We termed this past weekend, “Separation Saturday in the SEC” and now we’re left to sort it out. The weekend’s games certainly rearranged the conference order. And it also threw out all conventional wisdom.
Coming out of SEC Media Days this summer, Auburn and LSU were considered the class of the conference. Now both will need a lot of luck to even make it out of their division and to Atlanta. Why do we always put so much faith in those preseason publications?
So who is the best team in the conference? Who has gotten better as the season has progressed? Each week is fluid but right now you have to look at these teams as the one’s who have the best chance to emerge champions…
- Florida - The Gators have been a surprise to many so far. Sure they were a preseason top 10, but most people I talked with really thought Urban Meyer’s group was overrated – me included. Florida’s defense is improving each week and now is among the best in the country. Chris Leak continues to win despite the lack of support from his fans. Give Meyer credit for finding a way to use heralded freshman quarterback Tim Tebow. We talk about chemistry being a key to success. Right now, Florida has it.
- Tennessee - Much to the chagrin of our neighbors in North Alabama, Phil Fulmer has turned his program around. Give him credit for righting the ship and bringing in David Cutcliffe to get the offense rolling again. Eric Ainge is emerging as a top-tier SEC quarterback.
- Arkansas - It’s hard to believe isn’t it? After being humiliated by Southern Cal in week one, Arkansas has steadily improved and avoided losses from mediocre teams like Alabama and Vanderbilt. I’m not sure if they are for real or not. But they made believers out of me on Saturday. Until they lose, you have to put them here.
- Auburn - Until Tommy Tuberville can learn to beat teams that play smash-mouth football, it’s going to be hard to contend for a national championship. This year’s talented group has yet to establish an identity on either side of the ball. Unfortunately, they gotten steadily worse since the LSU win. We’ll know a lot more about this team late Saturday.
- Georgia - Going into the Tennessee game, Mark Richt knew he had quarterback problems. What he didn’t know is that his defense was a house of cards. Richt is generating more questions each week than answers. They have yet to find a quarterback and with the Florida game in a few weeks, things will probably get worse. I have a lot of respect for Richt. There’s no doubt he’s among the best in the country. Don’t count the Dawgs out yet.
- LSU - Never in a million years would I have dreamed that Florida would dismantle LSU the way they did in the Swamp last Saturday. Going into the game, I was convinced they had the best defense in the country. Like Auburn, they are reeling now and must circle the wagons to save the season. We’ll know more about Les Miles, the coach, after this season.
- Alabama - Sure Alabama’s talent level is not quite back yet, but with coaching like they have, does it really matter? How does a team struggle against Hawaii and Vanderbilt and then nearly beat Arkansas in Fayetteville? How does a team whip Florida for three quarters in the Swamp and then trail Duke at halftime? The answer is coaching. Let’s face it, the Alabama players deserve better than Mike Shula. OK, maybe not, but you get my point.
- South Carolina - Do you get the feeling that Steve Spurrier is going to win an SEC Championship in the next five years? I do. Comparing this year’s team to the one a year ago, is like comparing Tuberville to Doug Barfield. Spurrier will get enough recruits to win. He may not do it consistently, but he’ll eventually get his SEC title.
As for the remaining four league teams, well who really cares? The biggest question among this group is who’s not returning as head coach next season.
This is the way it stands as of today in the SEC. However, it could and probably will all change again this Saturday. After all, that’s what makes the SEC the best in the land.