@MrSEC Will Muschamp, IMHO, should be the leading candidate so far for SECCOY. Sumlin and Spurrier are up there, too.
Week Six is in the books and there’s been a lot of moving up and down our Power Rankings’ chart. As usual, we’ve placed each of the SEC’s 14 teams into one of four different categories. Inside those categories, we list the teams alphabetically. This isn’t the 1-14 simple list that everyone else does. We like to be a little different.
Our rankings are based upon how well teams are currently playing, what they’ve accomplished to date, and what we believe each squad’s ceiling to be at this moment.
So without further ado, here’s this week’s MrSEC.com Power Rankings:
National Title Contender
Alabama (5-0) – The Crimson Tide had last weekend off and this week Alabama will host a deflated, injury-riddled Missouri team in Columbia. Expect another methodical drubbing to be administered by the SEC’s most consistent, most blue collar team. Bama has the balance to go undefeated throughout the regular season.
Florida (5-0) – Jumping up a category and into the big time are Will Muschamp’s Gators. Are they a perfect squad? No. In fact, we still view them as being just on the cusp of the national title conversation. But though they might not win a lot of style points, Florida’s team has three important things going for them: a good defense, a power-running game to control the clock, and a clutch mentality. If Florida’s even at the half, they’re leavin’ in the second. To beat the Gators, somebody’s going to need to build a big first-half lead.
South Carolina (6-0) — If there was a more impressive showing in America this past weekend, we at MrSEC.com don’t know who made it. An explosive Georgia offense and a squad dotted with future NFL stars on defense was out-muscled from start to finish in a 35-7 blowout last Saturday that wasn’t really even as close as the score indicated. UGA came into the game averaging 48 points per contest through five games (almost half a season). They couldn’t even get on the board against Steve Spurrier’s defense until the final two minutes of the game. At the moment, Carolina looks closer to Alabama’s league than anyone else in the SEC. Or nation.
Top 25 Contender
Georgia (5-1) — What a disheartening showing for the Bulldogs in Columbia, South Carolina on Saturday. Their great rushing attack was stonewalled. Their quarterback was hurried and harassed all night. But the bigger concern is the Dawgs’ defense. Not every team has South Carolina’ defense. But everyone UGA has played — aside from Vanderbilt — has broken off plenty of big plays against Todd Grantham’s uni. The whole doesn’t equal the sum of the individual parts with that group. We said last week that Georgia does not have a championship defense. That was proven again on Saturday.
LSU (5-1) – There’s no telling how good LSU might have been this season if Les Miles had had his full compliment of players. But he hasn’t. Academic suspensions. Injuries to key starters — Chris Faulk, Alfred Blue and now Kwon Alexander. The drug-related dismissal of Heisman candidate return man Tyrann Mathieu. For those of us who wondered how much the Tigers would miss him, Saturday’s game at Florida provided the answer. What would LSU have given for a big Honey Badger return to either put points on the board or spark the Tiger offense? But there was no such big return to come. The Tigers are still dangerous and this weekend’s clash with South Carolina could catapult them right back up a notch in our rankings. But they still won’t be as good as they might have been pre-attrition.
Mississippi State (5-0) — In four days we’re going to get a much better feel for just how good Dan Mullen’s team is. Tennessee is hardly a title contender, but if you flip-flopped the Vols’ schedule with the Bulldogs’, it’s likely UT would be 5-0 and MSU would be 3-2. State’s confidence is up — as it should be — after the program’s first 5-0 start since 1999, but is this team for real or just a product of an easy schedule and a great turnover margin? We’ll start to get some more answers this weekend. Finally.
Texas A&M (4-1) – Like MSU, the Aggies have benefited from a rather easy early schedule. (Easier than expected due to Arkansas’ troubles.) Still, a team has to beat the teams on its docket and A&M — save a bad second half against Florida — has done enough to raise hopes across the Lone Star State. Even though quarterback Johnny Manziel struggled for stretches of Saturday’s win over Ole Miss, at crunch time he came to life. The Aggies’ schedule is going to start getting tougher over the back half of the season, but like State, they may have built up enough confidence on the front end to help them spring an upset or two on the back end.
