YES!! Out of the basement contender group!! That my friends is progress! I can live with the big caveat. Glad we have a bye week this week so we can get rested up for SCAR. While they are getting thumped around by Bielema's bulldozer, hopefully the most work our players do Saturday is answering the door for the pizza delivery guy. Go Vols!
Each week throughout the 2013 football season, we here at MrSEC.com will provide you with our views on each of the SEC’s best and worst football teams. Rather than give you the run-of-the-mill #1 through #14 ranking, we separate the league’s squads into four different categories. (Inside those categories, the teams area listed alphabetically.)
Our category assignments are based on each team’s achievements to date as well as what we believe each squad’s ceiling to be at this moment.
Here’s how we see things stacking up as we roll into Weekend #7 of SEC football. A heads-up: There’s been some major moves up and down the ladder this week…
National Title Contender
Alabama (5-0 overall, 2-0 SEC) — Look, we learned absolutely nothing about the Crimson Tide in their whipping of outmanned Georgia State last weekend. It was a waste of a Saturday and the kind of game that SEC programs — and everyone else in the big leagues — should avoid. This week, Bama should get a bit better test at Kentucky. That doesn’t mean UK will win, but an SEC road game should prove more challenging than a home game against a creampuff. For now, Bama stays put in our rankings.
LSU (5-1 overall, 2-1 SEC) — Yours truly picked the Tigers to surprise in the SEC West, expecting John Chavis’ young defense to improve as the season unfolds. Well, they better hurry up on the improving front. The Tigers have allowed more than 437 yards of total offense in each of their three SEC games (Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State). Though the offense might be the best of the Les Miles’ era, that defense — for so long a hallmark of Tiger football — appears to LSU’s Achilles’ Heel. We’ll learn more about them when they host Florida and new dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy on Saturday afternoon.
Top 25 Contender
Auburn (4-1 overall, 2-1 SEC) — Yep, we’ve done gone and promoted Gus Malzahn’s bunch. Last week’s win over Ole Miss was a separation game and AU moved in the right direction. Keep an eye, however, on the knee of starting quarterback Nick Marshall. After injuring it late against the Rebels, his status for Saturday’s game against Western Carolina is questionable. While we don’t foresee the Catamounts besting Auburn, the Tigers will travel to Texas A&M the following week. Marshall should be healed up by then, but anytime an SEC starting quarterback has a knee injury we get spooked.
Florida (4-1 overall, 3-0 SEC) — Speaking of quarterbacks, we’ll finally get to see new Gator starter Tyler Murphy go up against one of the league’s top programs (even if LSU’s defense has been sketchy in conference play). Since spelling an injured Jeff Driskel in the Tennessee game, Murphy has completed 39-of-54 passes for 530 yards (a great yards-per-attempt average) and five touchdowns against only one interception. His QB rating is a robust 181.52. On top of that, he’s also added 135 yards on the ground along with two more TDs. The Gators already have the nation’s second-ranked defense… if Murphy and the offense can continue to pull their weight we might have to bump UF up a level.
Georgia (4-1 overall, 3-0 SEC) — We really liked this year’s Bulldog team. In terms of offensive weaponry, UGA looked more like a Big 12 team than an SEC squad. But we’re having to drop them down a notch this week. Yes, they have continued to claw out victories despite the loss of key playmakers. And, yes, part of our rankings criteria is what a team has accomplished to date. We also look at each squad’s potential, however, and with so much attrition it’s hard to list the Dawgs as a BCS title contender at the moment. Let’s see how they handle Missouri on Saturday. If they pull out another one, we may slide them back into the top category.
Missouri (5-0 overall, 1-0 SEC) — Tiger fans know all about attrition. Their 2012 season was scuppered by multiple visits from the injury bug. This season, Mizzou is healthy. Just ask Vanderbilt who was thrashed by quarterback James Franklin and crew to the tune of 51-28 in Nashville. Gary Pinkel’s club should face a tougher challenge from Georgia in Athens (though the Bulldogs are running out of bodies on offense). With a win, Mizzou could actually slide into the driver’s seat in the SEC East. After more than a year of eye rolls from SEC fans who felt the Tigers were beneath them, it might be fun to see Pinkel’s team atop the standings table.
