If you wanted to figure out why it's so hard to repeat as division champion in a league like the SEC -- much less as champions of the conference overall -- South Carolina this year is a perfect example of why. The Gamecocks have a better record at this point of the season this year than last and haven't lost to a team that they defeated last year -- and South Carolina no longer controls its own destiny in the East.
To take it even a step further -- South Carolina lost to Auburn, Kentucky and Arkansas last year and was still in control of its own destiny after getting clubbed by the Razorbacks. This year, South Carolina lost to Auburn, defeated Kentucky, and played a game that was at least at times more competitive than last year's clobbering by the Razorbacks -- and again, it's the Gamecocks who need help to win the SEC East.
Part of that is because of a different foe; last year, it was Florida that the Gamecocks were fighting with, and the game between those two is usually the SEC finale for both teams. This year, it's Georgia, and South Carolina has already won its game against the Dawgs this season. But it also comes down to the fact that Georgia is simply a better team this year than last, and has an easier schedule than South Carolina when you look at the cross-division foes. (The teams share Auburn and Mississippi State, but Georgia got to play Ole Miss while the Gamecocks had to take tonight's trip to Arkansas.)
Not that South Carolina was remotely close to earning a victory against the Hogs tonight. The Gamecocks were outgained 435-207. They turned the ball over four times. No South Carolina runner even managed 25 rushing yards on the night. An offense that has struggled to make long plays all year long continued to sputter.
Arkansas, meanwhile, was the well-oiled offensive machine of the sort that Bobby Petrino cranked out with regularity at Louisville. Tyler Wilson was 20-of-37 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, and generally avoided bad plays after an early interception. The running game generated 136 yards of its own, more than adequate to provide balance and keep South Carolina guessing. It took a large number of self-inflicted wounds for Arkansas not to break 50 in this game.
Of course, unlike South Carolina, Arkansas is right back where it was last year. The Hogs are more than good enough to win the SEC East, but they will face a tough task no matter who emerges as the winner in Tuscaloosa tonight. An Alabama win means the Tide has to lose both of its remaining SEC games for Arkansas to have a chance. An LSU win means they still likely need another Alabama loss or some other odd factor to put them past the Tide in the BCS rankings. All of that assumes that the Hogs then win a game at LSU to end the season.
Maybe it's not that it's hard to repeat as division champions. Maybe it's just that it's hard to win an SEC division at all.