After a truly dejecting weekend of college football for Bulldog fans, it is time to climb out from under this big pile of crushing regret and once again rank the fourteen SEC football programs from top to bottom.
For the past two weeks, I have ranked the Texas A&M Aggies and the Auburn Tigers first and second on my ballot. I have been outvoted each time by my conference mates, who insisted upon placing the Georgia Bulldogs at the top of the heap. Last week I set out in very general terms my reasons for not following suit. On Saturday the South Carolina Gamecocks demonstrated with remarkable specificity that my concerns were not without foundation, and that in fact some of the things I thought were in good shape are capable of breaking down on a moment's notice.
Let me be very clear: I think the Georgia Bulldogs are still the top contender to win the SEC East. There's a temptation after a loss such as Saturday's to pull a Rob Schneider, throw one's hands in the air, and exclaim "Oh no! We suck again!!!" But hear me out. Georgia played porous defense all night, executed inconsistently on offense, and left both the game tying and winning field goals just wide. And still very nearly won on the road against likely the best competition they'll see in the division.
Assuming Georgia is able to cover Demarcus Robinson (or he gets himself suspended again before the WLOCP, an even money proposition) Florida will likely still be the squad that needed triple overtime at home to beat Kentucky. Speaking of which, trips to Lexington are always iffy. But I suspect that by the time that trip commences the Wildcats will have a little less fight in them after a few trips through the SEC meat grinder.
And I suspect that as the season goes on the Bulldog offense will continue to gel, add back some of the currently missing playmakers, and get some of the electric freshman playmakers the experience they need to become steady contributors. The defense on the other hand will continue to improve as they find themselves more often knowing where they're supposed to be and what they're supposed to be doing when they get there.
Barring another spate of Jobian injury luck, we will be looking back at this loss to South Carolina as we often do, asking how the Georgia Bulldogs of November could have possibly been so inept on an early fall night in Columbia. The fact that we're forced to do so on a near-annual basis is, frankly, frustrating as hell. But it doesn't change the fact that the last time we lost in Columbia in September, and by a far, far worse margin, we came as close to playing for a national championship as we have in the Mark Richt era come December. It's a long season.
But for now, here's my power ranking of the SEC's football teams. As always, feel free to point out my egregious errors, self-delusion, and petty folly in the comments.
1) Texas A&M: I continue to believe that the Aggies are capable of playing just enough defense to score more than anyone else in the league on a neutral field. Even with the offense sputtering early the Aggies still blew the doors off Rice, 38-10.
2) Auburn: The WarPlainsTigerPlayerPayers, like everyone else in the league, have issues on defense. But they don't appear to be missing Tre Mason or departed offensive linemen all that much, and that's a bad sign for the rest of us. The Tigers didn't play this weekend, but Arkansas may have helped them out in the eyes of some voters by taking down Texas Tech, thereby making Auburn's opening weekend win over the Razorbacks look a good bit better.
3) Alabama: Bludgeoned Southern Miss 52-12 to run their record to 3-0. I expect them to run it to 4-0 when they host the Florida Gators this Saturday.
4) LSU: Utterly astonishing stat: Since falling behind Wisconsin 24-7 in their opener on August 30, the Bayou Bengals have outscored opponents 108 to 0. Sure "opponents" is used somewhat charitably here to refer to Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe. But still, that's a lot of defensive execution. If the LSU offense continues to come together, the Tigers will be tough to beat down the stretch. For now they have Mississippi State coming up, which will also
5) South Carolina: I considered ranking the Gamecocks behind the Bulldogs in this slot for the simple reason that I believe that Georgia would have won Saturday night's game either in Athens or on a neutral field.
6) Georgia: Three points worse than the preseason favorite to win the SEC East on the road at night, despite leaving thirteen points on the board. That still puts them squarely in the thick of the divisional race.
7) Ole Miss: Sadly Ole Miss has a certain ceiling in the SEC West. They''ll hit it in October when they face Alabama and Texas A&M in back-to-back weeks. But until then . . . .your undefeated Ole Miss Rebels!
8) Missouri: Much like in 2013 we still don't really know a lot about Missouri, but we know a little more after their 38-10 win over UCF. Maty Mauk has been accurate, efficient, and worrisome for anyone who's watched how easily the Bulldog secondary can currently be picked apart.
9) Mississippi State: Dak Prescott threw for 340 yards against South Alabama which is apparently supposed to impress me for God only knows what reason.
10) Arkansas: Arkansas got in touch with its spirit animal this weekend in running the ball all over Texas Tech in a 49-28 win. That spirit animal is an unemployed plumber from Jonesboro named Skeeter who wishes Bret Bielema would go full-on wishbone.
11) Florida: No Kentucky isn't that good. Florida is only a touch above that bad. The Gators needed triple overtime and a blown call to squeak by the Wildcats at home. At night. In the Swamp. This isn't your father's Florida Gators.
12) Kentucky: Mark Stoops is a great football coach but not a miracle worker. Again, natural ceilings and what not.
13) Tennessee: The final score of their 34-10 road loss to Oklahoma perhaps overstates slightly how bad the Volunteers were actually beaten. But QB Justin Worley was harassed all night, confirming our suspicions about the incredibly young Tennessee offensive line.
14) Vanderbilt: It occurs to me that Derek Mason may be a plant. Now I just have to figure out who cares enough about the failure of Vanderbilt football to place him in Nashville. The truth is out there. The truth is out there.
So where did I go wrong? Feel free to call me to the carpet in the comments, and . . .