By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digitial Network
Birmingham, Ala. – The Bowl Championship Series is back.
Everyone’s favorite punching bag returns, the set of rankings that determine the two teams that play for the National Championship. Despite being an easy target for fan rage, the fact of the matter is the BCS is the system of record, and this week marks the first of a two-month stretch that will determine who fights for the crystal ball in Miami.
Each game is that much more magnified, the specter of the BCS standings hovering over each result in college football. The talk will shift to rankings, and how teams matchup against others in the top 25. College football will now be engulfed by comparison, as we whittle down to the top two teams in the country.
While the SEC has fared favorably in the past, each year brings a new set of challengers. Each week of the conferences schedule will match up highly ranked teams against each other, the opportunity for the league’s elite to rise and fall.
Who took advantage this week? Let’s dive in.
First Down: SEC Overload
At 8:15 pm CT on Saturday night, I witnessed something I’ve never seen before. All four of ESPN’s channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNEWS) had an SEC football game on. The nation’s top conference was bursting at the seams of the Worldwide Leader.
SEC "overload" was the theme of the weekend, both for the games on the field and the discussion off of it. The Saturday night slate was filled with great performances (can you say Johnny Football?) and amazing atmospheres (Davis Wade and Death Valley come to mind), keeping us awake into the wee hours of Sunday morning as the final whistle, the one in Shreveport, was blown.
It was one of those nights where you bounced from game to game, watching each scene dramatically unfold before moving on to the next. From Florida's win, to LSU's triumph, to State's victory and lastly A&M's survival, the sheer amount of energy expended watching left me physically exhausted after it was over.
SEC "overload" continued into Sunday, with all the weekly polls (AP, Coaches, Harris) having seven SEC teams ranked. While there was certain fluctuation for how the teams were listed, the fact remained that nearly 30 percent of the nation's top 25 squads were from the Southeastern Conference. All the newly released rankings were the warmup for the day's main event, the unveiling of the first Bowl Championship Series standings. Kudos to ESPN for turning a simple release into an event, with a Sunday night broadcast completely devoted to the BCS.
About 30 minutes before the rankings were revealed, I sent out a tweet from the SEC's (@SECSportsUpdate) twitter account, asking our fans (and followers) how many league teams would be ranked in the top five. I thought it was a legitimate discussion, since the number was certain to be at least two (Alabama, Florida) but could have been as high as four (LSU, South Carolina). There were several previews of what the list would look like, but no one knew for sure. The beauty of the BCS is its finality (and some would argue that's the bad part), and despite what any other prognosticator thinks, their formula is final.
As the reply tweets rolled in, it hit me. There are a lot of people who aren't excited about an SEC "overload", espeically in the poll that decides the two National Championship competitors. Non-SEC fans, media and others chimed in, voicing displeasure about what they feared would happen. As the clock turned to 7:30 pm CT, and ESPN's BCS show began, their worst fears were realized
SEC "overload" was an understatment. Six of the top 12 teams in the BCS were from the SEC, and seven teams were in the top 18. While there was little suprise over the number one team (Alabama), the number two squad (Florida) ellicited national reaction. LSU and South Carolina were the two highest rated one loss teams, ranking at numbers six and seven respectively (guess my top five tweet wasn't that far off). In the end, the talk of that show and the college football world focused around the conference that has been at the center for the past six years.
While you can argue about the poll all day long, the fact remains that this version of the rankings doesn't mean a whole lot. They are meant to be a representation of right now, not of what will happen in the future. Does it make for good debate? Sure it does. Is it gospel? Of course not. That said, no matter your opinion of the SEC, you have to admit that one conference having of half of the nation's top 12 ranked BCS teams is outstanding.
SEC "overload" indeed.
Second Down: SEC Standouts
Bo Wallace (Ole Miss): There’s no such thing as a triple-double in football, but if there was, the Ole Miss quarterback would have completed the trifecta. Wallace, one of the more versatile QBs in the SEC, not only threw and ran for a touchdown, but caught one as well. Wallace commanded the Ole Miss offense, leading the Rebels to 41 points against Auburn. As you’ll read below, his key decision making, especially in the run game, was a huge factor in Huge Freeze’s group getting their first SEC win since 2010.
