Southeastern Conference Power Rankings, Oct. 16 Edition
October 17th, 2012 By Chris Lee
The halfway point of the season has passed, and there’s not much question: the SEC is once again the nation’s strongest conference with half of the teams in the just-released BCS rankings coming from this conference. Here’s how I rank the teams, one to 14.
1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0)
What’s to like: Missouri coach Gary Pinkel uttered these words after Alabama smashed Missouri on the Tigers’ home field by 42-10 score on Saturday: “That is maybe the best football team I've ever seen. Time will tell," he said, adding, "I don't see a weakness.” There’s certainly not a weakness on defense, where the Crimson Tide give up an unbelievable 181 yards and 7.5 points per game. The Crimson Tide hit a little slump in running the ball as injuries took FB Jalston Fowler and RB Dee Hart out of the lineup for the rest of the season, but 362 rushing yards against a stout Tiger run defense last week ought to scare the daylights out of everyone. And, of course, Nick Saban’s teams don’t beat themselves: just five turnovers all season.
What’s concerning: I said it two weeks ago, and I’ll say it again because there’s not much else to say at this point: keeping QB A.J. McCarron healthy is key, and when McCarron briefly went down with what looked like a potential knee injury against Missouri, Tide Nation felt its stomach ascend to its throat. McCarron turned out to be okay, but an injury would considerably level the playing field between ‘Bama and everyone else since backup Phillip Ely has just three career passes.
What to watch: Nobody’s arguing that Alabama’s not a dominant team right now, but Western Kentucky (six votes in the USA Today Poll) and the 25th-ranked Michigan Wolverines (23rd in AP) are the only teams that ‘Bama has faced that have so much as received a vote in either of this week’s two major polls. Alabama should handle Tennessee easily, but will it look mortal in the three-game stretch of Mississippi State, LSU and Texas A&M that follows?
2. Florida (6-0, 4-0)
What’s to like: The Gators are running with consistency (233 ypg, 5.2 ypc) and QB Jeff Driskel has been excellent (one interception, and a 177-yard rushing performance against Vanderbilt last weekend). It is excellent against the run (3.3 ypc, 108 ypg) and the pass (190 ypg, 7 INTs) and terrific on special teams with perhaps the best kicker (Caleb Sturgis) and punter (Kyle Christy) in the league. The Gators have suffered injuries just about everywhere on the field, but their depth and overall athleticism have helped them attain the No. 2 ranking in the BCS.
What’s concerning: The Gators disguise it in various ways, but the truth is that Florida does not stack up well with the elite teams at receiver. Florida’s swagger also causes some problems: it is the second-worst team in the league in penalty yards per game (65) and worst in number per game (eight).
What to watch: The Gators don’t always look like a dominating team, and with the exception of LSU, hasn’t really faced a great front seven that can force UF to make lots of plays through the air. Can the Gators make plays in the passing game if they fall behind an opponent late in the game?
3. LSU (5-1, 2-1)
What’s to like: Some suggested that back-to-back poor games in wins over Towson and Auburn were just a case of LSU playing down to its competition, and then the Tigers lost to Florida the next week. That must have gotten LSU’s attention, as it got one of the more impressive wins of the season by beating South Carolina in a game where it had three starters out on the offensive line and lost a key RB to an upset stomach during the game, then posted 406 yards against one of the nation’s dominant defenses. Even with tons of injuries and departures to its back seven, that defense is now starting to look a lot like last year’s dominant unit: 14 ppg, and 220 yards against it on average.
What’s concerning: Despite decent numbers (60 percent completions, 1,322 yards, 6 TDs vs. 4 INTs), nobody seems sold on QB Zach Mettenberger. Also, the Tigers still don’t know if they’ll be without a pair of OL starters for Texas A&M this weekend.
What to watch: LSU finished runner-up for a national title without big play from its QB last season, but can it be an elite team again? This weekend is an interesting contrast in styles, as Texas A&Ms explosive offense presents a test unlike the Tigers have seen this year. Can LSU match the Aggies play-for-play if it turns into a bit of a shootout?
4. South Carolina (6-1, 4-1)
What’s to like: Carolina had an off-game against LSU, but still nearly managed a road victory against a hostile crowd. According to some, RB Marcus Lattimore has looked more like his former self lately (though not so much against LSU) and QB Connor Shaw has shown tremendous toughness and decision-making until an off-game last Saturday. WR play has improved tremendously since Week 1, and the defense, led by perhaps the best DE in America in Jadeveon Clowney, remains a great one.
What’s concerning: Various Carolina players voiced concerns over effort and focus at LSU, which is an odd thing for a team competing for a national title. It still remains to be seen if the Gamecocks have the overall offensive weapons to be elite.
What to watch: Lattimore’s performance this weekend against Florida. The junior looked good against Kentucky and Georgia, but neither team has stopped the run the way the Gators have.
