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What we learned in the SEC: Week 3

9/19/2010

With three weeks in the books, let the hype begin for two huge showdowns in the SEC next week.

Alabama travels to Arkansas and South Carolina travels to Auburn. The four teams are a combined 12-0.

Before we start looking too far ahead, though, let’s take a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 3:

1. Alabama’s dominance: It’s hard to argue at this point that Alabama isn’t the class of the SEC by a wide margin, although we’re going to find out for sure over these next three weeks. The Crimson Tide have been dominant, their latest conquest a 62-13 demolition of Duke on Saturday. David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils’ coach, said afterward that it’s the best Alabama team he’s ever coached against, and Cutcliffe saw his share of powerful Alabama teams as a longtime assistant at Tennessee. Similar to the past two years, there just doesn’t appear to be any weaknesses with this Alabama team despite all the great players the Crimson Tide lost on defense from a year ago. Offensively, they’re more explosive than they’ve ever been, especially with Mark Ingram back as good as new from his knee surgery. If they need to win a shootout, they can. Yet, they’ve given up only one meaningless touchdown in their first three games on defense. What’s that old saying about reloading?

2. Florida’s offensive problems: After three games, it’s safe to say that Florida’s offensive problems are real. It’s not just a mirage we’ve all witnessed these first three weeks, and the reality is that maybe this is simply who the Gators are offensively right now. They start poorly. They’re not real creative, at least not to this point. They don’t throw the ball down the field very well. John Brantley’s longest pass remains that 25-yard heave against Miami (Ohio) that was tipped around and caught for a touchdown by Chris Rainey at the end of the game. They’ve struggled to make the tough yards, and Brantley is still learning on the job. He’s yet to throw for more than 175 yards in a game. They’re leaning on Jeff Demps, and he’s no doubt a special player. But at this rate, he’ll have a difficult time getting out of bed by the sixth week of the season. Simply, this is an offense that has to get a lot better if the Gators are going to even think about winning their third SEC championship in the past five years.

3. Door wide open for Gamecocks: That smacking sound you’re hearing coming out of Columbia, S.C., is the Head Ball Coach licking his lips. It goes without saying that this is unequivocally his best chance to get to Atlanta and play for the SEC championship since he took the South Carolina job in 2005. For one, this is his most complete football team at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks already have a key Eastern Division win over Georgia. Secondly, when you survey the rest of the East, South Carolina makes as much sense as anybody to win the division. The offenses in the East have all had their issues the first three weeks. In fact, Kentucky might have the best offense of the bunch. But the Gamecocks have a go-to running back in freshman Marcus Lattimore, some big, physical receiving threats in the passing game and a defense that’s always going to be a load under Ellis Johnson. The one thing working against the Gamecocks is their schedule. They have to play at Auburn and at Florida, with Alabama and Arkansas both coming to Columbia. Still, you get the feeling that if the Gamecocks are ever going to do it, this is their year.

4. Great receivers galore: When we did our preseason countdown of the Top 25 players in the SEC, eight of those players were either receivers or tight ends. The first three weeks of this season has only confirmed that the guys catching footballs in this league are a cut above, and the best one has yet to play. Georgia’s A.J. Green still has one more game to sit as part of his NCAA-mandated suspension, and the Bulldogs miss his quick-strike ability immensely. But look at all the other receivers and tight ends off to great starts in this league. Auburn’s Darvin Adams had been sort of quiet, but erupted Saturday against Clemson in the second half. Arkansas has three players among the league leaders -- receivers Greg Childs and Joe Adams and tight end D.J. Williams. South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery and Alabama’s Julio Jones have both been sensational to this point, and there’s not a better all-around player in college football than Kentucky’s Randall Cobb.

5. Commodore pride: It had been a rough ride for the Vanderbilt football program. Ten straight SEC losses has a way of wearing on anybody, especially when you’d scored just five offensive touchdowns during that stretch. But first-year coach Robbie Caldwell, his staff and his players kept the faith and never quit plugging along. That pride was obvious Saturday in the 28-14 win at Ole Miss. The Commodores were playing without a couple of key players in their secondary (safety Jay Fullam and cornerback Jamie Graham) and lost defensive tackle and co-captain T.J. Greenstone early in the game to an ankle injury. Still, they forced three turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown by Eddie Foster, recovered from a dismal first quarter offensively to rush for 227 yards and proved emphatically that there’s still a lot of fight left in a team that some people left for dead following last week’s 27-3 home loss to LSU.