The Southeastern Conference’s dominance is well known – seven consecutive national championships, the last two by Alabama. That dominance also has had depth. Last season, the SEC had six of the top 10 teams in the final Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings.
Which is why the first set of rankings in the BCS this season has created such a stir. Just two SEC teams reside in the top 10. Alabama, as expected, sits atop the standings. The other SEC school? Undefeated Missouri, which checked in at No. 5 in the first BCS standings, the Associated Press top 25 poll, and at No. 7 in the coaches poll.
All of this followed one of the wilder SEC weekends (games of Oct. 19) in recent memory as Missouri beat Florida, Tennessee upset South Carolina, Auburn surprised Texas A&M, Ole Miss stunned LSU and Vanderbilt shocked Georgia. Yeah, there may be some hyperbole in those verbs. But when you have that many unexpected outcomes, you run out of ways to describe them, though on Twitter “smh” would do the trick for all five games.
Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk talks with Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, left, before the Tigers’ win over Florida. Missouri is surprisngly leading the East Division.
(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Alabama’s 4-0 league mark has it leading the West Division; Auburn is second at 3-1 and LSU third at 3-2. That LSU already has two losses is surprising, but not world-changing. The East Division reads like science fiction. Missouri leads at 3-0, and Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are all tied at 3-2.
It has made Missouri wide receiver L’ Damian Washington look like a prophet. Back in July at SEC Media Days he said the Tigers should not be discounted despite a 5-7 and 2-6 showing in their first year in the league. That, you know, there’s a reason why you actually have to play the games.
“People live for upsets,” Washington said. “That’s why college football is great.”
But who knew this rule applied to the SEC, where it can be so difficult to escape second-tier status? In fact, last weekend’s craziness even left an impression on Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. Asked if he found encouragement in the upsets, Stoops said: “You look at it and say, anything can happen in this league.”
If that’s really true, of course, then that would mean Tennessee (4-3) would upset, stun and shock Alabama and the world on Oct. 26, by going into Tuscaloosa and winning despite being 28-point underdogs.
“It is very balanced,” UT coach Butch Jones said of the SEC. “I think it is parity.”
On the UT Web site, that last word in his quote appeared as “parody.” Maybe that word has an argument, too.
Also of note: the East Division showdown between Missouri and No. 20 South Carolina, whose players only recently learned Missouri, like, had a football team and everything.
“Yeah, I was surprised when I found out the news” that Missouri was leading the division, freshman linebacker Skai Moore said, as though he had just finished reading a Western Union telegram.
Meantime, Gamecocks guard A.J. Cann went with the parity angle: “You know, it’s the SEC. All the teams are built tough here.”
Auburn, one of four schools with a first-year coach (Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas are the others) was supposed to be at the beginning of building back into a tough program. But Gus Malzahn’s team is ahead. In fact, the Tigers are ranked 11th in the BCS standings and in the AP poll after knocking off the Aggies and quarterback Johnny Manziel to improve to 6-1.
“This was a statement game and the statement we wanted to put across was that we’re coming,” said running back Tre Mason.
Malzahn, of course, tried to put up a yellow light, saying, “We’ve not arrived yet.”
Down in Oxford, they still might be dancing after Ole Miss hit a late field goal to take down LSU. Rebels coach Hugh Freeze says straight out that they used emotion to their advantage and will have to again to beat a team that good.
And then there’s Alabama, which is the biggest, strongest and fastest and puts coach Nick Saban’s process before passion. It’s all working well enough that the Crimson Tide has the country’s top defense, allowing 9.7 points per game, and 17th highest-scoring offense at 40.7 points per game. Bama beat Arkansas 52-0 and no team without Johnny Football at quarterback has challenged Saban’s defense.
So parity may exist from Missouri on down, but at the top?
“Looking at this game and previous games,” Bama offensive lineman Anthony Steen said after the gutting of the Hogs, “I like where we are heading now.”
Three guesses where that is and the first two don’t count.