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Parity running amuck in SEC East race

Parity running amuck in SEC East race

By: By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia already has lost two Southeastern Conference games, and the season is only halfway done. So, that’s it for the Bulldogs, right?

Hardly.

The SEC East is a microcosm of college football’s wild, wild year, with standings that look all out of whack and each of the six teams already sporting at least one conference loss.

South Carolina, which has a grand total of one conference championship in football (and that was long before the Gamecocks joined the SEC), is holding down first place and ranked No. 7 in the country. No. 17 Kentucky is right in the thick of things, and it’s not even basketball season yet.

Meanwhile, traditional powers Florida and Georgia already have two conference losses apiece, though that’s not enough to knock them out of the race. Heck, they’ve got as good a shot as anyone else to be playing on that first Saturday of December at the SEC championship game in Atlanta.

“Usually by now,” Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said, “it’s down to a couple of teams.”

Even perennial bringing-up-the-rear Vanderbilt remains hopeful, knowing that its 1-2 record in the SEC puts the Commodores in about the same position as everyone else.

Would the Commodores contending for a conference title be any more ludicrous than Appalachian State beating Michigan?

“It’s just not the way it was, with certain teams being a little bit better than most and certain teams not being as good as most,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “There’s just a lot more equality out there. There’s a lot of skilled guys who can make plays, and a lot of coaches who know what they’re doing.”

One of those coaches is Steve Spurrier, who guided Florida to six SEC titles and one national championship during an era in which there was a lot more predictability to the standings.

The Gators dominated the East during the early half of the 1990s, Tennessee came on strong in the latter part of the decade, and Georgia became a perennial contender soon after Richt took over in 2001.

Actually, it was Spurrier who helped to open things up a bit when he left for an mediocre stint with the NFL’s Washington Redskins in 2002-03.

Two years ago, Spurrier returned to the college game with South Carolina, which went through most of its history without winning a bowl game and captured its only championship as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1969.

Suddenly, the Gamecocks have the look of a contender. In just 21/2 years on the job, Spurrier has already beaten each of the Big Three — Florida, Tennessee and Georgia — and even started to needle some of his rivals, just like he did when he had those teams down at the Swamp.

“We may have a chance at a big year,” Spurrier said. “But right now, we feel pretty fortunate to be 5-1 starting the second half of this 12-game season.”

He’s wise to hedge his bets. While Gamecocks lead the SEC East with a 3-1 conference record, there’s a perilous three-week stretch remaining.

South Carolina travels to No. 25 Tennessee (3-2, 1-1) on Oct. 27, then goes to West Division rival Arkansas on Nov. 3, and finally returns home to face 13th-ranked Florida (4-2, 2-2) on Nov. 10.

The defending national champions have likely knocked themselves out of the race for No. 1 with two straight losses. But the Gators certainly haven’t given up on capturing another SEC East title, and possibly getting another crack at LSU.
Georgia (4-2, 2-2) isn’t thinking about titles of any kind after an up-and-down first half of the season.

The young Bulldogs must bound from an embarrassing 35-14 loss at Tennessee when they hit the road again to take on Vanderbilt, which is looking for its second straight win in the series.

“It is kind of crazy,” Georgia safety Reshad Jones said. “But it’s a marathon. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”

No one knows how this one will finish.

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