Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the SEC East is an inferno raging inside a dumpster.
The month of November will begin with Kentucky second in the division. That would be the same Kentucky that lost to Southern Miss and gave up 42 points to New Mexico State. Oh, and New Mexico State was without its best player, Larry Rose III.
Somehow, the Wildcats remain in the chase for the divisional title and berth in the SEC Championship Game. Tennessee?
Well, the Vols are not technically eliminated. If you’re a Tennessee fan, you’re presumably thanking the Football Gods for Florida and LSU working out a rescheduled date.
After losing Saturday to South Carolina, however, Tennessee’s only path to Atlanta is through a perfect November in which Florida also loses twice in SEC play.
Anything shy of an SEC East championship for the Vols this season would have to be viewed as an abject failure. Florida could certainly lose twice with road games at Arkansas and LSU looming, and Tennessee could — and indeed, should — run the table.
Then again, Tennessee should have beaten South Carolina. Even with the injuries mounting on the Volunteer roster, Butch Jones’ recruiting success since coming to Knoxville in 2013 stocked Tennessee with more talent than Will Muschamp and a rebuilding South Carolina.
You could say the Gamecocks had more fight — figuratively and literally.
— SB✯Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) October 30, 2016
Even in the lean years at the end of his run with Florida, however, Muschamp had Jones’ number.
The Gamecocks’ 24-21 win dumped lighter fluid on the SEC East dumpster fire that began burning a season ago. Though defending divisional championship Florida is a perfectly fine team with a great head coach in Jim McElwain, Tennessee’s the only East roster with the sheer talent to compete in the SEC Championship Game; maybe Georgia, as well, but the Bulldogs’ disarray amid Kirby Smart’s first season makes evaluating the team difficult.
McElwain’s still in something of a rebuilding project, which is just staggering as the Gators move into position to repeat as SEC East champions. Muschamp’s final few recruiting classes were bereft of offensive line support, and that’s badly hindered the Gator offense.
In most other Power Five divisions, Florida’s complete lack of offensive consistency might preclude the Gators from winning a title. Not the SEC East.
While Tennessee effectively exploited Florida’s offensive line deficiencies, no other opponent has been able.
The Vols defense in the second half of that streak-snapping win over the Gators was as good as any has been in college football this season over a 30-minute stretch. Tennessee’s offense fed off that performance, and it seemed Jones and Co. had put the pieces together.
Saturday’s effort could not have been any more different. The end result for the SEC East is the same. Expect the West champion to roll to the division’s eighth straight win in the conference championship.