South Carolina (4-1 overall, 2-1 SEC) — Is it just us or has USC suddenly turned into Team Turmoil? First, Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t fit. Then he had bone spurs. Then he wouldn’t play due to a muscle strain. His coaches fanned the flames by making it clear they weren’t happy with the situation. Then they backtracked and gave kudos to Clowney. All the while, Connor Shaw was playing with a bum wing and Steve Spurrier’s team developed a nasty habit of falling asleep in games’ second halves. Hitting the road to Arkansas might not be as easy on grass as it might appear to be on paper. It’ll be interesting to see if the Ol’ Ball Coach can get all his guys on the same page. Talent-wise, the Cocks have a roster that should compete for the East Division crown. But the more they struggle to stave off the Vandys and Kentuckys of the world, the more we suspect they’ll eventually stub their toes.
Texas A&M (4-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) — So long as the defense doesn’t collapse, the Aggies should remain near the top of the SEC West. Kevin Sumlin’s offense — with Johnny Manziel at the controls — has been scary good this season. Hell, the Ags scored 42 in their lone loss to Alabama. But that defense is fully capable of a collapse. A&M ranks dead last in the SEC in rushing yards allowed and next to last in total yards yielded. The Aggies are next to last in scoring defense, too, surrendering 30.8 points per contest. Two weeks ago, we’d have said this Saturday’s game with Ole Miss had all the makings of a shootout. Whether Ole Miss finds its guns is another story (which we’ll tackle soon).
Arkansas (3-3 overall, 0-2 SEC) — After a 3-0 start, the Razorbacks have become the embodiment of a backslide. The run offense hasn’t been as consistent in losses to Rutgers and Florida. Against Texas A&M, the defense was the problem. For now, we’ll leave the Hogs in our Bowl Contender category. Trouble is they’ll need to find three more wins from this remaining schedule: South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU. That won’t be easy.
Ole Miss (3-2 overall, 1-2 SEC) — Overall, Rebel fans have to be pleased with the job Hugh Freeze has done since arriving in Oxford. His recruiting has been reason enough for Mississippi backers to celebrate. This year’s squad, however, has suddenly turned into a bit of a letdown. A 3-0 start — punctuated with a blowout win at Texas — has given way to a shutout loss at Alabama and a disappointing defeat to Auburn, a team in just about the same middle-of-pack SEC position as the Rebs. This week, Ole Miss draws a visit from Texas A&M, to be followed by a a drop-in from LSU. Even if UM falls to 3-4, the remaining schedule should provide three wins (Idaho, Arkansas, Troy and Missouri at home, MSU on the road). We’ve dropped Ole Miss a category this week, but a surprise versus A&M on Saturday night will bump them right back up the ladder.
Tennessee (3-3 overall, 0-2 SEC) — The decision to promote UT from the Basement Contender category comes with a Smoky Mountain-sized caveat. If the Volunteer squad from the second half of last week’s overtime loss to Georgia shows up, yes, Tennessee could squeak its way into a bowl in Butch Jones’ first season. That said, it’s probably more likely that last weekend’s second-half surprise was an exception rather than the rule. UT has a whisker-thin roster and injuries have already tested it. Any more attrition and it’s difficult to picture the Vols reaching a bowl. The margin for error is slim.
Kentucky (1-4 overall, 0-2 SEC) — Credit Mark Stoops team for putting up a world of fight late in last weekend’s game with South Carolina. Down 27-7 late in the third-quarter, QB Jalen Whitlow and Neal Brown’s offense came to life. A bit like Tennessee above, the kind of effort it took to pull within a touchdown — the Cats’ lost 35-28 — could be a sign of life. Or it could have been a radar blip. Unfortunately for Kentucky fans, it’ll be hard to build on last week’s baby steps with top-ranked Alabama headed to the Bluegrass State on Saturday.
Mississippi State (2-3 overall, 0-2 SEC) — First things first, Dan Mullen’s offense looked pretty good last week against LSU. The Bulldogs used quarterbacks Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott and both performed pretty well in putting 26 points on the Bayou Bengals. But the Bulldog defense allowed a whopping 59 points. And there’s the rub. This week a 5-1 Bowling Green squad invades Starkville and we’re tempted to put everyone on upset alert. But these — and it seems only these – kind of games are the type that Mullen has mastered. For the time being, State continues to look like the SEC West’s worst team.
Vanderbilt (3-3 overall, 0-3 SEC) — To date, 2013 has turned into a disappointment on Nashville’s West End. The Commodores have allowed 39 points (to Ole Miss at home), 35 points (at South Carolina), and 51 points (to Missouri at home) in SEC play. After this weekend’s open date, Vandy will host Georgia and then travel to Texas A&M and Florida in successive weeks. It appears that the round-robin games between VU, Kentucky and Tennessee (just barely out of the basement category this week) will eventually determine who really is the East’s worst squad.