5. Georgia (5-1, 3-1)
What’s to like: The Bulldogs remain as talented as just about anyone, with stars at just about every positional unit on the field. RBs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall might potentially each lead the SEC in rushing if they weren’t splitting carries with the other and I still love QB Aaron Murray despite a bad game against South Carolina two weeks ago. The defense is far more talented than it has shown, and perhaps an off-week was enough for DC Todd Grantham to mend what was wrong – which includes LB Jarvis Jones’ leg.
What’s not to like: Like a lot of other people, I fell in love with the star power of Georgia’s defense and let it override some concerns that the stat sheet showed. Sure enough, the Bulldogs got smacked in the face and didn’t take it well in a 35-7 loss at South Carolina. Despite all that talent, something is clearly wrong with the defense: it allows 374 ypg and teams have run the ball with success of late.
What to watch: That putrid performance at Carolina dropped the Bulldogs all the way down to the low-teens in the rankings. I think that’s too low, but an Oct. 27 game against Florida should tell us the truth.
6. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1)
What’s to like: This league was loaded with talented QBs coming in to this season; Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray, McCarron, James Franklin and Murray, in no particular order, come to mind, and Driskel and Shaw have both been great. However, it would be hard to justify naming anyone above A&M freshman Johnny Manziel at this point. He leads the conference in rushing yards (676) and average (7.4), is third in passing yards per game (280) and pass efficiency (162.8) and is the only player in the history of the SEC to post two 500-plus yard games of total offense. He’s the reason the Aggies lead the league in total offense (544). A&M’s defense has bent plenty (406 ypg) but not broken too badly (21.8 pts) thanks to Damontre Moore and a league-leading 8.5 sacks.
What’s not to like: The Aggies don’t have a ton of depth on defense, and sooner or later that (and the yardage it is allowing) is going to catch up – especially when you’re not forcing turnovers (seven in six games).
What to watch: Excepting Florida, the Aggies’ schedule has been chock-full of poor defensive teams. It will be quite interesting to see how good Manziel is when he plays against Alabama and LSU, which await during the coming month.
7. Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0)
What’s to like: QB Tyler Russell is improved, and has a number of capable WRs and TEs to catch the ball. RB LaDarius Perkins (100 ypg, 5.7 ypc) is quality, and a secondary full of great players has helped MSU lead the SEC in turnovers forced (18). Meanwhile, the offense has turned it over just four times, meaning the Bulldogs lead the league in turnover margin.
What’s not to like: Being 6-0 is an accomplishment, but nobody that MSU has played received a single vote in this week’s Top 25. In spite of that schedule, MSU ranks in the middle of the pack in every major offensive and defensive category in the conference.
What to watch: MSU will see Alabama, A&M and LSU back-to-back-to-back after a game with underrated MTSU this weekend. The variety of high-powered offenses, alternating with dominant defenses, will give us a great feel for what the Bulldogs really are.
8. Tennessee (3-3, 0-3)
What’s to like: All the hype went to WR Justin Hunter in the preseason, and it’s deserved – but WR Cordarrelle Patterson may be better. He’s a threat to score from any point in the field as a runner, receiver or returner. The Vols improved OL has helped them run much better, and RB Rajion Neal has given UT perhaps its best ground threat since Arian Foster (though Foster was nothing like the player he is now in college).
What’s not to like: The defense has been beyond dreadful as it adjusts to DC Sal Sunseri’s new scheme. The Vols have given up 129 points and nearly 1,600 yards in three SEC games. As talented as Bray is, there are still plenty of questions about his maturity, and he’s been nothing more than ordinary against SEC teams throughout his career so far. Also, the Vols have now won just one of their last 11 SEC games.
What to watch: UT’s schedule has been quite tough so far, which magnifies any deficiencies. Give UT MSU’s schedule and it is 5-1 instead of 3-3. But the problem is that Alabama and South Carolina are up the next two weeks. Most teams would lose both those games, and if the Vols are 3-5 at that point, it’ll be interesting to see if they’ve got the mental toughness to win four games in which they have a shot – Troy, Missouri, Vandy and Kentucky – down the stretch.
9. Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3)
What’s to like: Speaking of schedules, has anyone played a tougher one than VU so far? The Commodores have played four Top 25 teams, and were in the game against three of them in the last three minutes of each contest. WR Jordan Matthews has made a real case as one of the SEC’s top wideouts, QB Jordan Rodgers has improved his accuracy, and the defense, though it lacks a true star, has been okay, and special teams (with the exception of the Florida game) have been quite good.
What’s not to like: Vandy wins just about all the games it should, but it’s time for the ‘Dores to rise up and pull an upset against one of these Top 25 teams in a nail-biter of a game, which it hasn’t yet done under coach James Franklin. The offensive line has played poorly until last week, Rodgers has made crucial turnovers inside the red zone (where Vandy has been poor) and it is not forcing turnovers this season (a league-low five).
What to watch: Each of the six games on the schedule are winnable; VU is favored by eight against Auburn, and should be favored in at least three of the other six, if not four. If Vandy takes care of Auburn, Commodore fans should be able to expect another bowl trip.
10. Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2)
What’s to like: Coach Hugh Freeze left his mark on the offense from Game 1, as everyone expected. But a shoddy defense, led by surprise freshman LB Denzel Nkemdiche, has improved by leaps and bounds in the last four weeks and ranks No. 7 in the conference. The Rebels gave Alabama its best test of the year, and would have pulled an upset had they held a 10-point lead against A&M midway through the fourth quarter.
What’s not to like: It’s hard to say if QB Bo Wallace is really the guy; he’s had too many turnovers against top teams and his hold on the job had been shaky for the last month. And yes, Ole Miss has four wins, but the three against FCS teams came against squads that have a combined three victories. The meat of the schedule – five conference teams, only one of which I’ve ranked below the Rebels – lies ahead.
What to watch: Ole Miss has a week off to continue to improve – which it has done nearly every week. An evenly-matched game with Arkansas should tell us much more about what the Rebels are.
11. Arkansas (3-4, 2-2)
What’s to like: Just when we buried the Razorbacks after back-to-back SEC losses by a combined 110-10, the Razorbacks totally redeemed themselves by pounding Auburn and Kentucky by a combined 73-14 – and that was with the Kentucky game losing its last 20 minutes due to storms. Okay, perhaps totally is a strong word, as those are the league’s worst two teams. But QB Tyler Wilson and WR Cobi Hamilton are perhaps as good as anyone at their positions, and the defense, despite a load of injuries, has improved considerably the last two weeks.
What’s not to like: The defense is still poor overall, and mounting injuries won’t help. RB Knile Davis evidently isn’t going to become the pre-ankle-injury Knile Davis any time soon, either.
What’s to watch: Auburn and Kentucky are dreadful on both sides of the ball, so it’s hard to say what we’ve really learned here. Ole Miss is a good barometer, but if the Razorbacks are really improved, we’ll find that out in their last four games: Tulsa, South Carolina, MSU and LSU.
12. Missouri (3-4, 0-4)
What’s to like: DE Sheldon Richardson and LB Will Ebner lead an underrated front seven that’s been great against the run, excepting the Alabama game. Return man Marcus Murphy is a huge playmaker, and so is QB James Franklin. Kendial Lawrence has filled in quite well for star RB Henry Josey, who won’t play this year because of injury.
What’s not to like: Missouri insisted that it wasn’t underestimating the SEC, but the proof is in the pudding, though it’s worth noting that the Tigers aren’t as bad as perceived: they do have wins over 5-1 Arizona State and 4-2 Central Florida and could have easily beaten Vandy. Losing QB James Franklin hurts significantly, and the OL just can’t stay healthy.
What to watch: Missouri’s bye came at a great time this week, and Kentucky in two weeks is just what the doctor ordered. Beat the Wildcats, and wins over Tennessee and Syracuse – both realistic goals – get the Tigers to a bowl.
13. Auburn (1-5, 0-4)
What’s to like: RBs Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb are both good SEC running backs, and All-SEC DE Corey Lemonier has played well. The Tigers haven’t had a pass any week on the schedule yet, and came within an eyelash of beating Clemson and LSU.
What’s not to like: The defense has been unexpectedly poor, ranking 13th against the run and 10th against the pass. The offense has been downright dreadful, ranking last in scoring offense and total offense. Coach Gene Chizik has no clue who he’ll play at QB between Kiehl Frazier, who’s been awful, and Clint Moseley, who’s been so underwhelming that this this is still a discussion. Wildcat-style QB Jonathan Wallace hasn’t thrown a pass yet, but the freshman could start seeing more snaps by default. That’s how bad things are on The Plains.
What to watch: For the Tigers to get bowl-eligible, it would take a feat about as improbable as the Miracle on Ice – and perhaps even more so. The question is whether the Tigers will just go ahead and pack it in now, given the vultures circling around coach Gene Chizik and the fact that some players have openly questioned the team’s leadership.
14. Kentucky (1-6, 0-4)
What’s to like: The Wildcats have shown a bit of defensive grit despite being undermanned, loaded with freshmen and riddled with injuries. The three teams below them in total defense – Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas – all have significantly more talent. QB Maxwell Smith looked like a difference-maker at times earlier in the year, and WR LaRod King and LB Avery Williamson are quality.
What’s not to like: Smith’s hurt, and probably out for the year. As much as the ‘Cats have scratched and clawed – they actually led South Carolina at halftime – you have to wonder if they threw in the towel in one of the most abysmal performances in college football this season when they played Arkansas last Saturday. Coach Joker Phillips had few cards to play to begin with, and with Smith and a rash of others hurt, there may not be any left.
What to watch: Other than the start of basketball season – and that’s all anyone in Lexington is talking about, other than the date that UK pulls the plug on Phillips – the only suspense is whether UK can beat Samford on Nov. 17. Even that’s questionable, given the Bulldogs’ 5-2 record at this point.
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Posted by deangelo18 on Oct 18th, 2012Loving this breakdown of the SEC. I believe you are on point Chris from top to bottom. It still amazes me that Kentucky has bottomed out after what appeared to be promising years ahead for Joker Phillips in 2009.
What can a bowl appearance do for Ole Miss' recruiting? And is Vanderbilt a much better team than their record indicates?
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