Thrill of Victory

Missouri continues to lead the battle for No. 2 in the SEC

The easiest thing about doing my weekly Southeastern Conference power rankings is slotting Alabama No. 1 each week; it’s not a hard choice when the Crimson Tide continue as the No. 1 team each week in the AP and USA Today polls as well as the BCS standings. But 2-14 continue to get more interesting every week, even in a week where there was only one really good SEC game. Anyway, now that we’re through 11 weeks of football, here’s my latest attempt at sorting out the SEC, in order.

1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0): There’s not much negative to say about the Crimson Tide, which is out-scoring teams by 31.4 per game each week. However, it probably hasn’t hurt that, according to Jeff Sagarin, ‘Bama’s had the second-easiest schedule in the SEC so far. That number should get a boost when the ‘Tide meet LSU this weekend, and Auburn at the end of the month.

Misouri's Maty Mauk throws a pass in the Tigers' win over Tennessee. (Ben Walton/University of Missouri)

Misouri’s Maty Mauk throws a pass in the Tigers’ win over Tennessee. (Ben Walton/University of Missouri)

2. Missouri (8-1, 4-1): No James Franklin, no problem, as the Tigers cruised past Tennessee in a game that was over at half. They’ll cruise past Kentucky, too, and then things get interesting between a trip to Ole Miss and a home game with Texas A&M.

3. LSU (7-2, 2-2): A lot of people think Alabama will roll the Tigers this weekend, and given the way the LSU defense has looked at times, it may. But one word of caution before we dismiss the Tigers: they’re a pair of three-point losses at Ole Miss and Georgia from being undefeated.

4. Auburn (8-1, 4-1): Auburn won easily at Arkansas as most figured behind a great rushing offense, but what gets lost is Auburn’s defensive effort of 20.1 points per game. The one wart on the resume: Tigers have done it against Sagarin’s easiest schedule among SEC teams thus far.

5. South Carolina (7-2, 5-2): Carolina took care of Mississippi State with few problems. Now all that’s left is to beat Florida and wait to see what happens with Missouri and Georgia to determine whether the Gamecocks can go to the SEC Championship Game.

6. Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2): I thought hard about finally moving A&M past Carolina for the No. 5 spot, because the Aggie defense is finally showing up. But, the Aggies have just one win against what I consider a top 25-caliber opponent (Ole Miss) and I want to see more before I do.

7. Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3): Rebels stay in that No. 7 spot after an off-week. The Rebels, with the nation’s No. 3 schedule, should finish strong by beating Arkansas, Troy and Mississippi State, and that other game — Missouri — could really vault the Rebels into the limelight if they can win it.

8. Georgia (5-3, 4-2): The Bulldogs nearly blew a big lead against Florida, and that could have been bad news for coach Mark Richt. Instead, UGA got a huge win for momentum behind running back Todd Gurley, who finally returned from injury. Should UGA continue to get healthy, that Auburn game in two weeks becomes very, very interesting.

9. Florida (4-4, 3-3): Gators’ 11-2 campaign of last season is starting to look more like a smoke-and-mirrors act, considering this season will end with a record very similar to the 7-6 one of 2011. If that happens, 2013 may become a make-or-break season for Will Muschamp.

10. Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4): Commodores benefit by not playing as their in-state rival, Tennessee, gets pounded at Missouri. A game at Florida gives VU the chance to fix a defense that’s given up a tremendous amount of points (208) in SEC play.

11. Tennessee (4-5, 1-4): Vols now sport the league’s worst yardage margin per game (minus-70) among SEC teams. Of course, that can easily happen when you play the nation’s second-toughest schedule.

12. Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3): Statistically, the Bulldogs aren’t too bad — plus-90 yards a game, and the SEC’s fourth-best ranking in total defense — but once again, ‘State came up quite lame against a good team in South Carolina.

13. Arkansas (3-6, 0-5): That 3-0 start is now a very, very distant memory as the Razorbacks keep closing the gap between themselves and Kentucky at the very bottom.

14. Kentucky (2-6, 0-4): A 34-point win over Alabama State allows the Wildcats to feel the thrill of victory for the first time since Sept. 7. ‘Cats aren’t going to beat Missouri, even in Lexington, but a respectable performance could vault them out of my cellar for the first time all season.