When I first sat down to compile my SEC Power Poll ballot, I thought the fifth through tenth spots were going to be tough to allocate, what with all those indistinguishable 7-5 teams. It turns out that they aren’t so indistinguishable after all, as this probably was the easiest rundown of the dozen Southeastern Conference squads I had to prepare all year:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0): The Gators may make me regret this next weekend, but, right now, ‘Bama looks like the top team in the league. Winning a slugfest with a bitter conference rival is more impressive than shellacking an ACC also-ran any day of the week and twice on Saturday.
2. Florida Gators (12-0): I’m sure they looked impressive while gutting the ‘Noles in their spiffy throwback uniforms, but I was too busy throwing up from ESPN’s saccharine Tim Tebow adulation to notice.
3. LSU Tigers (9-3): I heard that the Bayou Bengals’ assistant coaches are going to keep Les Miles’s children on the sidelines next season, so that they can incite the kids to misbehave in front of the head coach in crucial clock management situations and thereby persuade the Mad Hatter to call for a time out. Losing to the other powerhouses yet sneaking by the jumble of mediocrity at the gooey center of the SEC landed Louisiana State in the No. 3 spot.
4. Mississippi Rebels (8-4): High preseason expectations punctured by unfocused play, a demoralizing loss to the Tide, and a season-ending humiliation suffered at the hands of an in-state rival with a rookie coach? Been there, done that.
5. Tennessee Volunteers (7-5): While I think Big Orange fans are kidding themselves if they claim the Vols’ status as first among 7-5 equals attests to anything other than the parity of the simultaneously downtrodden programs of the SEC, the fact is that Tennessee went 4-4 in conference play and beat the league’s other 4-4 team head to head. That earns Lane Kiffin’s crew the No. 5 spot by default . . . and only by default. Going from bad to middling is an improvement, but don’t kid yourself by believing the Volunteers are good. They’re not, but, this year, the conference isn’t, either.
6. Georgia Bulldogs (7-5): Likewise, the Red and Black’s tainted tie for second place in the SEC East in the least impressive season in the division’s history and the Classic City Canines’ win over a Georgia Tech team that easily could have gone 6-6 merely salve but do not overcome the fact that the ‘Dawgs endured their worst autumn under Mark Richt’s stewardship.
7. Arkansas Razorbacks (7-5): The Hogs, who lost to Georgia straight up, finished first among clubs with 3-5 conference ledgers by virtue of their having beaten both Auburn and South Carolina. All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but all offense and no defense makes Arkansas the best team in the bottom half of the conference.
8. South Carolina Gamecocks (7-5): The Palmetto State Poultry fell to each of the three teams ranked right in front of them and defeated the squad ranked immediately behind them. They also beat an ACC divisional champion, but, really, that’s not as impressive as it sounds.
9. Kentucky Wildcats (7-5): While I’m sure there’ll be some muttering about my decision to rank the ‘Cats three spots below the ‘Dawgs---we all know what Rich Brooks would call that; I’ll give you a hint: he probably thinks of this placement what Andrew Sharp thinks of Tiger Woods’s story---the fact is that Kentucky lost to South Carolina yet beat Auburn, and all three have the same records, both overall and in conference play. This was an easy call.
10. Auburn Tigers (7-5): Somebody had to bring up the rear in the parade of 7-5 squads that would have made Chan Gailey proud, and the Plainsmen deserved that dubious distinction because they lost to Arkansas and Kentucky. Also, my second tiebreaker after head-to-head is visceral contempt, and, as we all know, I hate Auburn. If it’s any consolation, though, I’d still rank the Tigers ahead of whichever team wins the ACC championship.
11. Mississippi St. Bulldogs (5-7): This is, in fact, the best 5-7 team in America. When teams that came within one win of being bowl eligible become bowl eligible---and, at the rate at which we’re cranking out new bowl games, they soon will be---MSU will go straight to the head of the class as the most deserving of the undeserving. Like Wayne and Garth, they are not worthy, but they emit a worthiness-like substance.
12. Vanderbilt Commodores (2-10): How bad is Vandy? The ‘Dores lost to a service academy and an ACC team. Dude!
Honestly, this ballot is so plainly and undeniably correct that I cannot imagine anyone finding fault with it, but, if you have some constructive criticisms to offer with respect to a ballot I already have cast and no longer can change, knock yourself out, my friend.