Week four of SEC play was the calm before the storm, as key matchups dot the horizon in league play. Top ranked Vanderbilt will travel to the defending national champion South Carolina in a series that will help either team make a strong case for the National #1 Seed. Across the southern border, Florida and Georgia will face off as the 3rd and 4th place teams in the Southeastern Conference. By the time Sunday night rolls around, the balance of power in the country's toughest division may have shifted entirely.
Though these monumental showdowns have stolen the spotlight, there are still many other storylines at play in the SEC. The top-heavy league seems to be separating from itself, with the elite teams rising while strong teams have faded into the pack. So far, only the surprising Georgia Bulldogs have used their difficult schedule to gain attention, stringing together key wins and a top 17 RPI. Like in 2010, the conference has emerged with only two truly disappointing teams and the shift in stature between the teams ranked from 4-10 has produced some intriguing questions. Such as:
- What the hell happened to LSU? The Tigers were a consensus Top 10 pick when the season started and looked elite after sweeping #9 Cal State-Fullerton. Less than a month later, LSU is 3-9 in conference play and 5-11 over their last 16 games, including losses to Northwestern State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Are they even the best team in their state anymore?
- Is Auburn re-surging? The other Tigers popped into the national rankings briefly after a series win against #16 Arkansas in their SEC opener. They were then promptly swept by Mississippi State and Vanderbilt to fall out of consideration, but came back strong with an important dashing of bottom-feeder Kentucky this weekend. Can Auburn prove their worth in the SEC's shark tank, or were wins over Alabama, Arkansas, and Arizona State flukes?
- Can Alabama win the West? The SEC West looked to be a two-team race between Arkansas and LSU when the season started, but the Crimson Tide are the division's leaders after four weeks of play. Bama is 3-1 in series play so far this season and three of their five losses came against the top-ranked team in the nation on the road. Can the Tide hold off a surging Razorback squad and capture the divisional crown?
These are just some of the questions raised in the middle of the pack of the SEC so far. Check out the AoG rankings after the jump.
|1)||1)||Vanderbilt||31-3 (10-2)||Swept 'Bama easily and then won a squeaker against MTSU to roll into South Carolina with an 11-game winning streak on the line. This weekend's matchup might be the biggest series in college baseball until the postseason rolls around. Check out Sunday's game on ESPN2.|
|2)||2)||South Carolina||26-6 (10-2)||A midweek loss to The Citadel takes a bit of the lustre off this weekend's series and raises some questions about the Gamecocks slumping offense. Carolina has scored just eight runs over their last four games and will be facing a pair of aces on Friday and Saturday in Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin (The Killa Gs).|
|3)||3)||Florida||26-8 (9-3)||Can't beat Florida State (1-3 against them in 2011, with their only win coming in extra innings), but still chugging along in the SEC. A big showdown with Georgia looms and will (surprisingly) have major implications on the race in the East.|
|The Ever-Shifting Middle Ground of the SEC|
|4)||5)||Georgia||18-16 (8-4)||Took a series win against Ole Miss and dropped a close game to #12 Georgia Tech. Could the SEC's best four teams come from the East? The Bulldogs are making a case for it.|
|5)||8)||Arkansas||24-8 (6-6)||The Hogs finally got a SEC series win with a close sweep over LSU, and are surging on the strength of a six-game winning streak. They can pad their record over the next two weeks with series against Mississippi State and Kentucky.|
|6)||4)||Alabama||22-13 (7-5)||The Tide got pounded out by Vanderbilt in Nashville but still have a one-game lead in the West. Though Arkansas is surging their odds of holding onto a top-two spot in the division must be pretty good considering LSU's tailspin.|
|Maxing Out at a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament|
|7)||6)||Mississippi State||21-11 (5-7)||3-0 against the SEC West, 2-7 against the East. On the plus side, they exposed Florida's Hudson Randall as a mere mortal last Friday, torching the Gator ace for 9 hits and 6 runs in 2.1 innings in a Bulldog win.|
|8)||10)||Auburn||18-14 (5-7)||Swept Kentucky, but so what? The Tigers also lost to Troy and will have to improve to avoid falling to a three seed in the NCAA Tournament - and maybe even to get to Hoover at the end of May.|
|Whatever and/or What the Hell?|
|9)||7)||LSU||21-12 (3-9)||Northwestern State has now beaten LSU in both basketball AND baseball this season. We here at AoG declare them the new kings of Louisiana.|
|10)||9)||Ole Miss||20-14 (5-7)||One SEC series win, vs. Tennessee. The Rebels aren't a gimme for anyone in the conference, but they haven't shown that they belong in any postseason tournaments so far in 2011.|
|Pretty Bad…Pretty, Pretty, Pretty, Pretty…Pretty Bad.|
|11)||11)||Kentucky||17-17 (2-10)||They beat Louisville, so that's nice. The 'Cats have nothing but out-of-conferece wins since facing Tennessee.|
|12)||12)||Tennessee||19-14 (2-10)||Tennessee has had the sharp end of the schedule cut through them with back-to-back weeks against Florida and South Carolina. They played the Gamecocks tough, but an eight-game losing streak - including defeats to Presbyterian and Appalachian State - keeps them in the SEC basement.|