SCOTT: SEC News & Notes

Auburn and Florida fans can start purchasing their tickets and reserving their hotels in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. While they're at it, they can start ordering their tickets along with their airline and hotel reservations for the Fiesta Bowl.

If they're smart, though, they'll hold on to their money and not make any hasty decisions. From the looks of Saturday's games, the SEC division races are far from over.


Auburn (3-0, 2-0 SEC) took a decisive step at home on Saturday with a 7-3 win over LSU (2-1, 0-1 SEC) and both teams proved to be tough, physical and intense, but was there anything about that game that suggested Auburn was ready to win the rest of its game and go undefeated through the conference schedule.


"We will have to lose two games," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said, "and that could very easily happen if we don't go out and continue to improve with the schedule that we have left. We have a lot of hard work to do."


That was particularly evident on offense, where Auburn mustered only two significant drives the entire game and struggled to run the football. Of course, a lot of that has to do with LSU's defense, but a championship team has to find a way to score a few more points.


"Offense is about your ability to get in synch, and we did not get in synch," said offensive coordinator Al Borges. "We were struggling."


LSU coaches and players will always look back to the loss at Auburn and see a series of "what ifs." As LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said, "When two good football teams play somebody's going to get these questions at the end of the game."


How many times did LSU appear to be closing in on the big score? How many times did LSU appear to be one play from taking over? But a penalty here, a missed opportunity there ... and a close game becomes a loss. Again, Auburn had something to do with that, but LSU must find a way to get over that hump.


"There's so many ways to win that game," LSU coach Les Miles said. "If somebody would have told me that we would have won the turnover battle and we'd have outgained our opponent you'd have thought we'd have won. It wasn't meant to be."


That doesn't mean a division championship is not meant to be for LSU, but some things will have to change for it to happen.


Miles said the defense will "give us a chance to win every game" if it plays the way it did against Auburn, but the offense must do better on first down and run for more than 42 yards on 23 carries.


"We have to return to running the football when we want to run it," Miles said, "and I want you to know something: Our kids will do that. Our football team will do that."


Maybe some LSU fans woke up Sunday morning doubting that, but a quick look back at that game reveals one very important quality in both teams. Both Auburn and LSU proved to be resilient. Neither team ever backed down. Neither team ever got down on themselves or let up. They made mistakes -- mistakes that can be corrected.


"It was a very violent game," Tuberville said. "There was more speed on that field than I've seen in a long time. It is hard to have a loser. We are awfully glad that this year we came out on top."


The same was true for Florida after beating Tennessee 21-20 in Knoxville on Saturday.

If a vote had to be taken right now, most objective SEC fans (all five or six of them) would probably have to pick Florida as the best team in the SEC at this point, but even the Gators have a lot to work on.


"I wouldn't say great yet, but those were two very good college football teams going at one another," Florida coach Urban Meyer. "That's the way it should end, in a very close ballgame. For our team, I thought that was one of the finest offense, defense and special teams games we've had. That was one of the best team-efforts I've ever seen."


Both teams wiped out big plays with penalties and missed opportunities to take control of the game. Both teams will come away with regrets over mistakes, but neither one will come away questioning their ability to win and their commitment to making it happen.


"I don't think we took our foot off the gas pedal. Florida just rose to the occasion," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We'll learn from this and get ready for the next game. You're going to have a hard time winning in this league if you can't rush the ball."


Three things will ultimately decide who wins the East and West Division titles: how much will these four teams improve over the course of a season? Who will take the best advantage of their schedule? How will the "Georgia factor" play out?


First, only time will tell the answer to the first question. Second, Auburn still holds the schedule advantage with Arkansas, Florida and Georgia at home while LSU must play at Florida and Tennessee, but an injury here or there could negate Auburn's edge. Anyone who knows anything about Auburn's quarterback situation knows the Auburn coaches were in a near panic when starter Brandon Cox laid on the ground for a scary minute or two on Saturday. Auburn backup Blake Field won't exactly remind anyone of Matt Flynn.


