The Robertson Report

Well folks, the stage is set for high drama in the SEC divisional races. Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia are all locked in a three-way tie with no margin for error. LSU faces a must-win game with Alabama to force an elimination game of sorts next week with Mississippi. It doesn't get any better than this for SEC fans. Every game is huge and a loss anywhere along the way could have severe implications on bowl destinations.

What's funny is that when the SEC divisions were announced most expected the West to be dominated by Alabama and Auburn and the East to be very competitive. Since divisional play began, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt have not made any real challenge for the SEC East. The same three teams that are currently tied for 1st place have split the divisional championships, with Florida winning the most. The SEC West has showed more parity than any other division in college football. If Mississippi wins the West this year, every team in the Western Division would have represented the West in the SEC championship game.

There are some factions that would like to see the divisions realigned to make the East more competitive. While that idea is intriguing, there aren't many supporters of realignment. Several key rivalry games would be impacted if the divisional lines were redrawn. One idea is to split the divisions into North and South. That would be very difficult as many of the teams are more centrally located.

The whole point would be to get Vandy and Kentucky out of the same division. Those two teams have lost the most conference games since divisional play began while Florida and Tennessee have won the most. That being said, you could still form two divisions that meet that criteria. You could have one division (Alpha) with Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Arkansas. The (Beta) division would have Florida, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Mississippi, LSU, and Georgia. You could still have the Egg Bowl and Iron Bowl as the respective teams could remain permanent opponents. LSU and Arkansas could still have the battle for the boot if they wanted to. Rivalries like the world's largest cocktail would still be saved as Georgia and Auburn would now be in the same division.

It would take some doing, but it can be done. Folks in the West for the most part are happy with the status quo, but in all fairness things aren't as equitable in the East. Over the next couple of seasons, it will be interesting to see how the SEC handles this. South Carolina has had some very competitive teams in the past few years, but I'm sure it's frustrating when you are always playing for 4th place. I think realignment may be a good idea for the conference as a whole, but I'm sure the folks at Georgia, Florida and Tennessee would miss two guaranteed wins in conference like they have now.

Florida at South Carolina

South Carolina has already lost five games in conference and needs a win to get bowl eligible. Florida needs a win and some help to win the East. South Carolina faces rival Clemson in the season finale, so the thought of going bowling may be a fleeting one.

Florida's young slinger Chris Leak has come on of late. He is not putting up Grossman type numbers, but he is winning. South Carolina's defense may not offer much resistance to the Florida offense. The Gamecocks are getting improved play from their offense, but their defense has had difficulty slowing down the opposition. The 'Cocks will be without freshman sensation Demetrius Summers after a severe concussion last week. Doctors have even warned that the youngster may be out for the season if his headaches persist.

Florida's Leak will look to find all-SEC favorite tight end Ben Troupe. Troupe is putting up numbers better or comparable to Miami's Kellen Winslow, but without the fanfare. Florida only needs about 200 to 250 yards passing from Leak and their running game and speedy defense can do the rest. Leak seems to be finding his niche and this game is a big one for him. Florida has played in must-win games for the last several weeks, so I don't expect the pressure to be a problem for them. They know they're on the outside looking in, but help is out there. The Gators just need to win and win they will.

Florida 31 South Carolina 14

New Mexico State at Arkansas

Arkansas has won as many games in the SEC as NMSU has won all season. It is unusual to have a non-conference game this late unless it is a rivalry game. Most teams shy away from this type of scheduling to avoid getting banged up in games that don't impact their conference standings. If you had to schedule a non-conference game this would be a good team to schedule. The last thing you want is to have to get up to play outside the conference when you are locked into a race for bowl spots.

The 'Backs should be about healthy now. They have played by committee and earned some tough wins that have tested the full measure of their roster. The Blue Grass marathon comes to mind. Hopefully this week the Hogs can get a lead and work the clock using some 2nd teamers. Arkansas has two games remaining (MSU, LSU). The Hogs are good enough to earn the split and possibly win both if the circumstances work out just right. Arkansas would end the season with a 9-3 record which should be good enough for a nice bowl game. Wins over Texas and Alabama highlight the schedule, but the losses to Mississippi and Auburn loom large now.

Arkansas should have no trouble in this one, but may tend to overlook NMSU. Arkansas certainly won't be looking ahead to Mississippi State, but focus is a key this time of year. Had it not been for all the injury problems, the Hogs may have had other plans for New Year's Day.

Arkansas 27 New Mexico State 10

Kentucky at Vanderbilt

It's a game like this that makes we wonder if realignment is not such a bad idea. This game most years is to decide who will be last in the SEC East. More times than not it's Vanderbilt. This year Kentucky needs this win and an upset in one of the last two to avoid a losing record. Vandy is already 0-6 in conference and staring 1-11 right in the face. Barring a major reversal of fortunes the Dores will go winless in the SEC again this season.

There's really not any interesting subplots in this one, Vanderbilt are the lovable losers of the SEC. Kentucky is more talented and they still have something to play for. I like UK in this one, because Vandy has been playing for next year for about 10 weeks. I'd like to see Vandy win just to get the winless monkey off their back. Vandy has taken a step or two back under the Bobby Johnson regime. While winning is not a tradition at Vandy, asking the alumni to accept a 1-11 season is asking a lot.

