I hate to admit it, but Doug Gillett and Orson Swindle are right; this is a down year for the S.E.C. There’s a good-sized gap separating the top two teams from the third-best team, and at least that large a chasm separates the third- and fourth-best teams. Below that, there’s a jumbled muddle ranging from the merely mediocre to the truly bad, particularly on offense. It pains me to say that this is how the Southeastern Conference stacks up right now:
1. Florida: Once again, this is a power poll, so the standards are somewhat different from those found in my BlogPoll ballot. No one in the conference is playing football on a par with the Gators right now; arguably, no one in the country is playing football on a par with the Gators right now. When Tim Tebow makes a bleary-eyed promise to get better, you can (unfortunately) take that to the bank. He has the most powerful tears of anyone other than Elaan of Troyius. (Wow, even I think that was an unbelievably obscure and geeky reference!)
2. Alabama: The Crimson Tide are solid and they’re undefeated, but they get a little less convincing with each passing week. If you’d asked me the day after the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, I’d have welcomed a second shot at Florida, but I’d have been nervous about a rematch with ‘Bama. Now, a repeat performance with the Gators would seem even more daunting and another meeting with the Tide wouldn’t scare me too much.
3. Georgia: The Bulldogs do nothing particularly well except win against every team they’ve faced not ranked in the top five. They must be doing something right.
I’m not altogether clear on what that something is right this very minute, but, given time, I’m sure I’ll think of a plausible answer. . . .
4. Louisiana State: Believe me, this placement is strictly by default; the Bayou Bengals’ No. 4 ranking is an insult to everyone else, not a compliment to the Fighting Tigers. L.S.U. is talented, well-coached, and riddled with holes that prevent the team from living up to its potential. Basically, Les Miles’s team is Georgia with a Cajun accent.
5. Ole Miss: The Rebels very quietly have climbed back to respectability. There’s half a chance I’ll pick Mississippi to register what would only marginally qualify as an upset over L.S.U. in one of the country’s most underrated rivalries.
6. Vanderbilt: The Commodores overcame a quarter-century of unfavorable history to become bowl-eligible for the first time since I was in junior high. It will be the cruelest of ironies if Vandy receives a Music City Bowl bid for its trouble.
7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks were putting together a nice little season there, right up until the point that the thoroughly obnoxious and unsportsmanlike head coach of the Gators decided to hang 50 on them just to prove that he could. What goes around comes around, Stevie Boy.
8. Kentucky: The Wildcats have improved substantially not just as a team, but as a program, and Randall Cobb has given U.K. partisans a glimpse of an even brighter future. Unfortunately, none of that was enough to secure a win over Vanderbilt.
9. Auburn: The Plainsmen are good enough to play everybody in the S.E.C. close. They just aren’t good enough to beat anyone who isn’t lousy.
10. Arkansas: When the Razorbacks ran off Houston Nutt, the university athletic administration should have been flagged for intentional grounding, because that’s exactly where this program has been run. The Hogs are a mess. This team is basically Auburn with a smarmier head coach. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.
11. Mississippi State: A respectable effort for a quarter or so against Alabama enabled the Western Division Bulldogs to avoid the cellar.
12. Tennessee: Has any program in the nation come so completely off the rails as this one? (Besides Syracuse, I mean.) As long as he’s meddling in college football anyway, the president-elect should declare this team a disaster area and send in Red Cross volunteers to aid the . . . um . . . Volunteers. Yeah, that sentence, like the Big Orange’s season, never stood a chance, did it?
Feel free to voice your agreement or disagreement with the foregoing as the spirit moves you.