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Sunday, October 25, 2009
What we learned in the SEC: Week 8


Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Alabama and Florida are both still unbeaten as we head to November. But are they genuinely the two best teams in the country?

Neither team made a very convincing argument Saturday. Survival was the name of the game.

Will simply surviving be good enough the rest of the way? Stay tuned.

Here’s a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 8:

1. Tebow is human: First of all, Tim Tebow is the epitome of a man. Anybody who’s watched him play football knows that. But for him not to man up and face the media Saturday after throwing not one, but two pick six’s in Florida’s 29-19 win over Mississippi State makes you wonder if the pressure is starting to get to Tebow. Florida coach Urban Meyer admitted afterward that a lot of people, including him, were pressing. Well, Tebow made a couple of awful decisions in that game, the kind that would have beaten the Gators had they been playing a more talented team or a team capable of moving the ball and scoring points. Keep in mind that Florida’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown. Only Tebow did, two to be exact. For a team ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings and riding a 17-game winning streak, the Gators looked and sounded pretty frustrated late Saturday night. But, then, some of the issues they’re having right now offensively will do that to you. Just ask Tebow … when you get a chance.

2. Leaning on the ‘D’: The burden is getting heavier every week for the Alabama defense. And the more Alabama struggles in the passing game, the heavier it’s going to get. If the Crimson Tide are indeed going to win a championship -- an SEC championship or a national championship -- it’s pretty obvious that the defense is going to have to do all the heavy lifting. In a lot of ways, it’s reminiscent of the 1992 season when Alabama went unbeaten and won it all with one of the strongest defenses in school history. Is this defense as good as that one? It looks like we might find out. This much we know: The Crimson Tide managed to win against Tennessee on Saturday despite not scoring a touchdown and did so with noseguard Terrence Cody blocking two field goals in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Greg McElroy was ineffective throwing the ball for the third straight game, finishing with just 120 passing yards, and Alabama doesn’t have a lot of margin for error playing this way. The Crimson Tide are going to have to be special on defense to keep it going. So far, they have been. The bye couldn’t come at a better time with LSU coming to town on Nov. 7.

3. Auburn is teetering: The Tigers’ bubble hasn’t just burst. It’s completely evaporated. After starting the season 5-0, they’ve now lost three in a row after dropping a 31-10 decision to LSU on Saturday, and if you look at their remaining SEC schedule, it’s difficult to see them winning another game in the conference. They’ve got Ole Miss at home next week, travel to Georgia on Nov. 14 and then end the season at home against Alabama on Nov. 27. It’s a little bit of everything right now for Gene Chizik, too. Quarterback Chris Todd all of a sudden looks like he did last year before he had shoulder surgery, and the defense has been spotty all season. That’s not a good combination. If Gus Malzahn and the Auburn offense, which looked like one of the most balanced units in the country during its five-game winning streak, can’t get back to scoring points and moving the ball, then it’s really going to get ugly on the Plains the rest of the way.

4. Kiffin still learning: His Tennessee team is playing its guts out, and the Vols have really responded to his style of coaching. But Lane Kiffin has now twice made questionable decisions at the end of games that might have cost the Vols a pair of wins. His play calling inside the 3-yard line against UCLA in Week 2 was iffy, and his decision to play for a long field goal in the final minute of the Alabama game -- especially when his kicker, Daniel Lincoln, had already missed one from that range and had another one blocked -- was a move that Kiffin himself was second guessing in the immediate aftermath of Tennessee’s bitter 12-10 loss to Alabama. In that situation, a 44-yard field goal is anything but a sure thing, something Kiffin learned the hard way. He obviously didn’t have enough confidence in quarterback Jonathan Crompton to throw the ball a couple of times there and try to get closer. That’s despite Crompton playing two of the best games of his career the past two weeks. The result was another moral victory. The Vols may end up leading the country in moral victories at this rate.

5. Mississippi State on its way: Nobody was happy about the 29-19 loss to No. 1 Florida, but Mississippi State has plenty to be happy about when you look at the direction of this football program right now. What a great atmosphere Saturday night at Scott Field where a record crowd of 57,178 was as loud as a crowd twice that size when freshman safety Johnathan Banks took that interception back 100 yards for a touchdown right before halftime. First-year coach Dan Mullen is playing a lot of freshmen, and more importantly, a lot of freshmen with promise. He needs to keep having the kind of recruiting years in-state that he did this past year, and if so, the Bulldogs will have a chance to make some noise in the Western Division down the road. Athletic director Greg Byrne and his staff have done a great job of marketing the program, building support for the program and rallying the Mississippi State community. The next step is building on the Bulldogs’ talent level, which makes this recruiting class coming up probably even more important than Mullen’s first one in Starkville.