By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- Doesn’t it feel like college football just started?
We are now less than one month away (December 1st) from the SEC Championship game, and the number of games separating the regular season from bowl season is shrinking by the weekend.
Before the season began, Saturday November 3rd was viewed as the crown jewel of the schedule. There were two marquee games (Alabama/LSU, Oregon/USC) and many felt the National Championship would be decided on this date.
While that wasn’t necessarily the case, the slate of contests in the SEC left us with more than a few memorable moments. Let’s dig in and review another Saturday in the league.
First Down: SEC Standouts
The great performances from Saturday’s games.
Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M): I told you. From this point on, I’m just going to save Manziel’s spot on this list. The redshirt freshman had 465 yards of total offense against MSU, leading his team in rushing and passing. Early in the year Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin stated that Manziel wasn’t using the entire playbook yet. Holy smokes. This kid can do more?
Tyler Bray (Tennessee): Any time a quarterback breaks a passing record at the school that produced Peyton Manning, that’s a big deal. Bray did just that, throwing for 530 yards in Saturday’s Vol win. That mark is second all-time in SEC history, trailing only Eric Zeier’s (against Southern Miss) 544 yard total in 1993. The Vols also had a school record 718 yards on the day.
Eddie Lacy (Alabama): While AJ McCarron and TJ Yeldon will get all the fan fare from Alabama’s win over LSU, Lacy’s contributions were huge for the Crimson Tide. He led the team in rushing, picking up 89 yards on just 11 carries, averaging seven yards per tote. Lacy also scored the Tide’s first touchdown, breaking several tackles en route to the end zone. I’ve said this before, but Lacy continually gets overlooked when it comes to Alabama’s offense. His performance will likely go under the radar again, but he was a key cog for Nick Saban’s crew.
Zach Mettenberger (LSU): Raise your hand if you saw that performance coming from LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. The quarterback most LSU fans had hoped to see this year appeared in the second half against Alabama, putting on a show and nearly leading the Tigers to the win. Mettenberger set career highs in many categories, and showed poise we haven’t seen during his tenure. No one player shined more in the SEC’s primetime matchup than the LSU signal caller. Our own Scott Crumbly broke down Mettenberger’s big day in more detail here.
ESPN’s Post-Game Coverage: ESPN’s College Gameday was in Baton Rouge this week, but it was their postgame coverage of Alabama-LSU that really caught my eye. Host Chris Fowler and David Pollack did a great job of analyzing the day’s biggest game, while also conducting worthwhile interviews with Nick Saban and AJ McCarron. Pollack in particular (he’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine) provided insightful takes on both teams performances, and explained the atmosphere as only he can (as a player). I usually don’t sit around and watch postgame shows, but I found myself glued to ESPN on Saturday night.
Second Down: SEC Strangle Hold Over BCS
There wasn’t much drama in the unveiling of this week’s Bowl Championship Series standings for SEC fans, as everyone had a good idea of how the list would shake out. With Alabama the clear number one, attention turned to the one and two loss teams.
Seven teams has been the constant for the SEC in this year’s BCS rankings, a number that equates to half of the conference. Where those seven have been listed throughout the year has changed to some degree, but it continues to be the same seven.
Texas A&M made the move up to number 15, setting the stage for next week’s matchup when the Aggies travel to Tuscaloosa. The Aggies have been in every game this year, even holding leads in their two losses in 2012 (Florida, LSU). The fact that A&M ranks higher than in-state rival Texas (17th) has to bring a smile to the faces of the 12th Man.
I expected the four remaining one and two loss squads (Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, LSU) to be around slots 5-11, just depending how the numbers shook out. When I saw Florida State at number 10, and then Louisville at number nine, I did a double take.
With none of the schools I mentioned on the board yet, that guaranteed that five of the eight top teams in the BCS would come from the SEC. Step back and think about that for a second. Out of the country’s eight top teams, according to the poll which selects the two National Championship participants, five of them belong to the SEC.
Sure as that thought rattled through my brain, the SEC train of teams began to emerge. First South Carolina at number eight, and then followed by LSU at number seven. Eastern Division rivals Florida (6th) and Georgia (5th) made it four straight SEC teams, a remarkable feat considering the parity in college football today.
This spells bad news for non-SEC fans, as the opportunity to compete for the National Championship clearly goes through the SEC. Alabama has a hammerlock on the top spot, and should anything weird happen (not likely), there are a slew of SEC teams ready to take full advantage. Both Georgia and Florida fans should take solace in knowing that should the undefeated fall, their teams are set to reap the benefits. In the craziest of scenarios, there is still a possibility for an All-SEC National Championship.
For those that missed it earlier this week, I did a 10-year study on BCS standings in November and how they relate to the final rankings.
Either way the league’s dominance over college football continues.
Third Down: Technology Saves The Day
Saturdays in the Fall are all about routine. Much like a family celebrating a Holiday, the day’s schedule is already known ahead of time. Once TV times are announced (on the SEC website), the plan is put in place as to how each fan base will enjoy their day. Depending on kick off time, the process becomes engrained, as each group goes from setup to tailgate, tailgate to game and then home to recap it all.
That schedule doesn’t change often. This weekend was one of those occasions.
Due to CBS’ exclusive primetime window for Alabama and LSU, 75 percent of the SEC schedule kicked off before 1 pm (CT). While the country focused on Baton Rouge, the rest of the conference hit the field early. This put fans in the unique position of having to be game ready at a time when they were normally firing up their grills.
Life also added a curveball for me. November 3rd in my household signaled more than Alabama traveling to Tiger Stadium, but more importantly the celebration of my lovely wife’s birthday. Being the wonderful woman she is, she recognized the time conflict (and me having to work) and as she does for most things, found a fair compromise. We agreed on an early celebration, which would give her birthday extra focus (three days in Destin), while getting me back in time to watch on Saturday.
10 years ago, that would have spelled doom. I’d have missed seven complete games, half of another, with no way to see anything other than highlights. Thankfully, technology has shrunk the world, allowing me to stay in touch while driving through the open space of southern Alabama. While my wife and son slept, I listened. Thanks to Sirius/XM radio, I heard glimpses of several morning games and kept tabs on the others.
Not only did it keep me up to date, but it made the drive go by faster. By the time I reached my driveway, I didn’t feel lost…I felt connected. Technology is awesome.
But, let’s do a quick rundown from the early games. Bullet point time.
-- Johnny Football again. Amazing to think at the start of the year there was uncertainty regarding the Texas A&M quarterback position. In a defining game for both teams, the Aggies picked up a big win on the road at Mississippi State, and Manziel was one of the main reasons why. Is there a more fun contrast in styles than A&M’s offense and Alabama’s defense? Can’t wait for that one next week.
-- Have we given enough credit to Vanderbilt? The Commodores won their third straight SEC game, shutting out a league opponent (Kentucky) for the first time since 1968. The 40-point margin of victory was the first by Vandy since 1948. What James Franklin has done in two years in Nashville should not be overlooked. He has his team one win away from bowl eligibility, a feat that looks possible with the remaining schedule. Remember, the Commodores nearly defeated South Carolina to start the year, and are a loss to Northwestern away from being 6-3 right now. Well done sir.
-- Even though it was an out of conference game, how much fun was that Tennessee-Troy game? Tyler Bray was phenomenal (more on him below), setting a school record in the 55-48 win. I probably spent more time following this game than any other during the morning slate. Kudos to the Vols for overcoming a late deficit to pick up the win.
Fourth Down: Armageddon In Reverse In Baton Rouge
On Sunday, I broke down how Alabama’s win in Baton Rouge had a similar feel to LSU’s victory in Armageddon a year ago.