Sizing Up The SEC East and West

Phillip Marshall analyzes the path to the SEC Championship Game for the contenders in each division.

There is an absolute truth in college football. Teams do not stay the same over the course of a season. They either get better or they get worse.

As of today, LSU and Arkansas appear to be the class of the Southeastern Conference West and Georgia and Tennessee the class of the East. But would it be that way if Alabama's Brian Bostick had made a chip-shot field goal and Alabama had beaten Arkansas? Would it be that way had officials not made an awful offensive interference call against South Carolina, taking away an opportunity for the Gamecocks to kick a potential game-winning field goal in a 23-20 overtime loss to Tennessee? There is much football to be played. Just because a team looks overpowering in September doesn't mean it will be overpowering in December.

One thing that does seem clear is that the races are down to three teams in each division--Arkansas, LSU and Auburn in the West and Tennessee, Georgia and Florida in the East. Here is a look at each of the contenders:

WEST DIVISION

Arkansas (4-0, 1-0):The Razorbacks have perhaps the strongest offensive line in the SEC. They have a playmaker in quarterback Matt Jones and a powerful running back in Cedric Cobbs, but their defense is suspect. Alabama had a 71-yard touchdown pass and an 80-yard touchdown run in taking a 31-10 lead.

Arkansas did one of the things last Saturday almost every championship team has to do. It won a game it had no business winning, beating Alabama 34-31 in overtime. The Razorbacks have a schedule advantage in that they play neither Tennessee nor Georgia from the East. They get Florida in Fayetteville.

Auburn (2-2, 1-0): Auburn is clearly a much better, more confident football team than the one that started the season with losses to Southern California and Georgia Tech. How much better? We'll get at least a partial answer Saturday when Tennessee visits Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Beating Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky isn't a lot to brag about, but the Tigers handled those two teams the way a good team should. They still have the same players that led some to pick them to win the national championship. The defense has a chance to be dominant, and a team with a dominant defense has an opportunity to win any game. The offense seems far more in sync than it did early, but it will be seriously tested down the road.

The schedule works against the Tigers. They play three Top 10 teams in the next four weeks. They play LSU, Arkansas and Georgia on the road. To have a realistic chance, they probably need to win two of those three and all their home games. That would be a serious challenge for any team, including the likes of Oklahoma and Miami.

LSU (5-0, 2-0): Defense is the name of the game in the bayou. LSU isn't much of a running team. Though quarterback Matt Mauck has made some big plays in the passing game, he's not going to frighten anyone with his arm. The Bengals have already earned one crucial win, beating Georgia 17-10 at home. They had some of that luck you need to win a championship. Georgia was without some key players, including star wide receiver Fred Gibson.

The schedule is the biggest advantage of all. Auburn, Arkansas and Florida all go to Baton Rouge. LSU's road games are against South Carolina, Alabama and Ole Miss.

EAST DIVISION

Florida (3-2, 1-1): The Gators don't look like a championship team, but they certainly have championship level talent. They are still in the race only because Kentucky folded like a cheap box, blowing a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter last Saturday. There is no running game to speak of and the defense has been spotty. If the Gators are to make a run, freshman quarterback Chris Leak will have to play with maturity and consistency beyond his years.

The schedule is not kind. The Gators play at LSU, at Arkansas, against Georgia in Jacksonville, Vanderbilt at home and at South Carolina.

Georgia (3-1, 1-1): The Bulldogs have a dominating defense and they have quarterback David Greene. That means they have a chance against any team, anywhere, anytime. The only real issue is the running game. Tony Milton is a good, hard-nosed tailback, but he's no Musa Smith. Greene, the best quarterback in the SEC in my opinion, softens that blow considerably.

The Bulldogs, off this past week, play Alabama at home, visit Tennessee and Vanderbilt, play Florida in Jacksonville and close it out with Auburn and Kentucky at home.

Tennessee (4-0, 2-0): The Vols stole one Saturday from South Carolina that they probably should have lost. And that could be the difference when all is said and done. The Vols don't look overpowering, but they are on a mission to make up for last season's 8-5 flop. They won a big one 24-10 at Florida. They have a hard-nosed offense led by a big and physical line and senior quarterback Casey Clausen. Tailbacks Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis look more like fullbacks, but they are punishing runners. The defense has been good when it needed to be.

After playing at Auburn on Saturday and against Georgia in Knoxville next week, the Vols go to Alabama, then finish their SEC schedule with home games against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt and a trip to Lexington. Regardless of what happens at Auburn, the Georgia-Tennessee game could go a long way toward deciding who wins the East.


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