Here’s a Halloween scare for you: There’s only one more month of regular-season college football games remaining. Spooky, huh? We’ve made a blink-of-an-eye jump from Labor Day to All Hallows’ Eve, or at least it seems that way to those of us here at MrSEC. One day we’re filing preseason prognostications and the next we’re breaking down division races and tie-breakers.
Today we engage in our usual Thursday ritual, the posting of the MrSEC.com Power Rankings. But after last week’s disappointing slate of games, there have been few changes. As always, we assign each of the SEC’s 14 football programs to one of four categories. Those assignments are based upon teams’ accomplishments to date as well as our thoughts on each team’s current ceiling. And remember, teams are listed alphabetically within each category.
National Title Contender
Alabama (8-0 overall, 5-0 SEC) — The top-ranked Crimson Tide gets a breather this week, but it sure doesn’t look necessary. Bama has won its last six games by a combined score of 246-26. That’s average victory of 41-4. The eye test still says this year’s Alabama teams isn’t quite as good as last year’s edition, but the Tide is plenty good enough to win the SEC and possibly another BCS crown. LSU next week should provide a better test.
Top 25 Contender
Auburn (7-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) — The Tigers are the surprise team in the SEC West. While Gus Malzahn was expected to have more-first year success than the other new coaches in the league, no one but hopingest hopefuls on the Plains would have projected this much success. Quarterback Nick Marshall is banged up for the second time this season. AU needs to find a way to keep its trigger man healthy.
LSU (7-2 overall, 3-2 SEC) — Les Miles’ team dozed through the first half of last week’s 48-16 win over Furman. As we’ve noted on the site, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has been a bit more careless with the football in recent weeks. Next week Miles will face off yet again with Nick Saban, the man he replaced in Baton Rouge. During this open week, the Tigers had better find themselves again before heading to Tuscaloosa.
Missouri (7-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) — One double-overtime loss isn’t enough for us to drop Missouri from one category to the next. The Tiger defense did go belly-up in the fourth quarter and on a fourth down in the first overtime against South Carolina, but overall Mizzou still looked physical along both lines. Defensive end Michael Sam — the nation’s leading sack man — might be the least-heralded star in the country. Quarterback James Franklin is questionable for Saturday’s game with Tennessee. When he steps back on the field, Missouri will be a better football team.
South Carolina (6-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) — Speaking of last week’s 27-24 Carolina win over Missouri… the Gamecocks showed a tremendous amount of heart in climbing out of a 17-point hole. With just two league games remaining (Mississippi State and Florida at home), Steve Spurrier’s team is once again in the running for the East Division crown. If Carolina wins out, the pressure is going to be on Mizzou to win all four of its remaining SEC contests, including a showdown with Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M to close the season. USC will be A-OK if the Cocks just keep winning.
Texas A&M (6-2 overall, 3-2 SEC) — All season long the Aggies have been hamstrung by their less-than-stalwart defense. Some saw improvement last weekend against Vanderbilt. We saw an A&M team taking advantage of a offense led by a first-time starter at quarterback. If Texas A&M is to win out and hope for a BCS at-large bid, Mark Snyder’s defense will have to improve. We’re not ready to claim “all is well” based on last Saturday’s win over Vandy.
Florida (4-3 overall, 3-2 SEC) — The Gators are still alive in the East Division race. The team’s ranks have been decimated by injuries. Once expected to compete for a league and possible national title, Florida is having to hope it can back its way into Atlanta as its rivals lose ballgames. Saturday’s big game in Jacksonville is of the must-win variety.
Georgia (4-3 overall, 3-2 SEC) — The Bulldogs are still alive in the East Division race. The team’s ranks have been decimated by injuries. Once expected to compete for a league and possible national title, Georgia is having to hope it can back its way into Atlanta as its rivals lose ballgames. Saturday’s big game in Jacksonville is of the must-win variety.
Ole Miss (5-3 overall, 2-3 SEC) — A quick tip the cap to Rebel coach Hugh Freeze. Two weeks ago his team was riding a three-game losing streak and he was getting into shouting matches with upset fans. Since then his team has upset LSU and crushed sad sack (of potatoes) Idaho team. UM has an open date this weekend before hosting Arkansas and Troy. The Rebels should be 7-3 rolling into their end o’ the season games with Missouri and Mississippi State. Who would have predicted that going into the Ole Miss/LSU game?
Tennessee (4-4 overall, 1-3 SEC) — Last week was painful for the Vols to be sure. But a 45-10 spanking at the hands of Alabama is nothing to be ashamed of. Hell, those 10 points UT scored in the second half were the most given up by the Tide since their mid-September date with Texas A&M. The man who led those scoring drives — true freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs — will make his first start at Missouri this weekend, filling in for an injured Justin Worley. Win and the Volunteers will stay put in our rankings. Lose and Butch Jones’ team will need to be dropped.
Arkansas (3-5 overall, 0-4 SEC) — At least they didn’t lose to BYE. Bret Bielema’s squad — weakened by injuries — has dropped five contests in a row. Arkansas has dropped its last four games by a grand total of 179-50. Against SEC competition the Razorbacks are allowing 44.7 points per game. Now they’ll face an Auburn teams that’s scored 152 points in its last three games. That’s not a good outlook for Bielema’s boys.
Kentucky (1-6 overall, 0-4 SEC) — Give the Wildcats this — they don’t quit. Winless in the league, UK desperately needs stability at the quarterback position. Injuries and inconsistent play have rendered that impossible to date. Still, Mark Stoops team gave Mississippi State a scare in Starkville last week despite the fact they had no real down-the-field weaponry at game’s end. Like Arkansas and Tennessee, Kentucky’s most important battle at this juncture is being waged off the field and on the recruiting trail.
Mississippi State (4-3 overall, 1-2 SEC) — It wasn’t pretty, but Dan Mullen’s group finally notched its first SEC victory of the season last Saturday at Kentucky. Next comes a date with South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. If ever a man could use an upset victory, it’s Mullen. Just one win over an SEC “power” program — Texas A&M and Alabama follow Carolina on the schedule — would do wonders for the coach and the temperature of his seat.
Vanderbilt (4-4 overall, 1-4 SEC) — A week after climbing out of this stratum with a home win over Georgia, the Dores have tumbled back into the basement due to a blowout loss at Texas A&M. Nothing against redshirt freshman quaterback Patton Robinette, but there is a serious drop off from fifth-year senior Austyn Carta-Samuels to a guy who made his first start last weekend. If Carta-Samuels returns from his leg injury — and that’s still a possibility — Vandy could escape our bottom category. If not, the ceiling with Robinette at QB looks considerably lower.