Tag:SEC Winners and Losers
Posted on: November 27, 2011 12:59 am
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SEC Winners and Losers, Week 13

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: The Rematch. Before LSU and Alabama ever took the field Nov. 5, one of the hottest topics in college football was already whether the Tigers and Tide were so far out in front of the rest of the field that they could -- and maybe should -- meet again in New Orleans for the BCS championship. At that point, it seemed like outsized SEC hubris--not only did LSU and Alabama have to run the rest of the respective tables, but somewhere in the neighborhood of half a dozen teams had to suffer major upset losses.

But however you feel about the Tigers and Tide throwing out the results of their first experiment and starting from scratch for almost all the marbles (their loss in Tuscaloosa will at least cost the Tide a shot at an SEC title), the arguments at this stage are
all but academic; regardless of the results of championship weekend, LSU and Alabama are such clearcut Nos. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings that they'll almost certainly stay that way even if LSU falls to Georgia in Atlanta this Saturday. The tables have been run, right up through Friday's rout of Arkansas by the Tigers and Alabama's bludgeoning of Auburn Saturday. The half-dozen teams have suffered those upsets. Whatever hope Oklahoma State had of getting the nod from voters was probably extinguished by the overwhelming matter in which LSU and Alabama won. It's done.

LOSERS: SEC haters. All of which means the SEC is going to win its sixth consecutive national championship. And while maybe the league has gotten a little too much credit for that achievement -- the conference's reputation has helped mask that behind the LSU/Alabama/Arkansas/Georgia triumvirate, there's precious little real quality -- is anyone really going to argue that the Tigers and Tide aren't the nation's two best teams right now? That the season shouldn't end with one team or the other hoisting the crystal football? It ain't bragging if you can back it up, and when it comes to assembling national title-caliber teams, the SEC has backed it up. Again. Sorry, rest of the country.

WINNER: James Franklin. Since George MacIntyre left the Vanderbilt head coaching job in 1985, five different Commodores head coaches came and went with a combined 17 seasons in Nashville ... and no bowl berths. The one coach who has taken Vandy to a bowl game since MacIntyre managed it in 1982, Bobby Johnson, did it just once in one (utterly charmed) season out of eight. So how fantastic of a job has Franklin done to not only take the 'Dores to a bowl, not only do it in his first season, but do it in out-and-out style, with a 41-7 road win over Wake Forest that cemented that Vandy -- with its 0-4 record in one-possession SEC games -- was better than its record?

A fantastic enough of a job that we'll call it a shame if Les Miles wins the SEC Coach of the Year in unanimous fashion. Miles deserves the award ... but Franklin deserves to be part of the conversation.

LOSER: Derek Dooley. We've picked on Dooley a couple of times in Winners and Losers recently, and take no joy in singling him out again. But facts are facts: if we were ranking the 11 employed SEC coaches in terms of who we'd want to fill a hypothetical SEC coaching vacancy starting tomorrow, Dooley would be ranked dead last, 11th out of 11. 

The contrast Saturday vs. Kentucky couldn't be starker. With his offense struggling horrifically, Joker Phillips pulled the trigger on a crazy scheme change, moved Matt Roark to quarterback, gave up on the pass entirely ... and won the game. With his offense struggling horrifically, Dooley declared "steady as she goes" ... and will be at home for the bowl season. 

WINNER: Connor Shaw. It was only four games ago that Shaw took his Gamecocks into Knoxville and threw for fewer than 100 yards, just 4.8 yards an attempt, and an even 1-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio as the running game and defense did all the heavy lifting. Against Clemson, it was Shaw doing nearly all the lifting, and then some. In the air the sophomore hit 14-of-20 for 10.5 yards an attempt and a three-to-zero TD-to-INT ratio, but he was even more dangerous on the ground: 19 carries, 108 yards, and another touchdown. No one's about to mistake Shaw for Cam Newton, but if the only comparison you made was Shaw's stat line from Saturday to one from Newton's last season ... well then, you, might be forgiven. 

