The Dye-Log: SEC Football Fun to Watch

Hall of Fame college football coach Pat Dye gives his opinions on the Auburn Tigers and Southeastern Conference football.

It was another hair-raising weekend of football in the Southeastern Conference and I loved it. It is so much fun to watch what goes on this the SEC in the fall of the year.

In Gainesville, the LSU at Florida game goes down to the wire with decisions by the officials having a big impact in a game that is won in the final seconds.

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In Lexington, Auburn won an exciting game that wasn't decided until the final seconds, too.

In Columbia, what was the number one team in the country, Alabama, gets beat by two touchdowns by South Carolina.

In Athens, playing against Tennessee, Georgia comes back and wins big looking like the team I expected to see early in the year.

Now as we head into the second half of the regular season, I am still wondering, "Where are we in this conference and who is the top team?"

What we do know is that Alabama is not quite as good as may people thought they were. As impressive as South Carolina looked on Saturday, we still don't know for sure how good the Gamecocks are.

Even after their game in Gainesville over the weekend we still don't know how good or bad LSU and Florida are. They seemed to be equal on Saturday night and it came down to a judgement decision on the part of the officials in the last few seconds to give LSU life to have a chance to win the game.

Auburn is unbeaten, but the Tigers had to drive the length of the field on the final possession to kick a field goal to win at Kentucky.

There are still plenty of reasons to wonder where we are in the race for the Southeastern Conference championship. Fortunately for those of us who love it there is still a lot of football left to play and I can't wait to see some more.

Auburn has another potential nail-biter facing a good, solid Arkansas team featuring one of the best quarterbacks in the country who is coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend. Everybody knows what Ryan Mallett can do, but what we don't know if Arkansas has played its best football yet.

I think the same thing can be said about this year's Auburn team. I think the Tigers have improved on defense since last season. The statistics indicate that in the conference only LSU?is better than Auburn when it comes to stopping the run, which is normally a key to success in the SEC. However, the statistics also show the Tigers are close to the bottom in pass defense so there are still questions about this Auburn defensive team.

Offensively, the Tigers are leading the conference in rushing yardage, which is normally a strong indicator of a team that has a great chance to win the league title. Combine that with the way quarterback Cameron Newton is playing and it is an exciting thing when the Tigers have the football.

However, a problem for this Auburn team is that it is still making too many mistakes. You could conservatively say the Tigers gave Kentucky two touchdowns with 15-yard penalties. Even though the 15-yard penalties were questionable and were plays that the officials didn't need to call, they were called and that was a problem for the Tigers.

I was told the officiating crew in Lexington is the same one that the SEC suspended last year. It looked like the officials where trying to take over the game and that should never happen.

The 15-yard penalties called on Auburn in that game put the coaches in a very precarious situation when they are trying to get their players to go full speed. To have those kind of calls made against them is tough. There is a fine line between being aggressive and reckless on the part of the players and I didn't like seeing officials being too anxious to make calls that made a difference in the game.

However, what really stood out on Saturday night in Lexington is that Cameron Newton passed the litmus test. We all knew from the previous five games that he is a great athlete and he can do some phenomenal things running and passing the football, but for him to take the ball at the seven-yard line and calmly lead the offense to other end of the field to win the game, and use up more than seven minutes of clock while doing it, is impressive.

Cameron Newton rushed for 198 yards vs. Kentucky.

To convert those third downs on that 19-play drive, both running and throwing, when the game is on the line says a lot about Cameron as a quarterback. To me those are the type of situations where you separate the average ones from the good and great ones, particularly when you are on the road. My hat is off to Cameron. It was a thrill for me to watch it from a professional standpoint as a coach knowing how tough it was to do what he did on Saturday night.

It won't get any easier this week for the Tigers who are going to have to be prepared to play better this week vs. Arkansas, a team that embarrassed Auburn last year in Fayetteville.

Elsewhere around the league, I can understand the Alabama at South Carolina result. I know how hard it is to get a team to have a peak performance week after week and Alabama obviously had a peak performance a week earlier vs. Florida. Going on the road in the SEC is difficult and going undefeated in the SEC is very difficult. In fact, I will be surprised if there is an SEC team that does it this year.

I know Auburn folks are hoping their team can go undefeated, but that isn't going to be easy because the Tigers have four really talented SEC teams remaining on the schedule with games to play vs. Arkansas, LSU, Georgia and Alabama plus a game on the road against an Ole Miss team that is showing signs of coming around. Against those teams, the Tigers probably won't be able to get away with the mistakes they have been making and keep on winning.

Ole Miss and Georgia don't have good records, but they may be teams that come together and hit their strides in the second half of the season. Georgia certainly has plenty of talent and Ole Miss has an experienced quarterback they can build around. Saturday's Ole Miss vs. Alabama game is a big one for both schools. Ole Miss is trying to turn its season around while Alabama is trying to get back on track.

Looking at the national picture, Auburn is inching its way up in the Top 10 and is one of four or five SEC teams in the Top 15, which is not surprising for this conference. I think this may be a year in which there isn't a great SEC team, but there may be one before the year is over. Auburn may be one of them. Alabama and LSU could improve and become a great team. I am looking forward to seeing what happens with those teams and the others in SEC as we start the second half of the regular season this weekend.

Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.

(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)


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