The first two months of the SEC's regular season have been quite an interesting journey. Shootouts dominated headlines during the first month of the season, as Alabama topped Texas A&M and Georgia topped LSU in decidedly explosive fashion.
Shootouts gave way to injuries and uncertainty in October, as Georgia and Florida sputtered and "upset Saturday" on Oct. 19 sent five ranked SEC teams home with losses.
So what's the deal? Is it a down year for the SEC, or is this just another indication of parity within the league?
It's a little bit of both, actually.
Heading into Week 10 last season, there were five SEC teams in the top eight of the BCS standings. This season, there's one—top-ranked Alabama.
|SEC in the Week 10 of the BCS Standings|
|Year||Top 25 Teams||Highest Ranked|
|2010||6||Auburn (No. 2)|
|2011||6||LSU (No. 1)|
|2012||7||Alabama (No. 1)|
|2013||6||Alabama (No. 1)|
There's no doubt that the year hasn't gone according to plan for many of the teams considered to be contenders before the season. Texas A&M's defense is dreadful, Florida's offense is the same, LSU's defense has been hit-or-miss and Georgia's secondary looks more like a turnstile than a unit that can shut down opposing offenses.
Some of the expected contenders just haven't lived up to the hype.
Two other teams have stepped in to fill their shoes, which is contributing to the perception that this is a "down season."
Missouri was picked to finish sixth in the SEC East at SEC Media Days, but it climbed all the way to fifth in the BCS before falling to South Carolina last weekend. Still, though, the Tigers have proven this season that they have a dynamic offense, a relentless pass rush and can be opportunistic on defense with a league-high 21 takeaways.
Despite last weekend's loss, the Tigers are still in control of their destiny in the SEC East, and if they catch some breaks around the country and get things back on track, there's still an outside shot of the Tigers claiming the crystal football.
Joining Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel in the race for SEC Coach of the Year honors is first-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who has his team out to a 7-1 record and in the No. 11 spot in the BCS standings.
The Tigers rank fifth in the nation in rushing offense with 315.38 yards per game on the ground, after averaging just 148.42 yards per game on the ground a year ago thanks to a dynamic rushing attack that features Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and quarterback Nick Marshall.
But while Auburn's offense has garnered headlines, it's the play of the defense that has been most remarkable.
The Tigers are third in the SEC in scoring defense (20.5 PPG), tied for first in tackles for loss (61) and have been surprisingly solid against the run (140 YPG).
The biggest problem in the SEC isn't a bunch of mediocrity, it's that the two primary contenders to Alabama's throne seemingly came out of nowhere.
While the changing of the guard presents a perception problem for the conference, the fact that there's not another true juggernaut to compare Alabama to is another reason why some have termed this a "down year" for the SEC.
At this point last season, all signs pointed to another LSU/Alabama "game of the century," with the winner likely facing off against a tough Georgia/Florida winner in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game.
That anticipation doesn't exist this season.
While Missouri and Auburn are nice, their emergence this season doesn't seem as daunting as it was when some of the heavyweights of the last two seasons were cooking at a high level.
At least, not yet.
However, if both keep winning, Alabama's matchup with Auburn in the Iron Bowl and potential matchup with Missouri in the SEC Championship Game could deliver the same big-game scenarios that we've seen during supposed "up" years.
There is tremendous parity this season in the SEC—it's just not at the top.
Does that make this a "down season" for the nation's best college football conference?
By SEC standards, absolutely. By national standards, not really.
All it means is that the SEC boasts only one elite team and several good teams that have spent the season cannibalizing each other. Is that any different than the ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten or Big 12?
If that makes this a "down year" for the SEC, so be it. But there's still plenty of football left, and while out-of-conference losses by Georgia to Clemson and Florida to Miami have created hope around the country that the SEC will be knocked off its perch, there are still rivalry games and bowl games left this season to fully tell the story.