What we learned in the SEC: Week 14
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
At last, we can all turn our attention to the most anticipated SEC football game since, well ... who knows? In my lifetime, I can't think of one I've looked forward to seeing any more than Alabama vs. Florida this coming Saturday in the SEC Championship Game. It's old school vs. new school, speed vs. power, two coaches among the very best at what they do matching wits against each other and two teams that genuinely believe they are the best team in the country. The winner heads to the BCS National Championship Game. The loser gets the consolation prize of playing in the Sugar Bowl. Here's a look at what else we learned on the final weekend of the regular season in the SEC:
The truth about the SEC: Now that the regular season is in the books, we can go ahead and say it. The SEC was exceptional at the top this season. Case in point: Alabama and Florida. Ole Miss made a nice run and is playing really good football right now. Otherwise, it was a pretty average league. Never was that more apparent than last Saturday with Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all losing to ACC teams. And, no, we're not talking about basketball, either. Auburn and Tennessee each had losing seasons. The Vols were so bad that the dean of SEC coaches, Phillip Fulmer, got fired. Who knows if Tommy Tuberville is safe? Defending national champion LSU tanked thanks to an underachieving defense and finished with a losing season in the conference. The SEC couldn't even fill all of its bowl tie-ins because not enough teams could get to .500. Outside of Tuscaloosa, Gainesville and Oxford, it's not a season they'll be remembering for years to come.
Bama's brilliance: The more you see Alabama, the more you appreciate how this team has gone about putting together a 12-0 record. I've seen the Crimson Tide in person now five times this season, and it's been like clockwork every time. They're so physical and so disciplined on offense. They wear you down with their bruising running game and go to Julio Jones on the outside any time defenses start to crowd the box. Defensively, nobody is better in the country at changing things up, disguising coverages and coming from different angles than Nick Saban. They're not going to let you run the ball and rarely give up big plays. Senior center Antoine Caldwell isn't going to say he saw 12-0 coming this season, but he had a feeling about this team all along. "We had all the experience and leadership in the right places. We had it on the offensive line. We had it at quarterback. We had it at safety, so I knew we'd have a good football team," Caldwell said.
Another injury for Percy: He may well be college football's most dynamic player, but Percy Harvin is also one of the country's most injury-prone players. From the time he arrived at Florida, it seems as if Harvin has been trying to recover from this or that injury -- a knee, a heal, a back, something. The latest is a sprained ankle he suffered in the second quarter against Florida State. Harvin was in a walking boot and on crutches after the game. He's used to not practicing much in a week and still being able to play. So being sidelined this week in practice shouldn't be a huge deal. But assuming there's no serious damage to his ankle and he is able to play in the SEC Championship Game, he's not going to be 100 percent. Of course, Harvin at 75 percent is pretty good. But it's not what the Gators wanted going into this game.
Talent doesn't always equal results: As proof, I give you the Georgia and LSU defenses. Go back and look at where the guys starting on those two defenses were ranked coming out of high school and how many different offers they had. And, yet, Georgia ended the regular season ranked 10th in the SEC in scoring defense after being fleeced by Georgia Tech's triple-option offense in a 45-42 loss Saturday. Keep in mind the Bulldogs had two weeks to prepare, too, which obviously didn't help their tackling. Yes, tackling = coaching. LSU may have even more future NFL players on its defense than Georgia and wound up ninth in the SEC in total defense. The Tigers managed to give up 30 or more points in their last three games with a defensive line that's brimming with big, talented guys. They sure didn't play that way.
Kiffin time in Tennessee: Lane Kiffin isn't wasting any time. He's already in Knoxville and will meet with the team on Sunday night at the football complex. He will be introduced as the Vols' next head coach during a Monday news conference. Kiffin already has a portion of his staff assembled. His father, Monte Kiffin, is coming with him after an ultra successful run as one of the NFL's best defensive coordinators. The elder Kiffin is currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It also appears that former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron is coming, as well as South Carolina quarterbacks coach David Reaves, who is Kiffin's brother-in-law. Orgeron is currently the defensive line coach with the New Orleans Saints and would head up the Vols' recruiting. He and Kiffin worked together on the Southern California staff earlier this decade. The jury may be out on Kiffin as a head coach, but it looks like he's putting together one sweet staff.