Lopsided games have dominated early SEC schedule

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.

”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.”

Odds makers expect more easy wins for both 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.”

AP Sports Writers John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., David Brandt

in Starkville, Miss., and Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn.,

contributed to this story.