By Case Wharry
Are you the kind of football fan that stresses over the season being too short, like me? I get those feelings too but then realize that the best is yet to be played in the greatest football conference in America.
I’ve seen ranking after ranking for teams in the SEC from fan polls, message boards and beat writer types. I can appreciate rankings but I think the only thing we can really draw out of the first full month of the season in the SEC is a general idea of which team is serious, who isn’t serious and then let the real games begin.
Alabama is serious…. dead serious. They certainly have the anticipated issues with youth on defense but they’re also sending out a 3 headed monster on offense with a running game that hates you and a passing game to be respected. The Tide rolls to your town featuring a coaching staff with coordinators that will probably get a look at head jobs by mid December and a taskmaster who has probably now convinced this new team that they really haven’t earned anything yet no matter what the fawning press filled them with.
Arkansas is serious. Like the other SEC West powers, almost every goal is still in play for them but it starts this weekend at Auburn. Bobby Petrino is judged by those who know to be one of the sharpest minds in the business and he’s finally getting a defense in place too. They’ve already finished their ‘Bama business and acquitted themselves with honor and a fairly healthy measure of national respect.
Yes, Auburn is serious. Auburn also has their toughest games ahead of them though and the real season, this year’s version of SEC playoff games, starts with Arkansas this weekend.
South Carolina is serious and sitting in the catbird seat right now for the East division. They’re finally built like your typical big time SEC team this year – a run game that punishes you and a defense that will hold its water with any team in the country. The hiring of Steve Spurrier may finally be paying off the results that Gamecock fans hoped that it would but the bigger coup is the fact that possibly the SEC’s best Defensive Coordinator also has an office in Columbia.
LSU is serious – and seriously lucky. The ball has literally bounced the right way for them every time this year and Les Miles can bend time with the best of them but things change from here on out for Los Tigres. The 3 A’s (AR, AL and AU) await.
The Gators are serious but they’re young and raw. The big time “games of the season” all seemed to have Alabama against somebody earlier this year but I’m figuring the South Carolina later this season is going to be just as vital when it comes to trying to figure out who gets to carry the SEC banner into an at large BCS Bowl bid at the end of this season, should we be so lucky.
Dan Mullen may be the best head coach this year on a forgotten team. Mississippi State isn’t serious yet but they’re building and they are doing it the right way. Mullen is teaching and encouraging but you couldn’t have picked a worse time in recent history to attempt to revive a moribund SEC West program.
The rest of the SEC gets pretty easy to figure out.
Mississippi isn’t serious. They’ll be lucky to get to 6-6 and still haven’t played one SEC West team. The fortunes of Georgia boggle the mind this year but they’re already setting up for next year. I don’t believe Mark Richt is going anywhere yet – I figure he has a year with a solid recruiting class and an impressive young QB to develop. The Vols are a train wreck of a program and while it’s easy to blame it all on Lane Kiffin, I tend to think their problems started a few years back when they fired an alumnus of the school with a proven track record, a history of bleeding orange and the ability to post top recruiting classes year after year. Vandy is Vandy and Kentucky is still Kentucky, even while they are providing the occasional thrill where you think they’re finally going to get over that hump and pull off the type of victory that makes national waves before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Let the drama play out as the 4 West teams start fighting between themselves and South Carolina and Florida set up for the biggest game that match-up has ever produced. The real football is just beginning for the SEC fan.