BATON ROUGE, La. -- It is often said there’s no such thing as a week off in the Southeastern Conference.
That hardly applies this year.
A check of the scores so far this season makes the SEC look like blowout central, begging the question of whether the league that has produced the national champion for five years running is more top-heavy than usual.
In the 18 games played between SEC teams this year, half have been decided by 20 or more points. Only four have been decided by 8 points or fewer. The other 14 ended with double-digit victory margins.
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“It seems unusual to me,” LSU coach Les Miles said this week. “I’ve not seen the difference in scores being this big. I always felt like this was more of a defensive league and kind of held the scores down.”
The SEC has maintained its share of defensive stars, but a number of them are concentrated on Alabama and LSU, which also have strong running games and competent passing attacks.
Logic would say that teams which field stifling, turnover-causing defenses and which also have offenses that can move the ball are bound to win by wide margins.
That’s precisely what has happened in the cases of the No. 1 Tigers and the No. 2 Crimson Tide.
“We’re getting turnovers and we’re not giving them up and the score just seems to mount,” said Miles, whose Tigers have opened SEC play with wins by 13 points at Mississippi State, 28 over Kentucky and 30 over Florida.
Alabama has won its first three SEC games by 24 over Arkansas, 28 over Florida and 34 over Vanderbilt, marking the first time the Tide has won its first three league games by 20 or more since Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 1980 squad.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said that in the case of Alabama and LSU, it’s not surprising to see the SEC looking a little top-heavy this year.
“There’s a lot of football to be played, but those two seem to have separated themselves from every other team in the country,” Mullen said. “I thought LSU was a pretty impressive football team.”
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said the best handful of teams in the country tend to post their share of lopsided victories, no matter whom they play.
“It’s one thing to be a Top 25 team. It’s another to be in that top 5,” Franklin said. “The gap between No. 30 and No. 20, I don’t think is that significant. But that gap between No. 15 and No. 2 or 3 is dramatic.”
Oddsmakers expect more easy wins for the Tigers and the Tide this Saturday. LSU is a more than two-TD favorite at Tennessee, while Alabama is a more than three touchdown favorite at Mississippi. Yet there have been plenty of other blowouts across the SEC not involving LSU or Alabama.
Vanderbilt beat Mississippi by 23 points. Before Florida dropped out of the Top 25 with big, back-to-back losses to Alabama and LSU, the Gators won their first two SEC games by 10 over Tennessee and 38 over Kentucky. In the Gators’ case, a leg injury to senior starting quarterback John Brantley against Alabama likely contributed to the lopsided losses, although Miles said he was still surprised to see Florida have its worst loss to LSU since 1971.
After losing its SEC opener by 24 to Alabama, Arkansas beat Auburn by 24. South Carolina beat Vanderbilt by 18 and walloped Kentucky by 51.
Georgia has posted 14-point wins over both Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
“It’s definitely abnormal,” LSU guard Will Blackwell said. “In the SEC, you’re expecting a one-score difference in just about every game.”
Backwell, a senior, speaks from experience. Last season, LSU went 11-2 overall but had a number of heart-pounding finishes in SEC games, including a 2-point win over Tennessee on touchdown scored on an untimed down, followed by a narrow victory over Florida after a fake field goal set up a winning touchdown pass in the final seconds. The Tigers also held on to beat Alabama by a field goal, beat Ole Miss by only a touchdown and lost to eventual champion Auburn by a touchdown.
LSU receiver Russell Shepard said in some cases such as those of Florida and Tennessee, teams that have been historically strong are going through coaching transitions and have a lot of youth. Florida has a first-year coach in Will Muschamp, while Tennessee has a second-year coach in Derek Dooley.
“When you’ve got a lot of youth, you’re going to have games where the youth plays to its potential and games where the youth plays like youth,” Shepard said. “You throw the new coaches into the mix and you’ve just got a lot to learn. In time, some of these teams will get back to their dominant ways.”