SEC Reputation on Solid Footing

Last week I pointed out that there were six early season games that would challenge the SEC's status as the nation's premier college football conference. Well, midway through that group of contests the SEC is holding up just fine.

The league posted three dominating victories and suffered an overtime setback on the West Coast. All in all, SEC teams turned in some strong performances. Let's take a look.

South Carolina 34, N.C. State 0 ----- The first half of this contest was about as ugly as the south end of a north bound rhinoceros. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks finally scored in the last minute of the second quarter to grab a commanding 3-0 lead at halftime. A QB change from Tommy Beacher to Chris Smelley sparked the SEC team to a dominating second half and an easy victory. Since their two teams are projected to be in the bottom half of their respective conferences it was a significant win.

Alabama 34, Clemson 10 ----- This was supposed to be the year Clemson joined the elite in college football, but it's not happening. Alabama's overwhelming superiority on both lines of scrimmage powered the Crimson Tide to a big win over the then No. 9 Tigers. Clemson coaches will have fun trying to explain how their best two players, James Davis and C.J. Spiller combined for just eight carries on the night. In fact, without Spiller's 96-yard kickoff return to start the second half it would have been even uglier. This game was devastating to the ACC's reputation, but a huge boost to an Alabama program eager to crash the top two in the SEC West.

Kentucky 27, Louisville 2 ----- This game was a lot like South Carolina's opener in that decent offense was almost impossible to find for most of the day. Kentucky took a 10-0 lead into the fourth quarter with the game's only touchdown coming on a fumble return. Midway through the final period Louisville finally scored when Kentucky QB Mike Hartline was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. Kentucky added a field goal, a one-play seven-yard scoring drive following an interception and another defensive touchdown for the final score. This one was part of a miserable weekend for the Big East and gave an indication that the Wildcats might be good enough to make a run at a third straight bowl bid.

UCLA 27, Tennessee 24 (OT) ----- If you didn't stay up Monday night you did yourself a disservice as this was one of the best games of the weekend and probably THE best. Defense dominated most of the game with the two teams scoring 24 points in the first 53 minutes of action and then proceeded to score 24 in the last seven minutes. The Vols took the lead at 21-17 with less than five minutes to go, but UCLA drove 70 yards to go up 24-21 with less than half a minute to play.

Somehow Tennessee was able to score a tying field goal to force overtime as time expired. However after UCLA scored a field goal in the extra session the Vols Daniel Lincoln, who was the hero five minutes earlier became the goat when he missed a 34-yarder giving UCLA the win. Still for the SEC this didn't look bad at all as Tennessee, with a new QB and offensive coordinator went across the country and lost a thriller in overtime.

So the SEC is 3-1 in the first four "showdown" games that will help define the league for 2008. Here, again is a look at those contests.

September 6, Florida vs. Miami ----- The Hurricanes destroyed Charleston Southern opening day, but that is about as bad a team as there is anywhere. Florida had no trouble at all with Hawaii --- a team that beat Charleston Southern 66-10 last year --- and have a lot to play for Saturday night. Florida hasn't beaten the ‘Canes since 1985, losing six straight games including a pair of bowl match ups. The Gators have BCS aspirations that would suffer a huge setback with a home loss to the folks from Coral Gables. Miami's goals are more modest under second year head coach Randy Shannon. They want to be relevant again, and perhaps challenge Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division of the ACC.

September 6, Ole Miss at Wake Forest ----- This is another SEC/ACC game where the pressure is on the ACC team to win. Wake Forest won the ACC Title in '06 and has a legit shot at doing it again. Jim Grobe is a highly respected coach who has made playing Wake anything but the gimme it had been for years. Baylor was reminded of this last weekend with a 41-13 beat down. As for Ole Miss, they struck gold in luring Houston Nutt from Arkansas and he'll have them running the ball better than ever. However the key guy is QB Jevan Snead. Remember him? He committed to Florida, but switched to Texas after Tim Tebow announced his intention to be a Gator. He left Texas after a year and is now the starting QB in Oxford. Snead passed for 185 yards and 2 TD in the Rebels 41-24 win over Memphis.

September 13, Arkansas @ Texas ----- Well if Ole Miss is a bit of an underdog at Wake Forest, the Razorbacks will be a HUGE one in Austin. The Hogs return quite a bit from last year's 8-and-5 team, but you have to wonder if Casey Dick is the man to run Bobby Petrino's pro style passing attack. Opening day was anything but encouraging as the Hogs had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat Western Illinois 28-24. Texas will want to show that last year's 10-and-3 mark wasn't the beginning of a slide from the upper echelon of college football. The Longhorns took care of Florida Atlantic 52-10 last week with Colt McCoy running for over 100 yards and passing for another 200-plus.

September 20, Georgia @ Arizona State ----- The Bulldogs are loaded as we saw in Jacksonville and they are capable of a run to the BCS Title game despite a brutal schedule. This game is part of the brutality. It's even tougher since the Dawgs have lost standout defensive tackle Jeff Owens for the year. Arizona State boasts QB Rudy Carpenter who threw for 388 yards in a 30-13 win over Northern Arizona opening day. Don't let that score fool you, ASU was up 30-0 before allowing a field goal at the end of the third quarter and just coasted in the final 15 minutes. The schedule makes it tough as well since Georgia will be coming off its SEC opener at South Carolina while the Sun Devils should have a breeze with UNLV at home.

We'll review the state of the SEC vis-à-vis other leagues at the end of the month.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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