What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Having one SEC team unbeaten at the end of the season is rare enough.

But having two?

That’s the direction we’re headed with Florida and Alabama, who are No. 1 and No. 2 this week in the first BCS standings. The stakes only go up in the second half of the season.

Here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 8:

1. Staying unbeaten: As Alabama and Florida attempt to keep their unblemished seasons going, it’s worth noting that the SEC has never had two teams finish a regular season unbeaten and untied in the same year. There have been a couple of years when two teams were unbeaten in the regular season, but one of them had a tie. The last time that happened was 1958 when eventual national champion LSU was 10-0 and Auburn 9-0-1. In 1951, eventual national champion Tennessee was 10-0 and Georgia Tech 10-0-1. In 1940, Tennessee was 10-0 and Mississippi State 9-0-1. So, obviously, Alabama and Florida are chasing history. The last time the SEC produced an unbeaten national champion was 1998 when Tennessee won it with a 13-0 record.

2. Excessive flags: One thing you won’t see this Saturday or any Saturday until Nov. 14 is Marc Curles’ officiating crew working another game. They’ve been suspended after the SEC had to come out and admit for a second time that they’d blown a call, this last one when Curles wrongly penalized Arkansas’ Malcolm Sheppard for a 15-yard personal foul on Florida’s game-tying touchdown drive last Saturday. Two weeks earlier, Curles’ crew penalized Georgia’s A.J. Green late in the LSU game for excessive celebration when there was no video evidence of excessive celebration. Something tells me that a player is going to have to be caught using a crowbar to draw a personal foul penalty this weekend or be caught doing a hula dance at midfield after scoring a touchdown to draw an excessive celebration penalty.

3. Ingram’s march: Mark Ingram’s romp into the middle of the Heisman Trophy race has been fueled by his ability to get so many yards on his own. His offensive line at Alabama has done a very good job this season, but Ingram is also one of the better runners after contact in the country. He had more than 100 of his 246 yards after contact last week against South Carolina and leads the country with 30 runs of 10 yards or more this season. The next closest guy, UAB’s Joe Webb, has 24 runs of 10 yards or longer. Ingram’s ability to break tackles will be put to the test this Saturday against a Tennessee defense that has tackled extremely well most of this season. Think the Vols might have Eric Berry hovering somewhere near the line of scrimmage?

4. Endorsing the Tide: Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin has gone out of his way this week to endorse Alabama as the No. 1 team in the country, which makes sense. The Vols face the Crimson Tide on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. But if you listen hard enough, Kiffin sounds like he might also be getting in some subtle digs at one of his favorite targets -- Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators. Asked to compare the two teams, Kiffin had this to say: “They come at you in different ways. One team’s a physical, in-your-face, downhill [team], and the other one kind of tricks you and moves everybody around.” Kiffin has also gone out of his way this week to talk about how well-coached Alabama is. But remember his message the week of the Florida game? You didn’t hear a whole lot about how well-coached the Gators were, but rather how they were one of the most talented teams in college football history.

5. The Mullen factor: With Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen having spent 10 years with Urban Meyer, Florida is changing its offensive signals for this weekend’s game. Coaches always say a former coach going against his old team is overrated. But in this case, Mullen knows that Florida offense and personnel like the back of his hand, so it will be interesting to see how Mississippi State defensive coordinator Carl Torbush attacks the Gators. Losing Percy Harvin was the biggest blow to Florida’s offense, but it’s probably not coincidental that the Gators haven’t been as explosive the year after Mullen left and took offensive line coach John Hevesy with him.

6. Jefferson still the man: When a team is ranked 112th nationally in total offense the way LSU is and scored a grand total of three points in its last game, the backup quarterback invariably becomes a pretty popular guy. That’s even the case at LSU, where you’re starting to hear rumblings that maybe Jarrett Lee should get a chance since Jordan Jefferson hasn’t been able to consistently get the Tigers into the end zone. Keep in mind that this is the same Jarrett Lee who threw 16 interceptions last season, seven of which were returned for touchdowns. LSU coach Les Miles insists that Jefferson is still his guy. He’s also saying (again) that the Tigers are going to get freshman Russell Shepard more involved on offense this Saturday against Auburn. However it shakes out, LSU had better add some punch to what’s been a punch-less offense if the Tigers want to hang around in the Western Division race.

7. Ole Miss’ last stand: It would take a serious collapse by Alabama for Ole Miss to have any chance of winning the Western Division at this point. But that doesn’t mean the season is over for the Rebels. In fact, it may be just beginning if they can take care of Arkansas at home Saturday. The Rebels need a win over a legitimate team to gain some momentum. They’re 4-2, but their four victims -- Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, Vanderbilt and UAB -- are a combined 10-16, and Southeastern Louisiana is one of two FCS foes on the Rebels’ schedule. They’re pretty bunched up in this league after Alabama and Florida, and if Ole Miss is going to make a move, it’s now or never.

8. Getting defensive: Arkansas’ defensive improvement in the last three games has been glaring, which is a big reason the Razorbacks are playing their best football entering Saturday’s game at Ole Miss. The Hogs have gone from giving up an average of 32.3 points in their first three games to 21.7 points in their last three games. They allowed eight passing touchdowns in the first three and three since. They recovered two fumbles in the first three games and nine since, and they sacked the quarterback five times in the first three games as opposed to 11 since. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson has his guys playing at a high level right now, and if that continues, it could be an impressive close to the season for the Hogs.

9. True Blue performance: What’s it take to break out of a three-game losing streak in this league? Get your hands on the tape of Kentucky’s 21-14 win over Auburn last week. The Wildcats unveiled a formula that should work well for them for the rest of this season as they face Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday in the first of three straight home games in which they will be favored, and three games that will ultimately dictate if they’re going to spend their holidays at a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year. The first ingredient of that formula is running the ball. Kentucky had 282 rushing yards against Auburn, the most the Wildcats have gained against an SEC team in 14 years. They also didn’t have a single penalty in the game, the first time that’s happened in 18 years.

10. Ending the curse: Anybody who’s followed South Carolina football has surely heard about the Chicken Curse, which according to legend, is at the root of everything bad that happens to South Carolina athletics. But closer to home, the Gamecocks need to end the Vanderbilt Curse. South Carolina has lost to Vanderbilt each of the past two years, and you could make a case that the Gamecocks’ program hasn’t been the same since the last time they lost to the Commodores in Columbia. They had just debuted at No. 6 in the BCS standings in 2007 only to fall flat on their faces and lose 17-6 at home to the Commodores that weekend. In their last 25 games, going back to that game, the Gamecocks are just 12-13 overall and 6-10 in the SEC.