Birmingham, Ala. – I can’t believe the month of October is almost behind us. By definition, half of the 2012 college football season is over, and as we head down the home stretch you can’t help but feel a modicum of sadness. After waiting what seemed like ages for college football to get here, it is already half over.
However, I am a “cup half full” kind of guy, so I see it as the stakes rising with every coming Saturday. The great part about the SEC (among many things) is that each weekend’s slate is sure to have a marquee matchup, top teams battling for national recognition. As first down tells us, greatness appears readily available in the Southeastern Conference.
First Down: Current BCS Is All-SEC
Be prepared, SEC haters. It happened again.
To no one’s surprise, when the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings were unveiled Sunday night, Alabama and Florida stood as the top two teams in the country. The Southeastern Conference as a whole had seven teams ranked in the top 25, including six of the top 13. The SEC remains a dominant force in the BCS, a fact no one can dispute at this point in the season.
After last week’s shakeup in the top 10, most games went according to plan this time around. No one in the top six lost, leaving very little suspense for this week’s release. While some can argue the minutiae of the top five spots (including who should be number one), games in the coming weeks will continue to shape how the list will look.
In the SEC, two pivotal matchups next weekend have huge BCS consequences, and can also go a long way to deciding the two teams playing in the Georgia Dome in December. #11 Mississippi State travels to #1 Alabama, and #2 Florida takes on #10 Georgia in their annual rivalry.
The historical dominance of the SEC may be well known, but a further examination of the numbers shows just how much. A league team has appeared in the standings 458 times since 1998, more than any other conference in the nation.
Five SEC teams have been ranked at least one week as the top team in the nation in the BCS standings during its history. In the midst of a six straight National Championship run, the conference continues to make history as each BCS poll is released.
An SEC team has now been ranked first in 12 straight BCS rankings. The conference has been 1-2 in 13 of the last 26 BCS rankings, dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season.
(Tip of the cap to SEC Media Relations guru Charles Bloom for the BCS stats)
Second Down: SEC Standouts
Zac Stacy (Vanderbilt): Quick, who is Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher? The correct answer is now Zac Stacy, who had a big day as the Commodores picked up a 17-13 win over Auburn on Saturday. How many times do you see a player carried off the field? In his own “Rudy” moment, the senior back was hoisted on his teammate’s shoulders, a memorable finish to what will go down as one of the greatest careers in Vanderbilt history. Stacy, much like his Vanderbilt team, has flown under the radar in 2012, but Saturday’s performance deserves recognition. He ran for 169 yards and a touchdown, as the Commodores picked up their second straight SEC victory.
Aaron Murray (Georgia): Amazing what one loss can do when it comes to media attention. Coming into the 2012 season, and for most of the opening month, Georgia’s Aaron Murray was arguably the SEC’s top signal caller. After the Bulldogs loss to South Carolina, everyone moved on from Mark Richt’s crew, but quietly they’ve continued to make their way back up the SEC Eastern Division standings. The reason behind Georgia’s success, offense, can be traced directly to the right arm of Murray. Saturday the junior was masterful, completing 78 percent (30-for-38) of his passes en route to four touchdown passes. Those four TDs put him at the top of the Georgia record book for that stat, an accomplishment worthwhile considering the quarterbacks (Eric Zeier, Matthew Stafford) that have played between the hedges.
Kyle Christy (Florida): Not often does a punter get recognition in 44-11 game, but Christy’s leg played a huge part in Florida’s winning outcome. The sophomore booted the ball seven times, averaging a ridiculous 54.3 yards per punt. In a contest where field position (and turnovers) meant everything, Christy’s soaring kicks continually pinned South Carolina deep, winning the field position battle. He had a 62-yard punt in the game, and is the SEC’s leader in total punt average (47.9 yards per punt).
AJ McCarron (Alabama): Is there a more underappreciated quarterback in college football than AJ McCarron? The junior, who already has a National Championship under his belt, has been a constant for the Tide. With a resume of stats that read “efficient quarterback” and “should be a Heisman contender”, McCarron put up a career-high 306 yards in Alabama’s 44-13 win over Tennessee. McCarron has completed 68 percent of his passes this year, throwing 16 touchdowns and zero, I repeat zero, interceptions. As you watch him play, you feel as if McCarron could do more, be the type of high volume quarterback you read about all over college football. But, that is not what his team needs, so the junior maintains his role, and does it better than anyone else. Where will he rank in the list of recent Alabama quarterbacks? The more you look at his numbers, the more you are surprised. He will likely leave Tuscaloosa at the very top.
