Southeastern Conference Power Ratings: Oct. 1 Edition
October 1st, 2012 By Chris Lee
The first month of the college football season has passed, and there’s one thing we already know beyond a shadow of a doubt: the Southeastern Conference is far and away the nation’s best conference. Here’s a look at each of the 14 teams and where they stand as September’s action is now finished.
1. Alabama (5-0)
What’s to like: Despite losing a boatload of high draft picks from last year’s national title team, the Crimson Tide steamrolled through September by out-scoring opponents 201-35. Alabama’s done it by almost tripling its opponents on the ground (941-329), and in typical Nick Saban fashion, forcing mistakes and not making them in return (‘Bama’s forced 15 turnovers, and made just three itself). QB A.J. McCarron is now the school record-holder of the most pass attempts without a pick with a streak that stands at 206 after ‘Bama’s 33-14 win over Ole Miss. Defensively, C.J. Mosley has led a lights-out defensive effort as he was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Week in ‘Bama’s first four games.
What’s concerning: Not much, but no QB after McCarron has much experience. Also, despite three All-American candidates along the offensive line and a stable of running backs who could play for anyone, Alabama’s 4.7 yards per rush is a bit pedestrian considering it has played against some awful defenses. But admittedly, we’re nit-picking here.
What to watch: Who emerges as Alabama’s go-to guy at RB? First-teamer Eddie Lacy’s ypc is down from 7.1 to 4.9 this season and super-freshman T.J. Yeldon might be the better player.
2. Georgia (5-0)
What’s to like: If you want to take every team in the country and start naming superstars, Georgia coach Mark Richt will play that game with anybody. Just start counting: QB Aaron Murray, DT John Jenkins, LB Jarvis Jones and S Bacarri Rambo all easily qualify for that designation, and depending on how soon you’d anoint true freshmen with that designation, RBs Todd Gurley (7.9 ypc) and Keith Marshall (8.2) might also qualify. That doesn’t even count WR Malcom Mitchell, who’s been playing CB as UGA had a bunch of players suspended there, or LB Alec Ogletree, who was suspended himself. And what Richt probably likes just as much is the fact that his offensive line, which was thought to be the team’s weak link, has played quite well.
What’s concerning: It’s hard not to root for Richt, but it’s also a legitimate question to wonder whether he can lead UGA to a national title. The Bulldogs always have discipline issues off the field, and that’s almost certainly carried over to on-the-field play as well. For all that talent, UGA is giving up 370 yards per game and tried for all the world to hand Saturday’s game over to Tennessee with turnovers and lost focus. Georgia always has talent, but there’s always something keeping the Bulldogs from reaching their full potential, it seems.
What to watch: Will the defense gel? Adding Ogletree and Rambo back to the lineup should have helped, but instead, UGA gave up 44 points to Tennessee in the first game with both back. Perhaps there are some complications in cohesiveness right now, but that shouldn’t really happen given that both have practiced all year.
3. Florida (4-0)
What’s to like: The Gators were the league’s biggest mystery coming in to the season, and ranking them this high is a bit of a shock. But here’s what I like: the Gators are taking a blue-collar mentality into games so far and flat-out getting things done when it matters. Everyone knew that coach Will Muschamp was going to run Mike Gillislee a lot, and then run him some more. But nobody knew how effective it would be (Gillislee’s averaged 100 ypg so far) and for sure, nobody knew who the QB would be or if he’d even be serviceable. Well, Jeff Driskel has answered those questions with flying colors: 70 percent completions and just one pick. Oh, and the defense has been great, too. These are definitely not your father’s Gators and while they may be boring, nobody in Gainesville cares as long as UF keeps winning.
What’s concerning: Gillislee has already rushed 10 more times than he did all of last year – can he hold up to the pounding that’s to come? Muschamp has made no secret that UF is a run-first team, and given that Gillislee hasn’t been Herschel Walker to this point in his career, he’s putting a lot of eggs in that basket. Also, the Gators’ WR corps is pedestrian, at best.
