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Monday, September 29, 2008
SEC race wide open, but watch Bama


Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's foolish to make a call five weeks into the season on who's going to win the conference, especially this conference. But there are some clear indicators out there.

The combination of experience at quarterback and strength up front in both lines of scrimmage are the first areas you look to when you're handicapping the SEC race.

At this point, Alabama has been better than anybody else in the league in the trenches, and senior quarterback John Parker Wilson is playing with the kind of poise, purpose and smarts that Alabama coach Nick Saban told me back in August would be crucial if the Crimson Tide were going to take a major step this season.

They've taken more than a major step. They've taken a step to the head of the conference.

But as Saban asked aloud the other night after lamenting the way Alabama played in the second half of its 41-30 whipping of Georgia, can this team finish the season?

I know Saban doesn't want to hear this, but I like the Crimson Tide's schedule the rest of the way. They get Kentucky at home this week, then get a week off before playing Ole Miss at home. Then comes Tennessee on the road and Arkansas State at home before the much anticipated trip to LSU on Nov. 8.

The thing I don't know about this team is how well it would be able to manage some injuries in key spots. It's just not a very deep football team.

The telltale stretch for LSU is about to begin. The Tigers are off this week before traveling to Florida on Oct. 11, traveling to South Carolina on Oct. 18 and then coming back home to face Georgia on Oct. 25.

In the Eastern Division, it's almost as if the race starts over this weekend with both Florida and Georgia losing at home last week.

The Gators still have the more manageable schedule, but who's going to run the ball for this club? And going back to my original premise, they certainly have a great quarterback, but their offensive line has been just OK.

The Bulldogs have great skill players (Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green), but their young offensive line has struggled for much of this season. And the defensive front hasn't been able to generate a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

This much I'm sure of: Nobody in this league will be unbeaten when the two division winners gather in Atlanta on Dec. 6 for the SEC championship game.

But with Southern California losing last week, the door is still wide open for the SEC champion (even with one loss) to play in the BCS national championship game.