With the final regular-season weekend of SEC play set to kickoff tomorrow, we thought we’d get a jump on this week’s MrSEC.com Power Rankings. Below you’ll find our quickie views on every team in the conference based on what they’ve accomplished and where they currently sit in the league’s standings.
As usual, we’ve assigned each league team to one of four categories… and one of those categories has been re-named in a salute to tomorrow’s holiday. Please remember that schools are listed alphabetically within each category.
There’s been some shifting this week as the good squads have continued to separate themselves from the bad…
National Title Contender
Alabama (11-0 overall, 7-0 SEC) — Kudos Nick Saban’s team for exceeding our expectations. We didn’t foresee the Tide avoiding injury and bad luck for a third-consecutive year — two things that must be avoided in order to compete for a national crown. The Tide struggled mightily against Texas A&M back in September, allowing 42 points to the Aggies. Bama has only allowed 50 points in the nine games since that day in College Station. Think about that.
Auburn (10-1 overall, 6-1 SEC) — Gus Malzahn has gotten maximum results from his Tigers in his first year back on the Plains and he deserves much consideration for SEC Coach of the Year honors. But. When it comes to the Iron Bowl, there will be some Tiger fans out there who’ll view 2013 as a let down if Malzahn can’t put the cherry on top of the season with an upset of Bama. And, yes, those folks would be nuts, but we are talking about the Iron Bowl here. If AU can spring the upset, we could see the biggest “surprise!” SEC Championship Game ever…
Missouri (10-1 overall, 6-1 SEC) — That’s because the only guy with a better Coach of the Year resume than Malzahn might be waiting on the other sideline in Atlanta. Missouri — a much more physical team than people give them credit for — will attempt to lock up an SEC East title against Texas A&M on Saturday. The Aggie offense can certainly provide problems, but it’s hard to imagine A&M’s defense stopping Mizzouri (or anyone else). If Gary Pinkel’s team protects the football, pencil the Tigers into the title game in just their second year in the league.
Top 25 Contender
LSU (8-3 overall, 7-0 SEC) — OK, we didn’t see that coming. We picked LSU, yes, but a 34-10 pasting of Texas A&M? The Aggies had scored 40 on every other team they’d played and the Tigers had already lost to Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama. As can be said about a couple of injury-riddled teams in the league, fans on the Bayou have to wonder what 2013 might have looked like had 10 underclassmen not left early for the pro game last year.
South Carolina (9-2 overall, 6-2 SEC) — If you want to play the “what if” game, consider where Carolina might be had it not fallen on a last-second field goal to Tennessee. USC would be in the top five and very much alive in the national championship picture (with a break or two). Steve Spurrier’s team might not be dominant, but it is battle-tested: nine-point loss to Georgia, three-point win over UCF, seven-point win over Kentucky, two-point loss to Tennessee, three-point overtime win over Missouri, five-point win over Florida. The Cocks may not be great, but they’re obviously awfully darn good.
Texas A&M (8-3 overall, 4-3 SEC) — Kevin Sumlin has had to remind distraught Aggie fans that the sky isn’t falling because their team has dropped all of three games this year. What might be the reaction should A&M fall at #5 Missouri on Saturday? We tried to warn many Aggie fans this offseason that wins one year in the SEC don’t guarantee wins the next. They’ve learned that lesson the hard way in 2013. Still with an upset of Mizzou and a win in their bowl game, Sumlin can win double-digit games in his first two — or only two? — seasons in College Station.
Georgia (7-4 overall, 5-3 SEC) — Remember a couple dozen injuries ago when the Bulldogs had the flashiest offense in the SEC? Now the Dawgs will literally limp into the Clean, Old Fashioned Hate game with backup quarterback Hutson Mason getting his first start. Considering the injuries, and 8-4 record — with a win — should be viewed as acceptable in Athens.
Ole Miss (7-4 overall, 3-4 SEC) — This one’s simple. Vanquish MSU for the Egg Bowl trophy, rack up an eighth win, secure what should be a decent bowl bid and you’ve got a nice second year for impressive coach Hugh Freeze. Lose to State and the Rebel rebuild will have been dealt a serious blow. Fans don’t like losing, but they hate losing to a cross-state rival in a year when said foe is ripe for the picking.
Mississippi State (5-6 overall, 2-5 SEC) — Dan Mullen finds himself at year’s end smack dab in the middle of a tug-of-war. Some fans like that he’s kept MSU in bowl contention since his second season in Starkville. Others believe the bar is being set too low and that State’s coach has yet to make any real progress in the SEC West. If he loses his second game in a row to the Rebels, expect a few more Dogs to start howling.
Vanderbilt (7-4 overall, 4-4 SEC) — Watching the Commodores play football can’t be described as a pleasant experience. Vandy does just enough to get by. Over the last two years, James Franklin’s teams have beaten just two FBS teams with winning records (Georgia in 2013, NC State in 2012). They have two wins against FCS foes. If they beat Wake Forest on Saturday, the combined record of the FBS teams they’ve faced will be 52-110. That’s some very Mullen’esque work. Question is: Will Franklin take advantage and skedaddle from Nashville if given a job offer from somewhere else.
Arkansas (3-8 overall, 0-7 SEC) — The Razorbacks are on riding an eight-game losing streak for the first time in school history. Not the best of starts for Bret Bielema.
Florida (4-7 overall, 3-5 SEC) — If Florida stays healthy there is no way in the world the Gators lose seven (and probably eight) games in 2013. They might not have won the SEC, but they wouldn’t be on a six-game slide.
Kentucky (2-9 overall, 0-7 SEC) — Can Mark Stoops finally get an SEC win in Saturday’s battle to stay out of last place in the East Division? At least the Cats are hot on the recruiting trail.
Tennessee (4-7 overall, 1-6 SEC) — Butch Jones already has a signature win (over South Carolina) but many Vol fans have already forgotten it. His #2 recruiting class nationally hasn’t halted comparisons to his predecessor Derek Dooley, either.