One thing is certain about this season’s Southeastern Conference East Division race.
It’s not last season.
A year after the Florida Gators went 8-0 in league play and won the East by a record four games over Tennessee and Georgia, the East has become a 2-year-old eating spaghetti. No team in the division has a winning mark in SEC play, and only South Carolina is at .500 with its 2-2 record.
“It is unusual, but that’s where we are right now,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday. “Somebody is going to represent the East in Atlanta. We don’t know who it is yet. They’re not going to take two from the West.”
So garbled is the East that a win this week by Vanderbilt, which lost 43-0 at Georgia this past Saturday, would leave the Commodores as the only team in the division with two losses. Vandy has taken two of the past three meetings from South Carolina, and Spurrier said Sunday that prized freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore (ankle) is doubtful for the game.
So mediocre is the East that Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen believes Saturday night’s 10-7 triumph at Florida, the program’s first win in Gainesville since 1965, should have been worse.
“We may have been a little conservative on offense, but we also made some critical mistakes that kept them in the game,” Mullen said Sunday. “The game shouldn’t have been as close as it was. We had some opportunities to put that game away early, and we had some opportunities to put that game away late.”
Urban Meyer, who led Florida to national titles in 2006 and ’08, said there is enough blame to go everywhere after a third consecutive loss. The Gators are reeling right now but join South Carolina and Vandy as the East teams who control their destiny.
Florida also has the most favorable schedule, getting this week off before facing Georgia in Jacksonville, traveling to Vandy and then hosting South Carolina.
The two East teams with the highest spirits Sunday were Kentucky, which upset South Carolina 31-28 this past Saturday, and Georgia, which walloped Vandy a week after trouncing Tennessee 41-14. One of those teams will not feel as good this time next week, as the Wildcats and Bulldogs vie Saturday night in Lexington.
Neither Kentucky coach Joker Phillips not Georgia counterpart Mark Richt believe the East chaos will overshadow the desire to win this week.
“Every week is going to be a game in which you’ve got to fight, scratch and claw,” Phillips said. “We’ve got one of those type of games this week, and it makes it easier for us to get our points across in getting them to play hard, because you can’t just show up and beat a team like Georgia. You just can’t do it.”
Said Richt: “People always say year in and year out that anybody can win on any given weekend, and that’s about what’s happening right now.”
Georgia’s hopes for capturing its first East title since 2005 involve winning out and having Vanderbilt lose once and South Carolina lose twice.
Odds and ends
Kentucky tailback Derrick Locke, who missed the South Carolina game with a shoulder stinger, is questionable for this week. ... Richt said cornerback Branden Smith (concussion) is doubtful. ... Georgia inside linebacker Akeem Dent on Georgia’s defense: “We’re a lot more confident in our scheme and the things that we are trying to accomplish. Right now we’re out there having fun.”
The SEC East race is much more muddled this season compared to the same point last year:
South Carolina 2-2
South Carolina 2-2
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...