SEC mailbag: Oregon's the best, but ...

It’s Friday, which means it’s time to answer your questions in the SEC mailbag:

Lance in Macon, Ga., writes: Everybody says the SEC is out of the national championship race now, but shouldn’t a one-loss SEC champion still get strong consideration over an unbeaten team from the Pac-12 or Big 12?

Chris Low: Hey, I’ve blown the SEC’s horn as loudly as anybody during the league’s streak of six straight national championships and still believe it’s the strongest conference in the country. But I don’t see a one-loss SEC team getting into the Discover BCS National Championship Game over any of the three unbeaten teams this season if they all stay unbeaten, nor do I think that should happen. From my perspective, Oregon is the best team in the country this season. Do I think an SEC team could beat the Ducks in Miami given five weeks to prepare? Absolutely. A layoff that long always seems to help the defensive-oriented teams and hurt the offensive-oriented teams. Look what happened in 2010 when Auburn beat Oregon in Glendale, Ariz. I do think this is as balanced as the SEC has been in a long time, and the fact that six of the top nine teams in the BCS standings this week are from the SEC is proof. I realize that others around the country accuse the SEC of being overrated and claim that SEC teams haven’t beaten anybody outside of the league. But here’s my question: Who has Oregon beaten? Their nonconference conquests have come over such powerhouses as Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. Even though some of the teams on Notre Dame’s schedule haven’t turned out as good as initially thought back in August, I still think the Irish have played one of the toughest schedules in the country. I also don’t think anybody in the country would have been able to get through some of the three- and four-game stretches unbeaten that some of the SEC teams have had to navigate. South Carolina faced Georgia, LSU and Florida in successive weeks, and the LSU and Florida games were on the road. As good as the Ducks are, I don’t see them making it through that gauntlet unbeaten. Florida faced LSU, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia in a four-game stretch. LSU played Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama over a five-week stretch, and Texas A&M has played five of its past six games on the road, culminating with the win at Alabama. Nothing else in college football compares to the grind that you have to face in the SEC. That said, I don’t believe there’s a team in the SEC this season that’s as strong as any of the last four national champions from this league.

John in Johnstown, Pa., writes: If a quarterback is judged on wins and losses, how can anyone rate Tyler Russell and Connor Shaw above Zach Mettenberger at this point? Shaw lost a game South Carolina was fortunate to be in at LSU, and other than Georgia, has beaten no one. Russell has not won one game of any significance. Mettenberger has thrived as his offensive line has jelled and given him time, and his receivers have actually held onto the ball.

Chris Low: In compiling the list of the SEC’s top-10 starting quarterbacks to this point, I went back and forth after the top three guys. For instance, Tyler Bray has great numbers, but he hasn’t performed well in the clutch and the Vols are winless in the SEC. I agree that Mettenberger has improved as much as any quarterback in the league these past two weeks, and his receivers have also finally started helping him some. But until these past two games, he’d thrown just one touchdown pass and two interceptions in four SEC contests. Mettenberger is 12th in the SEC in passing efficiency in league games, while Shaw is third. Shaw has also accounted for 16 touchdowns in league games. Russell also has solid numbers in league games. The truth is that it’s extremely subjective when you put together a list like this, and while quarterbacks are absolutely judged on wins and losses, there are other criteria that factor into the decision. The other thing to keep in mind is that Mettenberger still has two SEC games to play. If he finishes the season the way he’s played the past two games, then there’s a very good chance that he would move up this list. That said, I don’t think you can completely discount his struggles (and LSU’s struggles in the passing game) during the Tigers’ first eight games.

David in Kingsport, Tenn., writes: I’m assuming Derek Dooley won’t be back. Who makes the most sense for Tennessee and who do you think will be the top targets for that job?

Chris Low: You assume correctly. I don’t see any scenario that Dooley is back even if the Vols win their last two games. I know the Jon Gruden talk has taken on a life of its own, and I also know that Gruden has indicated to more than a few people that he would be interested. At the end of the day, I don’t see “Chucky” wearing Tennessee orange next season. The two names I think will be at or near the top of the Vols’ list are Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Miami’s Al Golden. I would also keep an eye on TCU’s Gary Patterson, Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville, Louisville’s Charlie Strong and Duke’s David Cutcliffe.

Get Your History Right writes: In regard to your SEC predictions, Week 12, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Chris Low: We do a little bit of everything here on the SEC blog -- history, pop culture, movies, even a little college football. I was able to visit Pearl Harbor a few years ago and still get chills thinking about it. If possible, every American should make an attempt to visit that memorial. As for getting history right, I do realize that it was the Japanese, and not the Germans, who bombed Pearl Harbor. My suggestion for you is to rent “Animal House,” and then you will get my reference to it not being over when the “Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.” Those were Bluto Blutarsky’s words and not mine.

Brent from the Swamp writes: Hi Chris. In most bowl projections, LSU is picked for an at large bowl over a potential two-loss Georgia and a potential one- or two-loss Florida team that beat LSU heads up. I was just wondering what gives LSU the edge right now and could a Florida win over Florida State have an impact on the bowl projections assuming that most other things in this crazy BCS picture stay the same. I know someone has to be left out, but say it ain't going to be the Gators! Thanks for your time and love the blog!

Chris Low: Actually, Brent, I think Texas A&M could be Florida's stiffest competition for that second BCS bowl spot. The Aggies are one of the best stories in college football right now with this being their first year in the SEC, and Johnny Manziel is approaching rock star status. The Aggies' win over Alabama might have made them the front-runner. Plus, you can bet Aggie fans will travel like crazy no matter where Texas A&M ends up, especially if an Oklahoma-Texas A&M matchup is a possibility in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Now, if Florida beats Florida State and is sitting there at 11-1 and ranked in the top 5 in the country, it's going to be hard to pass on the Gators, particularly when you consider who all they would have beaten (LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and potentially FSU). If the SEC is shut out of the Discover BCS National Championship Game, then the winner of the SEC championship game will go to the Sugar Bowl. I then think a second SEC team would wind up in the Fiesta Bowl, and it would probably come down to Florida, LSU and Texas A&M. If an SEC team makes it to the BCS National Championship Game, the Sugar Bowl then might elect to take LSU. There's still a lot that can happen, so stay tuned. The Gators can certainly help their BCS chances by taking down the Seminoles in Tallahassee.