What to watch: UF’s offense was poor last year, but the Gators still have some potential play-makers. Pay particular attention to TE Jordan Reed and all-purpose player Trey Burton to see if either emerges as a true star in the coming weeks.
4. South Carolina (5-0)
What’s to like: As if it’s not crazy enough to see the Gators go run-heavy in this spread-oriented era, how about seeing their former coach, Steve Spurrier, do it as well? The Gamecocks are a lot like the Gators in that regard: they’ll pound it to their tailbacks and rely on a QB (in this case, Connor Shaw and his 78 percent completion rate) to make just enough plays. Defensively, ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney are causing the havoc we expected, and Carolina survived an injury to starting CB Akeem Auguste by patching it together in the secondary, coupled with some good LB play.
What’s concerning: All the noise coming from Columbia was that All-American RB Marcus Lattimore had returned to his previous form after tearing his ACL last year. Don’t get me wrong, most teams would still love to have Lattimore, but at 4.8 ypc against some poor defenses, he’s no longer looking like the special player he once was.
What to watch: The thing that limits Carolina’s upside is a lack of a difference-maker at WR. Does Spurrier have a guy who can do it? Sophomore Damiere Byrd (nine catches, 27.3 ypc) could be an intriguing option going forward.
5. LSU (5-0)
What’s to like: LSU has plugged in the Jalens (Collins and Mills) quite nicely to replace suspended CB Tyrann Mathieu. It has also filled in the gaps at LB due to graduation and suspension quite well. Of course, having Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo at ends can help hide blemishes elsewhere. QB Zach Mettenberger has been quite solid (8.2 ypa, 6 TDs, 2 INTs) and although there’s no clear-cut, go-to guy at RB, there are three good options there in Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware.
What’s concerning: LSU was super-impressive in a 41-3 whipping of Washington in Game 2, but quite underwhelming in a 12-10 win over struggling Auburn followed by a 16-point win over a Towson team it should have beaten by 60. The Tigers also have had a few major injuries on the offensive line, as well as a potential season-ender to RB Alfred Blue.
What to watch: I had some misgivings about LSU rating this low – they are No. 3 nationally in the AP Poll, after all – but I wonder if the last two weeks were signs of bigger cracks in the dam. Watch really closely to see how LSU responds this weekend against Florida, which comes on the road.
6. Texas A&M (3-1)
What’s to like: How about the debut of freshman QB Johnny Manziel, who’s accounted for 1,460 yards, 16 TDs, and no turnovers in four games? In the last outing, “Johnny Football” set an all-time SEC record for total offense in A&M’s rout of Arkansas. Kevin Sumlin’s offense is putting up some staggering numbers so far, and a defense led by end Damontre Moore is putting up some great sack numbers again this year.
What’s concerning: The Aggies are quite thin on defense, and despite the gaudy numbers, A&M’s esteemed offensive line hasn’t performed up to expectations at times. RB Christine Michael seems to be in the doghouse; after 920 yards last year, he has just 25 attempts for 83 this season. Also, Hurricane Isaac cost the Aggies a game in Week 1 and so A&M will not have a bye week this season.
What to watch: Sure, the offensive numbers are staggering, but few teams had an easier road than the SMU – South Carolina State – Arkansasas – ahem… defensive “gauntlet” that the Aggies have played the last three weeks. Sumlin was quite tentative with Manziel when the Aggies played Florida in Week 1 – how much will he turn him loose in the LSU – Auburn – Mississippi State – Alabama run starting Oct. 20?
7. Mississippi State (4-0)
What’s to like: The Bulldogs are off to their first 4-0 start in decades thanks to a defensive backfield full of playmakers like Corey Broomfield, Johnthan Banks, Nickoe Whitley and the surprising Darius Slay. So far, MSU has forced 15 turnovers in four games. QB Tyler Russell’s strong arm came to life when MSU beat Auburn and he earned SEC Player of the Week, and between a multitude of good targets and RB LaDarius Perkins, he’s got some help.
