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Random Thoughts on the SEC at the Halfway Point

Well, we're coming to the middle of the season, and I had a few thoughts in between sips of Basil Hayden's -- cheap liquor is a false economy, people -- I had a few more thoughts on our dear conference:

  • Is it a down year in the SEC? Still hard to know totally, because Arkansas and Georgia have good shots at topping the 10-win regular season plateau, and obviously the bowl matchups play a role in conference perception as well, but right now it's pretty abundantly clear that the conference has two elite teams, two (maybe more) really crappy teams, and the rest appear to be in a pretty thick middle-class. And I don't think anybody would be terribly surprised if Florida, Auburn and South Carolina each dropped another three games or so.
  • Arkansas in particular has rebounded well from their bludgeoning in Tuscaloosa, barring something really strange they're almost a mortal lock to come to Baton Rouge 10-1 or 9-2 on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The biggest hiccup between now and then is South Carolina -- and the Razorback offensive line can't be looking forward to blocking Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney.
  • Speaking of South Carolina, has anybody ever considered that "Stephen Garcia" is, in fact, Doug Johnson in disguise as a part of some extremely elaborate plot to get revenge on Steve Spurrier for all the abuse he used to heap on Johnson circa 1997/98?
  • Want proof that good pass defense is about more than just grabbing interceptions? Auburn has six on the season -- a solid total that equals Alabama's and is just two less than LSU's this season. But the other Tigers are currently allowing teams to complete 64-percent of their passes at a league-worse 7.2 yards per attempt. Half of offenses in the SEC can't even pass for 7.2 yards per attempt on their own.
  • The Auburn defense went from allowing an average of 534 yards per game over the season's first three games to an average of 344 in their last three. 290 yards of improvement, and that total would still put them in the league's bottom four defenses.
  • Speaking of teams that are abjectly horrible on one side of the ball, the Kentucky Wildcats have scored nine touchdowns this season. Point of reference -- nine other teams in the league have at least nine-TEEN touchdowns or more at the six-week mark.
  • The Wildcats may have to get creative to get fans into Commonwealth Stadium for Kentucky's Nov. 5 matchup with Ole Miss. Maybe do that old Oprah trick where she gives everybody in the crowd a free car or something. I bet John Calipari can help set that up.
  • Who in the conference have been worth the most when their offenses need them? Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell has been the SEC's top third-down receiver this season, with all eight of his third-down catches converting the first; Marcus Lattimore has, as one might expect, been the league's best short-yardage runner, with 12 third and short conversions, plus a combined 14 first-down/touchdown runs in the redzone. Tyler Bray has easily been the conference's best third-down passer, with the highest completion percentage and a passer rating 50 points higher than the next-closest QB.
  • That brings me to another point that may make any Volunteer visitors cry. Just what will Tennessee be missing this weekend with Bray out against LSU? Seventy-four percent of their team's total offense and 70 percent of the team's third-down conversions. Bray has also accounted for 15 of the Vols' 21 touchdowns this season. Ouch.
  • Vanderbilt's 3-2 start is a testament to the power of turnovers. The ‘Dores are plus-5 on the season, which helped them thrash teams like Elon and Ole Miss. But they're averaging a paltry 4.4 yards per play on offense this season, and converting 18 percent of their third downs. Not what you call a winning recipe. Looking forward, can Vandy get to bowl eligibility? Sadly, probably not. Their schedule has two more probable wins, Army and Kentucky. Pulling upsets against Georgia, Arkansas, Wake Forest or Tennessee (who should have Bray back by then) seem unlikely, and as bad as Florida looked last week, one has to believe they can keep that 22-year streak going.
  • Beating Vanderbilt is one of just two wins on the Gators' remaining schedule that they can feel 100-percent confident in (Furman would be the other). But after last week would it be a surprise to see Florida lose to Auburn, Georgia -- okay, maybe it would a bit of a surprise to see them lose that one -- South Carolina or Florida State? I mean, we're talking a worst-case scenario to be sure, but we're also talking about a team that is currently down to a third-string quarterback and whose team seemed to quit on its head coach sometime around the end of the first quarter last week.