Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Upsets abound in the SEC on one of the most unpredictable college football Saturdays in recent memory, effectively shaking up the dynamics of the nation's top conference.
The events that transpired on Oct. 19 proved that no team is safe in the SEC. In total, five ranked clubs from the conference lost last Saturday, four of coming in dramatic fashion on plays late in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss managed to knock off LSU on a last-second field goal (27-24), the same fate that Tennessee delivered to South Carolina (23-21). Vanderbilt orchestrated a game-winning touchdown drive to take down Georgia (31-27), and in perhaps the most impressive triumph of the day, Auburn went into College Station and outlasted Texas A&M in a 45-41 shootout. Although not technically an upset, Florida was the fifth ranked team to fall after getting run over by Missouri, 36-17.
After such an unprecedented day, it's time to rearrange the hierarchy in a conference that boasts the last seven BCS national champions.
At the start of the 2013 campaign, it appeared as though the SEC Eastern Division was going to be a three-horse race between Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, but what a difference a few weeks makes.
Georgia and Florida have both fallen from the national ranks with identical 4-3 records (3-2 SEC), thanks to a rash of injuries in both locker rooms. The Bulldogs have struggled to surround quarterback Aaron Murry with his full arsenal of weapons, with crippling injuries at running back (Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall) and wide receiver (Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley, Justin Scott-Wesley, Jonathan Rumph) limiting the potential of their once-potent offensive attack. The Gators have been plagued as well, with season-ending injuries to QB Jeff Driskel, WR Andre Debose, OT Chaz Green, RB Matt Jones, DT Dominique Easley, DB Nick Washington and LB Jeremi Powell. The Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2) have been less ravaged by injury, but have been surely distracted by the antics of their star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
With turmoil throughout the East, Missouri (7-0) has risen to the top of the heap, climbing all the way to No. 5 in the latest AP poll, and at 3-0 in the division, stands as the overwhelming favorite to punch a ticket to the SEC Championship Game. It hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for the Tigers however, as they also suffered a huge blow with the loss of quarterback James Franklin, but the team didn't skip a beat with backup Maty Mauk in their convincing win over Florida.
Missouri's meteoric rise in the standings comes as a surprise to many, considering the lackluster 5-7 (2-6 SEC) record in put forth in its SEC debut a season ago, but head coach Gary Pinkel, who led the squad to bowl games in every season from 2005-11, has brought the Tigers back to the prominence thanks to an explosive offense (44.3 ppg) and a stout defense (22.1 ppg).
"This team is resilient, coming back from where we were last year," Missouri wide receiver L'Damien Washington said. "I told Coach Pinkel, 'We've got to stop talking about bowl games around here. Let's talk BCS, let's talk national championships."
Over in the SEC West, things aren't in complete disarray. Even though many of its flaws were exposed last weekend, LSU (No. 13) and Texas A&M (No. 14) are still considered two of the nation's elite teams, although with two league losses apiece, their respective hopes for competing for the SEC championship have been all but dash. The big story out west, however, is the outstanding play of the 11th-ranked Auburn Tigers, who just a season ago fired their head coach after a disastrous 3-9 campaign, which included losses in all eight league bouts. Now, under Gus Malzahn, the Tigers (6-1) are once again part of the conversation when referring to the league's top teams. Their 615-yard, 45- point performance at Texas A&M last week proved without a doubt, that they are a force to be reckoned with.
"This is a statement game, and the statement we wanted to put across was that we're coming," Auburn running back Tre Mason said following the comeback win over A&M. "It's just getting better from here on out."
It's clear that times have changed in the SEC, but one constant remains -- the nation's No. 1 team Alabama. As they have watched some of their competition self-destruct and crumble while others successfully rose from the ashes, the Crimson Tide stayed the course as their typically dominating selves. The two- time defending national champs have won all seven of their games this season, and since out-dueling Texas A&M on Sept. 14 (49-42), has ripped off five consecutive wins of at least 25 points, including last Saturday's 52-0 rout of Arkansas. The Tide may still have some difficult games left on the schedule (vs. LSU on Nov. 9, at Auburn on Nov. 30), but in an unpredictable SEC, there's no question which team is the cream of the crop.
"I think it's important that our team continue to focus on improving," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "I still don't think we played our best game."
As last week proved, there's no use trying to guess what will happen over the last month of the season, as there are sure to be plenty more twists and turns along the way. What we do know is that the SEC's new-found parity will continue to result in exciting football games down the stretch.