Mon Oct 18 02:22pm EDT
Since this is the sort of paradigm-shifting year where Oregon, Boise State and TCU are considered legitimate national frontrunners in mid-October, there's no shortage of categories for everyone's favorite game, "When was the last time...?" Today's quiz: When was the last time perennial SEC East heavies Florida, Georgia and Tennessee were all unranked in the Associated Press poll in the same week? Answer: Sept. 5, 1989, before there was an SEC East, an Ol' Ball Coach, a BCS or an inkling of the existence of most of the players making up those teams' current rosters. Until about three weeks ago, there'd only been a handful of AP polls since the SEC adopted the two-division format in 1992 that didn't include at least one of the East's "Big Three" in the top ten, and none that didn't finish with at least one of them in that class at the end of the year.
So the last month has left the division in uncharted territory, to say the least. Georgia started 1-4 with losses to Colorado and Mississippi State. Florida has lost three in a row, the last two at home, after dropping two games in the Swamp over Urban Meyer's first five years. Tennessee has been repeatedly crushed by attrition and the callous indifference of the universe. The current frontrunner in both the polls and the standings is South Carolina, which just followed up a breakthrough, potentially program-defining upset at Alabama with a classic choke job at Kentucky that screamed "Same old Gamecocks."
We're at a point where Vanderbilt is sitting a half-game out of first place with a golden chance to make its move this weekend against South Carolina, and the Commodores' presence in the discussion at midseason isn't even the craziest storyline in the division. Right now, that would be the resurrection of Georgia's season following a 43-0 disemboweling of Vandy on Saturday, advancing the Bulldogs to within a half-game of the Gamecocks their own selves. That followed a nearly identical thrashing of Tennessee, casting UGA – the same team that was gearing up to fire its wildly successful head coach – as the hottest outfit in the division heading into the second half of the year.
The upshot of that title is that the bar is so low: No other team in the division has two wins in a row, and Kentucky's the only rival that even has one. Georgia could go down in flames again Saturday in Lexington, and suddenly the Wildcats are one more South Carolina loss from joining the pack. Carolina is the only team that entirely controls its own destiny, but would you put money on the Gamecocks right now?
After their latest bout of schizophrenia, there are three golden opportunities – at Vanderbilt, back home against Tennessee and Arkansas – to blow their frontrunner status before the logical do-or-die game at Florida in November. And it only means that much if the Gators can snap out of their funk in two weeks against Georgia, and Tennessee doesn't run over some kind of power-up bar, and Kentucky's triumph (coming on the heels of a near-miss against Auburn) wasn't the start of an astonishing run. Whatever chain of events you can dream up over the next six weeks, it won't be as improbable or confusing as the trajectory of the last six.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.