Arkansas, Ole Miss will determine if West is best

By: Harry King
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2018
Arkansas defensive lineman McTelvin Agim tries to work through a block by an unidentified Ole Miss lineman during a game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Little Rock.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas defensive lineman McTelvin Agim tries to work through a block by an unidentified Ole Miss lineman during a game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK — A given for almost a decade, the SEC West’s dominance over the SEC East won’t continue without success by both teams that played in Little Rock last week.

At this point, Arkansas and Ole Miss — 0-4 and 1-2, respectively, in the conference — are the only teams from the West that have not played an opponent from the East. Ironically, Arkansas’ opponents from the East — Vanderbilt and Missouri — are both 0-3 in the league, while the Rebels also play Vanderbilt and South Carolina, which is 2-3 in the SEC.

A year ago, the East was 3-11 vs. the West, the ninth straight year the West had the upper hand and increasing the score to 103-43 since 2009. In addition, teams from the West won the SEC championship eight years in a row until Georgia defeated Auburn last year.

But, Florida is on a fast track in Dan Mullen’s first year, Kentucky continues to improve under Mark Stoops and Georgia’s recruiting classes are right there with those at Alabama in Kirby Smart’s third year in Athens.

Last weekend, LSU from the West scored a convincing victory over then-No. 2 Georgia of the East, a result that overshadowed the fact that the East’s Tennessee won its first conference game since November 2016, scoring 20 straight and beating the West’s Auburn 30-24.

At this point, the score is West 4, East 4 with six games remaining. A look at the remaining cross-division games:

Alabama: 1-0 with Tennessee on Saturday.

Arkansas: 0-0 with Vanderbilt next week and Missouri in the season finale.

Auburn: 0-1 with Georgia on Nov. 10

LSU: 1-1, splitting with Florida and Georgia

Ole Miss: 0-0 with South Carolina and Vanderbilt in November.

Mississippi State: 0-2, losing to Kentucky and Florida

Texas A&M: 2-0, beating Kentucky and South Carolina.

Assume Alabama will beat Tennessee and Georgia will get past Auburn and the tie comes down to the four games involving Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Generally, the SEC West is considered the best division in college football. The Big Ten East with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State is No. 2.

Two weeks deep into the current season, a major publication agreed and declared the argument settled.

Cited by USA Today, the evidence included Alabama’s acknowledged superiority, LSU beating Miami, Auburn defeating Pac-12 preseason favorite Washington, and Mississippi State hammering Kansas State on the road. Just last week, Miami lost to Virginia, Washington lost to Oregon, and Kansas State lost for the fourth time.

Time to recalculate.

Any division that includes the best college football program in the country can lay claim to being the most difficult, but SEC West teams cited other than Alabama have struggled against the East. Mississippi State lost to both Florida and Kentucky and did not score a touchdown vs. the Gators. LSU was unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the country when it lost to Florida, and Auburn is likely to be 0-2.

In the victories by both LSU and Tennessee, the underdogs remained aggressive throughout.

After a short punt to the LSU 43 late in the half, the announcers suggested the Tigers would work the clock to protect their lead. Instead, LSU threw deep. The pass was incomplete, but delivered the message that the Tigers were not going to play safe.

Trailing by 13, Auburn moved inside the Tennessee 30 midway through the fourth quarter, but, instead of dropping extra defenders into coverage on fourth down, the Vols blitzed Jarrett Stidham into a sack. Earlier, Tennessee followed a score by risking field position with an onside kick.

The who’s best, East or West, is an interesting talking point for fans and media, but players probably don’t care and coaches have other things to worry about.

Still, it would be fitting if Arkansas and Ole Miss are 2-2 vs. the East and the 7-7 tie is broken in Atlanta in December.

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