SEC East still struggling against 'established' West

SEC East still struggling against 'established' West

November 16th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Arkansas is only 2-4 in SEC football games this season, while Florida is 5-2, but receiver Drew Morgan and the Razorbacks shredded the Gators 31-10 earlier this month in Fayetteville.

Photo by Samantha Baker

Georgia's 13-7 upset victory over No. 9 Auburn last Saturday not only provided the Bulldogs with some late-season confidence under first-year coach Kirby Smart but scored a rare triumph for the beleaguered Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference.

"We always hear how the West is so powerful, but we just try to take every game by itself," Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb said Saturday night. "You never know what can happen."

Cross-divisional showdowns within the SEC continue to be overwhelmingly troublesome for the Eastern side. Western Division teams are 9-2 against the East this year and 33-8 since the start of the 2014 season.

Those totals include the results of the past two SEC championship games, when Alabama throttled Missouri and Florida by the combined count of 71-28. The West has snagged seven straight SEC title games overall, with Alabama claiming four, Auburn two and LSU one.

"I think things can kind of run in cycles," South Carolina first-year coach Will Muschamp said. "Obviously the West has been better as far as the records are concerned, but there was a time the East was better than the West. I think things run in cycles for whatever reason, and, to me, it always comes back to players.

"Right now, from an NFL draft standpoint, more guys are getting drafted from that division. They certainly have some good football teams over there, but I think we do, too."

The West did have 31 players drafted earlier this year, compared to 20 from the East, but the even bigger discrepancy between the two divisions can be found in the stability on the sidelines. Entering this season, the West coaching contingent of Nick Saban, Bret Bielema, Gus Malzahn, Les Miles, Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen and Kevin Sumlin combined for 41 years of experience at their respective schools.

LSU fired Miles four games into this season and replaced him with interim Ed Orgeron, but the East group of Muschamp, Smart, Jim McElwain, Mark Stoops, Barry Odom, Butch Jones and Derek Mason entered this season with a combined nine years heading their programs.

Jones is in his fourth season at Tennessee and has a 13-9 record against East teams, but he's 0-8 against the West, with Saban's Crimson Tide administering four setbacks.

"I think programs are in different evolutions of their development," Jones said. "When you take a football program over, it's different in terms of the evolution and the players who are in your program and the culture and the recruiting process. Some of it also lies in the recruiting areas, because some teams have to recruit on a national stage and some teams can stay at home and work to own their state to compile their entire roster.

"I think it's a combination of a lot of things that go into the building of a program."

Alabama, which could be a 20-point favorite over Florida or Tennessee in next month's league championship game, has not lost to an East team since Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks pulled a 35-21 upset on Oct. 9, 2010. LSU has won six straight against the East heading into Saturday's rescheduled game against Florida, while Texas A&M has won four straight and Arkansas three.

Mississippi State had won five consecutive games against East foes until losing to Kentucky last month on a final-play field goal, and while Auburn is just 2-5 against Georgia since 2010, the Tigers are 9-1 against the rest of the East.

The East does have a chance at better postseason representation this year, as Kentucky could join the bowl-eligible trio of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee with a win Saturday over Austin Peay. The East had just three bowl teams last season, when all seven programs from the West qualified for a second consecutive year.

"From a talent standpoint, we're all working to get better," Vanderbilt's Mason said. "Kentucky has a better team athletically, and they're young. Our team is better, and it's young. Look at South Carolina.

"We're all building programs, and those programs on the other side have all been established."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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