We’re at the midway point of the SEC football season, and all of a sudden, the mighty in this league don’t look quite as mighty as they once did.
Maybe it’s not a two-team league after all.
During the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Alabama and Florida were a combined 33-3 in all SEC games, and two of those losses were to each other.
Through six games this season, the Crimson Tide and Gators have already combined to lose three SEC games, paving the way for somebody else to break the Alabama/Florida stranglehold in this league.
Who’s it going to be?
For starters, don’t count out Alabama or Florida.
The Crimson Tide had their 19-game winning streak stopped last Saturday by South Carolina, illustrating once and for all that this isn’t the same defense that spearheaded the national championship run a year ago. Still, Alabama remains the most talented team in the league and isn’t going anywhere.
The Gators, despite losing consecutive games for the first time since the 2007 season, still technically control their own fate in the Eastern Division race. But they’ll have to do it with the weakest offense Urban Meyer has had since taking the job in 2005.
And the new guys on the block?
Auburn is unbeaten with a favorable schedule. The Tigers get Arkansas and LSU at home each of the next two weeks. Like all of Alabama’s SEC opponents the rest of the way, the Tigers get a bye the week before they face the Crimson Tide. That rivalry game is the regular-season finale.
That Nov. 26 game in Tuscaloosa could easily decide the West champ.
That is, if LSU doesn’t have something to say about it. The bounces have gone Les Miles’ way. The penalties have gone his way, and he has one gem of a defense.
So don’t count out the Tigers, who should go to 7-0 this week with McNeese State coming to town.
And in the East, Steve Spurrier has his Gamecocks positioned to do something everybody said they couldn’t do -- get to Atlanta and play for the SEC championship.
Fresh off taking down then No. 1-ranked Alabama, the Gamecocks won’t be sneaking up on anybody the rest of the way. We’ll see how they handle prosperity, something that hasn’t been that program’s strong suit historically.
Strap it on tight, because with five teams ranked in the top 12 nationally, the finish this season in the SEC ought to be one for the ages.
Offensive MVP: Auburn QB Cameron Newton
With everything he’s meant to Auburn to this point, Newton would factor into the national conversation when you start talking about college football’s most valuable player. He’s also a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Simply, he’s one of those players you just don’t see come along very often. He’s 250 pounds, runs with the expertise, power and confidence of a tailback and has a cannon for an arm. He’s already accounted for 21 touchdowns. Honorable mention goes to South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery, who’s been an absolute force for the Gamecocks.
Defensive MVP: LSU DT Drake Nevis
This was a two-man race the whole way. Nevis just barely nudged past Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley because LSU’s defense is better overall. The Tigers are ranked fifth nationally and first in the SEC in total defense, and the havoc that Nevis has wreaked up front is a big reason why. He leads all SEC interior defensive linemen with 33 total tackles and he was unblockable last week with 4.5 tackles for loss against a veteran Florida offensive line. He and Fairley are tied for second in the league with five sacks apiece, and Nevis is tied for second with 10.5 tackles for loss. Fairley’s 12.5 tackles for loss leads the SEC.
Biggest surprise: South Carolina
The talk before the season was that this might be the Gamecocks’ best chance yet under Steve Spurrier to make a run at the Eastern Division championship. But the Head Ball Coach was down on quarterback Stephen Garcia and not sure his offensive line was made of the right stuff. Well, here the Gamecocks are, ranked in the Top 10 nationally and leading the East at the midway point. They have some of the best young talent in the league and are playing with a ton of confidence right now.
Biggest disappointment: Georgia
Even though the Bulldogs wrestled out from under their four-game losing streak last week with a 41-14 win against Tennessee, they’ve still woefully underachieved this season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray has been one of the bright spots. He sure isn’t the reason Georgia’s 2-4 heading into the second half of the season. It’s more an offensive line that hasn’t lived up to its billing, critical fumbles by the running backs and a defense that has given up way too many big plays.
Best game: LSU at Florida, Oct. 2
This one had it all -- a game-winning touchdown pass on the final offensive play of the game, a fake field goal to keep that game-winning drive alive, a little controversy and a divine bounce. LSU rallied to beat Florida 33-29 in the Swamp last weekend. Les Miles called for a fake field goal in the final minutes, and the Tigers got a great bounce on the over-the-head-flip to kicker Josh Jasper, who picked up the first down. The flip was close to being a forward lateral, but was too close to overturn by the replay official. Jarrett Lee then capped what was a wild game by lofting a strike to Terrence Toliver, who was able to get one foot down in the end zone to keep the Tigers unbeaten.
Best coach: Auburn’s Gene Chizik
Two years on the job, Chizik has this Auburn program rolling. He was able to keep his entire staff intact during the offseason, the only one in the SEC that didn’t have any turnover, and the Tigers have been a resilient, tough football team in the second half. They rallied in the second half to beat both Clemson and South Carolina, and showed enough poise on the road last week to come up with a pressure drive at the end and hold off Kentucky. The defense still isn’t great, but it’s gotten better and has produced big plays when Auburn has needed them. Of course, the best move Chizik’s made was getting Newton to sign with the Tigers last December.