It was a fascinating week around the SEC, and like we expected, things shook out quite a lot. The SEC West representative at the SEC Championship Game is decided (woot!), and while the SEC East still has 3 candidates mathematically in it, the decision tree got a lot simpler. While LSU played a laugher and Ole Miss was idle, every other team played a meaningful game.
Mississippi State 17
This was a fun, competitive game to watch, and it went pretty much by MSU's script for winning games. Run the ball effectively. Get some timely turnovers and either score or get good field position. Rush the passer effectively. MSU only had 215 yards of total offense, compared to 274 for Alabama. The box score of this one is ugly. MSU ran the ball OK, but didn't have a single running back average more than 4 yards per carry. Their QB didn't complete half his passes, and averaged less than 5 yards per attempt, with an interception. But of course, there were the interceptions, which were the deciding factors in this game.
MSU gets to 6 wins, with two shots at getting to 7. Alabama remains at 6 wins, but they get a rent-a-win next week, and they'll get to 7 before going against Auburn to close out the regular season.
I hope our team watches film of this game and the Auburn-Arkansas game to figure out how to stop Darren McFadden. You may remember he totally ripped us apart last year. We won anyway, but we never figured him out. Tennessee figured him out, even though he got 115 rushing yards. Most of it was after Tennessee was already way ahead. If we can hold McFadden to 115 yards, we will beat Arkansas easily too.
Tennessee is one step closer to the SEC Championship Game. They need to win out in games over Kentucky and Vandy to make it.
Speaking of Kentucky and Vandy, they played a game this week that did not make it to television. It was competitive to the end, but nothing really stands out on the box score to me. It was just another game that Vandy had a chance to win and lost. They held Woodson to 222 yards passing and didn't give up a 100 yard rusher. However, they themselves did not pass the ball effectively, averaging less than 6 yards per attempt. This was, of course, an important game for both teams. Kentucky got to 7 wins, and Vandy failed to get to 6.
Now, before I get into this game, I want to whine and moan about officiating. There's been a trend in the SEC years to be really liberal about throwing flags for late hits on the quarterback, and indeed late or helmet-to-helmet hits on anyone. It's gotten out of hand, and they're penalizing things that simply should never be penalized. The game of football includes hitting, and the officials should recognize that. Here we are in a league with tons of athletic, running quarterbacks and we're penalizing little hits against them. We have athletic, aggressive defenses in this conference. That's why this conference is so popular, but aggressive teams are being heavily penalized, much more than is really justified.
There were two outrageous penalty calls in this game, both against Georgia, and both when the game was still very much undecided. In the first, a Georgia defender rolled over Brandon Cox as he went down to the ground. There was no helmet-to-helmet contact, and it was probably less than 1/2 second after Cox was down. It was flagged for a 15 yard penalty. The second one involved another hit on Cox, who had just thrown the ball. It was also unjustified.
The SEC needs to do something about this. It's outrageous. It's hurt LSU, who has gotten, I think, at least 2 unjustified late hit penalties that have hurt us. One was against Florida, and led to a touchdown. The other was against Bama, and was by most accounts the game-changing play of the first half. But it's also hurt other teams. I recall complaining about a call that went against Mississippi State a couple weeks ago. Two went against Georgia this week, and they came at times when the game was still very much in doubt, and in fact when Auburn had momentum. These could have been game deciding calls, and they were both egregiously wrong, and went against the aggressive team.
Anyway, on to the game. Despite the large margin of victory here, this game was close until the end of the 3rd quarter. Georgia scored a touchdown on the last play of the 3rd quarter to go ahead by 11. Just half a quarter earlier, Auburn had all the momentum in the game. They had a lead, and had scored the previous 17 points. What's more, Georgia couldn't move the ball at all. They had a couple consecutive 3-and-outs on offense and looked terribly out of sync.
I'm starting to agree with Gary Danielson, who said, "Momentum means nothing in this sport." If you thought momentum was important in football, you would have quit watching this game halfway through the 3rd quarter thinking that Auburn had it won. But Georgia handed the ball to Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown and the rest is history.
Auburn lost all shot at a BCS bowl, and Georgia closed in on a possible berth in the SEC Championship Game. They need to beat Kentucky this week and hope either Vandy or Kentucky can beat Tennessee though.
South Carolina 31
I can name one team that appears to have packed it in for the season. I can name one player who deserves to win the Heisman Trophy. The GeauxTuscaloosa Offensive Skill Position Player of the Week is Tim Tebow. I think this is the 4th time he's won this award this year. He threw for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns. He ran for 120 yards and 5 touchdowns. With Percy Harvin out with an illness, Urban Meyer gave the ball to Tebow and he dominated this game.
In fact, if Tebow wasn't going to be the GTOSPPOW, it would go to his teammate Andre Caldwell who caught 11 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Florida put itself in position that it can still win the East, but it needs a lot of help. They need Kentucky to beat Georgia and for either Vandy or Kentucky to beat Tennessee. They really needed some help this week to get to the Championship Game, and they didn't get any of it. Now, it's looking fairly unlikely. It could still happen though.
What does it mean?
The SEC has 10 bowl-eligible teams, and we could get to 11. The SEC has 8 bowl tie-ins. The SEC could potentially get an at-large BCS placement, giving us 9 bowl teams. It looks like someone's going to miss a bowl game despite being eligible. One of the rules is that you have to take a team with a winning record over a team with a .500 record if there is one available, so you can be bowl-safe by getting to 7 wins.
Arkansas and Mississippi State play each other this week. One of those teams will be bowl-safe. Alabama plays ULM and they will end up being bowl-safe. That will make 8 bowl-safe teams. If Arkansas doesn't beat MSU, they have to beat LSU to get bowl-safe. Tall order. If MSU doesn't beat Arkansas, they have to beat Ole Miss to get bowl-safe. South Carolina has to beat Clemson to get bowl-safe, and if they don't do it they are probably the team that will be left out of bowl season, having lost 5 in a row under that scenario.
Heck, it is entirely possible that the SEC will have 10 teams with 7 wins, and that this standard will no longer be bowl-safe. It think that's unlikely though.
It is also possible, especially in a 10-teams-with-7-wins scenario, that the last SEC team out will get an at-large bid in a game that does not have an SEC tie-in due to a lack of eligible teams elsewhere. But in a 12-game season, there are likely to be a lot of bowl-eligible teams out there.
Later this week: Recruiting discussion.