LOSER: The overall state of quarterbacking in the SEC. Oh, AJ McCarron was excellent vs. Auburn, Aaron Murray deadly vs. Georgia Tech, and Shaw you just read about. But in the nether regions of the conference ... yeesh. Clint Moseley was disastrous for Auburn vs. the Tide, and seemed to have lost the confidence of a subdued Gus Malzahn. John Brantley threw three first-half interceptions before being sidelined with a concussion, whereupon Jacoby Brissett entered to throw a pick-six. Tyler Bray threw one 53-yard touchdown bomb ... and on his other 37 passes averaged just 4.4 yards a pass attempt and tossed a pair of interceptions. Ole Miss's Barry Brunetti was barely there. And Kentucky, of course, didn't even use a quarterback.

Lots of SEC defenses have outstanding pass defense numbers. Some of that is because they are good. Much of that, though, is because of play like the above. 

WINNER: the Ole Miss Rebels. Not on the field, of course; on the field, the Rebels lost their third straight to their in-state archrivals at Mississippi State in a 31-3 laugher that was never competitive. But on the plus side, this apocalyptic 2-10, 0-8 SEC season is finally, mercifully over and the search for a replacement for Houston Nutt can start in earnest. And that is the best thing that's happened for the Rebels in weeks.

LOSER: the Florida Gators. Unlike the Rebels, Will Muschamp's team will head to a bowl at 6-6. And Muschamp will no doubt say that that will give him and his staff a key opportunity to develop his young, still scheme-adjusting team during postseason practice. But the abject misery of the Gators' offensive showing against Florida State -- 21 points essentially yielded on interceptions to 7 points scored -- and flood of injuries made the team  look for all the world like one that would simply welcome the end of this punishing season. They'll trod on to the Music City Bowl or something similar, but we can't imagine anyone in Gainesville is all that excited about it.

Posted on: November 20, 2011 2:32 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 12

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: The top quarter of the SEC. Things are as good for the three teams that have perched at the top the SEC all season as they've been, well, all season. LSU? Just another ho-hum 49-point pounding of some hapless overmatched opponent, and now just two wins away from the BCS national championship game. Arkansas? A 27-point thumping of a team that's given them fits in the past, and thanks to the carnage across the country a certain spot in the BCS top five--potentially setting up the Hogs for an SEC West title if they knock off the Tigers. (We think. Maybe.)

But neither the Tigers nor the Razorbacks are as happy this weekend as is Alabama. Thanks to Oklahoma State's pratfall in Ames, Oregon's loss to USC, and Oklahoma's defeat in Waco, the Tide has now seen every conceivable obstacle between themselves and a hypothetical BCS rematch against the Tigers fall by the wayside. Win next week against Auburn, and the Tide are all but guaranteed to head to New Orleans ... one way or another.

LOSER: The other three quarters of the SEC. No one who's watched the SEC week-in and week-out would argue this is a vintage year for the league's depth, but the conference reached a new 2011 low on Saturday morning. With three SEC teams taking on three representatives from the FCS Southern Conference, the combined score of the three games midway through the collective second quarter was a tight 42-34 ... in favor of the SoCon.

Yes, Auburn eventually pulled away from Samford, Florida from Furman, and South Carolina from the Citadel. But when the conference's de facto No. 5/6/7 (in some order) teams have those kinds of struggles with FCS competition, "down year" doesn't totally cover it. And team No. 4 -- Georgia -- may have won the East, but anything similar to their sloppy, flat, lackluster performance against Kentucky will get them annihilated in Atlanta in two weeks.

WINNERS: Tauren Poole and Da'Rick Rogers. Even as Tennessee collapsed to a 0-6 SEC record, a handful of Vols continued to shine amongst the wreckage, and Poole and Rogers were two of the brightest spots. With a chance to salvage a bowl berth at home against a Vanderbilt team that some would argue had surpassed the Vols -- in the coaching department, on the recruiting trails, and on the field -- Poole and Rogers put the team on their back. Poole ran 19 times for 107 big yards and added 21 more in the receiving game. Rogers was even bigger--10 catches, 116 yards and two touchdowns, including a sensational one-handed grab to tie the game at 21 in the fourth quarter. The two late interceptions of Jordan Rodgers -- the game-winner obviously included -- were the Vols' biggest plays. But with Tyler Bray rusty, Poole and Rogers were their biggest players.

