FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The only thing standing between an undefeated record for the Southeastern Conference’s West teams against their East counterparts this season is a 51-yard field goal.
Despite that unlikely make as time expired, giving Kentucky a 40-38 win over Mississippi State on Oct. 22, the gap between the two divisions in college football’s premier league is as large as ever.
Just how big is the gap between the East and West?
"Pretty big," Florida coach Jim McElwain said after a 31-10 loss to Arkansas on Saturday , a game that sent the West to 9-1 against East this season. "As the Florida Gators, it’s our responsibility to close it."
The difference between the two divisions is nothing new, with the West having finished 13-2 against the East last season — including Alabama’s 29-15 win over Florida in the SEC championship game.
What was so striking about Saturday was the ease with which the Razorbacks (6-3, 2-3 SEC) — losers already to three West opponents — handled the East-leading Gators (6-2, 4-2). Coming off a 56-3 loss to Auburn two weeks ago, Arkansas outgained Florida 466-241 in total yardage and held the Gators to a season-low 12 yards rushing.
What was expected to be a difficult game against the best from the East turned into an easy ride for the Razorbacks.
"Our coach did preach that do us, there is a difference between the West and the East," Arkansas defensive end Jeremiah Ledbetter said. "Physicality-wise, the teams that we play, they’re just big, physical guys and try to dominate. We showed that playing the East."
Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema was a bit more hesitant to write off the East, offering, "I’m going to leave that one floating out there a little bit."
"I think in the SEC every game is very tough," Bielema said. "… I think anything in the SEC, East or West, I know the numbers are going to say one thing, but you’ve got to respect everybody in this league."
The East has four more chances during the regular season to close the gap, beginning this week when Georgia (5-4, 3-4) hosts surging Auburn (7-2, 5-1). The Gators have another West opponent left when they travel to LSU for their rescheduled game on Nov. 19.
Mississippi also faces Vanderbilt that same weekend, while Arkansas closes out the regular season against Missouri on Nov. 25.
Regardless of how those games play out, the West has already showed its dominance this season — and no one on that side of the conference is about to feel sorry for the East."Football is football," said Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams, who rushed for 148 yards against the Gators. "Those guys over there, they have some NFL-caliber players. I think they’ll be OK."