Sunday, November 11, 2012
What we learned in the SEC: Week 11
By Chris Low
After a wild Saturday in the SEC, here’s a look at what we learned in Week 11:
1. SEC’s streak in jeopardy: The SEC’s national championship streak is in serious jeopardy. Texas A&M’s 29-24 victory over Alabama means the league’s going to need some help to even make it to the Discover BCS National Championship Game this season. With everybody in the SEC now saddled with at least one loss, the only way for Alabama to climb back into one of those top two spots in the final BCS standings is for two of the three unbeaten teams (Kansas State, Notre Dame and Oregon) to lose. It will be interesting to see how far Alabama falls in the polls and whether Georgia passes the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s loss Saturday didn’t help the Bulldogs’ chances of playing their way into the BCS National Championship Game, either. Georgia, with an ugly 35-7 loss to South Carolina earlier this season, needed to have Alabama unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the SEC championship game, and then a win over the Tide would have carried more weight with the voters. The other ironic thing to consider is that the SEC’s chances of making it seven straight national championships could now rest in the hands of Lane Kiffin, who made a few enemies in the SEC during 14 turbulent months at Tennessee before bolting to USC. Kiffin’s Trojans face Notre Dame in the regular-season finale and could also get a second shot at Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.
Kevin Sumlin has had an impressive first year at Texas A&M, which is in its first year in the SEC.
2. Props to the Aggies: There’s sure to be a lot of people around the country trumpeting how overrated Alabama was in the aftermath of the Crimson Tide’s home loss to Texas A&M on Saturday. And no, Alabama’s not ready to line up and beat any NFL teams anytime soon, as Steve Spurrier suggested a few weeks ago. But the real story here is Texas A&M and what a fabulous job Kevin Sumlin has done in his first season as coach and the Aggies’ first season in the SEC. Everybody wondered how they would hold up in the SEC. It’s safe to say that they’re going to hold up just fine, and a better question might be: Once Sumlin gets a few more recruiting classes under his belt, especially in that talent-laden state, how is the rest of the SEC going to hold up against the Aggies? Johnny Manziel is absolutely worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration, and he’s playing behind an offensive line that made a pretty convincing statement Saturday that it’s in a league of its own. And finally, that same Texas A&M defense that was shredded last month in a 59-57 win against Louisiana Tech made one key stop after another Saturday and has improved by leaps and bounds.
3. Muddled bowl picture: Good luck in figuring out the SEC bowl picture. It’s a given that the SEC will still get two teams into BCS bowls even if the league is shut out of the Discover BCS National Championship Game. The intrigue will revolve around which two teams. As many as six SEC teams could stake a claim. If nobody makes it into the national title game, the winner of the SEC championship game would go to the Sugar Bowl. So right now, that looks like it will be the Alabama-Georgia winner. The loser of that game would still be in play, but so would an 11-1 Florida team as well as LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M if they all win out and finish 10-2. Florida still has to go to Florida State in the regular-season finale, while South Carolina plays at Clemson to close the regular season. Both the Gators and Gamecocks could help their cases with wins over top-10 teams. The AT&T Cotton Bowl would love to get its hands on the Aggies, but they could also get snatched up by a BCS bowl, especially with Manziel putting up Heisman Trophy numbers.
4. Don’t sleep on the Dawgs: Granted, Auburn is terrible. But it looks like Georgia is starting to play its best football at just the right time. The Bulldogs are closing in on the eighth 10-win season in Mark Richt’s 12 years at the school and clinched their second consecutive trip to the SEC championship game with their 38-0 rout of the Tigers. Richt has had his share of critics, and he’ll continue to have them. But he’s done an excellent job each of the past two seasons of keeping his team focused despite bad early-season losses. The schedule has been a factor, no question. But Richt didn’t make it out, nor did any of his players. Florida had its shot against Georgia and lost, and the Bulldogs have proved that they don’t roll over and play dead just because they lose a game early.
5. Dooley’s days are numbered: It’s not a matter of “if,” but rather “when” for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. The Vols’ 51-48 loss to Missouri in four overtimes Saturday was almost certainly the knockout blow for Dooley, who’s now lost 13 of his past 14 SEC games. The Vols blew a 14-point lead in the third quarter at home, and Dooley made some questionable decisions down the stretch. But over and above what happened in Saturday’s game, it’s a Tennessee program that is hemorrhaging on several different fronts. If fan apathy hadn’t already set in, it has now, and there’s just not a lot of hope on Rocky Top that Dooley will ever be able to stop the bleeding. He walked into a mess in 2010 when he took the job and has done an admirable job of strengthening the roster. But Tennessee has gone from a top-tier program that had obviously dipped toward the end of Phillip Fulmer’s tenure to a program now that’s totally irrelevant. There really is no decision now for Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart. The only question is if he’ll announce that he’s making a coaching change this week or the next.