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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
SEC midseason overview


Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Just what we thought, right?

Vanderbilt (5-1, 3-1 SEC) heading to Georgia this weekend trying to take sole possession of the Eastern Division lead with November fast approaching.

Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) ranked No. 2 in the polls and playing the kind of physical, bloody-your-nose football the guy in the houndstooth hat would have loved.

Now, if only the second half of the SEC season is this unpredictable. Alabama was supposed to be at least a year away with all the freshmen it's playing, and yet the Crimson Tide would be playing in the BCS national championship game if the season ended today.

I'm expecting a call at any minute from an agitated coach Nick Saban reminding me that the season doesn't end today. The inevitable question: Are the Crimson Tide good enough, deep enough and mature enough to finish what they started?

The best story in the East has been Vanderbilt and the job Bobby Johnson and his staff have done. But it's looking like Florida, coming off its 51-21 drubbing of LSU, might be the best team. Georgia will certainly still have something to say about that, as will LSU in the West.

It hasn't been a celebration of offensive football throughout the first half of the SEC gauntlet. But who cares? There's an old proverb known as defense in these parts that they take pretty seriously, which maybe is why eight of the top 28 defensive units in the country reside in the SEC in terms of yards allowed.

With the weather about to turn colder, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU all remain positioned for a shot at the BCS national championship. That is, if one of those teams can emerge as the SEC champion with one or fewer losses.

The shameless fun will be in watching them slug it out with each other while trying to get there.

Biggest surprise: Considering that Vanderbilt started 5-0 for the first time in a full season since 1941, the Commodores are a pretty easy choice. They're still right there in the Eastern Division chase despite losing for the first time this season last week at Mississippi State. They're limited offensively, but play takeaway on defense, make things happen on special teams and are extremely well coached. Give Johnson credit for upgrading the talent, too.

Biggest disappointment: There were some who thought this might be Tommy Tuberville's best team on the Plains since 2004 when Auburn finished 13-0. But at this rate, Tuberville might be fortunate to keep his job. His decision to hire Tony Franklin and go to the spread offense blew up in his face, and now the Tigers (4-3, 2-3 SEC) are reeling. Franklin has since been fired, and Tuberville is trying to keep a team ranked in the top 10 to start the season from tanking.

Offensive MVP: In flashes, it's been Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno. A completely healthy Percy Harvin would be hard to dismiss at Florida, and is there a more physically imposing offensive player in the league than Alabama offensive tackleAndre Smith? There's not one clear-cut choice, so we go with the guy who makes everybody else around him better. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow isn't putting up Heisman Trophy numbers, but he's still accounted for more touchdowns (10 passing and three rushing) than anybody else in the league.

Defensive MVP: The linebackers in this league are off the charts, but one stands above all the rest. Alabama sophomore middle linebacker Rolando McClain is one of those guys who looks more like a defensive end, runs more like a safety and hits more like an armored car. The 6-foot-4, 249-pound McClain doesn't have eye-popping numbers. He's only tied for 10th in the league in total tackles, but turn on the tape and watch him. He's calling all the signals, getting everybody lined up, dropping back in coverage, blowing up a tailback in the hole and always around the football.

Newcomer of the Year: One of the secrets to McClain's success this season has been the guy in front of him who's taking on two blockers just about every play. Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody has been a one-man defensive front for the Crimson Tide. He's 360 pounds, can dunk a basketball and is nearly impossible for teams to single block. When he arrived from Mississippi's Gulf Coast Community College, Cody was closer to 400 pounds, but he's "trimmed down" and playing at an All-SEC level.

Coach of the Year: As good a job as Nick Saban has done in getting Alabama to No. 2 in the polls, Bobby Johnson has done an even better job in getting Vanderbilt to the brink of being bowl eligible. The Commodores lost all five starters from a year ago on their offensive line, including first-round draft pickChris Williams , and the bulk of their starters in the defensive front seven. Johnson and his staff have been quick to adjust to what teams are doing to them, and they've continued to play aggressively. He's making the move this week at quarterback and going with Mackenzi Adams over Chris Nickson.

Bowl bound: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.