If Jones gets TN to a bowl with the schedule we played, he should get some coach of the year award. We have 0 depth, not a great deal of talent, and an embarrassing defense. Yet if UT wins out we are bowling. Wow.
Twelve weeks — three full months of football — are in the books. Just two weeks of regular-season play remain. As we wind down the season, we’re getting a clearer picture of which teams really do have championship mettle. And which teams are destined to find themselves in the SEC cellar.
Below are our weekly rankings of the league’s best and worst teams. We assign each team to one of four different categories based on what they’ve accomplished to date and what we believe their ceilings to be at this moment. Inside each category, teams are simply listed alphabetically.
National Title Contender
Alabama (10-0 overall, 7-0 SEC) — Even after a sub-par 20-7 yawner of a win over Mississippi State, it’s still pretty obvious that Alabama is once again the class of the SEC. It isn’t easy to catch year after year after year all of the breaks that championship teams need to reach the summit. Bama has avoided major injury again, too. If you’re looking for a model college football program, Alabama is it. (Although the best football program in the land shouldn’t stoop to playing FCS Chattanooga this weekend.)
Auburn (10-1 overall, 6-1 SEC) — It took a miracle Hail Mary but Auburn is still alive in the national championship hunt. The Tigers slipped by Georgia 43-38 last week and they certainly had some success through the air (not counting the last-minute, tipped TD bomb). But there’s no question that Gus Malzahn’s team is built to run first. AU has an open date to figure out what to do if Bama can slow the Tiger ground game next weekend.
Missouri (9-1 overall, 5-1 SEC) — Here’s the bad thing: If Missouri loses either of its last two games, some will claim that Gary Pinkel and his team choked away a title shot. Actually, Mizzou just happens to have a heckuva difficult final two-game stretch. Saturday’s game at Ole Miss might actually be trickier than MU’s finale with Texas A&M (and who would have thought that back in August). Win both games and Mizzou will reach the SEC Championship Game before Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Ad that would no doubt tick off fans of Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky
Top 25 Contender
LSU (7-3 overall, 3-3 SEC) — How tough is the SEC? Look at the teams in this Top 25 Contender category. Starting with LSU, the Tigers boast an improved offense and a talented (but youthful) defense. With a loss to Texas A&M Saturday, Les Miles’ squad could fall to 8-4. In any other league, the Tigers might’ve been a 10-win team.
Ole Miss (7-3 overall, 3-3 SEC) – The Rebels are getting hot down the stretch. A three-game midseason losing streak against Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M now looks like nothing more than growing pains for a program headed in the right direction. Mississippi has won four in a row since that point and upset of Missouri on Saturday would propel the Rebs up the BCS standings.
South Carolina (8-2 overall, 6-2 SEC) — The Gamecocks are alive and clucking in the SEC East. USC’s conference slate is done and now they can sit back and pray for Missouri to drop at least one game. If that happens, Steve Spurrier will have lead Carolina to its second SEC title game appearance. If Missouri wins out, the Cocks’ last-second loss at Tennessee would have to be viewed as the most costly loss in the SEC this season.
Texas A&M (8-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) — The Aggies are 8-2 with an electric offense and a spark plug of a quarterback who makes it all go. Yet A&M still must win at LSU and at Missouri — ouch — to remain in the running for a BCS bowl bid. If Texas A&M loses both of those contests and finishes 8-4, how much grief would Kevin Sumlin take from fans for “underperforming” in 2013?
Georgia (6-4 overall, 4-3 SEC) — It was a gallant effort on the part of UGA and Aaron Murray last Saturday, but the Hail Mary they allowed to Auburn has likely sealed their fate as an unranked team in 2013. That’s quite a tumble for a team whose pre-injury offense appeared to be one of the very best in America.
Vanderbilt (6-4 overall, 3-4 SEC) — Another week, another ugly win. And who cares if you’re Vanderbilt? The Commodores are playing an opportunistic brand of football (eight turnovers forced in the last two weeks). They’re already bowl eligible and with wins over Tennessee and Wake Forest, James Franklin’s team might finally get an invitation to a bowl outside the Volunteer State.
Arkansas (3-7 overall, 0-6 SEC) — A seven-game losing streak. Games with Mississippi State and LSU still on the docket, too. Suddenly John L. Smith doesn’t look so bad. Bret Bielema will need time to right the Razorbacks’ ship.
Florida (4-6 overall, 3-5 SEC) — Give the wounded Gators credit for pushing South Carolina to the limit last week, all with a third-string quarterback and an offense that put the ball in the air rarely. Florida State remains on the schedule and that figures to doom Florida to the SEC basement with all the rest of the no-bowl teams.
Kentucky (2-8 overall, 0-6 SEC) — What can you say? The Wildcats managed to pass for just 120 yards last week at Vanderbilt. Their offense was almost completely nonexistent. Mark Stoops is having to play five card stud with Uno cards.
Mississippi State (4-6 overall, 1-5 SEC) — The Bulldogs showed some grit against Alabama last week, but grit doesn’t impact the SEC standings board. MSU can still limp into a bowl game with wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss. Unfortunately, the Dogs may have to start their third-string quarterback on Saturday in Little Rock.
Tennessee (4-6 overall, 1-5 SEC) — Butch Jones’ gray-clad Vols may have the best shot — among the SEC’s cellar-dwellers — of reaching a bowl. A big game with Vandy comes Saturday before UT ends the year with its annual trip of I-75 to face Kentucky. An much needed open date (after facing South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri and Auburn) should help refresh UT on Saturday.