What’s concerning: So the Bulldogs have out-scored opponents 144-53 so far, but out-gained them just 1,596 to 1,400 so far. When those opponents are Jackson State, Auburn, Troy and South Alabama… well, let’s just say that’s not the mark of a dominating team.
What to watch: MSU’s 4-0 record has come against what looks like the league’s easiest schedule so far. How will the Bulldogs respond when they play a quality opponent?
8. Tennessee (3-2)
What’s to like: When UT’s offense is clicking between QB Tyler Bray and WRs Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, it’s a thing of beauty. The Vols have lacked an offensive line and a running game, and they’re getting better in both areas as Rajion Neal has started to become Derek Dooley’s workhorse back.
What’s concerning: Tennessee’s defense hasn’t stopped anyone all year long, and there’s a real concern that its DBs can’t cover anyone, especially after starting S Brian Randolph got hurt and is done for the year. The Vols had a lot of communications trouble in the preseason learning DC Sal Sunseri’s new schemes, and it seems like it’s continuing.
What to watch: The Vols should file a lawsuit against whoever in the SEC office scheduled a brutal stretch of Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina all in a row. Only Alabama is at home, though the Vols do at least get a week off after UGA. Bray and some others packed it in during last year’s embarrassing, season-ending loss to a woeful Kentucky team, and Bray’s maturity and leadership have never been a strong point. What happens if the Vols drop all four games and fall to 3-5?
9. Ole Miss (3-2)
What’s to like: Coaching hire Hugh Freeze was heralded as an offensive genius, and given what he got out of Ole Miss’s offense in the first month, it’s hard to argue. Yes, the Rebels padded the slate with some easy games up front, but then again, Ole Miss couldn’t run the ball against even poor teams last year and yet led the conference in rushing yards after four games with No. 1 back Jeff Scott missing plenty of time. QB Bo Wallace has looked good when he’s not turned it over, and Freeze has managed to mix and match here and getting a lot of his offensive veterans to perform at a higher level.
What’s not to like: Ole Miss’s defense is very much a work in progress (it gave up 66 points to Texas, though it played quite well against Alabama) and Wallace has made some critical turnovers at times. With the non-conference schedule behind them, there will not be any easy games from here on.
What to watch: Wallace has been intriguing at times, but he’s also been playing with a hurt shoulder and he threw a pair of picks against Alabama in the last game. That prompted Freeze to give Barry Brunetti and Randall Mackey some reps behind center? The state of Wallace’s health and confidence will be big things to watch in the weeks ahead.
10. Missouri (3-2)
What’s to like: After getting smacked at South Carolina, the Tigers showed some resiliency by going to Orlando and beating Central Florida. DT Sheldon Richardson has become a big-time player, WR Dorial Green-Beckham’s best days are ahead, and the Tigers are 3-2 despite not getting nearly what they thought they’d get out of star QB James Franklin.
What’s not to like: Missouri’s offensive line has been patched together from Day 1 with nobody in the same place they started the year. Perhaps that’s had a lot to do with Gary Pinkel’s offenses looking mortal after putting up eye-popping numbers for most of the last decade. Oh yeah, and playing SEC defenses doesn’t help, either.
What to watch: See how the Tigers respond against a good Vandy defense this weekend. Missouri needs to get Franklin going at full-speed again, and especially on the ground. The Commodores have trouble with mobile quarterbacks, and if Franklin doesn’t do well on Saturday, the problems might be bigger than short-term.
11. Auburn (1-3)
What’s to like: After struggling with DC Brian Van Gorder’s new scheme, the Tigers’ defense played great against LSU and allowed just two sustained drives. Auburn’s also played a brutal schedule that includes three Top 25 teams so far, so head coach Gene Chizik should have a great idea as to what his team can, and can’t do, going forward.
