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Monday, August 9, 2010
Crossroads: More drama in store for the SEC

By Chris Low

Thanks to Alabama and Florida, there has been very little drama in the SEC divisional races after the third or fourth week of October the past two seasons.

That’s what happens when two teams go a combined 31-1 in SEC regular-season play.

Between them, Alabama and Florida have lost a total of three games over the last two seasons, and two of those losses were to each other in the SEC championship game.

There’s been a clear separation in the SEC. It’s been Alabama and Florida and then everybody else, and the two kingpins haven’t done anything on the recruiting trail to make anybody think they’re going to slow down any time soon.

Mark Ingram
Mark Ingram will try to keep Alabama on top this season.
The Crimson Tide and Gators have stepped up their games, too.

And when you consider some of the key components Alabama and Florida lost off last season’s teams, including six underclassmen who went in the top three rounds of the NFL draft, perhaps some of those mid- to late-November games in the league will be worth watching this season.

With so many new faces in key roles, it doesn’t sound like there’s a sense of entitlement in either Tuscaloosa or Gainesville.

Rather, there’s an air of “Let’s make our own legacy.”

Florida senior defensive end Justin Trattou acknowledges that a lofty standard has been set by some of those guys who’ve passed through the past few years -- the Tebows, Spikes, Hadens and Pounceys -- but that doesn’t guarantee anything for the Gators going forward.

“If anything, the target on us is only bigger,” Trattou said. “The only thing that matters is what we do this year, what this team does and how much this team accomplishes. Yeah, we have a lot of new guys, but we also have a lot of guys who’ve been here and know what it’s going to take. We know we’ll have to fight for everything we get.”

The East looks like a three-team race.

Georgia has 10 starters coming back on offense, and if redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray plays the way coach Mark Richt thinks he will, the Bulldogs ought to have the most balanced offense in the league.

And don’t forget about Steve Spurrier and South Carolina. Yes, we’ve heard “This is the year” talk coming out of Columbia before, but this just might be the Head Ball Coach’s best shot yet at contending for an East title since returning to college football in 2005.

As junior quarterback Stephen Garcia said last week when asked what the Gamecocks’ expectations were, “Nothing less than SEC champions. We say that every year we’ve been here, but I think this is by far the most talented team we’ve had and the hardest working team we’ve ever had. That’s a pretty good combination.”

Navigating their way back through the West won’t be a picnic for the defending national champion Crimson Tide, who have to replace all but two defensive starters from a year ago.

But Alabama is loaded on offense, led by the explosive backfield tandem of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

The West is also deeper than the East this season. Arkansas, Auburn and LSU are all talented enough to make legitimate runs, while the addition of former Oregon star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli gives Ole Miss a much-needed playmaker on offense. The Rebels were already going to be stout in their front seven on defense.

Mississippi State has a chance to be one of the most improved teams in the league, meaning the West could send all six teams to bowl games.

It also means that Alabama will have its work cut out if it’s going to get through the league unscathed again.

In fact, this might be one of those years when both division champions arrive in Atlanta with a loss.

“Every year’s a new year, and nothing stays the same very long in this league,” Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams said. “It’s on the rest of us to catch [Alabama and Florida].”