There's something unpleasant about the big, bad SEC that shrewd SEC watchers have known all season but have been largely keeping under wraps.
Quite simply, the SEC--usually the best conference from top to bottom--is down this year--way down.
The bad teams, like Kentucky, are uncharacteristically bad and, surprisingly, there are only two really high-quality teams in the conference--college football's top two, Alabama and LSU, which meet Saturday in the latest edition of "The Game of The Century." In a typical SEC season the conference's top five or six teams are as good as any five or six in the country. But this year there's a major dropoff in quality after 'Bama and LSU.
Arkansas and South Carolina, the next tier of SEC teams, are both in the Top 10, but neither really belongs. If you've ever seen them play you'd be skeptical too. Their Top 10 status is rooted in the SEC's reputation as the titan of conferences. Voters must be figuring that these are the next best teams in the SEC, so they must be good. Not this year.
By the way, these two square off Saturday in Arkansas to determine the unofficial No.3 team in the SEC. The way they have been playing lately, don't expect too much.
For one thing, South Carolina doesn't have much offense. Not only did SC lose RB Marcus Lattimore, the SEC's best offensive player, for the season but also bad-boy QB Stephen Garcia, who was bounced from the team. Replacement QB Conner Shaw doesn't have Garcia's skills. Supposedly the Gamecocks have this superb defense but their fancy stats are inflated, considering they've faced mostly inferior offenses. And if you've seen Arkansas struggle to last-second victories in the last two weeks over SEC weaklings Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, you'd wonder why they're even in the Top 25.
A major problem for the SEC is that, offensively this season, the conference is a wasteland. Blame it on the absence of stars. With Lattimore gone for the season, there's only one high-class offensive weapon left--Alabama's RB Trent Richardson.
Where are the great QBs in the SEC this year? There aren't any.
Yet, they're everywhere else. In the Pac12 alone there are four passers--SC's Matt Barkley, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Arizona State's Brock Osweiler and Arizona's Nick Foles--who'd scorch SEC secondaries. When it played LSU, West Virginia QB Geno Smith ripped through the Tigers' secondary for 463 yards. In the SEC there's no passer equal to Smith.
The SEC's signature is tough, speedy, smart defenses. But this season, these defenses are rarely tested because there no truly high-powered, passing offenses in the conference. There's no Oregon or Oklahoma or the equivalent of last year's Auburn juggernaut. If they're not consistently facing flashy, high-tech offenses, just how good are these SEC defenses anyway?
When you acknowledge that this is a subpar SEC season, the Alabama-LSU game loses a shade of its lustre. These powers have risen to the top by subduing so-so squads.
But enough of the SEC beatdown. Now we can focus on The Ouestion--who's going to win The Game?
Though Alabama is favored by four, the teams are pretty evenly matched. However, give 'Bama a slight edge for two reasons: the Tide has both home field advantage and the best offensive player--RB Trent Richardson.
But before you settle on 'Bama, remember that when two evenly matched teams play each other, the deciding factor is usually turnovers. Whoever makes the fewest generally wins.
Forget all that. This is one of those coin-toss games that smart bettors avoid.