College Football Coverage: The SEC’s Black Saturday

We’ve seen more than our share of shocking and chaotic Saturdays in college football, but I don’t ever recall seeing something like what went down in the SEC. This is a conference that’s been defined by a “Big Three” in each division–Alabama, LSU & Texas A&M in the West and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in the East. Five of them lost.

Let’s take a look at the hows and whys of “Black Saturday” in the SEC and then discuss what the long-term implications are in both the national and conference picture.

Auburn 45 Texas A&M 41: Auburn physically whipped Texas A&M up front, and while that’s no surprise, the breadth and scope of the beatdown is a little startling. Auburn’s Tre Mason ran for 178 yards and quarterback Nick Marshall took off for 100 more.

Johnny Manziel got his numbers, 454 yards in the air. But he wasn’t able to take off and run, and the difference in the amount of times each quarterback had to throw meant that Manziel threw two picks and Marshall none.

Ole Miss 27 LSU 24: This was the Ole Miss team I had expected to see against conference contenders. The Rebels took down what had been a high-flying LSU passing game, intercepting Zach Mettenberg three times.

And it turns out LSU’s defensive revival of last week was more about them playing against Florida’s offense. Once a competent unit, this one led by Bo Wallace, was on the field, the Tigers were again coughing up yardage. Wallace went 30/39 for 346 yards and no interceptions.  Ole Miss had a 17-0 lead in the third quarter, let LSU tie it up late and then the Rebs marched for a game-winning field goal with two seconds left.

Missouri 36 Florida 17: Just how bad is Florida going to be this year? Missouri played with backup freshman quarterback Maty Mauck. While the kid is a highly touted recruit, it was his first career start and Florida has been playing good defense. On Saturday, Mizzou running back Henry Josey ran over them for 136 yards on 18 carries. Mauck was a little erratic, at 18/36, but he made big plays, producing 295 yards and avoided interceptions. That qualifies as a successful debut and the Tigers pulled away with 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Vanderbilt 31 Georgia 27: I don’t want to hear how the Bulldogs are down to their third-string running back. Brendan Douglas carried 17 times for 84 yards and Georgia had a 27-14 lead on a team that hasn’t beaten anyone good this season. Aaron Murray had a terrible day, at 16/28 for 114 yards, a showing awful both in terms of completion percentage and yards-per-pass. To allow this to happen one week after getting smoked by Missouri speaks volumes about where Georgia is really at this season.

Tennessee 23 South Carolina 21: You may have read the news that South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw was injured this game. It happened with less than five minutes left, so it doesn’t excuse this loss. Shaw did not play well in either case and the talented Gamecock defense couldn’t hold a 21-17 lead after three quarters. Great win for Tennessee, who adds this to their near-miss against Georgia a couple weeks ago, and you can see the Vols’ progress under Butch Jones.

Now, on to the implications…

*Missouri is now more than just a contender in the SEC East. They’re even more than a frontrunner. Missouri is in complete command of this division, with a two-game lead. Even if they lose to South Carolina next week, the Tigers still control their own destiny to Atlanta.

*The SEC is certain to get a second team into a BCS bowl game, and now Auburn is a viable contender. The Tigers still have games with LSU and Alabama ahead, but if they can split those, Gus Malzahn’s team could be looking at a Sugar Bowl bid. And if they win both? Then Auburn wins the SEC West.

Thus, if you’re following, we could see an Auburn-Missouri battle in the December 7 SEC Championship Game, with the winner punching its ticket to play for the national title in Pasadena. No, I am not predicting that, but the fact we can say it’s viable on October 20 is shocking.

*It’s harsh, but Johnny Manziel’s hopes for a repeat Heisman might have gone by the boards. I hate to say that about a quarterback who threw for 454 yards and carries a team that lacks an effective running game and defense. But a loss like this, on the same night that Florida State’s Jameis Winston led a huge rout of Clemson, puts the A&M quarterback at a disadvantage in the politics of the race.

*If you presume that Auburn will lose to both Alabama and LSU, then the fact all the conventional favorites lost means that the race for the at-large bid to the BCS is back where we started.  The LSU-Texas A&M winner probably gets first crack, with South Carolina also having a shot.

*The national championship hopes of Texas A&M are gone, and LSU’s are on life support. The Tigers would have to win out–which would include a win over Alabama. Then LSU would still need Alabama to lose again and open up the SEC West, all the while hoping that Auburn loses a game it shouldn’t and avoiding a three-way tie.

And if all that happens? LSU has to hope the SEC’s reputation allows a two-loss team to potentially get into the BCS National Championship Game over, potential  undefeated teams (Oregon, Ohio State, Florida State). Ironically, the latter part is probably the easiest. It’s winning their own games that are going to be toughest for LSU. The same logic applies to South Carolina.

Oh, and that one team of the conventional contenders that didn’t lose? Yeah, that’s Alabama. The Tide blasted Arkansas into next week with 352 yards on the ground, no turnovers and not a single penalty. That’s football and that’s why Alabama is rolling right along.

TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage will have updated BCS bowl projections coming up on Monday.