Bowl Game Contender
Arkansas (2-4) – Are we moving the Razorbacks out of the basement zone too quickly? Probably. Their 24-7 win at Auburn was a good tourniquet game for the Hogs as it stopped the team’s bleeding. But just how bad is Auburn? And the Razorbacks are still dealing with numerous injury issues. Leading tackler Alonzo Highsmith is now out for the season with an ankle injury suffered Saturday. But the Hogs face Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tulsa in their next three contests. It’s possible they could bounce all the way back to 5-4 and regain quite a bit of confidence before taking on the South Carolinas and LSUs of the world. It might be a short-lived move up, but for now, we’ll pull the Razorbacks from the bottom category on our chart.
Ole Miss (3-3) – Big kudos go out to Hugh Freeze. Yes, he gambled on a 4th-and-1 in his own territory against Texas A&M and it backfired. But if running back Jeff Scott had gained that yard, Freeze would have been hailed as a Miles/Spurrier-type gambler with nerves of steel. His team has played better than anyone but the biggest Rebel fan would have expected. Auburn comes to town this weekend and if the Rebs can protect the football they should have a winning record just past the midway point of the season. That should earn Freeze some Coach of the Year consideration regardless of his gutsy, but doomed call against the Aggies.
Tennessee (3-2) – Unlike Ole Miss, Tennessee has looked like just about as good everyone expected: a seven- or eight-win team driven by offense and trying to learn a new 3-4 defense. The defense has been even worse than predicted — they gave up 1,100-plus yards combined to Florida and Georgia — and it’s time for Sal Sunseri’s group to start showing progress and stop giving up big plays to every team they face. But for Derek Dooley, Saturday’s game in Starkville may be the biggest of his young head coaching career. A win and 8-4 looks probable. A loss and it’s likely that his squad will suffer a four-game losing streak (Georgia, MSU, Alabama, and South Carolina) which might just kill the team’s spirit and lead to a total collapse. It’s a massive game for Dooley on Saturday.
Auburn (1-4) – The Tigers appear to be in a free fall after Saturday’s shocking no-show. The defense continues to tackle poorly. The offense gives up sacks and turnovers regardless of whether Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley is at quarterback. And over the next three weeks, AU will face Ole Miss, Vandy and Texas A&M. All are winnable if the Auburn team people thought they’d see this season decides to show up. But if the guys who’ve been bungling around in those navy and burnt orange uniforms so far continue to appear, those games could all be losses, too. That’s right. The Tigers are in such a funk that a 1-7 record going into November is not beyond the realm of possibility.
Kentucky (1-5) – Like LSU, Arkansas and the team to be discussed next, Kentucky is snakebit when it comes to bodies. The Wildcats were going to be young and inexperienced this year anyway, but an almost unthinkable wave of injuries has washed over Joker Phillips’ squad. Perhaps so many injuries that it might actually save the coach’s job. To put things in perspective, Kentucky has had to play four different quarterbacks through the first half of its season. Six games… four quarterbacks. This past weekend, freshman Patrick Towles managed to raise hopes by completing five of the first six passes of his career including a long touchdown. Then he hurt his ankle and left the game. Yes, it’s been that kind of year in the Commonwealth.
Missouri (3-3) – Don’t expect Kentucky to get much sympathy from Missouri. The Tigers have their own infestation of injury bugs to worry about. A loss to Vanderbilt dropped Mizzou to 0-3 in the SEC and probably left more than one Tiger fan wondering what they’ve signed up for in jumping conferences. Now they’ll have to host #1 Alabama on CBS’ game of the week in front of a national audience. With an inexperienced offensive line and backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser getting the start — due to James Franklin’s sprained MCL — Saturday could mark the nadir of Missouri’s season.
Vanderbilt (2-3) – James Franklin the coach might have seen his team’s season saved with last week’s win over Missouri. The Commodores are far from great, but after this weekend’s game against Florida, Vandy will face Auburn, UMass, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Wake Forest. There might be enough wins in there to prevent Vandy from descending back down to the SEC East basement in 2012. With the right amount of confidence and breaks there might even be enough wins to go bowling again. But the first step is climbing out of the basement zone.