KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It may rank as the craziest weekend in recent Southeastern Conference history.
Five conference teams in the Top 25 lost in league play Saturday, including three defeated by unranked opponents. The stunning results represented the latest indication this isn’t a typical season for the league that has produced the last seven national champions.
While top-ranked Alabama remained steady in its pursuit of a third straight national championship, the rest of the SEC struggled.
“I think the fans and media are surprised, but I’m never surprised,” Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said. “Never surprised. And I don’t think any of the coaches in our league are ever surprised at what happens on Saturday.”
Freeze’s Rebels won 27-24 over No. 6 LSU. No. 7 Texas A&M lost 45-41 to No. 24 Auburn. No. 11 South Carolina fell 23-21 to Tennessee. Vanderbilt defeated No. 15 Georgia 31-27. In each of these games, the loser was favored by at least seven points.
Even No. 14 Missouri’s 36-17 victory over No. 22 Florida qualified as an upset. The Gators were favored by three points.
The flurry of upsets caused a shake-up in the Top 25 released Sunday. Missouri soared to No. 5, and Auburn rose to No. 11. LSU tumbled to No. 13, Texas A&M fell to No. 14 and South Carolina slipped to No. 20. Georgia and Florida dropped out of the rankings entirely.
It’s unclear whether five ranked SEC teams had lost on the same day before, but it hadn’t happened in the last 20 years, according to STATS. Four ranked SEC teams fell the week of Oct. 20, 2007. This marked the first time Florida, LSU and Georgia all lost on the same day since Sept. 20, 1986.
Vanderbilt beat a ranked foe for the first time since 2008. Tennessee ended a 19-game losing streak against Top 25 opponents. Missouri beat ranked teams in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 1973.
The rise of Missouri and Auburn exemplified how much things have changed in the SEC.
One year after going 3-9 and failing to win any conference games, Auburn is 6-1 under new coach Gus Malzahn. Missouri has gone from 5-7 in 2012 to 7-0 this season. Missouri has a commanding lead in the Eastern Division, where every other team has at least two conference losses.
“I thought we were going to have a good football team,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I don’t know why everybody else thought we weren’t going to have a good football team.”
Injuries have shaken up the Eastern Division.
Florida lost quarterback Jeff Driskel and star defensive tackle Dominique Easley for the season. Georgia is dealing with season-ending injuries to running back Keith Marshall and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley. The Bulldogs have played their last three games without star running back Todd Gurley.
That takes a toll, particularly when a team is on the road. Of the five ranked teams that fell this week, only Texas A&M was at home. It’s worth noting that injuries to their starting quarterbacks didn’t prevent Missouri and Vanderbilt from winning.
“I don’t care who you are, you can get beat any Saturday,” Freeze said. “That’s especially true with any of the home crowds in the SEC. If you’re on the road, the home crowd can pick up a team and carry them. Then you throw in the injuries. Everybody in this league has injuries, and the injuries change everything you do and what your opponent can do. ”
Alabama has remained immune to upsets. After edging Texas A&M 49-42 on Sept. 14, Alabama has won its last five games by a combined 201-16, including Saturday’s 52-0 blowout of Arkansas.
Next up for Alabama is Tennessee, which would love to pull off the biggest stunner of all in this season of SEC surprises.
“Alabama, they put on their shoes the same way we put on our shoes,” Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson said. “We’ve just got to go in there with confidence, execute in practice – that’s the biggest thing – and believe that we can win. It’s all about belief at this point.”
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