SEC second-half preview

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
11:00
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Shhhh. If you listen closely, you can hear the groans circulating from every corner of the nation that’s not south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

They resemble the whimpers we’ve heard over the past six years due to SEC fatigue, and they could only increase during the second half of the 2012 season.

The first half brought college football seven SEC teams ranked in the first BCS standings, with six in the top 12 and Alabama and Florida sitting Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

As we turn to the second half, the nation must brace for the inevitable: another SEC run.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesAlabama coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide enter the second half of the season atop the BCS standings.
The SEC not only has quality, it has quantity. Alabama is yet again the gold standard, but has a chunk of conference competition. Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia are all still realistically in the national title hunt. Winning out should send any of these five to Miami.

Alabama’s road is still tricky, as it kicks off a tough slate on Saturday with a trip to Tennessee to face a talented passing game before playing three straight ranked opponents.

That stretch includes the Nov. 3 night bout with LSU on the Bayou, which will once again have national championship implications.

In the East, Florida has turned into a legit SEC contender with its burly running game and brawny defense, while South Carolina and Georgia, despite their losses, both have the talent to take the SEC crown and maybe more.

Florida gets both in back-to-back weeks, and all three are the right loss away from grabbing the division.

We'll also be on "Coach Watch," with the major struggles at Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. Will Arkansas have hiring competition with other potential openings?

Still, the focus is on success, and the country is sweating, waiting for the SEC’s elite to pick each other off. But if we’ve learned anything from the past six years, someone will emerge from the chaos.

It’s not fatigue, it’s reality.

Bold prediction: Ole Miss and Vanderbilt will both make bowls this season, even though both still play each other. It’s been a real revival in Hugh Freeze’s first year with the Rebels, and the play is considerably better than it has been the past two years. Ole Miss already has four wins and two more are waiting in the second half of the season. Vandy has a tougher climb, with four wins needed. The Commodores could win three straight, starting this weekend against Auburn, and should be able to get at least one in the last two weeks of the season against either Tennessee or Wake Forest.

Looking forward to: What can Johnny Manziel do to wow us in the second half? Texas A&M’s redshirt freshman quarterback has been a joy to watch both throwing and running. What appeared to be a trouble spot for the Aggies has turned into A&M’s strong point. The gunslinger, appropriately nicknamed Johnny Football, might make his coaches nervous with his improvisational skills, but he can turn absolutely nothing into something brilliant with his ability to extend plays with his legs. He’ll face tougher defenses in the second half, including LSU and Alabama, but with Manziel growing each week, he won’t be intimidated. Another strong half of football could make him a legitimate Heisman candidate.

Top five games:

Alabama at LSU, Nov. 3: The Game: Part III doesn't have the same buzz it did both times last year, but if these teams keep winning, it will. Nick Saban is back on the Bayou, and don't be surprised if this turns out to be a quarterfinal for the national championship again.

South Carolina at Florida, Oct. 20: The Head Ball Coach is back in the Swamp with a chance to take the SEC by derailing the Gators' season. It's kind of like 2010 again, and the winner takes full control of the SEC East race.

Florida vs. Georgia, Oct. 27: If the Gators get past South Carolina, this essentially becomes the game for the East. Georgia's offense has been very impressive this season, while Florida's defense is one of the best in the country.

Mississippi State at Alabama, Oct. 27: Barring upsets this weekend, both of these teams should be undefeated and we could have a great game on our hands. Both have solid defenses and running games and this is the kind of game the Bulldogs relish. They want respect and they want to take down the big dogs.

Florida at Florida State, Nov. 24: Believe it or not, this game could have major BCS implications for both teams. Obviously, both teams need to win out in order for that to be a reality, but it's possible this game could have a lot riding on it. Florida is looking to stop a two-game losing streak to the Noles.

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SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12