SEC cycle swinging eastward

SEC cycle swinging eastward

October 9th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sportlocal

Mike Gillislee

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Welcome back, East.

The Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division went into hibernation following Tim Tebow's final snap as Florida's quarterback, but it has returned this year with South Carolina and Florida leading the way. The Gamecocks and Gators are No. 3 and No. 4 in this week's Associated Press poll, giving the East two teams in the top four for the first time since September 2008.

Florida scored a big win for the East this past Saturday by wearing down LSU 14-6 in the Swamp, but the West still has the nation's No. 1 program in defending national champion Alabama.

"I think the East is a tough, competitive division," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I think Tennessee is an outstanding football team. They had a couple of close games, one with us and one with Florida. I think our division is outstanding, but a little more time has to pass before everybody can start judging what side is tougher than the other."

Richt's Bulldogs were ranked No. 5 last week before being dismantled 35-7 at South Carolina on Saturday night.

After the Gators won the 2008 national championship and finished No. 3 in '09, the East was overwhelmed by the West in 2010. The West won 15 of the 18 head-to-head matchups during the regular season and added an exclamation point when Auburn routed South Carolina 56-17 in the SEC title game.

Auburn won the 2010 national championship, and four other West teams finished among the top 15: LSU (No. 8), Alabama (No. 10), Arkansas (No. 12) and Mississippi State (No. 15). South Carolina was the highest finisher from the East at No. 22.

The West continued its dominance last year with a 12-6 head-to-head record and at one point had the nation's top three teams with LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. LSU pummeled Georgia 42-10 in last season's SEC championship, but the East is 2-1 so far this season behind Florida's victories over LSU and Texas A&M.

"At the end of the year I'll have a better perspective on this, but there are a lot more veteran quarterbacks who are surrounded by playmakers either in the backfield or at receiver," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said, "and that's probably the biggest difference."

Said South Carolina's Steve Spurrier: "Who knows until we play them all out. Whoever wins the game in Atlanta, their side will be the best division this year. That's the way I've always sort of looked at it."

Hours after South Carolina and Florida moved into the top four Sunday, Richt was asked if the Gamecocks were reminiscent of last year's Alabama and LSU powerhouses. It had been a while since an East team had drawn such a comparison.

"They looked that way," Richt said. "It will be interesting to see because they have a couple of big games away from home where they will see if they can continue that type of momentum and that type of emotion and that type of execution. Time will tell."

Odds and ends

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray spent Monday in Tampa to be with his father, Denny Murray, who underwent surgery for thyroid cancer. ... CBS is using a six-day option for the Oct. 20 games and will pick Sunday among South Carolina at Florida, Alabama at Tennessee and LSU at Texas A&M. ... Vanderbilt's home game Oct. 20 against Auburn will be on the SEC Network (12:21 p.m. EDT kickoff); Georgia's game at Kentucky will be at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, ESPNU or Fox Sports. ... Bulldogs outside linebacker Jarvis Jones sprained his right ankle at South Carolina and is listed day-to-day.

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