- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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With three weeks to play in the regular season, we’re left with one unbeaten team in the SEC and one once-beaten team.
The finish should be entertaining, to say the least.
Here’s a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 10:
1. Auburn carrying banner: With LSU beating Alabama 24-21 on Saturday, Auburn is the lone SEC team remaining in the thick of the BCS national championship race. Auburn, with Georgia coming up next week at home, is right where it was a week ago. Simply, if Auburn wins out, the Tigers are going to get one of those top two spots in the final BCS standings and play for the national title. They don’t need any help. The only other SEC team remotely in the hunt is LSU, although everything would have to fall just right (sort of like it did in 2007) for Les Miles & Co. to climb into those top two spots in the final BCS standings. It’s not impossible. If Auburn were to lose and Oregon were to lose -- and LSU keeps winning -- look out.
2. LSU puts it together: We’d been wondering what it would look like if LSU put a complete game together and finally found a pulse offensively. Now we know. The Tigers cranked out 338 total yards of offense in the second half alone Saturday in the win over Alabama. That’s more yards than they had been averaging for an entire game. Even more importantly, they hit big plays in the passing game, which helped them stay committed to the run, and were their usual rock-solid selves on defense. John Chavis’ defense kept the Tigers in the game in the first half, and that was all the opening they needed to play their most complete stretch of football in the second half against one of the best two teams they’ve faced this season. Talk about good timing. The other thing we learned is that the grass in Tiger Stadium is pretty tasty.
3. Gamecocks not game: First of all, it’s unfair not to give Arkansas the credit it deserves. The Hogs were dialed in for this game. They needed a signature victory, and they got one with a 41-20 pummeling of South Carolina on the road. For the Gamecocks, the most disturbing part of the loss was that they just didn’t look ready to play, which is hard to figure when a team is trying to do something that’s never been done in school history. Granted, South Carolina knew Saturday’s game didn’t factor into the Eastern Division race. It was all going to come down to the Florida game next week in the Swamp, but it’s exceedingly difficult to turn it off and on at this level. We’ll see if the Gamecocks can turn it back on next week against a Florida offense that has finally seemed to find itself.
4. Wild, wild West: Who could have predicted that heading into the 11th week that five of the six Western Division teams would have two or fewer losses? The East has still only won twice all season over the West, and one of those wins belongs to Vanderbilt. The Commodores won at Ole Miss. Clearly, though, the strength lies in the West, and it’s going to be a race to the end to see who can get that second BCS bowl berth. LSU would be a lock at 11-1, but the Tigers also have to end the regular season against Arkansas in Little Rock. Mississippi State was off this past weekend, but remains one of the league’s hottest teams with six consecutive wins. The Bulldogs still have to play at Alabama and get Arkansas at home. And of course the Friday after Thanksgiving, Alabama and Auburn get it on in Tuscaloosa. We'll get our own little playoff in the West.
5. Run game not the same: The reality is that there might be several things at work here, but that old Alabama mentality of “We’re going to line up and be physical and pound you into submission with our two premier tailbacks” has dissipated. For starters, Mark Ingram has not looked like himself since the second game after his return from surgery against Arkansas when he looked fabulous. The knee has to be more of an issue than anybody is letting on, although Ingram is such a warrior that he would never use that as an excuse. The other puzzling thing about what’s happened to Alabama offensively is that it's not committing to running the football more with Trent Richardson and Ingram. It’s what Alabama does best, and it's drifted away from it at different times (and for different reasons) this season.