- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Who’s up for a little Hot and Not in the SEC?
Ready or not, here goes:
SEC parity: Just when we think a couple of teams are ready to run away and leave everybody in this league, we’re all brought back to reality. Between them, Alabama and Florida lost seven league games this season. During the 2008 and 2009 seasons, they lost a total of three, and two of those were to each other. The cyclical nature of this league doesn’t change. There might be stretches were one or two teams dominate, but the overall grind of the league eventually catches up with everybody. It’s the reason the SEC hasn’t had a repeat champion since 1997 and 1998 when Tennessee won back-to-back titles.
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: His stock dropped when he threw those second-half interceptions against Alabama back in September, but he finished this season like a champ and became only the fourth quarterback in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards and throw 30 touchdown passes in back-to-back seasons.
LSU’s defense: The LSU defense had to carry too much of the burden this season because the passing game was non-existent until these last few games. But the Tigers also slipped on defense here at the end, allowing an average of 433.8 total yards and at least 19 first downs in their last four SEC games.
Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod: He’s been an absolute rock for the Bulldogs in every way this season. Not only that, but he’s made a strong case as the best offensive lineman in the league.
Alabama’s poise: This is a program built on discipline, toughness and poise. All three were nowhere to be found in the second half, as Auburn asserted its will and rallied from 24 points down to win 28-27. Rarely do you see a Nick Saban-coached team unravel across the board the way Alabama did in the second half Friday.
Auburn’s resolve: If you want to know what it takes to win a championship, put on the tape of Auburn’s last 12 games. This is a team that never stops believing, never stops competing and never stops thinking that it’s going to win the game. The Tigers’ comeback from 24 points down on the road at Alabama was one for the ages.
Punting from the 37: You could point to a lot of plays Saturday that assured Kentucky of losing its 26th straight game to Tennessee, but none was more telling than Joker Phillips’ decision to punt the football away on fourth-and-2 at the Vols’ 37 early in the fourth quarter. That was game, set and match for the Wildcats, especially considering that Randall Cobb is one of the best players in college football in those kind of situations.
Tennessee linebacker Nick Reveiz: He’s one of those Tennessee seniors who’s been through three coaches and a little bit of everything the past three years. But Reveiz’s leadership and the example he set both on and off the field were a big reason the Vols were able to persevere this season and get to a bowl game.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt: He’s gone from winning nine games in back-to-back seasons, including a pair of Cotton Bowl victories, to the kind of season that can land a coach on the hot seat in a hurry. It can’t get much worse for the Rebels, who lost to FCS foe Jacksonville State, lost at home by two touchdowns to Vanderbilt and then lost for the second straight year to the “school down south.”
Florida: Where do you start with the Gators? The obvious place is the offense, which reached a level of ineptitude this season that’s mind-boggling when you consider the talent the Gators have raked in the past few years. It’s safe to say no coaching staff in America did less with more than the Gators this season. A lot of it seemed to be pure stubbornness (or maybe arrogance). Come on, running the spread offense with John Brantley? What happened to building the offense around what he does best? Something has to give, and there were rumblings all season that several of the players in the Gators’ touted freshman class weren’t happy. Urban Meyer conceded earlier this week that he faces a major rebuilding job. He has some tough choices to make, too -- the kind of choices that often aren’t popular ones with his coaches or players.