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Random Thoughts from Around the SEC

Upsets in Waco and Eugene combine to make the SEC Championship Game a national championship play-in-game, while the ax finally drops on Derek Dooley in Knoxville.

Kevin C. Cox

A few random thoughts from around the SEC after week twelve of the college football season:

Alabama: As said late Saturday night, college football makes far more sense logically if we begin with the assumption that Harvey Updyke is, in fact, an omnipotent God. Hard enough to believe ‘Bama was the beneficiary of BCS chaos a year ago, but for it to happen two years in a row is simply unfathomable. Again, though, upsets be damned, unless ‘Bama plays better than it did against LSU and Texas A&M, only a matter of time before the Tide loses again. Snoozer win over Western Carolina went as planned, and the odds are ‘Bama dispatches Auburn without too much trouble. UGA in Atlanta will be very tough, though, and the Dawgs will put as much pure talent on the field as Alabama. Be interesting to see how ‘Bama players respond to the chaos and the new life: Improvement is a necessity at this point, and they cannot allow complacency to become a de facto assumption that their ultimate BCS ascension is an inevitability. Passing thought: Can you even begin to imagine how big a potential Alabama v. Notre Dame national championship game would be?

Arkansas: Hogs play hard in Starkville, but after a promising start implode in the final thirty-five minutes of the game with costly turnovers and penalties. With the loss, Arkansas drops to 4-7 and thus removed from bowl contention. With the Tennessee job now officially on the open market, and Auburn likely to follow, expect the Razorbacks to move quickly in the coaching search.

Auburn: With a growing concern among a portion of the Auburn faithful that Gene Chizik will somehow return next season, the Tigers beat up on not-so-mighty Alabama A&M. Jonathan Wallace looked well enough, but the next legitimate opponent he faces will be the first, and I’m not sure that even the biggest orange and blue Kool-Aid drinkers expect the early returns to be positive. Be interesting to see if Auburn can keep it competitive in Tuscaloosa. The answer is likely no, but it’s possible this team might actually show up and play with some intensity and enthusiasm for the first time in about two months.

Florida: Biggest benefactor of the BCS chaos outside of Tuscaloosa and Athens? Try Gainesville, where the Gators can now earn a spot in the BCS National Championship Game – despite not winning their own division – with a win over Florida State and a USC upset of Notre Dame. Biggest problem for the Gators is that they have played very ugly football in recent weeks, which did not abate Saturday against Jacksonville State, and quarterback Jeff Driskel will be of questionable effectiveness next weekend as he continues to recover from a sprained ankle. It’s all there for the taking for the Gators, but can anyone really see this team going to Tallahassee and getting the win after playing such bad football for the past month?

Georgia: For all of the "Mark Richt has lost control of _____" memes, it is amusing that Mark Richt now very much has firm control over the Bulldogs’ national championship destiny. First time UGA has been in contention this late since Herschel Walker was lined up in the I-formation in Athens. Fairly impressive performance on Saturday against a pesky and dangerous Georgia Southern team, and facing that offense will help the Dawgs prepare for Georgia Tech this weekend. Not sure Georgia is as difficult of a match-up for Alabama as LSU and Texas A&M, but make no mistake, UGA will be a very tough out for the Tide.

Kentucky: Nice to see Joker Phillips get the penultimate swan song win over Samford, and it would be even nicer to see him take down the Volunteers for the second year in a row on his way out the door. In the interim, all has been relatively quiet on the coaching search front, and it will be interesting to see what direction the Wildcats go in.

LSU: Odell Beckham, Jr. channels his inner Billy Cannon to fuel a come-from-behind win over a pesky Ole Miss team, as Zach Mettenberger has yet another big day. As much as this team struggled mid-season, it’s hard to believe that Mettenberger has since become a revelation, and that without the last-second collapse against Alabama this LSU team would be on the brink of a trip to Miami. How big is that T.J. Yeldon screen pass now? Defensive backfield had numerous breakdowns against the Ole Miss spread passing game, but the pass rush bailed them out on the final drive. Les Miles’ postgame rant was a thing of beauty. Not exactly the season that the Bayou Bengal faithful wanted, but 10-2 with a trip to the Sugar Bowl or the Cotton Bowl is nothing to be frowned upon, and with all that this team returns next season there is a case to be made that they are the early favorites in 2013.

Ole Miss: No one in the SEC has done so much with so little as Hugh Freeze. The Rebels took LSU to the brink in Baton Rouge, and very nearly pulled the upset. Cannot help but second-guess the decision to try to 54-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss still needs a win in the Egg Bowl to become bowl eligible, but given how tough they have played Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU, the odds of that happening seem relatively high.

Mississippi State: Just as the Bullies took full advantage of Auburn’s implosion, Dan Mullen and company do the same against Arkansas to move to 8-3. Only problem? 8-3 in the SEC this year puts you only seventh in the bowl pecking order. Egg Bowl ought to be highly competitive this year, too. With all of the seniors on this roster and the gathering rise of Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze, you have to figure this will be the high-water mark of Mississippi State football under Dan Mullen.

Missouri: Implosion in Columbia results in the Missouri defense giving up 21 fourth quarter points to drop a tight one to a Syracuse team that is middling-at-best even by Big East standards. Suspension of star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson played a large role in the fourth quarter collapse, as did the concussion suffered by quarterback James Franklin. In related news: This is what you call brand dilution, folks.

South Carolina: Wofford gives the Gamecocks fits, but a big defensive stop in the late third quarter allows South Carolina to slowly move away down the stretch. Ugly day for the Carolina offense, which managed fewer than 300 yards of total offense and turned the football over twice. Jadeveon Clowney did not play with some minor leg injuries, but should be back next weekend against Clemson. Bad news for the Gamecocks is that they are on the outside looking in with respect to bowl seeding, and could end up in the Peach Bowl even with a win over Clemson.

Tennessee: After getting embarrassed by Vanderbilt, Tennessee summarily fires Derek Dooley, who decides not to coach in the season finale against Kentucky. Dave Hart did nothing in his press conference if not express sheer candor: Tennessee football is at a crossroads and the upcoming hire is absolutely critical to the future of the program. The Vols need a home run hire in the worst way, and even if they get one the necessary rebuild will still be a vaunting task in an SEC that is more treacherous than ever. Really don’t know that the Jon Gruden innuendo has any real validity – nor am I certain that he would even be the answer if he were hired – but that is the caliber of hire that this program needs right now.

Texas A&M: With Collin Klein and Kansas State face-planting in Waco, the Heisman Trophy belongs to Johnny Manziel, doesn’t it? With all due respect to MantiTe'o, his winning the Heisman would only be second in laughable outcomes to Paul Hornung winning the trophy after a 2-8 season. The 28 points allowed to Sam Houston State looks ugly at first glance, but note that all of them were scored in the final 16 minutes of the game against the A&M back-ups. Having said that, though, the SHSU defense held A&M to just 3-10 on third downs and forced four turnovers. Alabama might want to take notes prior to making the trip to College Station next fall.

Vanderbilt: The ‘Dores absolutely dominate on the way to a 41-18 win over Tennessee. Biggest win in modern Vanderbilt history? The answer is arguably yes. With the win, Vandy moves to 7-4, and with the season finale against Wake Forest could reasonably reach eight regular season wins, which has not happened in thirty years. Can Vanderbilt hold on to James Franklin? We’re about to find out.