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SEC second-half preview

10/12/2011

With every minute -- nay, second -- that passes, we are one step closer to the game of games.

The regular-season Super Bowl. Godzilla versus King Kong. Democrats versus Republicans.

Or simply put: Alabama-LSU.

The winner will be catapulted to the top of national championship talk, but we'll go to bed each night praying for a chance to see redemption down in New Orleans.

But there is so much more in store in the second half of the season. There are intriguing quarterback battles at Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. There is an East race that might look shabby on the outside but will be full of excitement come mid-November.

And quarterback play will be as important as ever.

One team figuring out a new quarterback plan of action is South Carolina, which said goodbye to troubled passer Stephen Garcia on Tuesday. Garcia's dismissal officially makes this Connor Shaw's team. It's a team that was the heavy favorite in the East coming into the season but lost favor each week with a poor offense and a sluggish defense. Then, the defense perked up and starting playing with some fire, and Shaw replaced Garcia last week, torching Kentucky for 311 yards and four touchdowns.

Shaw proved he's the man for the job, but the depth behind him is ugly, meaning Shaw's health is key. If Shaw is healthy and consistent, this team could be right back in Atlanta in December.

Bold Prediction

Vanderbilt will make it to a bowl game in James Franklin’s debut. The first-year coach brought some much-needed energy and excitement to this program, and he now has the Commodores playing their best since 2008 -- the last time Vanderbilt made it to a bowl. The offense has had its fair share of bumps and bruises, but the defense is equipped with one of the best secondaries in the league. Vandy leads the conference in takeaways, including 14 interceptions, and has three wins. It should get three more with its remaining schedule.

What We’re Looking Forward To

  • How about that running back race? For the first part of the season, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore owned the ground game, but Alabama’s Trent Richardson might have momentarily supplanted him as the league’s best. But don’t count out Auburn’s Michael Dyer or Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell. Both have been solid in the past few weeks, and with the touches they are getting, each has a chance to win the rushing title.

  • The East might be average, but it’s still going to be fun to watch this race. South Carolina owns the tiebreaker with Georgia, but the Bulldogs are riding a four-game winning streak and have a much easier road ahead. South Carolina’s offense seems to be better off with Shaw and the defense has really improved, but Arkansas and Florida still loom. Speaking of Florida, if the offense ever comes around and John Brantley returns, the Gators might squeak back into this race.

  • We also wonder whether some of these SEC offenses can get it together. Can Randall Mackey at quarterback really help to improve a sluggish Ole Miss offense? Is it execution or the quarterback that needs to work at Mississippi State and Vanderbilt? Is there any hope for Kentucky at all? And can Tennessee and Florida overcome injuries to their starting quarterbacks to make some sort of second-half push?

Top Three Impactful Games

1. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 5: This one's a no-brainer. These are the two best teams in the country, and we’d be shocked to see either lose before this one. Can we just end the season after this game?

2. Arkansas at LSU, Nov. 25: Arkansas still could ruin the Tigers' season with an upset in Death Valley. A win could even propel the Hogs into the SEC title game, granted they don't have two losses and Alabama falls. We'll never hear the end of it from Razorbacks fans if the Hogs knock LSU and Alabama out of the SEC title game?

3. South Carolina at Arkansas, Nov. 5: The Gamecocks control their own destiny, but with Georgia's less-than-demanding second-half schedule, South Carolina can't afford another conference loss. This one won't be easy, either, with Arkansas's high-flying passing attack.