By Shane from Centerpoint
There isnâ€™t a pundit on earth â€“ not even Danny Sheridan – who couldâ€™ve come close to predicting the bizarre outcome of the first half of the 2008 college football season. The Southeastern Conference has been especially wild and unpredictable. From Vanderbiltâ€™s leading the SECâ€™s eastern division to â€œBamaâ€™s backâ€ becoming a reality, some of the usual suspects who annually lead the pack are being left behind, while other league programs are rising fast.
The following is a quick glance at each SEC team (ranked by performance), and how they shape up at the halfway point of the season:
#1 ALABAMA â€“ Although this writer picked Alabama to finish 10-3, most of the experts agreed on 7 or 8 wins. The Tide isnâ€™t fancy or flashy. It is all about power, speed, and efficient intensity. Bama hasnâ€™t trailed an opponent this season on the way to a perfect 6-0 record. Barring catastrophic injuries, the first 22 are championship caliber players.
#2 FLORIDA â€“ Florida mightâ€™ve tripped on a Rebel, but this group of highly-talented athletes can dominate when running on all cylinders. Florida is the â€œreal dealâ€. Tebow and those three speed merchants can be lethal at times. The Ole Miss loss may be the last defeat the Gators suffer this year.
#3 VANDERBILT â€“ Head coach Bobby Johnson has built a solid, competitive football team that makes the most of an opponentâ€™s mistakes while making very few themselves. The talent level at Vandy is at its highest level in years, maybe the best itâ€™s ever been. In spite of a recent loss, the Commodores can play with the best of the SEC.
#4 GEORGIA â€“ Other than the first half of the Alabama game where the Tide literally blew the Bulldogs away, Georgia is playing like a top level SEC squad. Quarterback Matt Stafford is NFL quality and the running back Moreno is a star in the making. Some key injuries have already dampened Georgiaâ€™s chances for a shot at the championship, but major talent is available to help give them an opportunity for a great year.
#5 LSU â€“ The Fighting Tigers are adjusting to a drop in the level of talent on the team when compared to years past. Florida exposed weak play in the defensive backfield and LSU players seem much slower than theyâ€™ve been over the years. Nevertheless, this is LSU we are talking about here; they have the potential to beat anybody on their schedule. This is a physical football team who always plays hard and will get better as quarterback play improves.
#6 SOUTH CAROLINA â€“ Darth Spurrier has an abundance of talent on defense that can keep the Gamecocks in any contest, but Steve canâ€™t seem to find a quarterback (his specialty) to run his â€œfun-n-gunâ€ offense. Too many turnovers and not enough point production follow this team around like a plague. However, never count Spurrier out.
#7 OLE MISS â€“ Houston Nutt has a stable of excellent talent left by departing coach Ed Orgeron and the Rebels are .500 mainly because of the difficulties that occur during transition years. On the Saturdays that Nutt is able to get his players on the same page, Ole Miss can beat anybody â€“ just ask the Florida Gators.
#8 KENTUCKY â€“ Rich Brooks is a very good coach who knows that defense wins big games. He and his staff have recruited some very talented players on that side of the ball. The Wildcats are another team like South Carolina that stays in games because itâ€™s pretty good on defense. The loss of Dickey Lyons Jr. will hurt the offense, but Kentucky has bowl potential.
#9 AUBURN â€“ Tommy Tubervilleâ€™s spread experiment will go down in history as one of the worst blunders of his career. He doesnâ€™t have an SEC caliber quarterback and his vaunted defense has been worn out and crippled by the inept performances of the offense. After he fired the guy that designed the Auburn â€œspreadâ€ offense and handed it over to two of his cronies, who knows if Tuberville can stop the bleeding and salvage some respect.
#10 ARKANSAS â€“ Arkansas is another program that decided to convert its offense to a wide-open attack. At first the Razorback faithful had to be wondering if they hired the right guy. In his last game, Bobby Petrino confirmed the soundness of the decision when he whipped a good defense (Auburnâ€™s) soundly. That was Petrinoâ€™s first signature win at Arkansas. Arkansas is improving and seems to be working toward being competitive.
#11 MISSISSIPPI STATE â€“ Sylvester Croom appeared ready to bring a consistently winning tradition to the Bulldog nation, only to come out of the gate this year with nothing to offer. Maybe Croom canâ€™t change the culture of mediocrity that has existed in Starkville for years. He was supposed to produce change and instill a victorious attitude, but he has yet to produce a winning product on the field.
#12 TENNESSEE â€“ Phil Fulmer is a â€œlame duckâ€ coach. He knows it, his assistants know it, and his players know it. Even the fact that he brought the Vol nation a coveted national championship in 1998 and also took his team to the SEC title game last year will not save him – Fulmer is toast. The answer to â€œwhy?â€ is simple; the lousy losing team that the â€œGreat Pumpkinâ€ has put on the field is unacceptable to the men who sign his paycheck.