The SEC’s pecking order came into focus on Saturday. It has a familiar feel.
There was an upset that shook up the SEC West, a showcase matchup that turned out to be one-sided and plenty of games close enough to keep fans on the edge of their seats.
Here is a breakdown of how an exciting Saturday of football affected the state of the SEC.
The king returns
It’s hardly surprising to see ‘Bama back to its rightful spot atop the SEC West.
The premier matchup of the weekend was clearly Alabama-LSU. Both teams were in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings. Both teams were ripe with talent and hungry to win a championship. In the end, however, ‘Bama seemed much, much hungrier.
Alabama dominated the third quarter in brutal fashion, outscoring LSU by two touchdowns. That allowed the Crimson Tide to easily ride to a 30-16 win.
The win was a statement to the rest of the SEC and to any competitors hoping to top Alabama in a potential playoff meeting. If Alabama can make the College Football Playoff — and chances are high based on Saturday’s performance — it’ll be a force.
Alabama is favored by six points against Mississippi State on Saturday. Charleston Southern will be little more than a speed bump on Nov. 21 before the Iron Bowl against Auburn on Nov. 28.
As long as Alabama can beat the Bulldogs and Tigers, it’ll be favored against Florida in the SEC Championship game. Florida has had a spectacular season, but it’ll have to play much better than it did in Saturday’s 9-7 win over Vanderbilt to even compete with ‘Bama.
The path to another SEC championship and national title is clear for the most dominant college football team of the past decade.
Ole Miss missed again
There’s no denying that the Rebels are more relevant than they’ve been in decades. However, they have to eventually break through and make the SEC Championship game to warrant all the attention.
Look deeper into Ole Miss’ schedule and one has to wonder if it’s even close to winning the SEC West anytime soon. The Rebels benefited from five turnovers to beat Alabama by six points. But Ole Miss got hammered by Florida and lost to Memphis before allowing Arkansas to win in overtime on Saturday.
Several of those are ugly losses: Arkansas is 5-4 and lost to Toledo in September, while Memphis lost to Navy 45-20 on Saturday. Although Ole Miss has upgraded its talent level, the resume hasn’t exactly followed suit in Hugh Freeze’s four seasons in Oxford.
It’s hard to even envision Ole Miss making the SEC Championship game with so much competition in the SEC West. Alabama doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. LSU will always be one of the most talented teams in the nation. And the rest of the West is trending upward.
Assuming Alabama wins the rest of its SEC games this season, Ole Miss will once again be a bridesmaid. That may prove to be a perennial position for the Rebels.
The East is least
The SEC East lived up to its subpar reputation this weekend: Florida was nearly knocked off by Vanderbilt. Tennessee struggled to top South Carolina and its interim coach. Kentucky looked woeful against a struggling Georgia team that was already eliminated from the SEC Championship game. Go back a couple of more days and Missouri got hammered by Mississippi State.
This could be the worst collection of teams in the East since the SEC split into two divisions in 1992.
The East champion, Florida, had everything to play for and only had to beat a 3-5 opponent at home to secure a chance at winning an SEC title. Even so, the Gators needed a late field goal to win the game.
With the exception of Florida, the East’s future is incredibly cloudy. While the Gators are on the rise, every other team has questions on the horizon. Georgia coach Mark Richt and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel are on the hot seat. Tennessee’s coaching staff has a bad habit of blowing big leads. South Carolina has an interim coach. Florida fans should be salivating at the possibilities.
Projected SEC Championship game:
Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC) vs. Florida (8-1, 6-1 SEC)
There’s no reason to think Alabama will stumble moving forward. That almost happened against Tennessee. Since then, the Crimson Tide had a bye week and crushed LSU. Florida’s berth into the SEC Championship game is secured. But the Gators had better improve in order to hang with the Tide in Atlanta.