Midseason report: Florida, South Carolina change minds, standings in SEC

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The narrative of what the SEC was supposed to be in 2012 has changed slightly since the beginning of the season.

Despite the self destruction of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, the SEC West with Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas was supposed to yet again be head and shoulders above the SEC East.

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At the midway point, Alabama and LSU are in the top six of the BCS and appeared headed on a collision course in Baton Rouge on Nov. 3. Arkansas, as you now know, is a dumpster fire.

But the SEC East has reared up on its hind legs and demanded to be noticed. Florida (No. 2) and South Carolina (No. 7) are still in the Top 10. Georgia dropped out when it got hammered at South Carolina on Oct. 6. All three teams are good and any could win the division. We'll know a lot more when South Carolina, which lost a 23-21 squeaker at LSU last Saturday night, goes to Florida's Swamp on Saturday.

At the halfway point the 14 teams in the SEC fit into one of four categories. And understand that these teams are very capable of moving up or down in in the second half of the season.

No. 1: What we thought

Alabama (6-0, 3-0 conference): Despite losing seven starters off the No. 1 defense in America, the Crimson Tide still sits atop the NCAA defensive standings allowing 181.7 yards per game. Alabama is still the only team in the country allowing less than 200 yards of total offense per game. This team is not as talented as the national champions of 2011, but the Crimson Tide plays the game with a cold-blooded efficiency. The fact that LSU was able to get back on track against South Carolina could mean that the Nov. 3 game in Baton Rouge has a chance to be another classic. The greatest challenge right now for Alabama is not the opponent, but playing up to the high standard set by Nick Saban.

South Carolina (6-1, 4-1): With a defensive line that includes Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Kelcy Quarles it was clear that the Gamecocks were not going to miss a beat after finishing No. 3 nationally in total defense last year. Marcus Lattimore was recovering from a knee injury but he gets a little better with each game. Quarterback Connor Shaw is a legitimate threat both running and passing. Yeah, the Head Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) came up two points short at LSU, but winning there under those circumstances was a tall order. It will also be tough to win at Florida on Saturday. But this is a very good team with a Hall of Fame Coach.

Kentucky (1-6, 0-4): Thought they were going to be bad and they are. Injuries to the quarterback position have made it even worse. We really like Joker Phillips but this team has 2-10 written all over it.

Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3): We felt the Commodores would play a lot of people tough but would have a difficult time closing against quality competition. They simply don't have enough difference makers on either side of the ball. They played South Carolina to a four-point loss (17-13) and Northwestern (6-1) to within 10 points. They've only been blown out once (48-3 by Georgia), beat Missouri on the road, and gave Florida all it wanted in Nashville.

No. 2: Surprises

Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2): The Rebels are a surprise because there were no expectations that anything good would happen. They came into this season having lost 14 straight SEC games. That string grew to 16 and was finally snapped in Saturday's win over Auburn. Hugh Freeze has this team playing with a lot of energy and except for losses to Texas and Alabama, the Rebels have been in position to win every other game. The offense is fun and will be fun to recruits, but Freeze has to go get some defensive players. The Rebels give up points too easily.

Florida (6-0, 5-0): We absolutely knew that Florida was going to be better because the Gators were growing up and getting used to the way Will Muschamp likes to do things. But this Florida team has made a quantum leap. The Gators have found a quarterback (Jeff Driskel) who gets better every game. Their feature running back (Mike Gillislee) is No. 2 in the SEC in rushing. They have a defense that forces turnovers. The next two weeks will really define the season as Florida hosts South Carolina and goes to Jacksonville to play Georgia. Win them both and the Gators can start to dream big. One note: For the rest of the regular season the Gators don't leave the state to play a game.

Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0): When Dan Mullen decided to change his offense and turn more of it over to quarterback Tyler Russell, it was not without some risk. Russell is a former Mississippi high school player of the year and had really underachieved until this season. But he finally grew up and is now in command of this 6-0 football team. He has a balanced offense with WR Chad Bumphis and RB LaDarius Perkins. Mississippi State has a defense with a couple of future pros in the secondary. The Bulldogs have forced 17 turnovers, second only to Alabama's 18. Beat Middle Tennessee at home this Saturday and the Bulldogs go to No. 1 Alabama at 7-0.

Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1): Our early expectations were lowered for the Aggies because we thought the SEC West was too tough and we didn't know how good Johnny Manziel could be. Well, the West is still good but not overwhelming and Manziel, the redshirt freshman, is quickly growing into a legend in College Station. After posting 576 yards of total offense against Louisiana Tech, Manziel leads the SEC and is No. 2 nationally at 392.67 yards per game. The Aggies (5-1) still have to play LSU, Mississippi State, and Alabama so there is a potential of stumbling at the finish. But Kevin Sumlin and his team are off to a good start. Their only loss was 20-17 to No. 3 Florida on Sept. 8.

No. 3: Minor disappointments

LSU (6-1, 2-1): It's hard to say the No. 6 team in the BCS is a minor disappointment but here's why: We felt the offense would finally have a vertical passing game with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, good receivers and a veteran offensive line. But LSU lost LT Chris Faulk for the season and the offense has sputtered. The Tigers got a little of the zip back in their running game against South Carolina with the emergence of freshman running back Jeremy Hill. They are still capable of winning every remaining game and getting back to the SEC championship game. And if they can get back to Atlanta, the Tigers may still have a shot the BCS title. Still, the offense has been a disappointment.

Tennessee (3-3, 0-3): With Tyler Bray and all of those receivers I thought the Volunteers would score at least one surprise in the first half of the season. They came close, playing Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State tough into the fourth quarter only to fade at the end. At midseason the Vols (3-3) have one FBS win, the opener against N.C. State in Atlanta. And things don't get any easier: No. 1 Alabama comes to Knoxville on Saturday and then the Vols go on the road to play No. 7 South Carolina.

Georgia (5-1, 3-1): The Bulldogs have only lost one game and can still get back to Atlanta by running the table and South Carolina losing again, perhaps Saturday at Florida. Georgia falls under the minor disappointment category because the defense, rated as one of the best in the country, has failed to live up to its billing. When you return 10 starters from the No. 5 defense of a year ago you should play better than they have. Georgia is No. 9 in the SEC in total defense.

No. 4: Major disappointments

Arkansas (3-4, 2-2): We were all wrong about the Razorbacks. Even if Bobby Petrino had stuck around this was never a Top-10 team because the defense was so bad. The Hogs are going to have to work hard to get to a bowl as the schedule finishes at South Carolina, at Mississippi State, and LSU.

Auburn (1-5, 0-4): It seemed like a good idea on paper. Since Cam Newton was not walking through that door again anytime soon, Auburn would go back to the blue-collar, power running game of the good old days. That's what Alabama was doing. And Auburn, by George (or Pat Dye), could do it too. Problem: The Tigers had not recruited the right kind of players to run this type of offense and their quarterback, Kiehl Frazier, was not ready to play in anything other than a spread. On Saturday Auburn, less than two years removed from a national championship, lost to an Ole Miss team that had dropped 16 straight conference games. And by the way, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama are still on the schedule.

Missouri (3-4, 0-4): I thought the Tigers and their efficient spread offense would scare the rest of the SEC East and make the Tigers a dark horse division contender. But Mizzou got banged up early on the offensive line and didn't have enough depth to play the kind of "Grown Man Football" that the SEC requires. Now their quarterback, James Franklin, is on the shelf. Missouri was built to be successful in the Big 12, which doesn't play a whole lot of defense. Gary Pinkel will have to rebuild using the SEC model. The SEC is a line of scrimmage league and Missouri’s line of scrimmage, at least the offensive side, is a mess.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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