BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The blazing starts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are raising doubts about preseason assumptions that the West is best in the Southeastern Conference.
Sure, the West Division remains home to the top nationally ranked teams in the league: No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 LSU. But the next few weeks — LSU travels to No. 11 Florida on Oct. 6 and hosts No. 6 South Carolina on Oct. 13 — will clarify the extent to which the SEC's balance of power has begun shifting eastward.
"It looks like it has turned that way, with Florida undefeated, Georgia and us right there," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said, although he also noted that none of his team's victories have come against an opponent that currently has a winning record. "We don't know how good we are, just like a lot of teams don't know."
Florida (4-0), which has this week off, will be undefeated when it hosts LSU in a game Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease called "a defining moment to see where we're at."
The leaders in the East have been winning with dominant defenses and powerful running games, a formula familiar to the Crimson Tide and the Tigers.
That is a bit of a departure for Spurrier, who made his name as a coach at Florida with a wide open pass-oriented offense called the "Fun 'N' Gun."
The 2012 Gamecocks (4-0) rank second in the SEC in points allowed (9.8 per game) and fourth in total defense (300.2 yards per game). The two best-known players on their roster are defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (third in the league in tackles for losses) and running back Marcus Lattimore (80 yards rushing per game).
Fifth-ranked Georgia (4-0) has the conference's leading rusher in Todd Gurley (101.5 ypg) and a defensive star in linebacker Jarvis Jones, who ranks second in the league in tackles for losses. Florida's Mike Gillislee is the SEC's second-leading rusher (100.5 ypg), and the Gators lead the SEC in pass defense efficiency, allowing a completion rate of less than 52 percent while intercepting six passes.
"The SEC East is an outstanding part of our league," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, insinuating that the team that wins the division will deserve more credit for its strength of schedule than some might have thought before the season. "Preseason, everybody had an opinion on everybody's schedules, and I felt like we just aren't going to know how tough everybody's schedule is until you play the season and you have a better idea of how tough it is. We felt like we had some very outstanding teams in the East, and so far they are proving it."
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley won't argue with that. His team is showing signs of improvement this season with 3-1 record, the lone loss coming against the Gators.