Eddie Lacy (Alabama): Quick, who is Alabama’s top running back? Should be an easy answer, but many times we forget about Eddie Lacy. Lacy, who served as a backup to first rounder Trent Richardson last year, often gets overshadowed by talented freshman TJ Yeldon. Yet, Lacy continues to put up numbers, and was dominant in a win on the road at Missouri this week. For a runner not known for his game breaking ability, Lacy went 73-yards for a TD on Alabama’s opening drive. He rushed for 177 yards on the game, and continues to be a consistent option for the Tide in the backfield. Even if you forget about him from time to time.
Jeremy Hill (LSU): A lot of people wrote LSU off last week. I didn’t. The Tigers, in front of a crowd that symbolized what Death Valley is all about, defeated South Carolina 23-21 on Saturday night. The main reason for their success, other than another great defensive performance, was LSU freshman back Jeremy Hill. Hill stepped up for the Bayou Bengals, going for 124 yards as the upperclassmen above him battled injury. Hill made the game’s biggest play, a 50-yard jaunt that proved to be the game winner. Hill’s physical style wore down South Carolina, and on Saturday night his game earns him SEC standout recognition.
Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M): Ho hum, Johnny Football did it again. At this point I feel like we should just save a spot for him here every week. After breaking an SEC record a few weeks back against Arkansas, the cult hero rewrote the SEC record book again in A&M’s 59-57 win over La. Tech. Manziel combined for 576 total yards of offense, an improvement on his previous record total. Despite his SEC career spanning just six games, the redshirt freshman has already broken and re-broken (is that a word?) a long time held conference record. Manziel essentially sealed the game (as much as you can seal in any 59-57 game) for the Aggies when he tore through La. Tech for a 72-yard run. Manziel’s style is so unique, yet continues to be effective in Kevin Sumlin’s offense. Despite the occasional hiccup, Johnny “Football” is having one of the finest freshman seasons in SEC memory.
My Remote Control: Again, I couldn’t have made it without my remote control working serious overtime during Saturday’s SEC madness. Can’t even begin to count how many times I changed the channel, and for most of the night I felt like the remote was a permanent extension of my hand. If anyone needed a day off Sunday, it was my remote. SEC Standout material no doubt.
Third Down: Turning The Page In Oxford
Going into the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Ole Miss held a 24-20 lead over Auburn. If the situation felt familiar to the 57,068 Rebel fans in attendance, it is because it was.
A week prior, Ole Miss found itself ahead of new Western Division rival Texas A&M, 20-17, just 12 minutes away from ending a two-year long drought in SEC play. The Rebels would falter, the Aggies picking up a late 30-27 victory. The “streak” would continue.
The last time the Rebels had won an SEC game, Hugh Freeze wasn’t their head coach. That victory came on October 2, 2010, while he was roaming the sidelines of NAIA power Lambuth. 16 league matchups had come and gone since, a fact mentioned every time the Rebels hit the field. Much has changed in Oxford in that time, from the program’s coaching staff to the players on the field. Yet, the struggles of the past remained.
With Freeze now wearing the headsets in 2012, the Rebels were once again one quarter away. In their way stood Auburn, a team struggling to end a streak of its own. Losing three straight, the Tigers were fighting to right the ship. Two squads were hoping to end patterns of defeat, with 15 minutes left on the clock to decide who.
As announcer Dave Neal said on the SEC Network broadcast, “Who is going to get it done?”
Ole Miss answered emphatically, scoring 17 straight points to pull away 41-20. That 41 point total is UM’s highest mark against Auburn since 1992. The Rebels, adjusting from mistakes that cost them against the Aggies, kept it simple, sealing the deal with the combination of Bo Wallace and Jeff Scott. The duo combined for 206 rushing yards on the day.
The Rebels had five offensive drives in the 4th quarter, and scored on three of them. In perhaps the game’s defining moment; Scott maintained his balance for an amazing 55-yard TD reception, rolling on the arm of an Auburn defender to keep from being down.
For Auburn fans, the play was eerily similar to Michael Dyer’s miraculous run in the BCS Championship Game two years ago, helping lead the Tigers to its first National Title. Today, that feat of equilibrium meant another Auburn loss, head coach Gene Chizik’s team moving to 1-5 on the year and 0-4 in the SEC.
While many on the plains shake their head, fans on the Grove have something to celebrate. Saturday’s Ole Miss’ win means change, allowing Freeze and company to move on from yesteryear’s disappointment. The Freeze era thus far has been full of near misses, a team competing to the final whistle despite coming up short on the scoreboard.
That streak ended Saturday, as the Rebels finished strong, putting an exclamation point on a great performance in front of their home fans.
Mr. Neal…Ole Miss got it done.