Our weekly check of who’s hot and who’s not in the SEC:
Alabama-LSU rivalry: It’s become the best rivalry in college football and the rivalry that means the most each year in the national championship race. Saturday’s matchup in Baton Rouge will be the third time these two teams have met in the past 12 months. They’re deadlocked at 3-3 in their past six meetings, although Alabama won 21-0 in the BCS National Championship Game to cap the 2011 season. That’s the only time in the past six meetings, dating back to Nick Saban’s arrival at Alabama in 2007, that these games haven’t come down to the final few minutes. Alabama and LSU are each 31-4 over their past 35 games. Two of Alabama’s losses during that span have been to LSU, and one of LSU’s losses was to Alabama. Between them, Alabama and LSU are 26-8 against nationally ranked opponents over their past 35 games. This truly is a battle of college football’s titans.
Coaches’ seats: The way it’s looking right now, there could be four coaching vacancies in the SEC this season. It’s a given that John L. Smith won’t be back at Arkansas, and the odds are against Auburn’s Gene Chizik, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Kentucky’s Joker Phillips returning. Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky are a combined 0-17 in the SEC.
Auburn’s defense: There were some ugly moments for Auburn’s offense earlier this season, but the Tigers’ defense was roasted for 671 yards in the 63-21 shellacking by Texas A&M. It’s the most yards Auburn has ever allowed in a game, and it’s the most points the Tigers have allowed in a game since a 68-7 loss to Georgia Tech in 1917.
Gruden rumors: If Jon Gruden is not the next coach at Tennessee, the entire state of Tennessee will have to go on depression medication. The Vols’ fan base has “Chucky" all but hired, and there are reports that some Tennessee fans have begun naming their newborn kids “Gruden.” OK, maybe that last part isn't true. At least, we hope it’s not. But Gruden Mania has taken on a life of its own in Big Orange Country.
Marcus Lattimore’s luck: Another season, another knee injury for the South Carolina running back. Nobody ever said football was fair, but it’s nauseating that a player (and a person) as first-class as Lattimore would have such horrible luck. If anybody can make it back from this latest injury, which was a dislocated right knee and ligament damage, it’s Lattimore. They don’t come any finer than No. 21.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: The coach of the year vote in the SEC this season will be an interesting one. Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida’s Will Muschamp certainly will receive consideration, and so should Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. But if Ole Miss manages to get bowl-eligible, my vote goes to Freeze. Nobody gave the Rebels a chance to be playing in the postseason this year, not with the number of young players they’re playing and not with Freeze taking over a program that had lost 14 straight SEC games. He and his staff have done an exemplary job.
Florida’s ball security: It’s amazing that Florida was even in the game against Georgia when you consider that the Gators had six turnovers. They lost four fumbles and had two interceptions. You have zero chance to win a big game when you turn it over that many times, and the frustrating thing for the Gators was that they’d turned it over only four times in their first seven games.
Alabama’s discipline: Much has been made about Alabama’s talent, and there’s no question that the Crimson Tide have a roster full of great players. But their edge is built around their discipline, their keen awareness on the field and the fact that they simply don’t give you anything easy. It’s uncanny how few mental errors they make and how they’re always in the right spots, blocking the right people and making the right checks. Alabama is the best team in college football and also the best-coached team in college football.
Empty seats: Did you see the shot of Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday in the fourth quarter? It looked like a football ghost town. Imagine what it’s going to be like this Saturday for the New Mexico State game. The same goes for Neyland Stadium when Troy comes to town this weekend. Anybody looking for some cheap tickets?
Tennessee’s defense: The Vols have played some rock-solid defense during their proud history and won a national championship in 1998 thanks to a defense that will forever be the measuring stick on Rocky Top. This 2012 defense will also be remembered ... for its ineptitude. It’s inexplicable how bad the Vols are on defense right now, how confused they look, how eternally out of position they are and how they’re the perfect recipe for the opposing quarterback to have a career day. Tennessee is last in the SEC in both total defense and scoring defense. In five SEC games, the Vols have given up a staggering 211 points, and they’ve allowed at least 450 yards of total offense in all five games. They give up big plays like most people give out candy on Halloween. Fifty times this season (that’s right, 50), they’ve given up a play that has gone for 20 yards or longer. It’s been a complete disaster, and even if Derek Dooley survives, the Sal Sunseri experiment as defensive coordinator would almost certainly seem over. The Vols managed to give up a touchdown pass to South Carolina last week on a third-and-goal play from the 26. That’s not the worst part. The worst part was that Tennessee had a single safety back on the play, which pretty well sums up the sad state of this Tennessee defense right now.