Friday, October 25, 2013
The SEC is showing more strength in 2013
By Edward Aschoff
In the SEC, last weekend ended with a bang, not a whimper.
Before we tucked college football in and kissed it goodnight on Saturday, the SEC watched as five of its ranked teams fell by the sword of their own conference mates.
Ole Miss is just one of several teams who celebrated upsets last weekend and showed the SEC is much deeper than it's been given credit for recently.
In the last year of the BCS era, the SEC finally is devouring itself and could knock itself out of the BCS title game for the first time since 2005. After spending the past year hearing people outside the conference call the SEC top-heavy, Saturday showed that maybe there's a little more strength from top to bottom in 2013 than people expected.
"If you watch how these games go, you have to play every week," LSU coach Les Miles said.
"I'm just letting you know that you better be ready to play."
Miles knows all too well the feeling of being upset on any given Saturday. He watched as his sixth-ranked Tigers fell 27-24 Saturday to an Ole Miss team riding a three-game losing streak. LSU was fresh off of a 17-6 win over Florida and was once again being viewed as both an SEC contender and BCS title contender.
Now, the Tigers' BCS and SEC chances are distant memories, as the Rebels bounced back to post their fourth win of the season.
Just before the Tigers fell victim in Oxford, No. 7 Texas A&M lost to 24th-ranked Auburn, while No. 11 South Carolina and No. 15 Georgia lost on the road to Tennessee and Vanderbilt, respectively. That marked four major upsets, and ended title hopes for LSU and A&M. It also paved the way for teams perceived to be either middle-of-the-road types or bottom feeders to flex their muscles.
Heading into the weekend, six SEC teams are listed in the BCS standings, and 12 of the SEC's 14 teams have four wins or more, including Auburn (6-1) and Tennessee (4-3), which have new head coaches. Nine of them have at least two conference wins. Ten teams are also averaging more than 400 yards and 30 points per game this year.
While injuries have certainly played a part in top teams falling, you can't dismiss the fact that programs such as Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee, who combined to go 15-22 last year, are getting better each week and could all make bowl games.
"It speaks to the very good coaching, very good programs, that we have from top to bottom in this league that everybody you play has the capabilities of beating you because of the quality of players as well as the quality of the coaching and programs that we have in this league," Alabama coach Nick Saban told members of the media earlier this week.
Alabama is still the cream of the conference, sitting undefeated (7-0, 4-0 SEC) and No. 1 in the BCS standings. However, an end-of-the-season date with No. 11 Auburn on the Plains could decide the Tide's postseason fate.
Then there's Missouri. The Tigers literally limped through a 5-7 SEC debut last season, only to start this year 7-0 (3-0 SEC) and rise to No. 5 in the BCS standings after a 36-17 win over Florida. A week earlier, the Tigers upset Georgia in Athens 41-26. A win over South Carolina this week, and the Tigers essentially will clinch the SEC Eastern Division.
The perceived heavyweights are learning that the assumed off weeks in this league are dwindling. It's a case of a little changing of the guard in the SEC, and that's not a bad thing. The usual top teams have owned this conference, as only four teams -- Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU -- have been a part of the league's seven straight national championships. Now, the bottom and middle are fighting back.
Mizzou has a legitimate shot at a national championship berth, while Auburn is ranked 11th in the BCS standings. Tennessee is two wins away from a bowl game for the first time since 2010, Ole Miss is building off last year's seven-win season, and Vandy could make three straight bowl trips for the first time.
It doesn't look like this parity will end anytime soon, either. Excellent recruiting jobs by Auburn, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt should have them even better in the future. Also, who knows what will happen if Mark Stoops' solid 2014 class (No. 16 by ESPN RecruitingNation) at Kentucky pans out? The Wildcats could have plenty of help on the way, which could make them competitive again in the SEC East.
And those nagging injuries plaguing Florida and Georgia shouldn't be around next year, meaning the conference could be even stronger ... just in time for the College Football Playoff.
"I feel like the SEC is the best conference in college football," Auburn running back Tre Mason said.
"A lot of crazy things are happening."
Expect that craziness to continue this year and beyond.