My SEC App: As you’ll read below, I wasn’t in my customary spot (my couch) for Saturday’s early game this week. No matter, I was able to keep up with scores of both the Auburn-Vanderbilt game and the LSU-Texas A&M game (despite my original plans, see below) via the SEC app on my phone. It is quite the handy tool to have, and it really saved my bacon this past Saturday. You can find out how to download the app for whatever device you have here.
Third Down: Watching In Reverse
A few weeks ago, LSU was “upset” by Florida, 14-6. After the loss, the Tigers were quickly dismissed as a National Title contender, questions swirling about their lack of offense. The words written about LSU included “overrated”, “disappointing” and “finished”.
One person predicted the country shouldn’t count LSU out.
Two weeks later, the Tigers are 7-1, having picked up back to back wins over top 20 programs. The Bayou Bengals are the highest ranked one loss team in the BCS Standings (6th), and are in complete control of their SEC Western Division future.
After defeating then number three South Carolina in LSU fashion (low scoring defensive struggle), head coach Les Miles team won in a more impressive manner this week against Texas A&M. Facing a 12-point deficit just two drives into the game, LSU overcame adversity and a packed house at Kyle Field, emerging from the hostile environment with a 24-19 win.
A fact I already knew. Let me explain.
Our world is getting smaller. Because of modern technology, the ability to connect to anyone anywhere is at the tip of your fingers (or your voice). That said the sports fan knows that technology has also taken something away from us…suspense.
It is virtually impossible to be in the dark during today’s information age, a problem that reared its ugly head for me this past Saturday. As the father of a soon to be two-year old (Deric), the job of “Dad” supersedes any other occupation in my life. So, on this particular fall Saturday, I’d made plans with my little guy, trips to toy stores and outdoor festivals that would keep me away from my television and the SEC.
I posed a simple question to my Twitter followers. Was there any way I’d be able to avoid hearing the score of the afternoon’s first games? Swarms of people chimed in, saying it wasn’t possible.
I thought they were wrong. Turns out I was.
I couldn’t stay away. During our journey, I kept glancing at my phone. Before getting in the car to head home, I saw “LSU 14, Texas A&M 12”, and figured the Tigers were playing well in College Station.
With Deric napping, I settled in to watch the contest from the beginning. Viewing a game in which you already know the score (at half anyway) is different, because your mind makes assumptions of what is going to happen. You expect each play to turn out LSU’s way (in this case), a precursor to being ahead.
As the game flashed across my eyes, I kept wondering…when is LSU going to take the lead?
With five minutes remaining in the half, Texas A&M was up 12-0. The 12th Man was alive, and A&M appeared one score away from putting the game out of reach. LSU’s defense was confused, unsure of how to slow down Johnny “Football” Manziel and the Aggie attack. Head coach Kevin Sumlin couldn’t have been happier with his team’s performance.
Two turnovers later, LSU had a 14-12 lead. The Tiger defense, which appeared to be on life support, put their offense in position to score, the formula Les Miles has used for years.
At the time I reached half, the actual game itself was in the fourth quarter. My lack of willpower had me look at my phone again, seeing the exact same score (14-12) I had just witnessed. This allowed me to watch the third quarter in fast forward, hoping to reach real-time as the pivotal moments neared.
LSU turned a corner in the second half. The defense put the clamps on Texas A&M, and Tiger quarterback Zach Mettenberger found rhythm. While his numbers weren’t pretty (11-for-29, 97 yards), he was aggressive. He threw long, giving the Aggie defense another dimension to be aware of. That got the LSU run game going.
By the time I caught up, Miles and company were celebrating a win. The Tiger roar is loud once again, and LSU now has a week to prepare for the game everyone in the nation circled in July.
On November 3rd they host top ranked Alabama, a game dubbed “Armageddon” a year ago.
“Armageddon II”? Whatever you want to call it, the game means just as much one year later.
Fourth Down: Alabama’s Freshman Trio
Read my special feature about Alabama’s three freshmen and their big performance in the Tide’s win over Tennessee here.