Each week throughout the season, we here at MrSEC.com will provide you with our view of the SEC’s best and worst football teams. But rather than give you the same ol’ #1 to #14 list, we assign each program to one of four different categories. (Inside those categories, the schools are listed alphabetically.) Our category assignments are based upon how well each team is play, what they’ve accomplished to date, and what we believe each squad’s ceiling is at this moment.
So with one week down, here’s how we see SEC teams stacking up…
National Title Contender
Alabama (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – Alabama’s win over Virginia Tech wasn’t a thing of beauty, but a 25-point win over a good program on Opening Day didn’t merit the handwringing we’ve seen this week. Admittedly, the Crimson Tide’s offense looked shaky, starting with the rebuilt offensive line. Clearly those guys up front need to develop some chemistry. Still, let’s see how Bama does at Texas A&M on the 14th before anyone start’s writing off Nick Saban’s team
Georgia (0-1 overall, 0-0 SEC) – There are worse things than losing to a top 10 team on the road by three points. The Bulldogs rolled up 500+ yards, but mistakes on offense and special teams were killers. If UGA cleans up its game and finds a way to slow South Carolina’s on Saturday, the Dawgs will be right back among the nation’s highest-ranked teams.
LSU (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – Hey, we picked the Tigers to win the SEC West so weren’t the least big surprised that their defense — featuring eight new starters — played as well as it did. TCU mustered just 259 yards of offense and 14 of the Horned Frogs’ 27 points came from a kickoff return and a six-yard post-fumble “drive.” The issue for LSU? Don’t fumble at the six and don’t allow 100-yard kick returns.
South Carolina (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – As noted above, Saturday’s game in Athens is massive when it comes to the BCS championship picture. A win by Carolina practically eliminates Georgia (barring some Les Miles two-loss luck). USC’s win over North Carolina impressed us enough to push the Gamecocks up a category in our rankings. For all the talk of Jadeveon Clowney’s conditioning, USC held a good UNC offense to just 10 points. How good might the Cocks be if Clowney’s conditioning improves? (For the record, we think expectations were set too highly for the big defensive end. He played fine in our book.)
Top 25 Contender
Florida (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – The good news? The defense smothered Toledo and looked a lot like last year’s unit. The bad news? The Gator offense looked a lot like last year’s, too. Everyone points fingers at quarterback Jeff Driskel, but it’s been a few years — years — since UF developed a scare-your-pants-off threat at one of the skill positions. A trip to rival Miami this weekend will tell us a lot more about the mighty Gators.
Texas A&M (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – Let’s get the excuses out of the way. Johnny Manziel didn’t play until the second half and several defensive starters didn’t play at all (due to violations of team rules). But national title contenders don’t surrender 509 yards to the Rice Fighting Pilafs (306 of which came on the ground). The Aggies, like Florida, could find their way into our top category eventually, but until we see them fire on all cylinders against a top opponents — Alabama in two weeks — we view A&M as a potential top 10 team, not a potential BCS champ.
Auburn (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – The Tigers gave Gus Malzahn a win in his first game as AU’s head coach, but his offense played second fiddle to Mike Leach’s on Saturday. Washington State outgained Auburn 464 to 394 and passed for an eye-watering 344 yards. If not for three Cougar turnovers, AU might’ve lost that game. On the positive side, Auburn took advantage of those turnovers and claimed a hard-fought victory. Let’s see how quarterback Nick Marshall improves from Game One to Game Two.
Arkansas (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – Want an upbeat story from the SEC in Week One? The Hogs provided one. Bret Bielema’s debut was a bigger breeze than more expected, with the Razorbacks running and passing for big yards against a UL-Lafayette squad that took Florida to the wire a season ago. It’s too soon to be penciling Arkansas into a BCS bowl, but the Hogs do appear to be a bowl contender. Before Saturday, we weren’t so sure of that.
Missouri (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – Quarterback James Franklin was his old self (362 yards of total offense and three TD passes). Running back Henry Josey bounced back well from a major injury suffered nearly two years ago (113 yards and a touchdown rushing). And Gary Pinkel’s offense cranked out 694 yards overall. The problem? All that production came against Murray State of the FCS. A Toledo squad that was corralled by Florida last week should provide a tougher test on Saturday.
Ole Miss (1-0 overall, 1-0 SEC) – No defense, plenty of offense. Considering the Rebels showed a helluva lot of fight in bouncing back at Vanderbilt time and again last week, the lack of defense can be forgiven. In a battle between two programs trying to solidify their place in the middle of the SEC pack, Hugh Freeze’s team showed moxie (and, yes, we simply wanted to use the word moxie). Moving forward, Bo Wallace will need to continue to take care of the football and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack will have to shore up the Rebel D.
Tennessee (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) – What can you say? It was a successful debut for new coach Butch Jones. The Vols blew out an inferior FCS foe (Austin Peay) and then coasted to through the second half. But the Volunteers’ inability to destroy the Governors in that second half suggests there’s a pretty big drop off from UT’s first unit to its second. We’ll call ‘em a bowl contender for now, but Western Kentucky could put a large dent in the Vols’ hopes this weekend.
Vanderbilt (0-1 overall, 0-1 SEC) – The Commodores appear to have found a pretty dangerous quarterback in Austyn Carta-Samuels. Unfortunately, their defense went MIA in their loss to Ole Miss. Just as the Rebels got a boost by knocking off a team that’s expected to be in their weight class, the Dores have to be concerned that their road to a third bowl in as many years just got tougher. VU won the 50/50 games en route to a nine-win campaign a year ago. This time, they ended on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Kentucky (0-1 overall, 0-0 SEC) – Well, that was ugly. The Cats had targeted WKU all offseason after losing to the Hilltoppers last season. Didn’t matter. Western Kentucky passed for 271 yards and ran for 216 against new coach Mark Stoops’ defense. UK also failed to see Max Smith or Jalen Whitlow snare the starting quarterback job. Oh, Smith appears to be the better option, but an 8-of-13, 125-yard performance against WKU doesn’t suggest he’ll be able to slice and dice stronger, faster SEC defenses. Stoops new he was in for a long climb. Saturday’s game just proved it. Miami (OH) could prove it further if they pull the upset this weekend.
Mississippi State (0-1 overall, 0-0 SEC) – The issue isn’t that MSU lost to a ranked opponent in Oklahoma State… it’s how they lost. With a senior, experienced quarterback and in Dan Mullen’s fifth season at the helm, the Bulldogs were stifled by an Oklahoma State team that’s much better known for its offense. State managed a first-quarter field goal and nothing more. In fairness, the Maroons did gain 333 yards of offense, but a pair of interceptions and a horrifying 2-of-16 third-down conversion rate killed drive after drive. In the deep SEC West, the Bulldogs appear to be at the bottom of the barrel. The Auburn game in two weeks will tell us a lot more than this weekend’s duel with Alcorn State.