What we learned in the SEC: Week 4

After the first month of the season, we’re starting to get some answers to our preseason questions.

Here’s a look at what we learned in Week 4 in the SEC:

1. Alabama and LSU reign: It looked like the Big Two from the time this season began. Now, we can say with certainty that it’s the Big Two. You’ve got Alabama and LSU, and then you’ve got everybody else in the SEC. The Crimson Tide and Tigers are clearly the class of this league and on a collision course that culminates on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. LSU has accomplished more than anybody in the country to this point with its three wins over Top 25 teams away from home and deserves to be the No. 1 team in the polls, but Alabama is right there in that same elite group. After that, it’s hard to say that there is an elite team in the SEC. That’s also not to say that Alabama or LSU won’t slip up somewhere along the way. To think that a team will come out of this league unbeaten for a third straight season is probably against the odds. But then you watch Alabama and LSU play and think, “The only team strong enough to beat either of these teams is the other one.”

2. Defending LSU’s defense: The numbers weren’t pretty Saturday in Morgantown, but you can’t argue with the results. LSU’s defense, which had been dominant coming into the game, was shredded by West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to the tune of 463 passing yards. Smith also wasn’t sacked in the game. No defense ever wants to give up more than 500 total yards in a game, but one thing to keep in mind is that West Virginia threw the ball 65 times. Moreover, Smith is going to light up a lot of defenses this season, especially when he’s putting the ball in the air that much. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is a terrific cornerback and had the kickoff return for a touchdown to send the Mountaineers packing. But it wasn’t one of his better nights in coverage. Really, it wasn’t one of LSU’s better nights as a whole defensively, particularly in the third quarter. But the bottom line is that the Tigers held West Virginia to 21 points on the road with the Mountaineers throwing the ball on virtually every down. If that’s as bad as it gets for LSU’s defense, then this team is going to win a bunch of games this season.

3. Arkansas’ not the same team: The Hogs have been here before under Bobby Petrino. They rebounded last season from their loss to Alabama and went on to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. They may very well do the same thing this season, although it doesn’t get any easier this week against Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas. What’s clear coming out of Saturday’s 38-14 loss at Alabama is that this is not the same team as a year ago and not the same team the Hogs thought they were going to have when preseason camp opened in August. You take away a premier running back like Knile Davis and one of your best players and best leaders on defense like Jake Bequette, and there’s going to be a drop-off. That drop-off was glaring Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The Hogs hope to get Bequette back from a hamstring injury against Texas A&M, but it’s apparently a nasty one. It’s not just the loss of Davis and Bequette that’s holding back Arkansas, either. Receiver Greg Childs clearly isn’t the same player he was before tearing his patellar tendon last season, and there’s still a lot of work to do at offensive tackle. Give credit to Willy Robinson’s defense for hanging in there against Alabama and keeping Arkansas in the game in the first half. But if the Hogs can’t run the ball against some of the better defenses, they’re going to have a difficult time matching last season’s record.

4. The wild, wild East: Who’s the best team in the East? Through four weeks, Florida probably has as strong a claim as anyone. But as soon you start thinking the Gators might win the division, you glance over their schedule. They get Alabama at home this coming Saturday and also have to play at LSU and at South Carolina, not to mention their annual game against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. Speaking of the Bulldogs, they’ve got the easiest schedule the rest of the way and are getting better on defense every week. South Carolina may be the biggest mystery in the East. The Gamecocks are talented. They make big plays, but they also may be the sloppiest team in the division. Good luck to the Head Ball Coach in figuring out that quarterback situation, because right now, Stephen Garcia looks more like a true freshman than he does a fifth-year senior, and sophomore Connor Shaw still doesn’t look quite ready. Don’t forget about Tennessee and Vanderbilt, either, although the Vols lost a lot of their punch when Justin Hunter went down and the Commodores have zero punch on offense.

5. Riding Rainey and Demps: First-year Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis promised when he arrived in Gainesville that he’d find more than a few ways to get the football to Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Weis said he’d never had that kind of speed at running back before at any level and was going to make sure he used it to the max. So far, he’s been true to his word. Rainey and Demps have already left several vapor trails out on the field this season, and they both rushed for more than 100 yards in the 48-10 battering of Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators rushed for 405 yards in that game, and even though Rainey and Demps aren’t the biggest guys, they’re finding their way into open spaces with regularity. And when they get a step on you, it’s goodbye. They’re easily the most dynamic running back combination in the SEC to this point. They’ve combined for nine touchdowns, and each has a scoring play of 80-plus yards. You better not blink when either of these guys touches the ball.