In the spirit of Halloween, here’s a hauntingly different look at the SEC:
Haunted House: One of the reasons No. 1 Auburn has been so good at home is that Jordan-Hare Stadium has been an absolute house of horrors for the other team this season. Always a tough place to play and always loud, Jordan-Hare has ratcheted up its game this season, and the Auburn fans have been phenomenal. Even in those two home games this season when Auburn fell behind to Clemson and South Carolina, the crowd never lost its spark. And when the Tigers have made their move in the fourth quarter this season, it’s been pure bedlam there on the Plains. No wonder Auburn has outscored its opponents 76-18 in the fourth quarter/overtime at home this season.
Boo (Boo): No team has been affected as adversely by an injury this season as Florida once running back Jeff Demps hurt his foot. He’s tried to play through the pain in a couple of games, but simply hasn’t been very effective. As a result, the Gators’ running game has been firing blanks most of this season. They haven’t hit any big plays since Demps has been out and are 10th in the SEC in rushing offense. Urban Meyer is hopeful that Demps will be as close to 100 percent as he’s been, this Saturday against Georgia. Chris Rainey is also returning to the lineup from his suspension and will split time between running back and receiver.
Scary movie: The worst loss of the season in the SEC happened the very first game of the season. Ole Miss fell 49-48 in double overtime at home to Jacksonville State, becoming the first SEC team to lose to an FCS opponent since Mississippi State lost to Maine in 2004. For what it’s worth, Jacksonville State hasn’t lost a game this season. The Gamecocks are 8-0. Still …
Graveyard: Is the dreaded Chicken Curse finally coming to an end? South Carolina, which has won more than eight games in a season only twice in school history, is leading the Eastern Division right now and poised to make a first-ever trip to the SEC championship game. The Gamecocks have three SEC games remaining – Tennessee at home Saturday, Arkansas at home on Nov. 6 and Florida on the road Nov. 13. If Georgia were to beat Florida this Saturday, South Carolina could clinch the East crown at home with wins against the Vols and the Hogs. If Florida beats Georgia this weekend, it’s going to come down to the Gamecocks and the Gators on Nov. 13 in the Swamp.
Thriller: Picking the most exciting player in the SEC and keeping it to just one player is impossible, so we’ll cheat and pick the top five – Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb, LSU cornerback/return specialist Patrick Peterson, Arkansas receiver Joe Adams and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. When any of the five are playing, you make it a point to watch their games to see what they’re going to come up with next.
Thriller II: Picking the most exciting play of the season is a little easier. Nothing quite compares to LSU’s fake field goal in the Florida game with 36 seconds left when Josh Jasper takes the over-the-head flip from holder Derek Helton (on the bounce, no less) and scampers for a first down. The Tigers went on to score a touchdown on the last offensive play and win 33-29 in the Swamp. A close second would be Newton’s 49-yard touchdown run last week against LSU, and a close third would be Mark Ingram’s 54-yard touchdown run against Arkansas. Both runs were surreal blends of speed, balance, acceleration and the will to get into the end zone.
Twilight Zone: You think Florida might like to go back in time now and try to work out things with Newton? Yes, he got into trouble with the whole stolen laptop deal. And, yes, Tim Tebow was in front of him when he left following the 2008 season. But imagine what Newton could be doing right now for the Gators in their spread offense. Something tells me Urban Meyer already has, and it’s one big nightmare.
Haunted Mansion: No program in the SEC has fallen as fast or as deeply into the abyss as Tennessee, and first-year coach Derek Dooley is paying right now for mistakes made by the two coaches that came before him (Lane Kiffin and Phillip Fulmer) and mistakes made by Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton in the way he mismanaged everything. Tennessee is a proud program and a program that’s proven it can win at a high level in this league, but Dooley has his work cut out if he’s going to get the program back anywhere close to where it was in the 1990s when the Vols went 45-5 from 1995-98 and won two SEC championships and one national championship. They’ve lost three games this season by 27 points or more, are 13-17 in their past 30 games and in danger of suffering through their third losing season in the past six years. Rocky Top has become Rocky Bottom.
Night of the living dead: Georgia was left for dead after losing four straight games for the first time in two decades. The Bulldogs were sitting there at 1-4 after losing to Colorado on Nov. 2, and most of the talk centered around whether or not Mark Richt could keep his job. But the Bulldogs haven’t lost since and take a three-game winning streak into Jacksonville on Saturday and can stay alive in the Eastern Division race with a win against the Gators.
Favorite costumes: LSU coach Les Miles/Mad Hatter; Tennessee coach Derek Dooley/Field Marshall Erwin Rommel; Alabama receiver Julio Jones/Iron Man; South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery/Gas station attendant; Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb/Mr. Incredible; Vanderbilt linebacker John Stokes/Surgeon General; Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston/Predator and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton/Bo Jackson.