LOSERS: The officials at Tennessee-Vanderbilt. We want to be kind to college football officials, who have a thankless job we would never, ever volunteer for ourselves. But kindness only extends so far, and it doesn't extend past the phenomenal botch-job in the first overtime of 'Dores-Vols. If you missed it: Rodgers threw an interception to Eric Gordon, who returned it for an apparent game-winning touchdown. But Gordon was whistled down by the line judgeeven with replay showing he wasn't close to having his knee down. Unfortunately for the Vols, that play isn't reviewable ... except that the officials reviewed it anyway under the pretense of checking if the whistle blew. And even though it did, the call was overturned anyway. It's not just us saying this either--the official SEC response confirms that the call was butchered six ways from Sunday.

To be fair, the officials eventually arrived at the right call; Tennessee won the game fair-and-square on Gordon's play. But that it took two dreadful wrongs to get there was an embarrassment.

WINNER: Blair Walsh. Sure, the longest of his four field goals vs. Kentucky was just 39 yards. But Walsh has been so erratic this season -- just 13-of-23 coming into this game --that Georgia will take four routine makes in a heartbeat. The Dawgs won't feel better about their chances of winning the SEC after their outing today, but a Walsh with his head screwed on correctly will be a big positive nonetheless.

LOSER: Will Muschamp's defensive reputation. The transition from Urban Meyer's spread looks to Charlie Weis's pro-style schemes was always going to be a problem for the Gators. But with the bevy of athletes at their disposal in the front seven, Muschamp's coaching acumen, and a defense that ranked ninth in the country in total defense a year ago, the Florida defense shouldn't have taken that much of step back, right? Statistically, they haven't; entering this week, the Gators were still 11th in the FBS. But Muschamp's and coordinator Dan Quinn's defense has had a few notable lapses this season, maybe none bigger than somehow allowing Furman 446 yards and 32 points. Motivation couldn't have been easy to come by, but that's simply not the sort of defensive numbers put up by a top-notch SEC defense.

WINNERS/LOSERS: Rematch lovers/haters. The bottom line about one of the wildest weeks in BCS history: LSU vs. Alabama is now the clearcut most likely outcome for the BCS title game. Love it or hate it, we can at least say this: you'd better get used to it. 

Posted on: November 13, 2011 1:58 am
Edited on: November 14, 2011 5:25 pm
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 11

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: Atlanta ticket brokers. Not that there's ever any shortage of demand for the SEC championship game, but with the A-T-L's biggest college football team (sorry, Georgia Tech) officially on their way to the Georgia Dome, that hometown demand should drive prices clean through the roof.

Wait, whaddya mean, "not officially"? The only thing standing between Georgia and their trip to Atlanta is a home game against Kentucky, the same team that spent its Saturday getting drilled 38-8 by Vanderbilt. It's more likely some sort of bizarre last-minute eligibility scandal -- Bacarri Rambo busted for selling prime Sanford Stadium hedge clippings, or something -- keeps the Dawgs from the East crown than the Wildcats do. Arrange the days off, book the hotels, scalp the tickets--for the first time since 2005, Georgia's going to play for the SEC title. 

LOSER: The ghost of Willie Martinez. So why have the Dawgs made the leap? The friendliest possible league schedule has had a lot to do with it -- if Georgia goes to Arkansas and it's South Carolina who gets to visit Ole Miss, the Gamecocks are booking their tickets today -- but it's also true that as much hand-wringing as there's been over the Dawgs' struggles since 2005 at quarterback, the offensive line, running back, play-calling, etc, their biggest problem has always been on the defensive side of the ball. And in his second season after replacing the exiled, despised Willie Martinez as Georgia's defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham has those problems nearly solved. His unit ranks in the national top 10 in rush defense, pass defense, and total defense, and showed why vs. Auburn. Clint Moseley got no time to throw, Michael Dyer found precious little room to run, Rambo made the biggest play of the game with a pick-six, and the bottom line was that a Tiger offense that had scored 41 points two weeks earlier got none after their opening drive.

