We’re getting closer to the meat of the Southeastern Conference schedule, and all SEC teams haven’t played league games yet. Of course, the league’s biggest game — Alabama and Texas A&M — happened this weekend. With that done and a few other games in the books, here’s how this week’s power rankings look:
1. Alabama (2-0): Okay, so the Crimson Tide’s defense sprung a few leaks — could anyone have ever conceived of a Nick Saban defense giving up 628 yards? — but that’s a sign of the times of how offense rules the day in college football. Alabama should handle a rebuilding Colorado State team easily this weekend, but a test against Ole Miss in a couple of weekends should tell us if the defense is a bigger issue than we expect, or just Johnny Football being Johnny Football. In any case, the good news for ‘Bama is that it gets a road win at a venue where fans were as amped-up as they’ve ever been for any football game anywhere, and the ‘Tide offense found itself (49 points, 568 yards) against an Aggie defense that’s not exactly one of the SEC’s elite units.
2. LSU (3-0): We here at The Thrill of Victory like to reward teams for good performances against good teams (even if those result in losses) and shy away from giving too much credit for pounding on mediocre foes. And the truth be told, LSU’s opening-day win over TCU is losing luster by the week, and its wins over UAB and Kent State don’t count for much. But we also are big fans of common sense. We didn’t know exactly what LSU would have on defense, or how quarterback Zach Mettenberger would play coming out of the gate, and the Tiger D (268 yards and 19 points per game) and their QB (nine touchdowns, no picks in 69 attempts, with an average of well over 11 yards per throw) are looking pretty good. I’ve got reservations about putting LSU ahead of Georgia, but for right now, I’m going with it; the teams play in two weeks anyway.
3. Georgia (1-1): Seeing how impressive South Carolina looked this weekend made the Bulldogs’ win over the Gamecocks from two weekends ago look even better. For a balanced offense, nobody can top the Bulldogs, and the defense isn’t bad and should get better as it matures. This is probably the team that wins the West will least want to see in Atlanta.
4. South Carolina (1-1): I’ve knocked Carolina’s offense for its lack of explosiveness, but seeing how it handled a very talented Vanderbilt defense as if it wasn’t there for most of the night really made me a believer. I really like Carolina’s three-headed running game between running backs Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis and quarterback Connor Shaw, and Shaw’s ability to avoid the bad throw (no picks in 74 attempts) makes the Gamecocks really tough. Meanwhile, the defense found its swagger with five sacks against a line that doesn’t give up many of them. Forget the current rankings, Carolina’s no doubt a top-10 team.
5. Texas A&M (2-1): This is exactly where I had the Aggies a week ago, and I still think this is about right. A&M is going to score so many points that it’s ridiculous, but I like my elite teams a little more potent on both sides of the ball. Of course, I could be wrong and A&M could just out-score everybody, all season. Yeah, the offense is that good.
6. Ole Miss (3-0): A reader or two took exception to my putting the Rebels this high, but I’ll stand by it, especially after Ole Miss went into Austin and turned Bevo into steak. The Rebels now have two really nice wins, but two things are more encouraging: a. They both came on the road, and; b. The defense, which was one of the team’s bigger questions, ranks fourth in the SEC at 333 yards per game.
7. Florida (1-1): That passing attack is like a millstone around coach Will Muschamp’s neck, but here are two encouraging things about the Gators: a. UF at least showed the ability to move it through the air in its last game two weeks ago, and b. The Gators have been racked with injuries and suspensions, and they’re getting closer to a full deck. The bad news: the passing success came at a price of two huge Jeff Driskel interceptions. We’ll see if the Gators can fine-tune a passing attack against a Tennessee defense that has been known to force turnovers this season.
8. Auburn (3-0): I’m not sold on Auburn — the Tigers haven’t beaten any really good teams yet, and only gain about seven yards more per game than they’ve given up. But you’ve got to give a team credit for what it has done, which is get three okay wins, and that’s more than most of the league’s done so far. This is probably as high as Auburn will go all season, but for now, the Tigers have earned it.
9. Arkansas (3-0): The Razorbacks and Auburn could easily be “8a” and “8b.” Arkansas has been a lot more impressive statistically (a 183-yard-per-game edge in total offense, and just 12.7 points allowed per game) but none of the teams that the Razorbacks have beaten are as good as any of Auburn’s three wins. A respectable Rutgers team (which beat Arkansas last year) should be more of a litmus test this weekend.
10. Vanderbilt (1-2): The Commodores are the league’s only team to play two Top 25 foes, and had VU just held on to that last-second lead against Ole Miss in Week 1, they’d be no worse than seventh. But they didn’t, and they didn’t look good either defensively or offensively against Carolina last weekend. Losing star receiver Chris Boyd for the year doesn’t help either. On the other hand, the Commodores don’t have the Boyd distraction hanging over their head any more and have two weeks to get their confidence back in tune-up games against UMass and UAB in the next two weekends. I think Vandy will eventually move back up the rankings as I think it is better than what it’s shown, but you can’t give VU credit for what it hasn’t done, especially when it gave up 31 first downs last weekend.
11. Missouri (2-0): I still don’t know exactly what to do with the Tigers, who are weak on defense but who could also do a little more damage with quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey healthier now. A shootout with Indiana looms this weekend, and the Tigers really need to win it or there will be shouts for coach Gary Pinkel’s head.
12. Mississippi State (1-2): I’m not big on the Bulldogs, but my eyebrows did raise half a notch when the Bulldogs came within seconds of winning at Auburn with backup quarterback Dak Prescott at the helm. The next really telling game for the Bulldogs will be an Oct. 5 tilt with LSU.
13. Tennessee (2-1): Oregon is going to hammer some good teams (though maybe not 59-14) and so that in itself shouldn’t disqualify the Vols from the possibility of a decent season. Here’s the problem, though: Saturday showed just how far UT has to come in the area of overall athleticism, and Justin Worley’s arm was once again sub-par enough that there’s a quarterback competition in Knoxville. It feels strange to say this about the Vols, because I can remember them manhandling teams the way they were just manhandled last Saturday like it was yesterday, but a close loss in Gainesville should be a welcome moral victory.
14. Kentucky (1-2): Kudos to the Wildcats, who hung tough with Louisville for a half before UofL coach Charlie Strong lit into his team and woke it up. The talent gap between UK and the rest of the league is pretty glaring, and it’s going to take a small miracle for coach Mark Stoops to work his way out of the basement.