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Sunday, October 16, 2011
What we learned in the SEC: Week 7

By Chris Low

It’s that time of year when the answers are starting to outnumber the questions.

Here’s a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 7:

Ron Brooks
Ron Brooks and LSU have shown they can win big even when they don't play their best football.
1. The gap is getting wider: We already knew that Alabama and LSU had separated themselves from the rest of the SEC, but the truth is that they’re in their own league, maybe even on their own planet. LSU pummeled Tennessee 38-7 on the road Saturday, and LSU coach Les Miles conceded afterward that the Tigers didn’t play their best game and were especially suspect to open the game. Alabama squashed Ole Miss 52-7 on the road after also getting off to a so-so start. Even when these two teams give up a rare play on defense, they adjust and finish the game with a vengeance. LSU has given up a total of 25 points in its past three games. Alabama has given up just 17 points in its past three outings. And on offense, they both have the kind of running games that pound teams into submission in the second half. Who’s ready for Nov. 5 to go ahead and get here?

2. Richardson for Heisman: It’s starting to have that same feel as 2009 when Mark Ingram made his move. Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson is now front and center in the Heisman Trophy race and should be. If there’s a better player in college football (and, yes, that includes Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck), let’s see him. Richardson has been sensational in his past six games, rushing for 100 yards in all six and putting on a show in the rout of Ole Miss with 183 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Go back and watch his 76-yard touchdown run. Finding a better one this season in college football will be a chore. Richardson now has 912 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns and is ahead of Ingram’s pace in 2009. If Richardson has a big game against LSU on Nov. 5 and the Crimson Tide win, the Heisman will (and should) be his to lose.

3. Two-team race in the East: It’s Georgia and South Carolina in the Eastern Division, and neither would be classified as a great football team right now. The Bulldogs just barely survived at Vanderbilt in a 33-28 win despite a glut of personal foul penalties, not being able to finish drives on offense and a total meltdown on special teams. The Gamecocks held on to win 14-12 at Mississippi State, and while their defense is playing its best football, there are real issues on offense. Star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a sprained knee in the game, and the Gamecocks will know more about the severity of his injury on Monday. If he’s out for a few weeks, this is a very beatable football team. Both teams have their warts, but they’re also two games ahead of everybody else in the East. Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt all have three SEC losses.

4. Plain resourcefulness on the Plains: Nobody expected this Auburn football team to be a championship-caliber football team again this season with all the Tigers lost a year ago. But this is definitely an Auburn football team that still knows how to win. It’s also an Auburn football team that’s on its way back when you look at all the youth on the roster. It’s not a secret that the Tigers are struggling at the quarterback position right now, but they’re finding ways around those issues and winning games. They’ve made vast improvement on defense. Their punter, Steven Clark, has been clutch, and they’ve committed to running the football. Their 17-6 victory against Florida on Saturday was a clinic in resourceful football, and that’s a credit to the Tigers’ coaches and their players. They’ve won five games now, and eight wins or more aren’t out of the question this season. The Florida game was a huge swing game for both teams. While Auburn is far from a dominant team, it’s a team that has mastered the art of winning.

5. Batting .500: At this rate, we might have as many as six teams in the SEC that finish no better than .500 overall in the regular season. Kentucky (2-4, 0-3) and Ole Miss (2-4, 0-3) are both headed for losing seasons. It’s going to be a struggle for Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) to finish above .500, especially with trips to Alabama and Arkansas looming. The Vols also get South Carolina at home on Oct. 29. Vanderbilt (3-3, 1-3) certainly hasn’t been a pushover this season, but six overall wins in James Franklin’s first season would be considered a huge success. Mississippi State (3-4, 0-4) needs to get busy if it's going to have a winning season. The Bulldogs are winless in SEC play and will have to upset either Alabama or Arkansas to finish above .500 in the regular season. Even Florida isn’t a lock to have a winning record in the regular season. The Gators (4-3, 2-3) have lost three in a row and still have to face Georgia in Jacksonville in two weeks while also having to travel to South Carolina on Nov. 12 and wrapping up the regular season with a home game against Florida State.