SEC midseason review

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
11:20
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We’re right back where we ended the season a year ago in the SEC.

Midway through, Florida and Alabama appear poised to square off in the SEC championship game for the right to play for what would be the league’s fourth straight national championship and fifth in the last seven years.

Both the Gators and Crimson Tide are unbeaten, and they’re Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the first BCS standings that were released on Sunday.

Even though the Gators are unbeaten, they’ve had a few bumps in the road getting here. The offense is completely reliant on Tim Tebow, who suffered a concussion in the Kentucky game, but hasn’t missed any game action. Tebow has been the heart and soul of the running game, and the downfield passing game hasn’t been very consistent.
 
 Marvin Gentry/US Presswire
 Alabama’s Mark Ingram leads the SEC with 905 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.


The Crimson Tide had been much more diverse offensively until the last two games when quarterback Greg McElroy didn’t throw the ball nearly as consistently as he did in their first five games.

The constant with both teams (and the league in general) has been defense. Big surprise there, huh?

Alabama and Florida are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in total defense nationally. Tennessee (13th), South Carolina (19th), Ole Miss (23rd), Vanderbilt (24th) and LSU (35th) give the SEC seven of the top 35 defenses in the country.

Auburn was the big story the first month of the season. The Tigers started out 5-0 under first-year coach Gene Chizik, but have lost their last two games and look like they might be running on empty with a defense that is hurting for numbers.

After Alabama and Florida, it’s difficult to sort the teams out from there. They’re all pretty close.

In other words, the third best team in this league isn’t appreciably better than the ninth best team. All but three teams already have two conference losses.

The team that stands the best chance to break up what’s shaping up to be an Alabama-Florida rematch in the SEC championship game is LSU, which lost 13-3 at home to the Gators two weeks ago. But that was the Tigers’ only loss, and they still get a shot at the Crimson Tide in November.

There are sure to be some other twists and turns along the way. There always are in the SEC. Just last week, both Alabama and Florida had to fight like crazy to survive at home. And even then, the Gators got a little help from the officials.

So don’t write anything in ink just yet.

Offensive MVP: Alabama RB Mark Ingram

With Alabama’s passing game taking a turn for the worse the last two weeks, the Crimson Tide have really jumped on Ingram’s back. He obviously has wide shoulders even if he is built pretty low to the ground. The 5-foot-10, 212-pound sophomore has been a tackle-breaking machine and leads the SEC with 905 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, eight rushing and three receiving. He’s doing it all for the Tide -- running, catching and blocking -- and has also delivered several big plays.

Defensive MVP: Alabama LB Rolando McClain

Midway through, it’s one big Alabama party. McClain gets the nod over South Carolina outside linebacker Eric Norwood and Tennessee safety Eric Berry based on how versatile he’s been and his overall impact on the Alabama defense. Nick Saban says McClain is one of the smartest players he’s ever coached. He calls all the signals and makes sure everybody is where they’re supposed to be. He’s also plenty productive from his middle linebacker spot. He leads Alabama with 49 total tackles, including 6.5 for loss. Go back and look at how many game-changing plays he’s been involved in, whether it’s deflecting a pass that leads to an interception, forcing a fumble that leads to a touchdown or intercepting a pass himself. He’s the most complete middle linebacker in the country.

Biggest surprise: South Carolina

The Gamecocks (5-2, 2-2) are in position to have their best season under Steve Spurrier. There were a bunch of question marks entering the season, but quarterback Stephen Garcia has matured. The defense has overcome injuries and youth to be one of the better units in the SEC under Ellis Johnson and his staff, and even in their two losses, the Gamecocks have been right there. They played Alabama as well as anybody has this season. Now let’s see if they can finish the season, which has been a problem in Columbia.

Biggest disappointment: Ole Miss

There’s still time to make something of this season, but the Rebels’ hopes of playing in their first-ever SEC title game pretty much went down the drain before the month of September was over. They were awful offensively in their two biggest games to date, losing 16-10 to South Carolina and 22-3 to Alabama. It’s been a rough first half of the season for quarterback Jevan Snead, although he played better last week in the win over UAB. The best thing the Rebels have going for them is Tyrone Nix’s defense. They’ve been terrific on that side of the ball.

Best game: LSU at Georgia, Oct. 3

In all honesty, the game wasn’t that great until the final few minutes. But the finish was thrilling and made up for everything else. The two teams combined for three touchdowns in the final 2:53, with Charles Scott breaking loose on a 33-yard touchdown run to win it for the Tigers with 33 seconds to play. Only seconds earlier, A.J. Green had put the Bulldogs ahead 13-12 after going up and over an LSU defender to wrestle away a spectacular 16-yard touchdown catch. As fate would have it, Green was hit with a bogus 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for celebrating, a penalty the SEC later said should have never been called, and LSU’s Trindon Holliday took advantage by taking the ensuing kickoff back 40 yards to the Georgia 38 -- setting up Scott’s run. Honorable mention would go to Georgia’s 41-37 win over South Carolina on Sept. 12, Georgia’s 52-41 win over Arkansas on Sept. 19 and Florida’s 23-20 win over Arkansas on Oct. 17.

Best coach: Alabama’s Nick Saban

Chizik looked like a runaway winner here until the last two weeks. He’s still done a nice job with an Auburn team that’s really hurting for depth. Spurrier deserves a few votes, too. But Saban gets the midseason award based on the fact that nobody saw the Crimson Tide being this dominant with everything they lost last year -- two All-American offensive linemen, a three-year starter at quarterback and their captain and best safety on defense. The Tide have just reloaded, though, and are trying to become the first Alabama team since 1973 and 1974 to go unbeaten in back-to-back regular seasons. Seems like old times at the Capstone.

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