And then there's the "Georgia factor." At this point, it's hard to see Alabama as a legitimate division contender in the West, while Georgia is very much in the mix in the East. Alabama could get a lot better before it's all over, but Georgia is definitely more of a threat than Alabama to make an impact on the division races, especially if the Bulldogs improve at quarterback.


Say this for the SEC, though. After a "down" year in 2005, the conference looks to be a major national player again. Any of the four teams that played on the national stage on Saturday is capable of playing for the national championship.


"I told the other coaches before the game, 'The SEC is amazing,'" Meyer said. "That's coming from someone who's coached in a lot of different parts of the country."




Anyone who follows recruiting knows Florida brought in an impressive signing class, but who knew some of those newcomers would be so valuable so soon?


Not only is Meyer willing to play talented true freshmen, but he proved on Saturday he's willing to play them at critical junctures in big games. Receiver Percy Harvin, quarterback Tim Tebow and punt returner Brandon James all took their turns making a positive impact in Florida's win at Tennessee.


Tebow ran for 29 yards and three first downs on seven carries, Harin ran once for 12 yards and caught a pass for 13 yards and James returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown. The score was wiped out by a penalty, but it occurred well behind James.




Alabama struggled to beat Hawaii and Vanderbilt and then ran away from Louisiana-Monroe for a 41-7 on Saturday, but instead of talking about Saturday's game at Arkansas, Crimson Tide fans will likely be talking about coach Mike Shula's discipline policies this week.


Shula has insisted upon keeping Alabama's disciplinary issues quiet, preferring to deal with them "in house," but all he's done is create more confusion and controversy.


The issue took another turn for the worse on Saturday when Shula admitted that seven players had been suspended at various points over the first three games for transgressions committed during the offseason. Conveniently, three of those players – linebacker Juwan Simpson, cornerback Lionel Mitchell and tailback Jimmy Johns - were suspended for the Louisiana-Monroe instead of the season opener against Hawaii.


The suspensions, however, were staggered, Shula said, "because it was not fair to our football team to suspend all seven in one game."


Simpson just happened to make nine tackles against Hawaii and Johns led the Crimson Tide in rushing against the Warriors, while Mitchell intercepted a pass in the end zone on the last game of a 25-17 win.


"I think Coach Shula did the best thing for the team," Mitchell said. "Suspending everybody at one time might put us in a real bad situation."


As for the other suspensions, "We don't talk about the guys when they are missing games," Shula said.


In all, seven players were suspended. Two of those were receiver DJ Hall, who missed the opener, and offensive tackle Kyle Tatum, who missed the second game. Shula would not reveal the other two, but they were suspended over the first two games.


"We were going to carry it over the course of three games," Shula said. "Six guys, nobody knew about were going to miss games. The last guy (Simpson) everybody knew about."


And instead of Arkansas, that's what almost everybody that follows Alabama is talking about.




Meanwhile, fans at Ole Miss are talking about quarterback Brent Schaeffer, but not the way they expected to be at this point.


The anointed savior of the Rebels' offense continued to struggle on Saturday, throwing a decisive interception at the 10-yard line in the third quarter of a 31-14 loss at Kentucky.

Ole Miss also hurt itself with five turnovers and 12 penalties for 79 yards, but it's Schaeffer who remains the focal point after completing 13 of 26 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and two lost fumbles.


"We had way too many turnovers and penalties," Schaeffer said. "It's my fault. I take it all. A lot of the staff is about being a quarterback and a leader and I have to take control of some of those things."


He better do it soon. The 3-0 Wake Forest team that comes to town on Saturday won 24-13 at Connecticut on Saturday and is capable of winning at Ole Miss as well, especially if the Rebels are giving the ball away and committing penalties.




Richard Scott is a Birmingham based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at

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