SCOTT: SEC East is anyone's guess

Fulmer: "It's a tough scenario in our division"

Florida and Georgia both have two SEC losses, leaving South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee with one SEC loss each in what promises to be a wild SEC race over the final six weeks of the season.

"It's just not the way it was, with certain teams being a little bit better than most and certain teams not being as good as most," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There's just a lot more equality out there. There's a lot of skilled guys who can make plays, and a lot of coaches who know what they're doing."

 

While Florida had its open date and Kentucky earned its monumental win over LSU, Tennessee outlasted Mississippi State in a hard-fought game, Georgia barely survived Vanderbilt, and South Carolina stepped out of conference to beat North Carolina.

 

Next week, in addition to Florida-Kentucky in Lexington, Tennessee plays at Alabama, Vanderbilt plays at South Carolina and Georgia gets an open date.

 

"Usually by now," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said, "it's down to a couple of teams. ... I don't remember it being this balanced at all. (There were always) three or four at the top you knew you had to deal with. It's a real tough scenario in our division."

 

Instead, the race might not be decided until Tennessee plays at Kentucky on Nov. 24. In the meantime, the most important day appears to be Oct. 27 when South Carolina plays at Tennessee and Georgia and Florida meet in Jacksonville, Fla.  Beyond that, Florida plays at South Carolina on Nov. 10 and Kentucky plays at Georgia on Nov. 17.

 

"We may have a chance at a big year," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said last week. "But right now, we feel pretty fortunate to be 5-1 starting the second half of this 12-game season."

 

 

 

 

While Florida got an open date last week and Georgia gets one this week, it's a good time to open up the debate about the nature of open dates. The media pursued that topic with the coaches in the SEC teleconference last week and found a variety of responses.

 

Tennessee made the most of its open date after losses to Cal and Florida and came back with a dominating 35-14 victory over Georgia.

 

"We were able to rest some guys and you don't have to prepare for a game, so that helped us," Fulmer said. "It gave us a lot of time for fundamentals, which we took advantage of, and our players responded to that. We got a jumpstart on the plan, which was a real plus.

"Sometimes if you're playing really well you might just want to keep playing. Sometimes you get too much in if you have an open date. You have to be cautious about that. It depends on the year of the team and the maturity."

 

If there's one coach who doesn't like open dates this season it has to be Alabama coach Nick Saban. For some reason, four different opponents - Arkansas, Florida State, LSU and Mississippi State – have open dates before they play the Crimson Tide this season. Alabama's open date comes next week between Tennessee and LSU.

 

Whether coaches like them late or early, before a big game or after a big game, the one they agree on is that an open date is what you make of it.

 

"I've seen it work very favorably for some teams and I've seen it work where it hasn't been so favorable," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "The biggest thing is you can get people healthy and really zero in on trying to improve, get well rested, and have an extra week to get focused on who you're going to play. It's a big difference. It's a huge advantage if your players, coaches, everybody treat it the right way."

 

           

                       

 

No SEC team has suffered more heartbreaks the past two seasons than Ole Miss. The Rebels (2-5, 0-4 SEC) lost overtime games at both LSU and Alabama last year and lost to Auburn and Georgia by a combined 11 points.

 

The Rebels' latest heartbreak came on Saturday. Ole Miss and Alabama went back and forth over the course of a tumultuous game. The Rebels trailed 27-24 when quarterback Seth Adams converted a fourth-and-16 from his own 8-yard line by connecting with Michael Hicks for a 21-yard gain. Adams then converted a third-and-12 with a 21-yard completion to Mike Wallace.

 

Then Adams completed a 43-yard pass to Shay Hodge to the Alabama 4-yard line with only seven seconds left. While the Ole Miss coaches were looking for the best play to run and deciding on a fade pass to 6-5 defensive end/receiver Greg Hardy, the officials were going to the review to see if Hodge had run out of bounds or been pushed out before making the catch.

 

The call, as it has all too often against Ole Miss the past three seasons, went against the Rebels.

 

The pain of the loss was all too evident.

 

"It's like somebody put a dagger through my heart," Ole Miss receiver Michael Hicks said. "We've been practicing and working so hard for this. I haven't felt like this in a long, long time."

 

Coach Ed Orgeron, who is now 9-23 in three seasons at Ole Miss, said, "I just told my team they gave me everything they possibly could. I just feel bad for them. All week we worked very hard to win this game. This morning there was a great feeling among everybody and a great attitude for competing to the very end. And it came down to that.

 

... By no means are we happy with a loss. I just feel bad for those guys. I know how hard they've worked. But we're going to buckle it up again tomorrow and get ready for Arkansas."

 

The Rebels have gotten up and come back before, but it will be interesting to see how many times they can keep bouncing back.

 

"I've been asked that question for three years now," Orgeron said. "We have a system. On Sunday, guys come around and watch the film. Guys get treatment. Nobody's in a good mood. On Monday, everybody kinda perks up a little bit. We watch the film and I show them what we did wrong. We put it in the can and we go out and get ready for Arkansas. We've had some tough losses here, and our guys seem to bounce back. We know Arkansas is a good team. They have some big backs. We're playing at home. And we'll be ready. I have no question we'll be ready."

 

That's typical Orgeron optimism, but is it realistic? So far, the tangible rewards have been few and far between and many vocal Ole Miss fans are starting to express their frustration with Orgeron. The players can't avoid the questions about Orgeron's tenuous job security, and the coaches have to know it's out there.

 

"I'm telling you, these guys are resilient. I'm telling you, we are going to come back," defensive coordinator John Thompson said. "They are in the dressing room with their hearts broken talking about how they are going to practice harder and work harder.

"No, we are not concerned about an emotional letdown – we are just concerned about getting the job done and finishing."

 

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sportswriter, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.

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