|Parity rules in SEC East, where every team still has a chance|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 09 October 2007 13:06|
The SEC East is a microcosm of college football's wild, wild year, with standings that look all out of whack and each of the six teams already sporting at least one conference loss.
South Carolina, which has a grand total of one conference championship in football (and that was long before the Gamecocks joined the SEC), is holding down first place and ranked No. 7 in the country. No. 17 Kentucky is right in the thick of things, and it's not even basketball season yet.
Meanwhile, traditional powers Florida and Georgia already have two conference losses apiece, though that's not enough to knock them out of the race. Heck, they've got as good a shot as anyone else to be playing on that first Saturday of December at the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
``Usually by now,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said, ``it's down to a couple of teams.''
Even perennial bringing-up-the-rear Vanderbilt remains hopeful, knowing that its 1-2 record in the SEC puts the Commodores in about the same position as everyone else.
``The way the league is this year, you just never know,'' Vandy cornerback Myron Lewis said. ``Two losses doesn't eliminate you. And since we haven't played anyone in the East yet, we still feel like we can do some things.''
Before you go off on Lewis for failing to understand the realities of college football, such as Vanderbilt's last winning season coming a quarter-century ago, keep this in mind:
Would the Commodores contending for a conference title be any more ludicrous than Appalachian State beating Michigan? Or 40-point underdog Stanford knocking off Stanford? Or South Florida being ranked No. 5 in the country?
``It's just not the way it was, with certain teams being a little bit better than most and certain teams not being as good as most,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ``There's just a lot more equality out there. There's a lot of skilled guys who can make plays, and a lot of coaches who know what they're doing.''
One of those coaches is Steve Spurrier, who guided Florida to six SEC titles and one national championship during an era in which there was a lot more predictability to the standings.
The Gators dominated the East during the early half of the 1990s, Tennessee came on strong in the latter part of the decade, and Georgia became a perennial contender soon after Richt took over in 2001.
Actually, it was Spurrier who helped to open things up a bit when he left for an mediocre stint with the NFL's Washington Redskins in 2002-03. Florida dropped off during the fireronzook.com era, and Georgia was the main beneficiary.
Two years ago, Spurrier returned to the college game with South Carolina, which went through most of its history without winning a bowl game and captured its only championship as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1969.
Suddenly, the Gamecocks have the look of a contender. In just 2 1/2 years on the job, Spurrier has already beaten each of the Big Three - Florida, Tennessee and Georgia - and even started to needle some of his rivals, just like he did when he had those powerhouse teams down at the Swamp.
``We may have a chance at a big year,'' Spurrier said. ``But right now, we feel pretty fortunate to be 5-1 starting the second half of this 12-game season.''
He's wise to hedge his bets. While Gamecocks lead the SEC East with a 3-1 conference record, their only loss coming in a competitive game at No. 1 LSU, there's a perilous three-week stretch remaining.
South Carolina travels to No. 25 Tennessee (3-2, 1-1) on Oct. 27, then goes to West Division rival Arkansas on Nov. 3, and finally returns home to face 13th-ranked Florida (4-2, 2-2) on Nov. 10.
The defending national champions have likely knocked themselves out of the race for No. 1 with two straight losses. But the Gators certainly haven't given up on capturing another SEC East title, and possibly getting another crack at LSU.
After the top-ranked Tigers edged Florida in a 28-24 thriller this past weekend, Gators coach Urban Meyer was defiant.
``I don't make guarantees,'' he said, ``but I will guarantee you we will be back. The Florida Gators will be back. Smokin'. I don't know when. I can't make that one yet. I have to see how everybody responds, but we will come back.''
Florida has the week off before heading to Lexington to take on surprising Kentucky (5-1, 1-1), which had surged into the Top 10 before a sloppy loss at South Carolina last week.
That game used to be laugher for the Gators. Not anymore.
``There is a lot of football left,'' Meyer said. ``Every team in the (SEC East) has a loss, some have two losses. The Florida Gators have a bye week and then have to go to Kentucky, a very good team. I do believe that we are a better football team now then we were at the beginning of the year. I really do.''
Georgia (4-2, 2-2) can't say that after an up-and-down first half of the season.
The young Bulldogs are coming off an embarrassing 35-14 loss at Tennessee, and now they're hitting the road again to take on Vanderbilt, which is looking for its second straight win in the series after a stunning upset between the hedges last year.
``It is kind of crazy,'' Georgia safety Reshad Jones said. ``But it's a marathon. It's not where you start, it's where you finish.''
No one knows how this one will finish.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., and Associated Press writers Antonio Gonzalez in Nashville, Tenn., and Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.