I have said often, to much derision, that James Franklin was a flash in the pan and was coaching other people's recruits and when he had to coach his own recruits, he would crash and burn. It is looking more and more like I was right.
It’s Thursday and that means it’s time for our latest MrSEC.com Power Rankings. Below you’ll find each SEC program placed neatly into one of four categories. Inside those categories, the teams are simply 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 very moment.
National Title Contender
Alabama (6-0 overall, 3-0 SEC) — One big question: Has Alabama hit its stride or have the Tide simply been benefiting from a weak recent schedule? Nick Saban’s up-and-down squad has looked the nation’s best over its last two-and-a-half games (Ole Miss second half, Georgia State, Kentucky). None of those teams has a winning record. With games against Arkansas and Tennessee over the next two Saturdays, it’s entirely possible that Bama will enter its November 9th showdown with LSU still looking to put its offense and defense together for four full quarters against a good foe. That certainly hasn’t happened yet.
LSU (6-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) — The Tigers will have to go on the road this week to face long-time rival, Ole Miss. Les Miles’ team brought the thunder last Saturday against Florida, winning an old-school slobberknocker with defense and a good ground game. Mississippi’s offense is more explosive than the Gators’, so Zach Mettenberger and crew had better bring their A game. As usual, it looks like the SEC’s West Division title will go to the winner of LSU/Bama in three weeks.
Top 25 Contender
Auburn (5-1 overall, 2-1 SEC) — Gus Malzahn’s team faced one of the worst teams in the FCS level last week in Western Carolina. This week the competition will be a bit more difficult. AU travels to #7 Texas A&M to face Johnny Manziel. The Tigers have only beaten one team with a winning record (Washington State, 4-3) so it’s a bit early to lump them in with the championship contenders. Of course, if they pull an upset in College Station…
Florida (4-2 overall, 3-1 SEC) — The Gators are like a 1960s basketball team that wins by running a four-corners offense. Low-scoring, slow pace, good defense, etc. Unfortunately for the folks in Gainesville, even though the defense is good and that formula for victory has worked for Alabama and LSU in recent years, the Gators are just too weak on offense to battle for a league title. Tyler Murphy looked human last week at LSU, accounting for just 102 yards passing and rushing. And, as we’ve said for several years now, Florida just doesn’t have enough playmakers around their signal-caller.
Georgia (4-2 overall, 3-1 SEC) — Not to discredit Missouri’s win in Athens last Saturday, but if the Dawgs had been at full strength would that game have played out the same way? (Mizzou fans could say that same of UGA’s visit to Columbia a year ago.) Todd Grantham’s defense is simply not coming together as most in red and black would have hoped. And with so many running backs and receivers now out of action, there’s more pressure on quarterback Aaron Murray to play perfect football. Last Saturday, he didn’t and his team lost.
Missouri (6-0 overall, 2-0 SEC) — Speaking of injuries, the loss of James Franklin for three to five weeks is real kick below the belt. The Tigers were finally showing what Gary Pinkel’s offense is capable of and then — boom — the guy who makes that offense go is lost. Teammates and coaches are saying all the right things about backup Maty Mauk, but there’s bound to be a drop off behind center with Franklin on the sideline. Especially when facing the SEC’s best defense, Florida, this weekend.
South Carolina (5-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) — Well, guess who’s quietly hanging around the top 10. Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks had achieved a 4-1 mark despite a lot of spotty football. This half good, that half bad, etc. That was not the case with Win #5. The Cocks’ 52-7 beatdown of Arkansas on the road was eye-opening. Carolina looked like an SEC East contender. They’ll need to keep that kind of play coming as they battle Tennessee and Missouri on the road over the next two weeks. Three straight SEC road games is a stiff challenge, regardless of the competition.
Texas A&M (5-1 overall, 2-1 SEC) — The Aggie defense is bad. As in worst-in-the-conference bad. And in any other year — and with any other quarterback — that’d be reason enough for us to drop A&M down a category. But the SEC is an offense-first league this season. And Johnny Manziel is playing at a higher level than he did a year ago. Perhaps just as importantly, he’s gone the hermit route — which we suggested in the offseason — and not made headlines for his partying or his tweets. Not only is he helping TAMU to stay on the outskirts of the national championship picture — we’re not ready to vault them up a category yet — but he’s also helping his NFL draft stock with his good play and good behavior. Wise.
Ole Miss (3-3 overall, 1-3 SEC) – The Rebels have lost three games in a row after a 3-0 start and head coach Hugh Freeze has been hearing about it. To the point that he gave one Ole Miss fan a piece of his own mind as he left the field after last week’s loss to Texas A&M. Expectations, as the coach has said, jumped way, way too high too quickly in Oxford. This is still a team just one year removed from an 0-8 record in the SEC. That said, once the expectations rise there’s no way to bring back down gently. Which means this week’s home game with sixth-ranked LSU is a big one for the psyche of the UM fanbase and the UM team.
Tennessee (3-3 overall, 0-2 SEC) — The Vols were off last week and are still sitting in the bowl contender zone simply because of their second-half performance against Georgia two weeks ago. Tennessee will need to improve upon that performance if they’re to spring a major upset over South Carolina Saturday at noon in Knoxville. Depth remains a concern — as does talent — but the Volunteers at least have one good half of football to build on at this point.
Arkansas (3-4 overall, 0-3 SEC) — The Razorbacks have fallen into our bottom stratum for the first time this season. Four consecutive losses will do that. So will losing by 45 at home to a conference rival, as Arkansas did when South Carolina visited last week. Currently, the Hogs are dealing with two major problems: Quarterback Brandon Allen has struggled since returning from a shoulder injury and the secondary has been picked apart by rival signal-callers. This week UA faces AJ McCarron and #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Don’t expect big improvements from Allen or the Hogs’ secondary versus the Tide.
Kentucky (1-5 overall, 0-3 SEC) — The Wildcats were throttled by the aforementioned Tide 48-7 last season. Battered and bruised, UK gets a well-timed open date on Saturday. As of today, Kentucky appears to be the worst team in the league, but that’s no fault of Mark Stoops. The Cats’ roster is a fixer-upper to say the least. Stoops needs time to make the necessary fixes.
Mississippi State (3-3 overall, 0-2 SEC) – The Bulldogs enter Saturday’s open date after a one-point home win over Bowling Green. That’s not what the doctor ordered when it comes to getting people off Dan Mullen’s back. (We all know the only prescription… is more cowbell.) The only thing consistent about the 2013 State team has been its maddening inconsistency. One week the defense looks good and the next its getting bombed by LSU for 59 points. The offense looks good one week and the next it’s putting up just 21 points on Bowling Green. There’s still time for MSU to turn things around, the schedule will turn much tougher in November.
Vanderbilt (3-3 overall, 0-3 SEC) — The Commodores have one of — if not the — biggest disappointment in the SEC so far. Vandy’s turnaround under James Franklin had been one of the feel-good stories of the past two seasons. But with expectations rising, the Dores have slipped back down to the bottom of the East Division. In three SEC games Vanderbilt has allowed 39, 35 and 51 points. Saturday they’ll host a wounded Georgia team. Win and a third consecutive bowl bid becomes more likely. Lose and Vanderbilt could be anchoring down in the SEC cellar.