It's tricky to keep an eye on things in the early season -- some teams just get hot and others are still trying to get things going. But when the SEC season hits the midpoint, you should have things settling into something of a pattern, and likely something resembling what you expected. Which we have -- except for Kentucky.
|SEC EAST||SEC WEST|
Florida and South Carolina are fighting for position in the SEC East and LSU and Arkansas look to be the best teams in the West -- but Kentucky is just mucking things up according to our preseason narrative. (Nobody really saw LSU starting to run away with the West, but that's what we have so far in that division.) Oh, and we have Vanderbilt slumping and Auburn still in a position to make the SEC tournament. But those are minor quibbles compared to Kentucky -- Kentucky! -- still being in a strong position to win the East and even the whole conference in the regular season.
It's been awhile since we've gone through the league -- sorry about that -- so we'll talk about where the teams are headed and what that could mean for the rest of the SEC season. And once again, we're starting with Kentucky.
|Kentucky at Arkansas|
|Friday||Saturday, Game 1
||Saturday, Game 2
|Arkansas 8, Kentucky 7
||Kentucky 5, Arkansas 4
||Kentucky 2, Arkansas 1
If there's anyone left who asks whether Kentucky's for real, they're either trolling or not paying attention. The Wildcats won a series at Arkansas for the first time in 10 years and became the first team to win two against the Razorbacks on the same day since Bill Clinton was running for re-election. (We'll leave the obvious parallels between that and the recent events at Arkansas unmentioned for now.) Kentucky does have two massive series left in SEC play: LSU and Florida. But the other three conference opponents (Vanderbilt, Alabama and Mississippi State) ought to provide a lopsided enough record that as long as Kentucky keeps the damage in those other two seasons to a minimum, the Wildcats will have a great shot at getting one of the top two seeds in the SEC tournament. Arkansas, who at one point had led the SEC West, has dropped six of its last nine SEC games as it's moved through a tough stretch of the schedule (at LSU, Georgia, Kentucky). Ole Miss, Florida and South Carolina all loom on the schedule, meaning it's not going to get that much easier for the Razorbacks. Not as hard as facing LSU and Kentucky, sure, but not that much easier.
NEXT FOR KENTUCKY: Cincinnati (Tuesday); LSU (Weekend)
NEXT FOR ARKANSAS: Stephen F. Austin (Tuesday DH); at Ole Miss (Weekend)
|Alabama at LSU|
|LSU 10, Alabama 2
||LSU 7, Alabama 1
||LSU 5, Alabama 1
LSU is now 8-1 over its last three series, and while a sweep of Alabama is really nothing to brag about these days, that record also includes a sweep against Arkansas and a series win at Florida. The Bayou Bengals are now in the driver's seat for the SEC West, and they got there the honest way. There are still a couple of tough series on the slate -- Kentucky and LSU square off this weekend and the year wraps up against South Carolina -- but the remainder of the schedule (Georgia, at Ole Miss, Vanderbilt) is easy enough to make the Tigers the favorites to close out the division. For Alabama, even the expansion of the SEC tournament to 10 teams might not be enough to get the Tide in this year. Actually, their schedule is just tough enough to make it highly unlikely the Tide can make up the necessary ground. Which is fine, because they have football season to get ready for.
NEXT FOR ALABAMA: Mississippi Valley State (Tues.-Wed.); Vanderbilt (Weekend)
NEXT FOR LSU: Lamar (Wednesday); at Kentucky (Weekend)
|Florida at Tennessee|
|Florida 3, Tennessee 1
||Tennessee 5, Florida 4
||Florida 8, Tennessee 1
After getting off to a red-hot start rivaled only by Kentucky's, Florida has fallen on hard times. The Gators are 4-5 over their last nine SEC games and have won just one of their last three series -- taking two of three games this past weekend from mediocre Tennessee. And Florida still has a couple of tough series coming up, with Arkansas and Kentucky still on the late-season slate. Even this weekend's game against Georgia is far from a guaranteed win, and Mississippi State might be the only truly likely sweep unless Auburn's slide continues. Given the way Mississippi State is collapsing and the way that Alabama continues to be Alabama, Tennessee's schedule is just easy enough to give the Vols the edge to go to Hoover even if things go haywire. Mississippi State is on the docket for this weekend's Thursday Night Baseball series (for reasons passing understanding), as are middling Auburn and struggling Vanderbilt.
