is ahead in the East.
Alabama safety Landon Collins: Keep your eyes on this guy because he’s going to be a star. He was always one of the most physically impressive athletes on Alabama’s roster, but we’re starting to see now why he was the top safety prospect in America when he came out of high school two years ago. His 89-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 45-10 rout of Tennessee was just a glimpse of what kind of game-changer Collins can be.
Alabama-Tennessee rivalry: It’s a rivalry steeped in tradition, and it’s a rivalry that has produced numerous memorable moments, games and players. It even has its own nickname: The Third Saturday in October. But let’s be honest, it’s been a while since it’s really been a rivalry. Alabama has now won seven in a row by an average margin of 24.9 points per game. The combined score of the last four games in this “rivalry” is a whopping 167-39, and Tennessee hasn’t scored more than 13 points in the last six meetings.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw: Maybe he’s bionic. Then again, maybe he’s just one bad dude. Either way, Shaw showed yet again what a baller he was Saturday with his courageous performance off the bench in the 27-24 double-overtime win at Missouri. He was playing on a badly sprained knee and battling flu-like symptoms entering the game, but he found a way to bring South Carolina back from a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter with three touchdown passes. There’s not a gutsier player in college football.
South Carolina running back Mike Davis: Not really known as a fumbler, the SEC’s leading rusher coughed it up twice in the first half Saturday, once at the 2-yard line. Davis, whose longest run against Missouri was 7 yards, has 930 rushing yards in his first eight games, but LSU’s Jeremy Hill is closing fast with 922 yards.
Doing it up at Mizzou: For somebody who’d never been to Mizzou for a football game, I was duly impressed. The environment was great, and the same goes for the tailgating and the people. Can't beat the cool, crisp weather, either. Just a great scene for college football, and I’m already looking forward to going back.
Kentucky’s drought: The Wildcats (1-6, 0-4 SEC) have lost 12 straight SEC games, the third-longest losing streak in school history. They’ve also lost 14 straight on the road in the SEC after dropping a 28-22 decision at Mississippi State on Thursday. But give first-year coach Mark Stoops and his staff a little credit. This team is still fighting hard, and several young players are showing promise. It says something about the Wildcats that they fought back on the road against both South Carolina and Mississippi State after falling behind early. Now it gets down to going out and bringing in more SEC-caliber talent, and Stoops has already been burning up the recruiting trail.
Finishing the deal: There’s no other way to say it: Missouri had South Carolina by the throat and somehow allowed the Gamecocks to escape. The Tigers led 17-0 going into the fourth quarter, and most of the fans at Faurot Field were already on their phones to their travel agents making reservations for Atlanta. Granted, Shaw gave the Gamecocks a huge spark off the bench, but Mizzou probably should have known what was coming. Shaw has carved the Tigers apart the last two years. He’s completed 40 of 50 passes for 450 yards and five touchdowns and has a quarterback rating of 188.6 in those two games. You can’t blame Missouri coach Gary Pinkel for trusting his defense to protect that fourth-quarter lead, but the Tigers also got a little conservative offensively. They didn’t test South Carolina down the field much at all in the fourth quarter, and the Gamecocks have been vulnerable in their secondary. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk was just 2-of-6 passing for 26 yards in the fourth quarter and two overtime periods. Andrew Baggett’s missed 24-yard field goal attempt to tie it in the second overtime will be what most people remember about this game -- that left upright shimmying in the dreaded north end zone after the kick bounced off no good. But it never should have come to that point. When you get a team down by 17 points at your place heading into the fourth quarter, with so much at stake, you have to put them away.
2dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough
2dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf