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South Carolina, Florida took bad losses this weekend.
In the heart of a crazy season in the SEC, Steve Spurrier joked Sunday about a universal truth.
“Somebody’s going to represent the East in Atlanta,” Spurrier said, referring to the league’s championship game Dec. 4. “They’re not going to take two from the West.”
It’s almost as if the Ball Coach was working to convince himself. And why not? The one-liner came just hours after South Carolina saw a 28–10 halftime lead swallowed whole in the following two quarters at Kentucky, further throwing the Eastern Division into upheaval. (Like that needed more help.) The 31–28 Wildcats win left the Gamecocks at 4–2, 2–2 in the league — and still leading the East. Florida and Georgia are still chasing, at 2–3.
It’s difficult to fathom that the Gators and Bulldogs will have to play perfectly in their final three SEC games to avoid .500 finishes, or worse. Both can’t get to five SEC wins, of course, since they play one another in a couple of weeks.
Bottom line: Even after one of the more disastrous losses in recent memory, South Carolina still very much controls its destiny in the East.
Then there’s the West, where five of the division’s six teams are in this week’s AP poll. The fifth and final team, Mississippi State, would probably win the East.
Wasn’t long ago, not at all, that the East held all the cards. Florida’s fall, along with Nick Saban’s rise at Alabama, has shifted the power balance. That’s not even considering that the league’s final two unbeatens, Auburn and LSU, play this week to decide who is the SEC’s best shot at a national title contender.
Hang on. We’re only halfway home.
Georgia 43, Vanderbilt 0
Auburn 65, Arkansas 43
Kentucky 31, South Carolina 28
Mississippi State 10, Florida 7
LSU 32, McNeese State 10
Alabama 23, Ole Miss 10
• Tried to warn the Gators. Mississippi State’s a tough out, and it’s difficult to even imagine how much that game meant to Dan Mullen. To go back to the Swamp and take out his mentor, wow, what a way to stoke a program that already had a fire burning, dating back to last year’s Egg Bowl. The Bulldogs have quickly become the signature program in the state, but, at this rate, how long until you’re saying that about the West?
• One more Mississippi State note: How about new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz? Trumpeted as an up-and-comer, he’s met that expectation. With what you know now, how impressive is the fact that the Bulldogs held Auburn to 17 points? And then, this past week, they limited Florida to a single touchdown on its home field. That just doesn’t happen.
• You keep presuming that Auburn’s defense is going to get it into trouble, but not if Cam Newton and the offense put up basketball scores. Sixty-five points in an SEC game? You kidding? Gus Malzahn is clearly having a blast with his toy store of options. The Tigers managed eight touchdowns and 470 total yards without having freshman back Michael Dyer at 100 percent. LSU presents a different test altogether, however.
• Things certainly didn’t work out for Marcus Lattimore’s team, but you have to give South Carolina’s super freshman a nod after he tried to take Kentucky out by himself for a half. Lattimore had 201 total yards (133 receiving, 68 rushing) and three touchdowns in the first two quarters before an ankle injury knocked him out. The Gamecocks were not the same without him. They were alarmingly bad with Lattimore on the sideline.
• File Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett in this category, as well. It’s always a shame when top-tier players can’t finish pivotal games, and you have to wonder if Arkansas could’ve kept pace at Auburn with Mallett running things. Instead, after suffering a concussion, Mallett was watching.
• South Carolina returned virtually everyone to its secondary, but it’s been a major flaw so far for the Gamecocks. Hard to figure. The team’s passing D is currently 103rd in the country, giving up 255.2 passing yards per game. Greg McElroy set a career high for yardage last week for Alabama, and then Kentucky’s Mike Hartline did the same this week. McElroy had never even had a 300-yard game before. It all has to be deeply concerning for Ellis Johnson and his staff.
• It’s not just South Carolina’s defense. Arkansas’ supposedly improved unit was shredded for those 65 Auburn points. Kentucky’s defense finally picked it up, once Lattimore was out, but it might be one of the worst tackling defenses we’ve seen in years. At least Georgia, maligned earlier in the year, is showing improvement. It was a shutout of Vanderbilt, granted, but it was UGA’s first shutout since 2006.
• As much as Mississippi State deserves the credit, what in the name of Ron Zook is going on down in Gainesville? Urban Meyer and Steve Addazio are good buddies. Everyone knows that. But can’t some behind-the-scenes maneuvering be done to take the playsheet out of Addazio’s hands? The Gators have to do something to shake things up. Mississippi State only tried one pass in the second half. It was banking on the fact that Florida wouldn’t score. And it was right.
• Kentucky registered a huge win for the school, but it was sullied Sunday by the player who caught the game-winning touchdown. Randall Cobb might have been right when he lit into fans for failing to show up (on time or at all) and being critical of the team, but you just cannot say those things. Why was Cobb more concerned about the fans than enjoying the school’s first win against Spurrier in 18 tries? It was surprising to see that from Cobb, a pretty sharp kid in addition to a terrific talent.
Stud of the Week
Cam Newton, Auburn QB. Again, let’s just put this on loop. He does it every week. After 188 rushing yards, he’ll lead the league in that category another week. Another big one coming up.
Dud of the Week
South Carolina’s DBs. Even their coaches aren’t quite sure what’s going on. Never good — especially six games in. Most of the players back there are experienced. What gives?