As it turns out, the weekend was a productive one for the SEC, even if there were more than a few shaky performances around the league against lesser opponents.
Here’s a look at what we learned in Week 12:
1. BCS takes on SEC flavor: Brad Edwards, ESPN’s BCS standings guru, is projecting that the top three teams in the newest BCS standings that come out Sunday night will be No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Arkansas. In other words, it might as well be an SEC world. The losses over the weekend by Oklahoma State, Oregon and Oklahoma cleared the path more than ever for two SEC teams to meet in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game and extend the league’s streak to six straight national titles. And at this point, it’s just about impossible to come up with a scenario that doesn’t include at least one SEC team in the national title game when you look at the entire BCS picture after this weekend. LSU obviously controls its own destiny. But, really, so does Alabama. In fact, if the Crimson Tide can win comfortably over Auburn next Saturday, they might be in the best shape of anybody, especially if LSU wins Friday over Arkansas. That’s because Alabama would just about be a lock at that point for one of the top two spots in the final BCS standings and wouldn’t have to risk anything in the SEC championship game. Yes, it sounds crazy, but that’s the way it looks right now. As for Arkansas, the Hogs are going to have a difficult time making it to the SEC championship game unless Alabama loses to Auburn or looks shaky in winning over Auburn and drops in the polls. Even so, Arkansas could also settle into that No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings just by winning at LSU next Friday and not going to the SEC championship game. The only team really lurking at this point that could possibly break up the SEC stranglehold is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are strong in the computers, but they also still have to play Oklahoma on Dec. 3. It was a wild weekend, for sure, but the jockeying these last two weeks could be even wilder.
2. Arkansas is on top of its game: For the third straight week, Arkansas blew out an opponent, which suggests that the Hogs are as ready as they’ll ever be to go into Baton Rouge next week and take down No. 1 LSU. Junior quarterback Tyler Wilson is spreading the football around, and Jarius Wright and Joe Adams are the kind of game-breakers who can soften up any defense. The Hogs have been outstanding in special teams and are playing more consistently on defense. This is also a different team than the one that was battered 38-14 at Alabama back in September. For one, the Hogs are healthier. Senior defensive end Jake Bequette is back in the lineup and playing great. He didn’t play at all against Alabama with a hamstring injury. Senior defensive end Tenarius Wright is also back after breaking his arm in the Alabama game, while junior running back Dennis Johnson has added a different dimension to the running game after being slowed by hamstring problems to open the season. What the Hogs still have to prove is that they can win a big game on the road. Take a look at their home performances this season, and take a look at their performances away from home. There’s been a noticeable difference.
3. Vanderbilt is still Vanderbilt: There’s no need to take offense, Vanderbilt fans. We’re not talking about the way the Commodores play, because they’ve come miles under first-year coach James Franklin. We’re talking about all the screwy calls that have seemed to go against Vanderbilt over the years. There’s another one to add to the vault after Saturday’s 27-21 loss to Tennessee in overtime, although Vanderbilt was its own worst enemy in a lot of ways. The Commodores threw three costly interceptions and committed a horrid clipping penalty that nullified a pass play down to the Tennessee 1-yard line. But the officials’ gaffe in overtime was the clincher. An official blew Eric Gordon’s interception return for a touchdown dead because he incorrectly thought that Gordon’s knee had touched the ground. By rule, the play is not reviewable, according to SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw, because a whistle was blown. The Vols should have been given the ball at the 25 for their possession in overtime. But Gordon continued running for a 90-yard touchdown on the play. The officials did allow it to go to the booth for a review, and the call on the field was overturned, giving the Vols the winning touchdown and adding to the Commodores’ misery of late calls that haven’t gone their way.
4. Ole Miss has shut it down: Actually, the Rebels shut it down a while back. It’s rarely a pretty sight when a lame-duck coach finishes out the season, and it’s only gotten worse ever since Ole Miss announced that Houston Nutt wouldn’t be back next season. No. 1 LSU obliterated Ole Miss 52-3 on Saturday night in Nutt’s final game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, and it could have been 72-3 had the Tigers wanted it to be. The Rebels have now lost 13 straight SEC games dating back to last season, and their loss Saturday came a week after losing 27-7 at home to Louisiana Tech. The end can’t get here soon enough for the Rebels, who also had to deal with some off-the-field stuff this week when quarterback Randall Mackey, running back Jeff Scott and receiver Korvic Neat were suspended for the game for violating team rules. Ole Miss (2-9, 0-7) tries to avoid its first 10-loss season in school history next week at arch-rival Mississippi State.
5. Oozing with linebackers: Who’s the best linebacker in the SEC? Better yet, how do you pick just three linebackers for first-team, All-SEC honors in 2011? Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are both great players, while Georgia’s Jarvis Jones will receive a lot of support for defensive player of the year honors. Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan isn’t just a stats machine. He had 17 more tackles Saturday in the loss to Georgia and just gets better every week. And that’s not even mentioning Arkansas’ Jerry Franklin, Florida’s Jon Bostic, Vanderbilt’s Chris Marve, Mississippi State’s Cameron Lawrence and Auburn’s Eltoro Freeman.