The regular season is behind us, but the good stuff is still to come.
Time to find out who’s hot and who’s not in the SEC:
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw: Calm down, Gamecocks fans. We didn’t forget about Shaw. The sophomore quarterback was sensational in a 34-13 win against Clemson with a career-high 107 rushing yards while completing 14 of 20 passes for 210 yards. Shaw threw three touchdown passes and wasn’t intercepted, and also ran 15 yards for a touchdown. After everything the Gamecocks went through with Stephen Garcia, Shaw has been a breath of fresh air. He works hard, does it exactly the way Steve Spurrier asks him to do it and plays within himself. It’s a different-looking offense with Shaw at the helm, but give him credit for stepping into a tough situation and leading the Gamecocks to just their second 10-win season in school history.
LSU’s running game: If you really want to know what running the football with a purpose looks like, watch LSU run the ball. The Tigers mash people up front, and they’re so deep at running back that you can’t keep track of who’s in the game. Trying to slow down their running game in the second half is like trying to stop a tidal wave.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino: If you’re an accomplished lip reader, the television cameras caught Petrino mouthing some not-so-nice things while gesturing across the field to the LSU sideline in the final minutes of Friday’s game. The postgame handshake was awkward, too, when it looked as though Petrino sort of pulled away. Asked if they had words, LSU coach Les Miles cracked, “Not many.”
Vanderbilt’s offense: It’s hard to believe this is the same offense that went back-to-back games against South Carolina and Alabama without scoring a touchdown. The Commodores routed Wake Forest 41-7 on Saturday and rolled up 481 yards in total offense. It’s been a total metamorphosis, and everybody deserves credit -- the offensive coaches, quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy, receiver Jordan Matthews and an offensive line that might be the most improved unit in the league.
Florida’s offense: The Gators have shown up in this space more than once this season for their offensive ineptitude. Come to think of it, they did last season, too. Surely, it can’t get any worse on that side of the ball in Gainesville, but it’s also difficult to look ahead to next season and make a strong case for why the Gators will be appreciably better.
LSU’s defense: Even without injured starting safety Eric Reid, the Tigers were dominant in their 41-17 win against Arkansas and the Hogs’ high-powered offense. The Hogs managed just 89 total yards in the second half. LSU’s first-team defense has now gone six straight games without allowing a touchdown in the second half.
Auburn’s finish: There was a time this season when it looked like Auburn might hang in there and be one of the surprise teams in the league. But the Tigers unraveled down the stretch. Not only did they lose three of their last four SEC games, but they lost those games by a combined 132-31 margin.
The Big Orange Nation: The ground is quaking right now on Rocky Top coming off Tennessee’s first loss to Kentucky since 1984, a loss that ensured the Vols’ second straight losing season. The last time that happened was 1910 and 1911. It’s Tennessee’s fourth losing season in the past seven years, and even though a lot of the fans want to give second-year coach Derek Dooley the benefit of the doubt because of the situation he walked into in terms of player attrition and the NCAA cloud hovering, the gloves have come off after the loss to Kentucky. Several former Tennessee players, some who played on the Vols’ 1998 national championship game, went on a Knoxville radio show the day after the loss and unloaded on Dooley. It’s a broken football program right now, and Dooley will get at least one more year to fix it. But if the Vols don’t make some major strides next season, one more year might be all he gets.