After that performance, it's safe to declare the specter of Mr. Martinez's failures fully exorcised.

WINNER: Hangovers. You play the Game of the Century one week, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise you don't quite play with your hair on fire the next. So even though they're LSU and Alabama, LSU and Alabama still took their leisurely time putting away outmatched opponents in Western Kentucky and Mississippi State, respectively. (The Hilltoppers a little more outmatched than the Bulldogs, obviously.) No one's immune to the week-after effect, apparently.

LOSER: The Rematch Resistance. Hangovers or no hangovers, though, LSU-Alabama II: Rematch of the Century took a big step closer to reality Saturday with both Stanford and Boise State falling from the ranks of the unbeaten. With Oregon unlikely to be any more palatable a rematch opponent for the Tigers than the Tide is, the only hurdle for Alabama to clear appears to be whichever team wins Bedlam: Oklahoma State would be undefeated and home-free, of course, but Oklahoma might also stake a claim with plenty of computer power and the voters' aversion to a sequel. But with that Texas Tech loss looking less and less explicable by the day, the educated guess here is that a Sooner win would send the Tide on for a second crack at the Tigers.

WINNER: Joe Adams. Because seriously:

LOSERS: Ole Miss supporters. Facing a substantially less-talented Louisiana Tech squad at home Saturday, the Rebels had a terrific opportunity to 1. rally for their fired head coach Houston Nutt 2. snap their six-game losing streak 3. show some kind of pride in their program and themselves regardless of the off-field distractions and coaching turnover. Instead they lost to the visitors from Ruston by three full touchdowns in what has to go down as the worst, most embarrassing nonconference loss for an SEC team this season. The Rebels still have two games to play this season -- at home to LSU and at Mississippi State -- and we don't envy anyone from Oxford compelled to watch either one.

WINNER: Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks won't be going back to Atlanta. They won't make any kind of dent in the national title race. They won't go down in history as some great team gone unrewarded, not having now won three SEC games in which they scored 17 points or fewer and having been the only SEC team to host Auburn and not blow the Tigers out of the water. Marcus Lattimore won't win the Heisman, Alshon Jeffery won't be named All-American or even All-SEC (today's tally: 2 receptions, 17 yards), and the less said about Stephen Garcia the better. 

So on many, many levels, this 2011 season is a disappointment ... and on the other, even for all of those struggles, the Gamecocks have just won 6 SEC games for the first time ever. As Spurrier noted, they've gone 6-0 the past two seasons vs. their main East rivals at Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. And in players like Jadeveon Clowney, Brandon Wilds and tackle Cody Gibson, there's still plenty of young talent to groom. The specific goal was to win another East title, and Spurrier failed at that. But maybe the larger, more important goal was to prove that 2010 wasn't a fluke  --  that the old annual November swoon, perpetual also-ran Gamecocks were gone for good -- and on that count Spurrier has succeeded, without question. If he wasn't already the best coach in the Gamecocks' history, this 2011 season means he is now. 

LOSER: Derek Dooley. Any talk of removing the second-year head man at Tennessee is wildly premature; if Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter are still healthy, who knows what the Vols' record is? And Dooley of course had nothing to do with a schedule that handed his team LSU, Arkansas, and Alabama out of the west. But it's one thing to lose a lot of games -- even SEC games, even six such games in a row -- and another to look as hopeless as the Vols did in their drubbing at Arkansas. Dooley's already been more good than outstanding on the recruiting trail, and if he loses next week to James Franklin and Vandy, the knives are going to really come out among the Vol faithful ... and that recruiting job is only going to get harder. 

(Gene Chizik isn't in the same boat, but he deserves a mention here all the same. The 4-3 SEC record isn't bad, but in the non-Ole Miss portion of the schedule, those three wins have come by a total of 21 points and the three losses by 97. With a defense that Chizik has a major hand in the main culprit, those blowouts suggest last year's national champion has a lot of work to do between now and 2012.)


Posted on: November 6, 2011 2:45 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: LSU. 

Usually, we'd find some specific angle to take within the team or the coaching staff when naming our "top" winner. Saying LSU was your big winner this SEC Saturday is like saying fire is hot.

