<
>

What we learned in the SEC: Week 13

We’re down to one game, the game everybody’s been waiting on -- Alabama vs. Florida for the SEC championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.

The final week of the regular season proved to be the most entertaining yet. Auburn nearly upset Alabama. LSU and Tennessee both won in overtime, and Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina all pulled off upsets of nationally ranked foes.

Here’s a look at what all we learned in the SEC in Week 13:

1. SEC power: It’s a given at this point that the SEC will get a chance to play for its fourth straight national championship and its fifth national title in the last seven years. The winner of the Alabama-Florida matchup in the SEC championship game is assured of a spot in Pasadena. But what Georgia and South Carolina pulled off Saturday also speaks volumes about the strength of this conference. Georgia knocked off No. 7 Georgia Tech 30-24, and South Carolina smacked No. 15 Clemson 34-17. For perspective, Georgia Tech and Clemson are the two teams that will meet this coming weekend in Tampa, Fla., for the ACC championship. Georgia and South Carolina, meanwhile, were just fighting to say above .500 in the SEC. In fact, Georgia was 10th last week in the SEC power rankings and South Carolina was ninth. Not a bad statement for how strong this league is from top to bottom.

2. Gridlock in the middle: Thanks to a couple of upsets Saturday, there are six teams in the SEC (Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee) sporting a 7-5 record. That’s right. Half the league is a game above .500 in terms of overall record. Some have said the SEC was down this season, and a lot of that depends on how you want to look at it. But the teams in this league beat up on each other this season like never before. Take a look at the conference records. Other than Alabama and Florida, both of whom went unbeaten, the only other team to finish with a winning SEC record was LSU, and the Tigers had to rally in overtime against Arkansas on Saturday night to do that. Everybody else had a 4-4 record or worse, and six of the teams finished with losing conference records.

3. McElroy has what it takes: As Alabama and Florida have counted down the days to their big showdown over the last month, the decided advantage for the Gators was clearly at quarterback. If it becomes a fourth-quarter game, and it almost certainly will, who do you like better at quarterback -- Greg McElroy or Tim Tebow? Tebow is Mr. Third Down, especially in clutch situations and is the reason the Gators won last season in Atlanta. McElroy hadn’t had to win a game in the final minutes of the fourth quarter … until last Friday. The way he engineered that 79-yard, 15-play touchdown drive to beat Auburn on the road should serve him well. He knows he can do it in a pressure situation, and just as importantly, all the players around him know he can do it. The best thing McElroy did in that drive was take what the defense gave him. He didn’t try to be a hero or take unnecessary chances. He was smart, efficient and confident, the same combination he’ll need in the Georgia Dome this coming weekend.

4. Richt was right: Mark Richt, facing unprecedented scrutiny at Georgia, told anybody who would listen last week that the Bulldogs weren’t dead yet. Boy, was he right. The only thing that was dead was Georgia Tech’s carcass after the Bulldogs physically dominated the No. 7 Yellow Jackets in a 30-24 win that eases a lot of the pain for Georgia in the kind of season they haven’t been accustomed to in Athens under Richt. With their best player, A.J. Green, nursing a shoulder injury on the sideline, the Bulldogs went old school on the Yellow Jackets and leaned on an offensive line that was supposed to be their strength from the outset. On Saturday, the Bulldogs finally looked like one of the best offensive lines in the league and churned out 339 yards rushing, the most ever under Richt. Make no mistake. Georgia’s a prideful program, a program that’s used to winning 10-plus games and used to competing for and winning championships. That pride returned Saturday in Atlanta … in bruising fashion.

5. The Ole Miss quandary: How do you figure Ole Miss? The Rebels started the season with SEC championship aspirations and ranked in the Top 10. They end the season as the second best team in their state. Let’s be fair. It wasn’t a horrible season for the Rebels. After all, they did win eight games for the second straight season for the first time in 20 years. But based on expectations and the veteran talent on this team, it was an unfulfilling season. And just when you thought the Rebels were going to close the season the right way with four wins in a row, they get whipped by a younger, less talented Mississippi State team. Rivalries are like that sometimes, and the Mississippi State-Ole Miss rivalry is an intense one. Something says it’s about to get a lot more intense. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen grabbed a microphone after the game and told the maroon-clad fans, “This is one program in this state that’s definitely on the rise and heading in the right direction.” That remains to be seen, but judging by Ole Miss’ depth chart, this was the Rebels’ chance to do something big. They started 11 seniors Saturday, and 18 of their 22 starters were juniors or seniors.