The stage is pretty much set. The contenders have been separated from the pretenders. It appears that in both the East and the West, the four front runners have separated themselves from the proverbial pack.
In the East, two teams have a legitimate chance of making a trip to Atlanta, with Missouri in the driver's seat of the East race at 9-1. South Carolina is still mathematically in the race, but they will still need a loss (or two) from Mizzou down the stretch. That possibility is not out of the question as the Tigers will face Texas A&M and Ole Miss in the closing weeks of the season, giving South Carolina a glimmer of hope that they can make it to their second SEC Championship since 2010.
Alabama remains undefeated after destroying LSU in the second half of Saturday's face-off of perennial West powerhouses. Auburn, at 8-1, is the only real threat to yet another SEC West title for the Crimson Tide, and the two teams will meet in the final week of the regular season for a trip to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, if both teams do indeed win out. Auburn has their work cut out for them this week, as they'll be facing a resurgent Georgia Bulldogs team in the South's oldest football rivalry.
Alabama is clearly the team to beat in the SEC, as they showed in their dominating win over 13th ranked LSU by a score of 38-17. While there were some moments of consternation early in the contest for Tide fans, the performance of Nick Saban's team in the second half was a thing of beauty, an opera of domination the likes of which few have seen with the LSU Tigers on the opposing sideline. Bama held the usually potent top 10 offense of the Tigers in check for most of the night, limiting star running back Jeremy Hill and the LSU rushing attack to a mere 43 yards rushing and 284 yards of total offense. LSU QB Zack Mettenberger finished with 241 yards passing, but much of that total came in the first half before the Tide defense locked down and won the day.
The Tide offense showed off its firepower as well, with senior QB AJ McCarron throwing for 179 yards with three TDs and no interceptions. The Tide running game was phenomenal, as the offensive team has gotten stronger throughout the year. The offensive line asserted itself against a stingy LSU front seven, and T.J. Yeldon amassed 133 yards on 25 rushes with two TDs as part of Alabama 193 total rushing yards.
Elsewhere in the SEC...
- Eighth-ranked Missouri maintained the pace in the East with a win over outmanned Kentucky, winning by a score of 48-17 over the Wildcats. Maty Mauk was once again at QB as starter James Franklin continues to recover, and he did well yet again at the helm of the Mizzou offense. Mauk posted 203 yards passing with five TDs, while backfield mate Henry Josey rushed for 113 yards on 11 carries with two TDs in the game. The Tigers racked up 426 total yards against the Wildcats, with 223 of those yards coming via the ground. Highly-coveted coming out of high school, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham had a coming out party in a 100 yard receiving performance that included four TDs. There wasn't much good to say about the Wildcats in this game, as they struggled mightily on both sides of the ball. One positive could be the play of freshman dual-threat QB Jalen Whitlow, who was 17-of-27 passing with 225 yards and no interceptions.
- Auburn, ranked ninth in the current BCS standings, used a bludgeoning ground attack to beat the Tennessee Vols into submission on their own home field, as the Tigers won by a score of 55-23. QB Nick Marshall accounted for 214 yards...on the ground. Marshall's passes were few and far between, as Coach Gus Malzahn put the offensive game plan on Marshall's legs. Marshall only threw for 35 of Auburn's total 479 yards of offense. Tre Mason continued to impress at running back, marking another 100-yard performance on the day (117 yards, three TDs). Offensively for the Vols, Rajion Neal had a big day running the ball, as he amassed 124 yards and a touchdown for the home team. Josh Dobbs continued to spell injured starter Justin Worley at quarterback, though he was not tremendously effective against the Auburn defense in a 128 yard, one interception performance.
- Despite a late charge, Arkansas lost its seventh straight game, falling at the hands of Ole Miss by a score of 34-24. Bo Wallace had a career day at QB for the Rebels, throwing for 407 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Future NFL'er Donte Montcrief was a huge part of the success in the passing game, as he accounted for 149 yards receiving with a touchdown. The Arkansas MO thus far in the season had been their potent and youthful rushing attack, but Ole Miss was able to snuff that part of the Hawg game plan, holding leading rusher Jonathan Williams to a mere 67 yards on the ground. Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen was 18-of-32 for 193 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
- Georgia enjoyed a tune-up game in advance with its contest with #9 Auburn this weekend, as they thumped outmanned Appalachian State by a score of 45-6. The Dawgs got off to a slow start in the first quarter, as Georgia only led 14-6 at the half. However, superior depth and talent won the day for the Bulldogs in the second half, as QB Aaron Murray accounted for 281 yards passing with two TDs and one INT. Todd Gurley played when needed and picked up 75 yards rushing as the Dawgs posted 568 total yards of offense. In the meantime, the Bulldog defense was rigid and held App State to a mere 253 yards of offense on the day.
- Johnny Manziel kept on doing Johnny Manziel-type things in Texas A&M's victory over Mississippi State by a score of 51-41. The aTm defense returned to form against the Bulldogs after several weeks of steady improvement, allowing Mississippi State a total of 556 yards of offense. Dak Prescott, in tribute to his mother who passed away earlier in the week, terrorized the A&M defense from the quarterback position, rushing for 154 yards and throwing for 149 yards and two touchdowns with a single interception. The game was close early, with a 23-14 halftime score. However, the score was 37-20 after three quarters, and despite a rally by the Bulldogs in the fourth, the Aggies continued to keep the pace in the victory. Manziel finished the night with 446 yards of passing offense with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
- Florida continued its slide into mediocrity with a historic loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores by a score of 34-17. The win was Vandy's first over the Gators since 1945, and together with the ‘Dore's win over UGA earlier this year, 2013 marks the first time in history Vandy has beaten both Florida and Georgia in the same season. Though the Commodores languished offensively, the Gators, particularly QB Tyler Murphy, made enough errors to gift wrap the Vandy win. Murphy accounted for four turnovers, three on interceptions. After each interception, Vandy scored, putting the Gators in a 24-3 hole. Jerron Seymour had three touchdowns for Vandy, and the ‘Dores were able to score 34 points behind a paltry 183 yards of total offense thanks to the turnovers. While Vanderbilt's win leaves the team one victory shy of bowl eligibility, the loss will likely leave Florida on the outside looking in this bowl season barring a major upset over Florida State at the end of the season, or to a lesser extent, South Carolina.
Despite Alabama's continued dominance of the conference, the remainder of the top-flite teams this year mark a dramatic turn from the previous year's performances. Both Auburn and Mizzou languished in 2012, only to find themselves in contention for a divisional title late in the season in 2013. Who will ultimately challenge Alabama for SEC supremacy? Time will tell...
SEC Week 10 Schedule
11:00 a.m. Troy @ Ole Miss
11:21 a.m. Kentucky @ Vanderbilt
2:30 a.m. #25 Georgia @ #7 Auburn
7 p.m. Florida @ #10 South Carolina
7:45 p.m. #1 Alabama @ Mississippi State
SEC Teams in the BCS Top 25
2. Florida State
3. Ohio State
10. South Carolina
11. Texas A&M
12. Oklahoma State
14. Fresno State
15. Northern Illinois
16. Michigan State
19. Arizona State