But the stakes were so high for their win over Alabama, the rewards so lavish, that there's no real need to split those kind of hairs. LSU will now be the unquestioned, unanimous No. 1 team in the nation in every available poll, BCS standings included; they are only two games away from clinching the SEC West championship, one of which is against a team that's lost 12 straight SEC games and the other at home against a team whose last two road trips ended in death-defying escapes from that same 12-game losing streak team and Vanderbilt; they are three SEC games, then, from playing for the national championship in their own home state, at the same site where they won it in 2003 and 2007. And they accomplished all of that by defeating what might be their bitterest rival's best team in 20 years in that rival's own stadium and forced their forme head coach under the .500 mark against their current head coach. It's 100 percent possible LSU just cleared the highest hurdle between themselves and the national championship and did so in the sweetest possible fashion.

Not bad for 60-plus minutes of work.

LOSER: "Make his ass quit." 

That's the phrase Nick Saban used in a pregame speech to his players before the 2008 meeting with LSU, and one popularized as a kind of motto amongst Tide fans for the program's philosophy of oustanding conditioning work, physical play, perfect execution, and -- specifically -- the combination of all three forcing the opponent to surrender as the second half drags on. It's worked spectacularly for the most part under Saban, and until Saturday 2011 was no exception: the Tide didn't even allow a second-half point in the month of October. 

But in recent big games, the Tide have been strangely unable to force anyone on the other side to "quit"--and in fact, have come closer to doing it themselves. There was the fourth-quarter failures against LSU in Baton Rouge last season. Then the fall from 24 points ahead against Auburn. And tonight, there was this in the second half: five first downs, 104 yards, two turnovers and three three-and-outs, the last of which was the disastrous overtime possession which covered minus-10 yards.  LSU did next-to-nothing on offense in regulation too, of course, but in overtime their Jordan Jefferson/Michael Ford speed option still worked as well as it ever did.

Result: another championship-level game in which it was the other team outplaying the Tide over the final 30 minutes-plus and walking off the winners. It's not conditioning (we have little doubt every team at this level is as fit as they're going to be), but those second-half woes are something Saban's going to have to figure out all the same if he wants his teams hoisting trophies again.

WINNER: the Baton Rouge ticket market. 

Oh, Arkansas's visit on Nov. 25 won't be a second "Game of the Century" ... but with the Hogs seeing off the Gamecocks and LSU triumphing in Tuscaloosa, that game now becomes the biggest tilt remaining in the SEC's 2011 season by some margin. Despite the Razorback road woes mentioned above, Arkansas's history with LSU makes them the only realistic obstacle standing between the Tigers and Atlanta ... maybe even the BCS title game. The hype starts now. Can Dennis Johnson also bring that wood?



LOSERS: Rematch advocates. 

The stipulation was always that the best scenario for a rematch was for Alabama to win a narrow, competitive game over the Tigers that left voters wondering what would happen on a neutral field. We got the "narrow, competitive game" part, but voters won't need to see LSU on a neutral field ... since they've already beaten the Tide on Bryant-Denny Stadium's highly hostile field. Beyond that, while the first half featured plenty of smart offensive football countered only by outstanding defense, the second more often seemed like a sloppy, grind-it-out affair with neither team taking much in the way of offensive risks or producing anything resembling attacking "flair." Aesthetic value shouldn't play a part when deciding who gets to play for a national title, but voters are human all the same--and they may not be thrilled by the prospect of a second touchdown-less meeting.

WINNER: Joker Phillips.

There were more than a few people who saw Kentucky's opening-week slog against Western Kentucky, their wipeout against Florida, the epic pratfall at South Carolina, and pegged them for an 0-8 season in the SEC. Even as recently as last week, a dispiriting double-digit home loss to Mississippi State didn't suggest a corner was about to be turned.

But Phillips kept his team believing, and Saturday they comprehensively outplayed an Ole Miss team that -- at the very least -- has more offensive playmakers and comparable defensive talent. No one, Phillips included, would claim he's done a great coaching job this season, but likewise no one would argue he and his staff didn't badly outprepare the staff on the opposite sideline. 