NEXT FOR FLORIDA: Georgia Southern (Tuesday); Georgia (Weekend)
NEXT FOR TENNESSEE: ETSU (Tuesday); at Mississippi State (Weekend, Thu.-Sat.)
|Mississippi State at South Carolina
|South Carolina 7, Mississippi State 6
||South Carolina 5, Mississippi State 3
||South Carolina 6, Mississippi State 4
South Carolina finally got its first SEC sweep of the season against the Western Division Bulldogs, though the defending national champions probably saw the first time they took three straight against a conference opponent coming before mid-April and in a slightly more high-profile manner. Mississippi State has won a single SEC series all year, and that one almost shouldn't count because it was against Vanderbilt. But the Gamecocks haven't lost a series since dropping the last two games against Florida back in March. If South Carolina is starting to turn a corner, it couldn't come at a better time; there are still series at Georgia, at Arkansas and against LSU to go. Mississippi State actually has a chance to play its way back into contention for Hoover with series against Tennessee, Ole Miss and Alabama over the next three weekends, but then they'll have to find some way to hold serve with a brutal end to the season that includes a trip to Gainesville and hosting Kentucky.
NEXT FOR MISSISSIPPI STATE: vs. Ole Miss (Tuesday; Pearl, Miss.; non-conference); Tennessee (Weekend, Thu.-Sun.)
NEXT FOR SOUTH CAROLINA: College of Charleston (Tuesday); at Auburn (Weekend)
|Auburn at Vanderbilt|
|Vanderbilt 5, Auburn 4
||Auburn 5, Vanderbilt 2
||Vanderbilt 11, Auburn 2
Auburn's hot start is beginning to come unraveled, with a 1-5 slide against Alabama and Vanderbilt as the clearest sign yet that things are going South in Plainsman Park. Oh, and South Carolina, Arkansas and Florida are all still on the schedule. If there's a team that's currently in the running for Hoover that looks most likely to miss out on actually getting there, it would almost have to be Auburn, in part because Vanderbilt finally seems to be stabilizing. Vanderbilt has a reasonably difficult schedule, though, so if their hot streak proves to be as fragile as Auburn's, then the Commodores' iffy hopes of the SEC tournament could finally fall flat.
NEXT FOR AUBURN: Troy (Tuesday); Alabama A&M (Wednesday); South Carolina (Weekend)
NEXT FOR VANDERBILT: Middle Tennessee State (Tuesday); at Alabama (Weekend)
|Ole Miss at Georgia|
|Georgia 8, Ole Miss 4
||Georgia 6, Ole Miss 3
||Ole Miss 8, Georgia 3
It's been an up-and-down season for the Dawgs so far this year, but that's okay, because it's not like they have series at Florida and at LSU and against South Carolina still on the schedule. Oh, they do? Well, then, they best hope that there are a few more "ups" yet to come. The Dawgs still look like long-shots to either win the division or lose out on going to Hoover, so the name of the game at this point is just to keep their heads above water. Of course, that becomes harder to do if you give up 20 hits when you're trying to sweep a team. The Rebel Black Bears have been dealing with an uneven season of their own, with the loss to Georgia being just the last example of that. The schedule is relatively hard over the next few weeks, but Ole Miss isn't exactly in the middle of a divisional race itself.
NEXT FOR OLE MISS: vs. Mississippi State (Tuesday; Pearl, Miss.; non-conference); Arkansas (Weekend)
NEXT FOR GEORGIA: Liberty (Monday); Furman (Tuesday); at Florida (Weekend)