By The Associated Press
The mighty Southeastern Conference has six schools in the Top 25, with Alabama and LSU atop the rankings and the toast of college football once again.
An impressive eight SEC teams have managed to break into the Top 25 this season.
But while it seems everyone in the SEC is enjoying success, that’s not the case. The bottom half of the league has had some downright embarrassing moments.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said even the SEC can’t win every game.
“I know as a league, we have a lot of pride. We expect to win every game no matter what,” Mullen said. “That’s a good thing. But in today’s college football, that’s not always possible.”
Not even when teams are playing at home.
Louisiana-Monroe went on the road and shocked Arkansas and had Auburn on the ropes while Western Kentucky stunned Kentucky in overtime in Lexington. Mississippi was crushed 66-31 by No. 14 Texas at home; the Rebels haven’t given up that many points since 1917.
Vanderbilt’s loss to Northwestern on the road was certainly disappointing for a program trying to build a better reputation under second-year coach James Franklin. Mississippi State barely escaped an upset at Troy.
But the surprising losses and close calls haven’t done much damage to the SEC’s reputation as it goes for a sixth straight BCS championship.
The six SEC teams in the Top 25 are more than any other conference. It seems when one SEC team drops out of the rankings, another pops in.
After Arkansas was knocked out, Tennessee moved up. Once the Vols fell out of the rankings, Mississippi State was there to take their place.
LSU center P.J. Lonergan said he’s been surprised by some of the early season scores, but points out that underestimating any SEC opponent is a bad idea. The No. 2 Tigers travel to face Auburn on Saturday.
“Arkansas losing to (Louisiana-Monroe) was unexpected. Auburn struggling has been unexpected,” Lonergan said. “But I’ve been here for games against opponents when you are not pumped up for because you think they are not up to your level. You get a surprise.
“Everybody is good in the SEC. The record doesn’t matter.”
Maybe, but some are much better than others.
And the problems have contributed to the perception that the SEC is top heavy. Mullen disagrees.
“I think that’s just football,” the coach of the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs. “There’s a lot more balance in college football than there used to be. There are very few teams who can just roll the ball out there and play. If you don’t play well, you’re probably not going to win the game and it really doesn’t matter who is on the schedule.”
Even most of the league’s struggling teams seem to have reason for hope.
— Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who has been out since suffering a concussion against Louisiana-Monroe, is expected to return soon — though Wednesday morning he hadn’t been medically cleared for contact. His presence will immediately make the Razorbacks a factor in all their remaining games.
— Ole Miss has proven to be one of the league’s most explosive offensive teams, ranking second out of 14 teams with 500.7 total yards per game. The Rebels just have to find ways to stop opponents.
— Vanderbilt appears headed in the right direction even after the Northwestern loss. The Commodores nearly knocked off South Carolina in the season opener and have another chance to break through this weekend at Georgia.
— Kentucky has looked inept, but sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith leads the league in passing, throwing for 966 yards, eight touchdowns and four touchdowns. The Wildcats are much like the Rebels in that an inexperienced defense is the main problem.
One problem for SEC teams that struggle is the poor performances are magnified by nearly flawless efforts by the league leaders. Alabama has outscored its first three opponents 128-14. LSU has a 145-31 advantage.
But Arkansas coach John L. Smith isn’t complaining.
“I think it’s good for the league,” Smith said. “Again, anytime you have that power at the top … We all strive to get there. I think it makes us all better — the entire league.”