LOSER: Pete Boone.

Whether he chooses between them now or at the end of what will likely be an 0-8 SEC campaign, the Ole Miss athletic director has two choices ahead of him after today's Rebel loss in Lexington: he can either stand behind Houston Nutt and make his own less-than-popular hold on the AD's chair that much less popular, or he can swallow Nutt's gigantic contractual bullet and go in search of a new coach even as he also fundraises for a new basketball facility and other capital improvements. Before today, Boone could entertain the possibility that a big finish by Nutt would allow him to put the ax away for at least one more year and still save face. Not any more--Nutt will enter 2012 as a virtual lame duck, or employed somewhere else, and there's nothing else Boone can realistically hope for any longer.

WINNER: Jeff Demps. 

For weeks, Demps has been nagged by various injuries. And not coincidentally -- though God knows the Gators' issues weren't that simple -- for weeks the Gators' ground game has all the effectiveness of the proverbial submarine's screen door. Against Vanderbilt, Demps finally looked like his old self, and not just on the juke-the-first-tackler-out-of-his-j
ock 52-yard touchdown that all-but-clinched the Gator victory. Also not a coincidence: with a little bit of help from Mike Gillislee, the Gators ran for 197 yards -- 158 of them Demps' -- and won their first game since September. 

LOSERS: Mark Richt's circadian rhythms. 

You know, sleep patterns. Not that college football coaches ever have particularly regular ones, but Richt's might have stayed within shouting of distance of normal if he'd known his Bulldogs didn't have everything to lose against Auburn this coming Saturday. That's not to say there's any worries about the Dawgs' total dismantling of New Mexico State -- if anything, that was a calming performance, especially where Aaron Murray's return to his usual accurate form was concerned -- but when the day started, his team didn't have to worry about the pressure that comes with being two winnable home games away from a return to Atlanta. Thanks to South Carolina's loss, that's the case, but it's also the case that Richt's teams have not performed particularly well under this new kind of pressure the last few seasons.

That's not to say, of course, that Richt wouldn't take having his team control its own destiny in a heartbeat over the alternative. But we're guessing there's a few more exhausted stares at the digital clock at 2:47 a.m. this week, too, now that Richt knows the fallout from a loss will be greater than ever.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 1:20 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 9

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: Mark Richt. 
It's not just that the victory today was only Richt's third in 10 tries against the team most Georgia fans want to beat more than any other. It's not just that with the win, the Dawgs are two home victories over a middle-of-the-pack Auburn and far-below-the-pack Kentucky from a 7-1 SEC record ... and with a little help from someone vs. South Carolina, a trip to Atlanta. It's not just that after today, it seems close-to-impossible that Richt won't return for an 11th season on the Georgia sideline. 

It's that in many ways, this victory belonged to Richt. It was Richt who was able to keep his struggling team mentally afloat when the Gators took a 17-3 lead and the Dawg half of the stadium couldn't help but think "here we go again." It was Richt who made the calls to go for it on 4th-and-long inside the red zone once Blair Walsh showed himself unreliable, calls that resulted in two of the Dawgs' three scores in a game where points came as easily as pulled teeth. And it was Richt who showed enough faith in the flailing Aaron Murray -- who'd missed nine straight attempts -- to endorse a throw on 2nd-and-9 as the Dawgs tried to run out the clock.

That decision worked, as did nearly every move Richt made Saturday. That's what it was, and why Georgia won.

LOSER: Charlie Weis. We don't want to be too hard on Mr. Decided Schematic Advantage, since the quarterbacks he's worked with the past few weeks have been 1. true freshmen 2. still kind of hurt 3. more inherited than hand-picked. But still: between weapons like Chris Rainey, Jordan Reed, Trey Burton, Deonte Thompson and even a half-speed Jeff Demps, we're not sure there's excuses enough to explain 10 second-half points across four games, one first down in the second half against Georgia, or 175 total rushing yards in this four-game losing streak on all of 1.5 yards a carry. Weis arrived at Florida with a reputation for expertly handling quarterbacks and passing games but perhaps not having a good idea of how to operate a rushing attack with smaller backs like Rainey and Demps ... and with Brantley's downfield accuracy gone and the field shrunk, Weis has lived up to every bit of that reputation.

