Mitchell: SEC's Bloody Saturday
If Vandy and Ole Miss continue to recruit on par with Bama and Auburn, the margin for error in the SEC is going to get even more skintight.
By Russ Mitchell
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When was the last time a ranked LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida all lost on the same day?
It was a bloody Saturday for the Southeastern SEC.
In the night game, the LSU Tigers probably lost the most. With a dynamic offense and their coach's high hat, the Tigers strolled into Oxford holding their conference and national title hopes squarely in their own paws. Their defense promptly surrendered both to the Ole Miss Rebels.
And I do mean surrendered. LSU's defense allowed 525 yards of offense to a team playing without its starting running back.
Meanwhile, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had a night he will likely sooner forget. Mettenberger had three interceptions in the first half after entering the contest with only two in his first seven games. It wasn't just the interceptions … for most of the night, Mettenberger's throws were far from accurate, and he seemed to lose his confidence at times.
The Tigers continued to force the passing game despite having one of the nation's best running backs in Jeremy Hill, who entered Saturday averaging 9.2 yards per carry running between the tackles (via ESPN). That's simply ridiculous. He would get only 64 yards on 16 carries, and finish with his lowest average yards per carry of the season – 4.0.
As a team, LSU would average just 3.26 yards per carry on Saturday, on nearly its lowest rushing output of the season. This against a Rebels team that was missing at least six starters from its defense.
On the road in Nashville, Georgia stumbled yet again without any rushing power. Without Todd Gurley or Keith Marshall, the Dawgs would average a season low three yards per carry on 35 attempts, for an anemic 107 total rushing yards. This on the heels of Georgia's second worst rushing total – last week versus Missouri.
Texas A&M took a halftime lead late into the fourth quarter, before an injury to quarterback Johnny Manziel cost the Aggies a series. Auburn would score touchdowns on all of its fourth quarter possessions, which was the difference in a game that had 1,217 of total offense.
Auburn has now won 82 straight when scoring 30 or more points in a game.
The Vols would continue their trend of sending visiting players home on crutches, after knocking Gamecocks' starting quarterback Connor Shaw out in the fourth quarter. Carolina was leading at that point 21-20. Tennessee had fewer yards per pass or rush, but they had no turnovers and just five penalties. The Vols also had one more first down … none bigger than Justin Worley's 39 yard throw and circus-catch by Marquez North which set the Vols up on the Carolina 26 with roughly 2 minutes to play.
Apparently Steve Spurrier hasn't coached enough times in Neyland Stadium after all.
Mizzou simply undressed an overrated Florida Gators team in the least competitive of all these contests. The Tigers would gain 500 yards on the vaunted Florida defense, while Tyler Murphy and squad amassed just 151. The Gators were regularly beaten at the point of contact on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Fan of the SEC will no longer have to listen to talk of how "top heavy" the conference is. That will soon be replaced with "just how average" is the SEC?
There are now only three teams left in the SEC that have fewer than two defeats – Mizzou and Alabama with zero, and Auburn with only one.
Little has changed in terms of the top spot – if Bama wins out, they'll play for a third straight championship, and the chance to extend the conference's seven straight national titles. But the margin for error just got very thin. And as we've been discussing all season, this trend is not changing anytime soon.
The SEC had eight teams ranked in the top 25 because the conference is competitive. Four of the five defeats Saturday were suffered by the visiting team and most went to the wire. Winning on the road is tough in any conference … in the large cathedrals of the south this fact is only magnified.
When considering the state of the SEC, it's important to factor that the conference has won seven straight national titles with four different teams. Alabama won it in 2011 and wasn't even able to win the conference that year. The SEC continues to outperform all other conferences in terms of postseason play, BCS bowls and graduating players to the NFL.
Why does this recent past matter?
Most of the players dressing out this year had a part in that success. Fifth year seniors through sophomores, as well as coaches, who played/coached on those teams still fill this conference. They are the embodiment of that success.
Saturday's defeats have narrowed the number of teams that can win a national title. However, they serve to amplify just how competitive this conference is. Just how much talent there is – and that there is no margin for error, no matter the opponent.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
As I have argued since August, the separation between the elite of the SEC and the rest has narrowed. As the conference continues to recruit above the rest of the nation this deviation will only continue to tighten.
If Vandy and Ole Miss recruit on par with Bama and Auburn, the margin for error in the SEC is going to get skintight.
Saturday was just the first example of this. Give it another couple of years.
Is this good or bad for the conference?
If you're a fan of great college football, it's wonderful news. If we were sticking to the old BCS championship model, the parity would likely result in fewer title bids over time.
Fortunately, we are moving towards a playoff system … in time, one that involves eight instead of four teams.
Regardless, if you are a fan of the SEC, the increasing parity of the conference is something to embrace. If the SEC continues its recent growth curve in terms of monopolizing high school talent, this parity will only continue.
Don't look now, y'all, but unless they change the rules, you can only put 11 players on the field at a time … and the little brothers of the SEC are getting bigger, faster, stronger and deeper.
Russ Mitchell is the Lead SEC Columnist for CFN and Campus Insiders. Follow him @russmitchellcfb and listen to him each week on the SEC14.com Smackcast!, powered by Campus Insiders