DEVILLE: The SEC Power Shift
Remember back in the summer when no one could stop talking about the SEC East?
by Matt Deville
Tiger Rag Senior Editor
(At left) Les Miles and the Tigers are ranked No. 3 in the AP, No. 2 in the Coaches Poll (Photo by Steve Franz/LSU)
At SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. back in July, the press couldn’t get enough of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner got his own turn at the podium usually reserved for coaches only in the grand ball room for a 45-minute Q&A with the media.
Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno was the toast of the league as his Bulldogs were picked as the preseason No. 1 team in the land. While the SEC media picked Florida to win the conference, it was virtually a toss-up between the Gators and Georgia as to who would win the conference and play USC for the national title.
And it was predicted Tebow and Moreno would duke it out for the Heisman.
Well, all of that stuff could still happen I guess. But after last weekend, another year’s worth of preseason predictions got tossed out the window.
First, there was USC.
The perennial media darling got blanked 21-0 in the first half in Corvallis and Oregon State held on to upset the No. 1 Trojans 27-21.
The Beavers dominated the line of scrimmage against 24-point favorite USC and sent the Trojans plummeting to No. 9 in this week’s poll.
USC was being touted as Pete Carroll’s greatest team ever after Southern Cal’s 35-3 rout of No. 2 Ohio State two weeks ago. But it appears to be just another Trojan team that loses games it shouldn’t against bad teams like UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State.
After the first week of the season, the Trojans jumped from third to first in the poll after thumping Virginia 52-7. UVA had gone to a bowl game last season and that was viewed as a big win for USC.
That is until Duke broke a 25-game ACC losing streak on Saturday thrashing the Cavaliers 31-3. The Blue Devils are 3-1 for the first time since 1994 when they opened 7-0.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, who was hired by current LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, has done a miraculous job in Durham in his first season. Remember when Ole Miss ran off Cutcliffe after the 2004 season when Ole Miss went 4-7, the Rebels have to be kicking themselves right?
They are dancing in the streets in Oxford after the Rebels went to Gainesville and upset No. 4 Florida 31-30 on Saturday. Coach Houston Nutt has Ole Miss on the rise in his first season after getting banished from Fayetteville.
Realizing their mistake in replacing Cutcliffe for Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss looks genius in hiring Nutt, who was ousted from Arkansas last season in a similar manner to that of Cutcliffe’s removal in Oxford.
Nutt has to be smiling widely as Arkansas is building its case as the worst team in the SEC. The Razorbacks, who lost to Alabama two weeks ago 49-14, were drilled in Austin 52-10 by Texas.
The Rebels rallied from 17-7 deficit, led 31-24 late in the game. Florida looked ready to force overtime scoring with just over four minutes left, but Ole Miss blocked the extra point, then held on to win 31-30.
But the Gators weren’t the only SEC Eastern Division power to get a rude shock on Saturday. No. 3 Georgia broke out the black jerseys and the crowd was rocking at Sanford Stadium but the Bulldogs could do nothing against Alabama. Nick Saban’s 8th-ranked Crimson Tide built a 31-0 halftime lead and went on to beat Georgia 41-30.
The stunned Bulldogs dominated the second half, but the pollsters took notice of the Tide, who bolted to third in the Coaches Poll and second in the AP.
With Clemson losing to Maryland on Saturday and completing its freefall from the top 10 to unranked in four weeks, the Bama skeptics could have been right to discount the Tide’s 34-10 win over the Tigers in the season opener.
But Saban’s Crimson Tide appears to be for real and can continue gaining momentum with three winnable games upcoming against Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas State.
Alabama then visits LSU on Nov. 8 for what should determine the SEC Western Division champion.
Speaking of the Volunteers, Tennessee has opened 1-3 with losses to UCLA, Florida and most recently Auburn last Saturday 14-12. You have to believe Phil Fulmer’s in serious trouble, especially considering the Vols travel to face an angry Georgia team in two weeks then host red-hot Alabama in four.
South Carolina is 3-2, but the Gamecocks only wins have come against NC State, Wofford (by 10) and UAB. South Carolina travels to surging Ole Miss on Oct. 4 then hosts No. 2 LSU on Oct. 18. Not a good combination for Steve Spurrier’s bunch.
The irony in detailing the woes of the SEC Eastern Division is Kentucky and Vanderbilt, usually the bottom-feeders in the division are a combined 8-0. The Commodores are 4-0, ranked No. 19 in both polls this week and upcoming games against Auburn and Miss. State look more winnable as each week passes.
Kentucky is 4-0, have yet to play an SEC game and are set to travel to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 4.
So as it stands heading into week five of the college football season, the power has shifted in the SEC from the east to the west.
Remember two weeks ago when the SEC had an unprecedented five teams ranked in the top 10. Well, in a period of seven days, LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss were responsible for knocking off three of those teams (Auburn, Georgia and Florida).
Currently, the western division has two teams ranked in the top three. However, the road begins toughening up for LSU. The Tigers open their most brutal stretch with games coming up at Florida, at South Carolina and at home against Georgia.
As stated above, Alabama gets Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas State before coming to Baton Rouge.
It’s highly unlikely either team – LSU or Alabama – makes it to the Nov. 8 matchup unscathed, especially in the wild and wacky world of college football in this day and age.
You can only imagine the buildup for that game should they both go unbeaten.
But like that game needs anymore hype than it will get anyway.
Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.