In and around the SEC: Week 8

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 SEC Midseason Report

At the midway point of the 2012 season, the Southeastern Conference is dominating the college football landscape. Alabama and Florida hold the top two spots in the first BCS standings, and the SEC has seven teams in the top 20. Alabama has been the best team so far, but the other championship contenders seemingly vary from week to week.

Handing out midseason awards is like only watching the first half of “The Fugitive” – too many plot twists remain to accurately predict the outcome. The unpredictability of college football is what keeps so many viewers and fans intrigued on a weekly basis. In that regard, college football stands alone among sports. Selecting the best teams, players and coaches at this point in the season is almost as ridiculous as picking a national champion or a Heisman winner before the season. 

Halfway through the 2012 season, however, there is at least a general idea of which teams can legitimately contend for a national title, and the same goes for the Heisman trophy. 

Here is a look at the 2012 midseason awards.

Heisman candidates 

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Manziel leads the SEC in total offense through six games and has his Aggies sitting at 5-1 in their first season in the conference. “Johnny Football” has thrown for over 1,600 yards and rushed for a league-high 676 yards, and already has 24 total touchdowns on the year. Manziel has yet to face some of the tougher defenses in the league, so his productivity will likely decrease as the season progresses. But the first six games of his young career have been mightily impressive.

Mike Gillislee, Florida. Gillislee is second in the SEC in rushing with 615 yards, and his physical running style has worn down defenses so far this season. Florida’s transition from the spread to a pro-style offense greatly benefited Gillislee, who already has seven touchdowns on the year. If the Gators continue to win and Gillislee remains a focal point in the offense, he might be making the trip to New York City in December.

Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina. Coming off an ACL injury last season, no one really knew what to expect from Lattimore this season. Through seven games, he already has amassed 584 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground. Lattimore was limited in the Gamecocks’ loss at LSU last week due to a bone bruise, and if he is sidelined versus Florida this week, his Heisman stock could drop even further. 

A.J. McCarron, Alabama – McCarron’s numbers are not as flashy as some of the other premier quarterbacks in the country, but his steady performances have Alabama poised for yet another championship run. McCarron has thrown for 12 touchdowns and 1,170 yards on the year, but most importantly, he has yet to throw an interception. His 171.9 passer rating leads the SEC, and if the Crimson Tide are back in the championship game, McCarron might be a dark horse candidate to win the Heisman trophy.

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina.  A defensive player has not won the Heisman since Charles Woodson in 1997, but Clowney has been dominant this season for the Gamecocks. Clowney’s 6.5 sacks are second in the SEC, and he has been a nightmare for every opposing offensive line. At this point he is a long shot, but if he performs at a high level in the Gamecocks’ marquee games, he might earn an invitation to the Heisman ceremony in December.

Coach of the Year candidates 

Will Muschamp, Florida. After a disappointing 7-6 record in his inaugural season in Gainesville, Muschamp needed to start 2012 on the right note. The Gators struggled with Bowling Green in the opening week, but since then Florida has dominated opponents in the second half en route to a 6-0 start. Muschamp’s Gators still have several difficult games ahead, but if Florida makes it to Atlanta for the SEC championship, he deserves Coach of the Year. 

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are off to their first 6-0 start since 1999, and Mullen finally has a team that is capable of competing for an SEC championship. Trips to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge loom large later in the season, but Mullen has an opportunity to lead Mississippi State to its first 10-win season in over a decade.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss. The Rebels already have doubled their 2011 win total, and Freeze has re-energized the Ole Miss football program and the fan base. After snapping a 16-game SEC losing streak, the Rebels are 4-3 and could possibly make a bowl game this year. While the Rebels are not ready to compete for a championship just yet, Freeze certainly has earned respect across the league in his first season in Oxford.

SEC Power Poll

    1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0)
    2. Florida (6-0, 5-0)
    3. LSU (6-1, 2-1)
    4. South Carolina (6-1, 4-1)
    5. Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0)
    6. Georgia (5-1, 3-1)
    7. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1)
    8. Tennessee (3-3, 0-3)
    9. Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2)
    10. Arkansas (3-4, 2-2)
    11. Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3)
    12. Missouri (3-4, 0-4)
    13. Auburn (1-5, 0-4)
    14. Kentucky (1-6, 0-4)

Predictions
(Week 7: 7-0; season: 54-8) 

Alabama at Tennessee (+20). Tennessee remains winless in conference play, and Derek Dooley’s seat isn’t getting any cooler. A.J. McCarron slightly injured his knee last week in the win over Missouri, but the Crimson Tide will be just fine this weekend in Knoxville. ALABAMA 41, Tennessee 17

Auburn at Vanderbilt (-7). Auburn also is winless in SEC play, and a loss Saturday in Nashville could lead to the Tigers’ first winless season in conference play since 1980. Gene Chizik desperately needs a victory to calm the storm in Auburn, but his Tigers will come up short this weekend against the Commodores. VANDERBILT 17, Auburn 13

LSU at Texas A&M (+3.5). Johnny Manziel has been brilliant thus far for the Aggies, but he has yet to see a defense this dominant. LSU 24, Texas A&M 17

Missouri’s Bye Week over Ole Miss or Arkansas’s Bye Week (+14). The Tigers desperately need a week off after a brutal 0-4 start in the SEC.

Georgia at Kentucky (+28). The Bulldogs had a week off to prepare for the Wildcats. Bad news for Kentucky fans, worse news for Joker Phillips’ future in Lexington. GEORGIA 52, Kentucky 17

Middle Tennessee at Mississippi State (-19.5). The Bulldogs have one final tune-up before they travel to Tuscaloosa next week. MISSISSIPPI STATE 38, Middle Tennessee 16

Game of the Week

South Carolina at Florida (-3.5). Marcus Lattimore is listed as questionable for the game, and it will be a huge loss for the Gamecocks if he doesn’t play. A win over Florida easily puts South Carolina back in the national title hunt, but a loss might prevent the Gamecocks from even reaching the SEC title game. Both teams have high-caliber defenses and great running games, but the game will be decided by the play of Connor Shaw and Jeff Driskel. SOUTH CAROLINA 23, Florida 17

 

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