What’s not to like: Auburn’s passing game is brutal; QB Kiehl Frazier has thrown seven interceptions against just two touchdowns. Frazier was recruited as a spread QB, and perhaps just isn’t a good fit in AU’s system.
What to watch: Auburn had a week off to digest what it did against LSU. Was that defense for real? Arkansas is up next, and though the Razorback defense is flat-out awful, QB Tyler Wilson can still provide a test defensively. As for Frazier, nothing cures the blues quite like facing John L. Smith’s defense right now. If he struggles against Arkansas, you can forget any hopes of a good year for the sophomore.
12. Vanderbilt (1-3)
What to like: As with Auburn, the Commodores really tested themselves early – the three teams that beat them were Georgia, South Carolina and Northwestern, and none have lost yet. Vandy’s defense had also been stout before getting torched by Georgia two weeks ago. The 1-3 start has been disappointing, but the Commodores are legitimately two plays from being 3-1 with a pair of wins over Top 25 clubs.
What’s not to like: The offensive line has played poorly, coach James Franklin can’t seem to decide between QBs Jordan Rodgers and Austyn Carta-Samuels, and the team just can’t seem to win close games, as VU has lost the last seven games that were decided in the final two minutes. The team is also not forcing turnovers and getting sacks as it did a year ago.
What to watch: Franklin did miracles with the offense a year ago by taking a no-holds-barred approach; the Commodores would do just about anything from any point on the field from faking punts to having running backs throw the ball to using defensive backs on offense. This year, we’ve seen virtually none of that, so the Missouri game could be an interesting test of how Franklin will game-plan going forward.
13. Arkansas (1-3)
What to like: As bad as the season’s been, QB Tyler Wilson remains a solid pro prospect and WR Cobi Hamilton has put up nearly 600 yards already. That included an SEC record-breaking 303-yard game vs. Rutgers.
What’s not to like: Quite literally, nothing else. RB Knile Davis hasn’t been close to the back he was before last year’s ankle injury. The defense gave up over 700 yards to A&M and could wind up as one of the worst in SEC history (injuries in the secondary haven’t helped). One wonders if John L. Smith has any prayer of keeping it together given that everyone knows he’ll be gone in two months.
What to watch: Will Smith even last the season? Also, the Razorbacks have a beatable team in Auburn coming up on Saturday, followed by another one in Kentucky. If things to well, perhaps UA will play with some pride down the stretch.
14. Kentucky (1-4)
What to like: In spite of his head being on the chopping block and in spite of having one of the league’s youngest teams, Joker Phillips' 'Cats have managed to show surprising fight. The Wildcats led South Carolina 17-7 at the half and could have easily beaten a better-than-you-think Western Kentucky team. QB Maxwell Smith has put up some prolific numbers when he’s played, too.
What not to like: Kentucky simply doesn’t have the talent of the rest of the league, and Smith now has a bum ankle to go with a shoulder that’s been killing him for a few weeks. It also lost one of the few potential playmakers it had in RB Josh Clemons, in addition to suffering a rash of injuries on defense. I considered ranking Arkansas last, but at least the Razorbacks have some potential bullets in the gun. I’m not sure that UK has even that.
What to watch: How much the ‘Cats continue to fight. Remember, this is the same team that shocked Tennessee by playing a wide receiver at quarterback in the season finale long after UK had nothing for which to play.
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Posted by cochav on Oct 1st, 2012Chris,
This was an outstanding recap of the month of September. It's always fun to read an article and learn things you haven't been able to digest with so much going on in the world of college football. Very well put together and a nice read.
Posted by Chris Lee on Oct 1st, 2012Thanks, Corey. It was a lot of fun putting that together. I'll be happy to do that again if it's a popular feature, and perhaps for some other sports, too. I'm pretty well dialed-in to the SEC right now.
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