SCOTT: Big difference between top and bottom

Discussions about the disparity between the "haves" and the "have nots" used to involve the SEC and the WACs, MACs and Sun Belts of the world.

These days, it's more likely to focus on The Great Divide between the "haves" and "have nots" within the SEC itself.


Forget about Ole Miss pushing Alabama to the wall, Arkansas leading Auburn at the half and Vanderbilt giving Georgia fits last Saturday. A decisive gap has emerged in the SEC, with LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee at one level, and Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky clearly operating on a lower level in terms of results, talent, recruiting, facilities, resources and reputation.


"I know that we are not near Alabama, Auburn or Georgia," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who has seen the other side of the fence at Florida. "They really know how to play the game. They are tough and physical and can play fast. We have some players on our team that could play for them.


"Hopefully some day we can get there. We have to recruit and if we can get to that level with those guys we should be able to play with them."


It wasn't all that long ago when the SEC seemed to be 10 deep with quality teams capable of competing within the conference and winning the SEC's abundant share of non-conference games.

Now, the rich seem to be getting richer and former middle class programs such as Arkansas, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State seem to be slipping down the competitive ladder. When Vanderbilt got off to a strong start this season, two of its victories came against Ole Miss and Arkansas. As for Kentucky, well ... basketball season started last Friday.


"It's a pretty big divide and from our standpoint is a huge divide," said Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, whose team recently went 0-4 against Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Florida over a five-week period. "You don't have the talent level and the skills position that some of those teams have. You don't have the depth. The guys they face in practice, they are getting a fastball pitcher every week in practice. They are able to give you an idea of what you will get on Saturday."


So what's the big deal about a little division within the SEC ranks? This abyss isn't without its consequences.


For one thing, a conference accustomed to sending seven and eight teams to bowls might not produce more than six eligible teams this season.


South Carolina is 3-3 with Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson still left on the schedule. Vanderbilt is 4-3 with South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee still left to play. Arkansas and Ole Miss are both 2-4 and must play each other on Nov. 12.


Also, beating those lower-tier teams won't help the top-tier teams as much as it used to. If Georgia or Alabama end up in a multi-team BCS pileup for the national championship race, they'll need all the quality schedule points they can get from their opponents. Whipping up on Kentucky doesn't mean much when the Wildcats can't beat Indiana. The same is true when Vandy loses to Middle Tennessee.


Dividing the conference in half also hurts the SEC's national reputation - a status that already took a hit last year when Auburn failed to overtake USC or Oklahoma for a shot at the national championship.


Check out the ACC, where at least nine teams appear bowl worthy. Didn't that used to be the SEC?




For Tennessee (3-2, 2-2 SEC) to have any chance at winning at Alabama on Saturday and start salvaging something positive from a season that's already fallen far short of its championship expectations, the Vols have to find a way to fix an offense that entered last week ranked 96th in the nation scoring offense (19 points per game) and 86th in total offense (336.2 yards per game).


"Defensively, you can't complain at all. They have played well because they have their personality," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Offensively, we haven't established ourselves. We are trying to find something we can hang our hat on and go from there."


None of that's going to happen until the Vols learn to run the ball like they have in the past when they've been at their best. With a running game that ranks 100th in the nation in rushing (98.8 yards per game), it probably doesn't matter who plays quarterback at this point.


"I'm embarrassed about it," said Fulmer, a former Tennessee offensive linemen and offensive line coach.


At that same time, the Vols have put themselves in difficult circumstance for running the ball all too often this season.


"We got 21 points down at LSU," Fulmer said. "That's not the time to run it a whole bunch. And certainly against Georgia, we chose to go another route. Would I like to be 5-0 and rushing for 200 and throwing for 200? That's what I'd like, yeah."


So what will it take? The offensive line needs to get healthy and find a combination of five it can count on after undergoing several changes through the first five games. The entire offense needs to do a much better job with execution, penalties and other mistakes that have bogged down potential scoring drives. Even those dropped passes by the receivers add up, because they usually lead to obvious passing situations and more pressure on the quarterbacks.


