Monday, October 27

SEC October Rankings

Well, we’re now most of the way through the first two-ish months of the season, and in the SEC that’s good enough to get a feel for who’s going to be championship contenders and who’s going to need to win out to get to the Music City Bowl. However, there’s kind of an ugly secret going through the SEC; it may only really go four teams deep, at least compared to what we’re used to.

What does only going four deep mean? It means everyone's going to start talking shit about the conference come next season, depending on how the lower-end teams do in their bowl games. This is a season where the SEC kind of gets a pass, but if you look the signs of decay are there - and here's a hint: look for the teams wearing orange.

1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0)
This is the obvious selection, buoyed by a complete demolition of Georgia and the whole “still being undefeated” thing. The defense is still excellent and the offense is effective enough, as their line play on both sides has been the best in the SEC so far. They’re pretty much obviously better than everyone else they play the rest of the season, although the impending tilt with LSU looms large for many, many reasons. One of those reasons is likely not the SEC Championship game, as LSU’s loss yesterday pretty much puts Alabama in line for a 14-game reason.

2. Florida (6-1, 4-1)
Man, who pissed the Gators off? After kind of muddling through the first four-five games of the season, Florida has freaking turned it on and a half the last couple of weeks, completely demolishing LSU and Kentucky in successive, dominant wins. Of particular note are special teams, which are actually special and not ACC-special this season. The offense has finally shown up with a running game in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, so that coupled with the already-established passing game and workable defense means Florida isn’t out of the title game picture …yet. The Georgia game is going to be nasty, and if they get by that game they’ll likely get Alabama in the SEC Championship game – but if they get by both that’s a pretty good resume. Bonus points: we’ll get to see just how much their pass defense has matured.

3. Georgia (7-1, 4-1)
The game yesterday against LSU was the Georgia we had been hoping to see all season. However, we’ve seen too much of the halfway-decent somewhat-workable Georgia team that’s effective enough to win against most teams, but can get you wrecked to the tune of 31-0 against Alabama. The emergence of A.J. Green as a reliable receiving option has actually shown everyone that Georgia can have a passing game that doesn’t depend on Jesus Massaquoi. Unfortunately, Georgia needs to beat a red-hot Florida team to make it to Atlanta, which isn’t insurmountable but is going to be hard.

4. LSU (5-2, 3-2)
LSU gets this spot because ….well, this is a nice spot to put them, for lack of better terms. Charles Scott is a freaking horse in the backfield, which is the only thing we know for sure about this Tiger team. However, they got wrecked by both Florida and Georgia, and even though they own wins over South Carolina, Auburn, and Mississippi State, that’s basically holding serve. While holding serve is good enough for middle of the pack in most conferences, it’s good enough for fourth here, which kind of worries me.

5. Ole Miss (4-4, 2-3)
Giggity! Ole Miss owns the SEC’s only win over the top 3 teams that wasn’t inflicted by the top 3 teams, and that’s a major distinguisher from everyone else. Sure, they’ve lost to South Carolina and a still-good Vanderbilt team (more on them later), but they played Alabama incredibly well and …well, we need a distinguisher. That’s good enough for now. The rest of their games are mostly winnable, although the road game at LSU is going to be tough. There’s no reason that Ole Miss shouldn’t be bowl-bound this season, though.

6. South Carolina (5-3, 2-3)
I can see an argument for putting South Carolina ahead of Ole Miss, as their losses are to LSU, Georgia, and a still-good Vanderbilt team. However, save the opening win over NC State, South Carolina has been winning pretty hideously, and I don’t know if it’s because the team isn’t good enough to do anything more than that or if it’s just how the team’s set up. I suspect it’s a little of both. They’re predicated – like everyone else – on a quality defense and an occasionally competent offense. Really, the only difference between 6 and 11 is varying degrees of offensive competence. The rest of the schedule isn’t bad – save the Florida game.

7. Vanderbilt (5-3, 3-2)
What the hell is the only other team with a winning record in the SEC doing down at 7th? Well, the wheels have fallen off. The loss to Georgia wasn’t bad, but getting Croomed in Starkville hurt – and that wasn’t even the worst loss. That belongs to losing to Duke at home (although LFB loves us some Cutcliffe). What happened? Well, early-season Vanderbilt was predicated on turnover margin and not making mistakes; in the last three games, they’re -4 in turnover margin and have given up 7 sacks. When you’re living on the edge like Vandy has, when it goes downhill it goes downhill in a hurry. They should end up bowl-eligible when it’s all said and done, though, as Florida is likely the only really unwinnable game left.

8. Kentucky (5-3, 1-3)
Kentucky’s kind of the poor man’s Vanderbilt – a sentiment that’s often true, but it’s not intended as an insult this time around. That being said, Kentucky’s offense is god-freaking-awful, but the defense is solid. Really, they’re kind of a boring team, as they’ve beaten everyone below them and lost to everyone above them. The good news is they get Mississippi State and Tennessee on the schedule, so this is as good a season as any to end up sneaking into a bowl game.

9. Auburn (4-4, 2-3)
We’ve entered the trainwreck portion of the rankings now. Auburn has a freaking hideous offense, a fired offensive coordinator, and a defense that gets hung out to dry way too much. I’m pissed like a jilted lover at the Tigers right now, as they went from darkhorse title contender to darkhorse Independence Bowl contender. Yikes. Of course, to get there they need to beat UT-Martin (should happen) and one of Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama. Uh-oh.

10. Tennessee (3-5, 1-4)
Speaking of retard offense, thank god Crompton got benched. Still, Tennessee should have a semi-decent running game, but they’re facing 8-9 in the box and Nick Stephens / the WR corps can’t establish any kind of passing game to generate any kind of pressure release for the running game. On the plus side, the defense is excellent and Sir Eric Berry is a godsend (and the only reason worth watching this team most weeks, as much as that hurts to say). Wyoming should be a win, but other than that I don’t know if Tennessee beats any of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, or Kentucky at this point. I never thought I’d write that sentence before now, but there you go.

11. Mississippi State (3-5, 1-3)
The Croomster still has a chance to pull off a decent finish, but this is basically last year’s team without the numerous TINTs (touchdown from interception). What’s left? A decent defense with completely no offense to speak of whatsoever. There are some kind-of-winnable games on the schedule, including Arkansas and Kentucky, but the Bulldogs have to Croom either Alabama or Ole Miss to reach a bowl, if not both. I’m going to vote for Alabama.

12. Arkansas (3-5, 1-4)
God, this team is freaking lost. Their only win is over the imploding Auburn (plus the 1-AA and Sun Belt victories by a combined 5 points), and all I can say is: good fucking riddance. There’s no respite on the schedule, as they get a pissed-off Tulsa team looking for revenge after the dropping of Gus Malzahn, LSU, and two road games (South Carolina and Croomville). 3-9 is a very realistic possibility, as these Razorbacks don’t do much of anything good, Michael Smith excepted.