Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Ready or not, it’s time to find out who’s hot and who’s not in the SEC:
Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon: It may not have been the best start to the season for Dixon, who was suspended the first game following his DUI arrest during the summer, but he’s been a champ ever since returning to the lineup. The 6-1, 235-pound senior rushed for a school-record 252 yards last week in a 31-24 victory over Kentucky and now has 1,001 yards for the season. He leads the league with nine rushing touchdowns and is pushing Alabama’s Mark Ingram for the SEC rushing title. Dixon is one of those players that just gets stronger the more you give it to him, and you can bet Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is going to give it to him a few more times this season. Dixon is averaging 22.8 carries per game, which leads the SEC. He’s a true workhorse.
Tennessee’s defense: The Vols’ defense has allowed just one touchdown in the last 12 quarters and only three trips inside its 20-yard line during that span. Tennessee forced three turnovers in the first 16 minutes last Saturday against South Carolina and is playing as well as any defense in the country right now.
Ugly uniforms: Those black helmets and black pants Georgia broke out for the Florida game were ugly. The only thing uglier was Georgia’s performance. But then Tennessee took ugly to a new level Saturday night with those gimmicky black jerseys. So much for tradition.
Auburn running back Ben Tate: He’s been Mr. Consistency for the Tigers and is coming off another 100-yard rushing performance last week in the 33-20 win over Ole Miss. Tate has 1,067 yards on the season and is averaging 131.8 yards in his last four games. He deserves to be up there with the top backs in the country.
Georgia’s swagger: It’s difficult to find anything that the Bulldogs are doing well or with any confidence right now. That is, other than punter Drew Butler kicking the fire out of the ball. But when you lose to your two biggest division rivals (Florida and Tennessee) by a combined 96-36 score, confidence is going to be in short supply.
Florida receiver Riley Cooper: The Gators needed some pop in their passing game, and Cooper delivered with a pair of touchdown catches. His second scoring grab gave Florida a 14-0 lead and was a one-handed gem, ranking up there with the best catches we’ve seen in college football this season.
Kentucky’s defense: Dixon’s career day came against a Kentucky defense that took a beating up front and simply wasn’t very physical. In addition, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said the Wildcats’ linebackers and safeties were out of position all game. All in all, a disappointing outing for a defense that had played well the last two weeks.
Ole Miss running back Rodney Scott: He was the one carrying the ball when Auburn’s Zac Etheridge suffered his neck injury. Realizing how serious it was, Scott had the presence to lie completely still for several minutes with Etheridge on top of him. Scott didn’t want to chance injuring Etheridge further until medical personnel were able to get him immobilized. That’s what you call pure class.
South Carolina: Nobody’s predicting another late-season collapse for the Gamecocks. This team appears to have much better leadership than a year ago. But the Gamecocks have to play smarter and with more discipline if they’re going to keep from stumbling down the stretch for the third year in a row. They’re last in the league with 24 sacks allowed, 10th in penalties and eighth in turnover margin. That’s an ominous combination.
Ice, Ice Baby
Half-game suspensions: It was good of Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes to apologize, and I’m sure he’s telling the truth when he says he was merely retaliating for something that happened to him earlier in the game. But the only thing worse than his trying to gouge the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey in a pile last Saturday was the so-called punishment Spikes received from Florida coach Urban Meyer for this weekend’s game against Vanderbilt. Spikes was suspended for a half. That’s right, an entire half. Good thing he didn’t sucker punch Ealey. He might have gotten another half against Florida International in two weeks. What a farce, and better yet, where’s SEC commissioner Mike Slive? It’s good to see the league taking such a hard-line stance on dirty play. Just imagine if Spikes would have said something about the officiating. He might have gotten a public reprimand, too. Yikes!