Sunday, November 13, 2011
What we learned in the SEC: Week 11
By Chris Low
We’re down to two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Georgia can clinch the Eastern Division championship this coming weekend with a win at home over Kentucky. LSU can wrap up the Western Division championship by winning at Ole Miss and then coming back home and taking care of Arkansas on Nov. 25.
Here’s a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 11:
1. Path to a rematch is clearer: Alabama could still use a little more help, but two of the things the Crimson Tide needed to happen happened on Saturday. Boise State and Stanford both lost. Meanwhile, Alabama slugged its way to a 24-7 victory over Mississippi State and should check in at No. 3 or No. 4 later Sunday in the newest BCS standings, meaning a rematch with LSU remains very possible. The Crimson Tide were No. 3 last week. What they need now, outside of winning these last two games decisively over Georgia Southern and Auburn, is for Oklahoma State to lose. The unbeaten Cowboys play at Iowa State this Friday and then have an extra week to prepare for Oklahoma at home on Dec. 3. We’ve seen enough of the Crimson Tide this season to know what they are offensively. They’re not going to look pretty, but they’re physical and wear teams down in the second half with the running game. Kicking field goals remains an issue, which is never ideal in a close game, but that defense is as nasty as it gets and continues to play at a championship level.
2. Arkansas not out of it: The scenario that would blow everything out of the water in the SEC is Arkansas winning its next two games, including the regular-season finale at LSU on Nov. 25. The Hogs are certainly capable. They hammered Tennessee 49-7 on Saturday and have scored 93 points in their last two games. The running game is picking up with Dennis Johnson, and senior receivers Jarius Wright and Joe Adams are making big plays every time they step onto the field. This is a team that can score with anybody. The Hogs should also creep up in the newest BCS standings, probably to No. 6. So they’re in position. The key for them is going to be getting into the SEC championship game and winning, because it’s going to be difficult for them to move high enough in the polls if they’re not the SEC champion. For that to happen, Arkansas has to beat LSU and then hope the Tigers don’t fall behind Alabama in the BCS standings that come out on Nov. 27. If all three teams have one loss, they’re all going to be within five spots of each other, and the way the SEC tiebreaker reads in that scenario is that head-to-head competition between the two highest teams in the BCS standings will determine the division champion. Arkansas lost to Alabama in the regular season, which is why the Hogs need the Crimson Tide to be third.
3. Georgia’s Murray separating himself: Not only is Georgia playing its best football at the best time possible, but sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray is showing everybody why he entered the season as the SEC’s premier quarterback. Murray threw four more touchdown passes Saturday in Georgia’s 45-7 beatdown of Auburn, the Bulldogs’ eighth straight win. He has nine touchdown passes in his last two games and 27 for the season, which is the new school record. Murray’s like a jump shooter right now in basketball, and the rim looks like a crater on the moon. He can’t miss, and he’s spreading the ball around, too. All four of his touchdown passes Saturday went to different players, as Georgia built a 35-7 halftime lead. It was sweet revenge for Murray, who was battered last season by Auburn’s defense and speared in the back by former Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley in a game that turned dirty.
4. Vanderbilt best team in the state? As Vanderbilt senior defensive end Tim Fugger said Saturday after the Commodores’ 38-8 rout of Kentucky, “We’d kill to beat Tennessee, but that’s not going to change our mindset.” The Commodores moved to within one game of becoming bowl eligible with their demolition of the Wildcats, and nothing would be sweeter for them than to get that sixth victory in Knoxville over the reeling Vols this coming Saturday. First-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has already gone a long way toward changing the culture of the program. A win over Tennessee would be another huge step, especially since Franklin has secured commitments from three of the top 10 prospects in the state, including offensive lineman Andrew Jelks, whose parents have been Tennessee season-ticket holders for years. It’s been that kind of season for the Vols, who’ve suffered through a glut of injuries and are off to an 0-6 start in the SEC for the first time ever. Their 49-7 loss to Arkansas on Saturday was their second worst beating in the modern era. It’s already been a bad ride for them, but it becomes a full-fledged wreck if they lose at home to Vanderbilt.
5. Mediocrity at the bottom: With two weeks left in the regular season, the bottom half of the SEC looks as mediocre to bad as it has in a long time. Six of the teams already have five losses overall, and there’s still a decent chance that we may end the regular season with six of the 12 teams finishing .500 or worse. Four of those teams are in the East. Kentucky and Tennessee already have six losses, while Florida and Vanderbilt have five apiece. It’s not a given that the SEC will be able to fill all of its bowl tie-ins this season, either, especially with the top two teams almost certainly heading to BCS bowls. Not counting the Allstate BCS National Championship Game, the SEC has nine bowl tie-ins.