The Deep South
Any of seven teams could win the SEC title as Georgia and Mississippi staked their claims in a wide-open race
Asked what Mississippi's stunning 17-14 upset of No. 6 Florida meant to the SEC's two division races, Rebels coach David Cutcliffe came quickly to his conclusion: nothing. "A year ago, after we beat LSU, you think they're out. It was their third loss, but they ended up winning [the conference]," said Cutcliffe, who thinks the SEC could be even more competitive this season. "I've coached in this league for 21 years, and this is by far the most balanced it has ever been."
On a wild Saturday that didn't conclude until 11:56 p.m. EDT, when Tennessee beat Arkansas 41-38 in six overtimes, the SEC showed why it is the deepest conference in the nation. (The SEC has six teams ranked in the AP Top 25, more than any other league.) Just check out the new blood at the top. Georgia, which won at Alabama 27-25, is alone in first place in the SEC East for the first time in 11 seasons of divisional play. Mississippi, tied with Auburn atop the SEC West, hasn't started 2-0 in conference play since 1970, when Archie Manning was Ole Miss's star quarterback.
Now the Rebels have another Manning running the offense-Archie's son Eli, a junior—though against the Gators he didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his 16 starts. It didn't matter. Ole Miss beat Florida with defense, which may be more startling than the upset itself. The Rebels had given up at least 17 points in each of their last 15 SEC games.
After last season Cutcliffe replaced defensive coordinator Don Lindsey with Chuck Driesbach, who installed a 4-2-5 scheme that he had used successfully at Western Michigan and TCU. When effective, the defense can show an eight-man front that was popular a generation ago against the run or drop into nickel coverage without a substitution. Against the Gators the Rebels rattled normally unflappable quarterback Rex Grossman, who threw four interceptions and completed 19 of 44 passes for 205 yards. Ole Miss sacked Grossman only once but hit him 23 times in 74 plays. "The only way to slow down a good quarterback is to get him off his timing, make him seem as if he's not safe," Driesbach said afterward.
Four of the Rebels' remaining six league games are on the road, including a visit to Georgia on Nov. 9. The sixth-ranked Bulldogs may be the lone unbeaten team in the league, but they have won three games by six points or fewer. "One thing that's good is, we've been able to stay undefeated as we're getting better," Georgia's second-year coach Mark Richt said last Saturday. "I know we're not hitting on all cylinders on offense."
The Bulldogs' biggest problem had been what sophomore quarterback David Greene called not "hitting the home run ball." In the first four games he had thrown only three completions of 25 yards or longer to a wide receiver, none for a touchdown. Against Alabama, though, Greene threw scoring passes of 42 yards to sophomore Fred Gibson and 37 to senior Terrence Edwards.
Richt was happy to be atop the SEC East, but with No. 10 Tennessee coming to Athens on Saturday and No. 16 Florida looming on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville—to say nothing of that meeting with Mississippi—he knows that most weeks he'll be in for a fight. "It's a long season," he said.
Penn State's Zack Attack
Mills Passes the Paterno Test
Three days after Penn State sophomore quarterback Zack Mills threw for a school-record 399 yards in a 42-35 overtime loss to Iowa on Sept. 28, he was already itching to play at Wisconsin's notoriously loud Camp Randall Stadium. "They say it's one of the craziest places you can play in," said Mills. "It's a great challenge, and it should be fun."