Each week throughout the season, we here at MrSEC.com will provide you with our views on 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 of those categories, the schools are listed alphabetically.) Our category assignments are based upon how well each team is playing, what they’ve accomplished to date, and what we believe each squad’s ceiling to be at this moment.
Two weeks down, here’s how we see things stacking up…
National Title Contender
Alabama (1-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) — With a scandal hanging over the program and two national titles potentially lost, the current Crimson Tide football team will try to focus on the work at hand and win a big road game at Texas A&M. The rebuilt offensive line was spotty in Bama’s debut against Virginia Tech. UA had an open date last week. Come Saturday, we’ll see just how much the big boys up front have improved since their opener.
Georgia (1-1 overall, 1-0 SEC) — The Bulldogs’ defense is young and, as expected, it has been vulnerable early. But, oh, that offense. Recent history suggests that it takes a strong, strong defense to win the SEC. By year’s end, UGA’s defense should improve. But that offense is so versatile, we’re left to wonder who can slow the Dawgs down. If South Carolina couldn’t hold them to under 41 points, who else can slow them down? And remember, Georgia hung 28 points on Alabama’s BCS championship team in last year’s SEC title game. As long as UGA protects the football, they’ll score points on just about anybody.
LSU (2-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) — LSU’s defense is better than most pundits expected. More frightening for SEC squads? The play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s tutelage. The ex-Georgia, ex-juco QB gives the Tigers a true passing threat, something they’ve lacked in recent years. And they’ve been pretty darned good in recent years. How good might they be if Mettenberger continues to improve? National championship good.
Top 25 Contender
Florida (1-1 overall, 0-0 SEC) — The Gator defense is still the strength of the team, just as most had projected. But while last week’s turnover-fest at Miami was cause for concern (and cause for the loss), UF did manage to post 400 yards of offense. From a total offense perspective, that’s progress. Now if Brent Pease can get his guys to gain yardage and take care of the football in the same week, he’ll be onto something.
South Carolina (1-1 overall, 0-1 SEC) — We briefly bumped Carolina up a category last week, but it looks like we jumped the gun a bit. There’s no shame in losing a hard-fought battle on the road at Georgia. And USC may take advantage of an “easy” league schedule to catapult itself back into our national title contender category. At this moment, however, the Cocks look more like a good team than a great one. Especially if Carolina’s coaches can’t get Jadeveon Clowney in better position to make plays.
Texas A&M (2-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) — If the Aggies win on Saturday, they’ll rise a notch in these rankings. But that’s a big if. A&M will have most of their defensive starters back on the field against Alabama. That’s a good thing considering just how many yards the Ags have surrendered to Rice and Sam Houston State (899 combined). Will it be a good enough thing to keep Alabama from running all over them? We’ll find out in about 48 hours.
Arkansas (2-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) — The Razorbacks had a surprisingly easy opener with UL-Lafayette only to surprisingly struggle last week week with FCS-level Samford. Expect Bret Bielema to use that as a teaching tool. The Hogs haven’t faced SEC competition yet, but the pieces appear to be in place for the punch-you-in-the-mouth offensive style that Bielema loves. If they can continue to improve on defense — and avoid the injury bug — the Razorbacks could shock a few folks this fall.
Auburn (2-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) — They haven’t been beautiful, but Gus Malzhan’s first two games back on the Plains have been wins and that’s all that matters. New quarterback Nick Marshall showed improvement from Week One to Week Two, though a date with SEC rival Mississippi State on Saturday will be his toughest test to date.
Missouri (2-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) — The Tigers are a hard team to grade. Last season left us with the feeling that Mizzou just wasn’t tough enough to compete in the SEC quite yet. They’ve showed a bit more grit in vanquishing Toledo last weekend, but that was Toledo. Much more difficult challenges await. Rest assured, Gary Pinkel needs quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey to get better week after week if he’s to cool the temperature of his seat.
Ole Miss (2-0 overall, 1-0 SEC) — A big, big “prove it” game for the Rebels this week at Texas. The Longhorns have just changed defensive coordinators and that kind of turmoil will either bring the team together… or rip it apart. To date, Ole Miss has turned the ball over three times in two games. They can’t afford to put the ball on the ground this week. Come Saturday evening, we’ll have a much better read on Hugh Freeze’s team and just how high its ceiling really is.
Tennessee (2-0 overall, 0-0 SEC) — The same can be said for Butch Jones’ Volunteers. Last week was supposed to give us a clue as to UT’s actual strength, but Western Kentucky turned the ball over seven times (including five in a six-play stretch). Credit the Vols for forcing those turnovers and taking advantage, but can they continue to force opponent errors? Over the next few weeks Tennessee will face Oregon, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina with only South Alabama and on open date to break things up. We’ll see if they’re a bowl contender after that run.
Vanderbilt (1-1 overall, 0-1 SEC) — The Commodores have found a quarterback in Austyn Carta-Samuels and — as Steve Spurrier pointed out this week — Vandy is more athletic now than ever. James Franklin’s first few recruiting classes are starting to bear fruit. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, they play in the SEC where everyone else is pretty athletic, too. An upset win at Carolina would go a long way toward boosting the Dores’ bowl hopes.
Kentucky (1-1 overall, 0-0 SEC) — Kudos to Mark Stoops and staff for leading UK to a nice bounce-back victory over Miami (OH) last Saturday. Quarterback Max Smith added some zip to the Wildcats passing game, though the Cats will continue to use Jalen Whitlow as a change-of-pace, dual-threat guy. Kentucky lost its opener to Western Kentucky. This week they face a highly-regarded Louisville side. For the sake of future recruiting, an upset would be enormous for Stoops’ program.
Mississippi State (1-1 overall, 0-0 SEC) — Tyler Russell should be back behind the center when MSU travels to Auburn on Saturday. Last year, he lit up the Tigers’ defense. If he and his Bulldogs can spring the win, we’ll have to adjust our rankings and move the Bulldogs up a category. If not, then the SEC West basement will loom even larger.