The curtain has fallen on week four of SEC football, and I fear that we have been left with more questions than answers. Therefore, in Cartesian fashion, I begin my ballot by noting the few things of which I am certain. First, I am fairly certain after Texas A&M's 58–6 drubbing of SMU that the first team to hold the Aggies under 50 points will be the team to beat them. I do not know that that team exists in today's SEC.
Second, I am fairly certain that the UGA team which lost by three points on the road to South Carolina thanks in no small part to a BS holding call on a nullified touchdown, two missed field goals from one of the most accurate kickers in college football, and some poor playcalling that has been rehashed to the point of nausea would beat South Carolina on a neutral field.
Third, I am relatively certain that Will Muschamp's Florida Gators are in fact exactly that bad. They were three giftwrapped Crimson Tide turnovers away from a truly historic beat down in Tuscaloosa.
On that note, I am likewise fairly certain that Nick Saban's Alabama squad is not the tightly disciplined, veteran group which we have become used to him putting on the field. If the Tide give up 21 gift-wrapped points to either Texas A&M or Auburn, to use a technical term, they gone get beat.
From there it's all question marks and exclamation points in all the wrong places. I'm still not entirely certain how good Mississippi State is, though I'm leaning toward believing that they are in fact a good, veteran football team, something which LSU cannot claim today. The Bayou Bengals may be able to lay claim to that title by season's end, however.
1) Texas A&M. Still the class of the conference in my estimation. Offensively the Aggies are clicking along on all cylinders, and defensively are, at worst, adequate.
2) Auburn. Just as one should never enter a land war in Asia, one should never go on the road to play a Thursday night ESPN football game. Especially not against a fellow top 25 team. However, if one does choose to engage in either of these pursuits it is far better to be winning at the end than leading at the beginning.
3) Alabama. Rolled up an insane amount of yardage Wednesday for Florida defense which looked entirely overmatched. However, I am still not sure how this team will perform in a shootout against a similarly talented offensive football team.
4) Mississippi State. LSU's fabled advantage in night games in Baton Rouge now joins the flight of the eagle in Auburn among SEC traditions with which I am thoroughly unimpressed.
5) Georgia. Is Troy a terrible football team? Yes. Were they physically overmatched by the Bulldogs on Saturday? Absolutely. But beating bad teams decisively is what good teams do. There have been times during the past few seasons when Troy, among others, came to Athens and gave Mark Richt's Bulldogs far more than they bargained for, so this was a nice change.
6) South Carolina. Sure, there was a bit of a letdown following the big win over Georgia. But blaming all of South Carolina's performance against Vandy on that is, I think, a bit too generous. At this point South Carolina has played what I believe to be three very good football teams in Texas A&M, East Carolina, and Georgia. They lost one badly, came from behind to win another, and barely held on to win the third. Four games into the season it appears that the South Carolina Gamecocks have shortcomings which are unlikely to be fixed midseason. It is merely a question of whether schools down the road (Auburn, Florida, Missouri) will exploit these problems, and to what extent.
7) Ole Miss. This is subject to change of course, but for the moment the Egg Bowl looks mighty interesting.
8) LSU. The Bayou Bengals are not used to getting up 570 yards of offense. In fact, Mississippi State effort on Saturday night was the most yardage which a Les Miles-led LSU team has given up. With continued uncertainty at quarterback, and the SEC West looking like a true gauntlet this season, Tiger fans have plenty of reason for concern.
9) Missouri. Oh Missouri. That is not how you do it. Of note for Georgia fans, Missouri gave up 241 yards of rushing offense to the Indiana Hoosiers at home. If they can do it, we can do it.
10) Tennessee. The Volunteers still worry me silly, mostly because I have watched Justin Whirley become a bona fide SEC quarterback.
11) Arkansas. The Razorbacks rode their punishing ground attack to a third consecutive win, a 52-14 thrashing of Northern Illinois. Arkansas won't win the SEC West, but if they continue to run the ball this will that will be a test for anyone. For Brett Bielma, that qualifies a significant progress.l
12) Florida. Oh yes. Will Muschamp is definitely getting fired.
13) Kentucky. Coming off a bye week the Wildcats possess a 17 game SEC losing streak and have Vanderbilt coming to town. The question is… how do they screw this up?
14) Vanderbilt. The Commodores are still last in the conference in my book, though on Saturday night they exhibited a brand of football which leads me to believe that that may not always be the case. Up until this point, I had presumed that the Commodores would languish in the basement through 2014, and that Derek Mason would be coaching for his life in 2015. There is now, in my mind, at least the tiniest scintila of hope that this will not come to pass.
So there you have it, my best guess at the relative strength of all 14 SEC football teams. As always, feel free to tell me exactly where I got it wrong in the comments below. Until later…