Four undefeateds will be whittled down to two
OCT 03, 2012 7:51p ET
No more Towsons or UABs or Bowling Greens or Buffaloes. The first bright leaves of October mark an end to the silly season. It's time for the SEC to get down to business.
Granted, not that all the early games were pushovers: Tennessee gave Florida and Georgia all they wanted, and LSU got more than they expected out of Auburn.
It took Mark Richt's Dawgs three quarters to put Missouri away and Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks were one blown pass interference call away from losing to Vanderbilt. But through the early weeks, those games were the exception, not the rule. So far, the contenders in the SEC have had a nice, steady ride.
Now, the road gets bumpy.
Now, they have to play each other.
Saturday kicks off a month of head-knocking SEC action between the contenders, the teams that aspire to BCS bowl bids with the ultimate prize being a shot at a national title.
Of course, should the conference titans bloody each other up over the next five weeks as many experts predict, the SEC could end the year with every team having a loss or two. That would probably mean a BCS Championship game without an SEC team for the first time since Aaron Murray graduated middle school.
The first battle of the "undefeated" takes place this week when No. 4 LSU travels to No. 10 Florida, a game that will test the Tigers in ways they have responded poorly to so far.
After looking befuddled and bemused against a not-very-good Auburn team, LSU appeared lackluster and disinterested against the FCS Towson Tigers.
Towson actually outgained LSU by 30 yards on the ground, a statistic that should concern Les Miles and company as the Gators are putting up impressive rushing numbers. Through four games, Florida has averaged almost 225 ground yards with senior Mike Gillislee scampering for over 100 yards a game.
And while the Gators did open with the Falcons of Bowling Green, the last three wins have been against conference opponents where they have averaged more than 30 points.
"We need to play better," Miles said. "We need to be consistent with our culture. We had uncharacteristic turnovers (five in the last two games along with 19 penalties). I'm glad we're getting them out early. We can't afford them as we go forward."
They also can't afford wobbly play from their quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, who still hasn't lived up to his hype. He lost two fumbles, was sacked twice, and only completed 17 passes for 169 yards in his only other road game against Auburn. And a good number of the dozen incompletions he threw at Jordan-Hare weren't close.
"Zach shares in the responsibility, but he's not the one reason for our inefficiency in the passing game," Miles said. "It's the running backs, the offensive line and the receivers. Our passing game will improve. I like Zach. His energy and effort is good for this team."
LSU fans don't give two hoots about Mettenberger's energy and effort. Results are all that count. If he doesn't produce this week, the Tigers could find themselves on a downhill slide to underachievement.
The other undefeated matchup has No. 5 Georgia traveling to No. 6 South Carolina in a game that could ultimately determine who wins the SEC East.
On Tuesday morning, Georgia was the favorite even though the Gamecocks have won the last two games in this series and have a healthy Marcus Lattimore on offense and Jadeveon Clowney on defense to go with their home-field advantage.
That's because Georgia has been lighting it up offensively, averaging 48.2 points a game. That explosion is no small part because of the freshmen rushing tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall who have combined for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But everything changed on Wednesday morning. That is when coach Richt announced that the Dawgs' leading receiver, Michael Bennett, went down with a torn ACL in practice and would miss the remainder of the season.
"He was engaged in a block, he was just working it," Richt said. "Then, as he was moving - no one ran into him, no one rolled into him - his knee just buckled. And there it was."
The Dawgs' chances didn't go down with Bennett, but they were greatly diminished. Even with all their defensive starters back, Georgia gave up 44 points at home to Tennessee.
You can expect Spurrier to find the weaknesses in the Dawg defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's scheme. And when he does, the Ol' Ball Coach will stick his finger in it and dig. When that happens, it could be a rough weekend for Georgia.
But it will be a great one for fans.
Four teams will wake up Saturday unbeaten. Only two will emerge.
This is when it starts. From here on out, things are going to get real.
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