- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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We have a much clearer picture in the Eastern Division race, but the Western Division race looks like it will go down to the final weekend of the regular season.
Here’s a look at what all we learned in the SEC in Week 9:
1. Score-a-thons suit Auburn: By now, it’s been pretty well established that Auburn isn’t your typical SEC team. The Tigers aren’t going to play suffocating defense, keep the score down and win it with a controlled running game. They prefer the Xbox version of football. They score fast, score from long distance and don’t flinch if the other team scores a touchdown or two early. Sure, they make timely stops on defense, but this is a team that feels right at home playing in the 30s, 40s or even the 50s. They motored past Ole Miss 51-31 on Saturday and rolled up 572 yards of total offense, the fifth time they’ve surpassed the 500-yard mark this season. Cam Newton makes that offense go, no question. But he has a talented supporting cast. Freshman tailback Mike Dyer really looks fresh running the ball right now. The Tigers haven’t had to lean on him this season for a lot of carries, and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said you’ll see a lot more of Dyer as we head to November.
2. Gamecocks versus Gators: The East race has essentially come down to the Nov. 13 game in the Swamp between Florida and South Carolina. Georgia is out of the picture after losing 34-31 in overtime Saturday to Florida. The only way the Florida-South Carolina game would not determine the East champion would be if the Gators lost next week to Vanderbilt. That isn’t going to happen. Arkansas plays at South Carolina next week, but that game has no bearing on the East race provided Florida takes care of its business and beats Vanderbilt. If that’s the case, South Carolina could lose to Arkansas and beat Florida and still go to Atlanta as the East representative. The bottom line: The Head Ball Coach is going to have to win in his old stomping grounds if the Gamecocks are going to play in their first-ever SEC championship game.
3. How the West was won: If the Tigers win out they not only win the Western Division but they will be in Glendale, Ariz., playing for college football’s top prize. They don’t need any help. Alabama and LSU would both need some help, although Michigan State and Missouri both losing Saturday opens up the door even wider for the SEC. Alabama and LSU play what amounts to an elimination game this coming Saturday in Baton Rouge. LSU would need to win that game and its final two SEC games against Ole Miss and Arkansas and then have Auburn lose to both Georgia and Alabama to win the West. Auburn owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over LSU. Alabama needs to defeat LSU and Mississippi State, and the Auburn game on Nov. 26 would determine the West champion and potentially move the Crimson Tide up in the BCS standings.
4. Shoddy pass defense: The Gamecocks’ pass defense has vanished. They suddenly can’t stop anybody from throwing the football after letting Tennessee carve them apart through the air. South Carolina was 104th nationally in passing yards allowed (252.4 yards per game) going into Saturday’s 38-24 win over Tennessee. The problem is that the Vols certainly weren’t one of the league’s best passing teams, and they still managed to exploit South Carolina’s defense. Right now, the Gamecocks simply aren’t covering anybody. Steve Spurrier had even been spending a lot more of his time with the defense during practice after handing off the offensive play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus and others in what he said would be a “community” effort the rest of the way.
5. Florida owns Georgia: There’s no other way to say it. The Gators have won 18 of the past 21 meetings after prevailing 34-31 in overtime on Saturday in Jacksonville. Georgia was the hot team coming into the game. Florida was reeling after losing three in a row. The Gators were having all sorts of problems offensively, and the Bulldogs seemed to be finding themselves. Well, that all changed when it mattered for four hours on Saturday. Florida quarterback John Brantley and his mates were the ones delivering in the clutch, and the Gators showed a lot of pride as a program in holding the Bulldogs off and remaining alive in the East race. Florida coach Urban Meyer is now 17-1 against the Gators’ traditional rivals (Georgia, Florida State, Miami and Tennessee). Richt, meanwhile, is just 2-8 against the Gators, who probably should have been paying taxes in the state of Georgia a long time ago with the way they’ve dominated this rivalry.
2hMax Olson and Jake Trotter