WINNER: Vanderbilt. We know, we know, they lost. But they also outgained the nation's No. 8 team (and one of its most explosive offenses) by 74 yards. Their years of wandering the wilderness at the quarterback position appears over, thanks to Jordan Rodgers' outstanding 15-of-27, 240 yard, 66 rushing yards, 3 touchdown, zero turnovers performance. They took over down 3 at their own 9 with 3 minutes remaining, a situation in which Vandy has accomplished nothing since the days of Jay Cutler, and promptly drove 80 yards for what should have been the game-tying field goal. Top-to-bottom, Vanderbilt was a better team than Arkansas Saturday.

In short, in so many, many ways, James Franklin's Vanderbilt is not the same old Vanderbilt

LOSER: Vanderbilt. Of course, there were even more ways in which Vanderbilt was precisely the same Vanderbilt they've been for decades. Shall we count the ways? The four or five easy interceptions which Commodore defenders let slip through their hands ... the backbreaking 15-point fourth-quarter swing as their best offensive player, running back Zac Stacy, fumbles the ball at the opponent's 3-yard line (without being touched) for a touchdown fumble return the other way ... with a chance to go in at halftime up 21-7 and in firm control of the game, the touchdown allowed with five seconds remaining ... and, yes, the shanked 27-yard field goal at the bitter, bitter end.

Until further notice: same old Vandy.

WINNER: South Carolina offensive tackle Cody Gibson. Gibson is a big fella: 6'6", 285 pounds. And when Tennessee's Prentiss Wagner picked off a third-quarter pass from Connor Shaw and bolted clear for the Gamecock end zone 56 yards away, Gibson probably could have been forgiven for ... well, not quitting on the play, but only making a token effort; the odds of the tackle being made by a tackle among the Gamecocks' receivers and running backs and the quarterback was insanely low, right? But Gibson made much more of an effort than that, going all-out in pursuit of Waggner until the corner cut back towards the middle of the field, cut again, had to slow up one last time ... and Gibson caught him, flattening him at the Gamecock 2-yard line. 

Against most offenses, that might not have mattered much. But vs. Tennessee's? It mattered a ton: only two plays later, Vol freshman QB Justin Worley threw an ugly interception, and Gibson's play had saved his team seven points in a game which only totaled 17. Instead of being down 10-7 with a wobbly Shaw in front of a fired-up Knoxville crowd, Carolina drove 98 yards for their own touchdown and (for all intents and purposes) the win. Gibson's play won't make him a star, but Saturday, there's no question it made him a winner.

LOSER: Barrett Trotter. This might a touch unfair to Trotter, who didn't even see the field Saturday. But whatever hope he had of reclaiming the starting quarterback job he lost at halftime of Auburn's win over Florida was extinguished for the foreseeable future by Clint Moseley's outing against Ole Miss. The redshirt sophomore (left)connected on 12 of his 15 attempts for 10.7 yards a pass and four touchdowns ... all without an interception. More importantly, the Auburn offense looked like the Auburn offense for the first time in weeks, rolling up 414 yards and 41 points on a Rebel defense that caused real problems for Arkansas last week. Remember those Snickers commercials? Where the Tiger pecking order under center is concerned, neither Trotter nor Moseley are going anywhere for a while.

WINNER: The Liberty Bowl. With LSU and Alabama surely off to the BCS and a pair of teams with precious little bowl eligibility hope in Kentucky and Ole Miss, the SEC was already in danger of not fulfilling all its bowl tie-ins ... and a Wildcat win against Mississippi State would have made things even more dire for the last couple of bowls at the end of the food chain, as that result would likely leave neither team in striking distance of the postseason. As is, the BBVA Compass Bowl is still likely out of luck, but the venerable Liberty can live in hope--the Bulldogs have both FCS patsy UT-Martin and the Rebels on the schedule.

LOSER: The rest of the SEC. It's now officially LSU-Alabama week. We'll see the other 10 of you next Sunday*.

*We're kidding, geez. Mostly kidding, anyway. 

 
 
 
 
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