More than anything, the Vols would like to run the ball consistently enough to establish a physical personality on offense, control the line of scrimmage, take some pressure off quarterback Rick Clausen and open up some opportunities in the passing game.


That won't be easy against an Alabama defense allowing just 98 rushing yards per game.


"I would like to be a balanced football team," Fulmer said. "I would like to rush the ball well. I know how much better it is on everybody when you can rush the football."




Alabama (6-0, 4-0 SEC) survived its first game without receiver/return specialist Tyrone Prothro, but just barely.


Keith Brown was the only wide receiver to catch more than one pass, wide receiver DJ Hall spent most of game on the sideline with bruised ribs, the offense struggled to put up a season-low 121 rushing yards and the Crimson Tide never pulled off the big pass play to spark the offense.


"We missed him a lot today," Alabama tailback Kenneth Darby said of Prothro, who is out for the season after suffering a broken leg the week before against Florida.


More than anything, "I think the biggest thing is after the catch," quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "That's where Prothro made his money. Most of his yards were after the catch."


Alabama still won 13-10 when Croyle drove the offense down the field for Jamie Christensen's game-winning 31-yard field goal on the final play, but it's obvious the Crimson Tide still has a long way to go to replace Prothro and be a dangerous offense again.


Then again, there's something to be said for coming out on the right end of a dramatic last-minute drive.


"A game-winning drive, we hadn't had one in a while," Croyle said. "It was about time we had one."

"I think this will help us," said Alabama coach Mike Shula said, "winning it the way we won it."




After the Alabama game, Ole Miss looks like a good bet to beat Kentucky at home, but the keys will be the Rebels' first-half offensive production and red zone success.


Ole Miss entered the Alabama game having been outscored 20-19 in the first quarter and 33-0 in the second quarter this season. The Rebels outscored Alabama 7-0 in the first quarter but went scoreless in the second quarter when they hit the skids at the end of two long drives and missed two field goals.


Ole Miss also came up short on a trip into the red zone in the fourth quarter, despite earning first-and-goal from the Alabama 8. Two plays later, they faced third-and-goal from the 2 when they drew consecutive delay-of-game penalties that pushed them back 10 yards. They had to settle for a field goal and a 10-10 tie.


"After the second one, I was like, 'Are you serious? Two delay (penalties) in a row?" offensive tackle Tre Stallings said. "We still had time to get something done after that, but it was a big momentum swing right there."


The Tide responded by driving for the game-winning field goal, leaving the Rebels at 2-4, 0-3 in the SEC and in desperate need of a win over anyone "even Kentucky."


They can start by doing a better job in the red zone "especially in the first half.


"We got all the way down there and just started killing ourselves," receiver Mario Hill said. "We were at the goal line with a chance to score, which is what you want. It's tough when you know the other team isn't stopping you. You're stopping yourself."




South Carolina needs all the offensive help it can get, even if it means using Syvelle Newton as a receiver, runner and passer.


Newton spent extended practice time rotating among running back, quarterback and wide receiver during last week's open date. Newton played quarterback last year, moved to receiver when coach Steve Spurrier took over and then showed his running skills at quarterback late in South Carolina's 44-16 victory over Kentucky.


With an offense struggling for consistency, especially in the running game, Newton could offer a much-needed spark.


"You haven't heard? He's not a quarterback anymore," Spurrier said early in the open date. "We found a new position for him. But we're going to keep it a surprise for the Vandy game. Seriously."


Spurrier was more willing to address the situation the next day, hinting that Newton would play a multiple role when the Gamecocks (3-3, 1-3 SEC) play Vanderbilt (4-3, 2-2 SEC) at home on Saturday.


"He looked okay at tailback, at quarterback and at wide receiver. He plays a little bit of all right now," Spurrier said. "The way he ran the other day, I'd like to see him run again and see what happens. We're just not making many yards, maybe he can make some. We'll find out."




Richard Scott is a featured columnist and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. A longtime journalist in the Birmingham area, Scott has worked for a number of newspapers in addition to writing two books "Legends of Alabama Football" and "Tales from the Auburn 2004 Championship season." He can be reached by e-mail at

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