Kentucky 28 Vanderbilt 20

LSU at Alabama

This game is big for a lot of reasons. Alabama can still have a winning season, which would be a nice accomplishment all things considered, and LSU must win to keep pace with Mississippi. LSU was humiliated last season at home by Alabama and that loss ended up making the difference in the SEC West race. LSU has had a bye week to prepare, while Alabama enjoyed a week off of sorts with a win over a Mississippi State team that appears to have packed it in. More on the Dogs later.

LSU, in many people's eyes, is the best team in the West despite being a game back of the undefeated Rebels. LSU lost at home to Florida while Mississippi won in the Swamp. Both games have had huge impacts on the participants. LSU and Florida have not lost since losing those games and Mississippi earned some much needed confidence. Many folks are looking ahead to next week, but the Tigers best be careful. Alabama can beat them.

I think the sting of the blowout loss and the bitter taste of 2nd place a year ago have the Tigers motivated for a nice stretch run. The week off came at the right time for the Tigers who should have all hands on deck. Nick Saban is a big game coach and generally gets his team to respond. The difference this time is that this one is on the road. The last huge must-win road game was the loss last season at Arkansas. I don't expect a repeat of that performance this week. LSU will roll into Oxford next week looking to stake their claim to the SEC West's top spot. I expect Alabama to be stubborn, but LSU to make the plays late.

LSU 33 Alabama 24

Auburn at Georgia

Now that Auburn's season of discontent is assured, it will be interesting to see how the Tigers come out to play this week. The pressure is on Georgia as they still have a shot of winning the SEC. A season ago it took a late David Greene TD pass on 4th down to repel the Tigers of Auburn. I expect a similar game this year.

Auburn got swallowed up in their own hype and never really showed the stuff of a championship team. There were moments when the Tigers looked solid, but then LSU ended any discussions of an Auburn crown. Any hopes were finally dashed by the Rebels from Oxford. Much has been made of the dropped pass in the endzone by Auburn. The game shouldn't have come down to that. I do question the play calling though. On 3rd and one from the Mississippi 2 with a time out available I would have run the football. A 1st down gives you more options and if you don't make it you call the timeout and set up your 4th down play. The comeback wasn't to be and to be honest if it was luck that caused Mississippi to win, you'd have to say luck was with the Tigers a year ago when in the same situation Eli threw a pick to lose the game.

This week look for Georgia to come out strong and set the tone by pounding Michael Cooper to set up the pass. The Auburn secondary is a weak link as evident by last week and Greene is as good as Manning. Auburn may be ready to pack their bags for Shreveport or they may come out looking to play spoiler. Even if the circumstances were different I'd have to pick Georgia. They are the better team and it will show come the 4th quarter.

Georgia 27 Auburn 21

Mississippi State at Tennessee

It appears the maroon and white Bulldogs are ready for the season to end. After a lackluster performance, Jackie Sherrill called the game with Alabama the low point of his career. As an ardent follower of the Bulldogs, it is difficult to remember a time when the Dogs had less bite. It's tough to put your finger on any one problem as it appears we have several problems. There have been injuries, in-fighting and a whole multitude of other issues. It's truly a shame what has happened, but there is more than enough blame to go around. Instead of figuring out who to blame, let's just fix the problem.

Tennessee comes into this game needing to win its last three games in conference to realize their goal of Atlanta. The games won't be as competitive as the other Eastern front runners would like them to be. The remaining games are MSU, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. If the Vols can't sweep those three, they don't deserve to represent the East.

MSU has been able to basically pick their poison this season on defense. Teams have been able to run and pass equally well on the Bulldogs. The Dogs have been extremely vulnerable against the pass and it appears that any adjustments that have been made have been largely ineffective. Even in the Bulldogs two wins the opposition was able to pass the ball almost at will.

Casey Clausen will look to deepen the Bulldogs misery again this week. His running tandem of Jabari Davis and Cedric Houston will have a field day if the Dogs show a repeat of last week's play. While an upset in Neyland Stadium would be a nice highlight to what has been yet another abysmal season, it doesn't appear likely.

The coaching staff has been instructed to play the kids that want to play regardless of classification. It will be beneficial in the long run to get some of these youngsters on the field in a tough situation like Saturday will be. The circumstances these kids will play in Saturday will hopefully be some of the toughest these kids see in their career at MSU. They're facing a hungry Tennessee team with tons to play for, so don't expect any punches to be pulled. Phil Fulmer is a gentleman, so I don't expect him to run up the score or to trot a starting running back out there to get his 100 yards when the game is in hand. I do expect to see some fresh blood from the MSU side and hopefully a better ball game. Here's hoping.

Tennessee 35 MSU 10

Well folks, that's how I see them. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. I like LSU, but the Rebels seems to have some luck on their side. Tennessee and LSU both have 3 conference games left while the folks they are chasing don't. A lot can happen in three weeks, but the picture may not be clear until after next Saturday. Make plans for the Egg Bowl no matter what happens.

Until next week,

Steve Robertson
John 3:16


Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is therobertsonreport@hotmail.com.

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