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With just three weeks of football to go on, it’s hard to accurately gauge where teams are, especially with several teams playing nothing but cupcakes to this point. But, some teams have played against other upper echelon opponents, and we can make some educated guesses about their position relative to the other teams in the Southeastern conference.
These rankings will change each week, but through weeks of play, this is how I would rank the teams in the SEC:
1. Alabama (2-0, 1-0)
Alabama remains the No. 1 team in the SEC and in the country after eking out a win in College Station on Saturday. The concern for the Crimson Tide was the offensive line after their struggles in Atlanta against Virginia Tech in the opener, but that concern was laid to rest as they dominated Texas A&M up front and raced to 49 points.
AJ McCarron was terrific, although (unfairly) overshadowed by his counterpart Johnny Manziel. T.J. Yeldon once again showed why he is one of the best backs in the country, and Kenyan Drake and Jalston Fowler proved to be serviceable backups. The Crimson Tide’s wealth of talent at receiver also showed with star wideout Amari Cooper struggling, but others such as DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood, and Kenny Bell making big plays to help the Tide to victory.
Defensively, there are some question marks, specifically in the secondary. I’m sure most did a double take when they saw the number of yards Alabama allowed to the Aggies on Saturday afternoon. The front seven will be fine, but there are some legitimate concerns in the secondary, especially now with Deion Belue, the team’s no. 1 corner, dealing with a turf toe injury that could linger for the rest of the season. Still, the Crimson Tide showed once again that they can win games regardless of the style of play, and at least for now look to be the favorites not only in the SEC race, but the national championship race as well.
After a neutral site game, bye week, and road game, Alabama comes home for the first time in 2013 as they host former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain’s Colorado State Rams on Saturday, which will serve as a tune-up for a much anticipated matchup with Ole Miss just a week later.
2. LSU (3-0, 0-0)
Oddly enough, LSU is flying under the radar this season with all the talk in the conference having centered around the Tide’s clash with the Aggies so early in the season. LSU is sitting at 6th in the AP Poll and 7th in the Coaches after starting the season 3-0. They’ve pounded non-AQ opponents UAB and Kent State, and also won a neutral site game with Big 12 opponent TCU, even though that win over the Horned Frogs looks a little less impressive following their loss to Texas Tech on Thursday in Lubbock.
Zach Mettenberger has greatly built upon his strong finish to 2012 as he has completed 65% of his passes for 797 yards and nine touchdowns without an interception. LSU’s ground game looks as potent as ever despite with the quartet of Terrence Magee, Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, and Kenny Hilliard all filling a specific role in the backfield. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry form a dangerous duo on the outside to make LSU’s offense as dangerous as ever. Rumors of their defensive demise have been greatly exaggerated, as the Bayou Bengals rank 10th in the country in total defense after three games.
Next up for the Tigers is their SEC opener as they play host to Auburn on Saturday night.
3. Georgia (1-1, 1-0)
Consider Georgia and Texas A&M to be 3A and 3B. Georgia gets the nod above the Aggies for two reasons: One, their one loss this season came on the road to a top five opponent; and two, they have one quality win on their resume unlike A&M with their win over South Carolina in week two. The Bulldogs, even with a loss are back in the top 10 in both major polls, and currently sit in the driver’s seat of the SEC’s eastern division thanks to their win over the Gamecocks.
Offensively, the Bulldogs are so well balanced they are almost impossible to stop. With Aaron Murray leading the way at quarterback and the tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield, you have to pick your poison against the ‘Dawgs. Murray was outstanding against South Carolina, and Gurley may very well be the best running back in the nation. The question mark for Georgia centers around a defense that lost a lot of talent from last season. They have given up 65 points in two games, but it’s hard to be overly critical of them because of the level of competition to this point.
Georgia gets a much-needed tune-up in the form of North Texas on Saturday before facing LSU in Athens in two weeks.
4. Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1)
Put it this way; if Alabama doesn’t have an answer for your offense, then nobody else will either. Led by Johnny Manziel, college football’s premier player, and wide receiver Mike Evans, who was virtually uncoverable on Saturday, Texas A&M is going to score a lot of points this season. Unfortunately, they are also going to give up a lot of points as their defense looks to be what will hold them back from reaching their lofty preseason aspirations. They’ve given up 36 points per game through three weeks, and had absolutely no answer defensively for AJ McCarron or T.J. Yeldon.
Luckily, they have a gunslinger in Manziel at quarterback, which means they are never really out of any game. Not many teams in the country would be able to fight back against Alabama when trailing by three touchdowns in the second half, but Texas A&M did thanks to the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. There’s no stopping this offense, and as Alabama showed on Saturday, the only way you can beat them is by winning a track meet.
The Aggies host SMU on Saturday before diving back into conference play with back-to-back SEC road games against Arkansas and Ole Miss.
5. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1)
The Gamecocks rebounded nicely after their loss to Georgia with a 35-25 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. I pegged South Carolina as the best team in the SEC east at the beginning of the season, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see them end up in the SEC Championship game at season’s end. Of course, they are going to need some help to get there now. The 10 point margin of victory against Vanderbilt wasn’t nearly as close as it seemed, with the Gamecocks leading 35-10 going into the fourth quarter.
Connor Shaw continued his spectacular start to the season with 284 passing yards and three touchdowns to along with 84 yards on the ground. He has yet to throw an interception through three games, even with South Carolina facing three quality opponents in North Carolina, Georgia, and Vanderbilt. Jadeveon Clowney is rounding into form as well as he notched another sack against the Commodores despite being slowed by a foot injury.
The Gamecocks take a week off now before a potential trap game looms on the road against Central Florida in two weeks. The Knights are fresh off taking down Penn State in Happy Valley.
6. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0)
Even though Texas isn’t what it once was, Ole Miss’ takedown of the Longhorns in Austin was still impressive when you consider where the program was two years ago. Hell, consider where it was last year when Texas smashed the Rebels 66-31 in Oxford. Texas had no answer for Ole Miss’ rushing attack, as they racked up 272 yards on the ground on six yards per carry. Jeff Scott led the way with 164 yards, and quarterback Bo Wallace added 57 on 12 carries.
Ole Miss is still probably a year away from seriously contending in the SEC, but Hugh Freeze has done a fabulous job turning around a program that was in dire straights in 2011. They are playing a load of freshmen from their groundbreaking recruiting class last year, and those guys are bound to make some freshman mistakes in bigger games this season. But, those freshmen are also gaining valuable experience that will benefit them in the long run.
The Rebels get a much needed bye week before traveling to Tuscaloosa in two weeks to take on Alabama in a game that will serve as a measuring stick to see how far they have come.
7. Florida (1-1, 0-0)
The Gators got a bye week to try and figure things out offensively following a five point road loss to Miami in week two. Turnovers plagued Florida against the Hurricanes as quarterback Jeff Driskel made mistake after mistake. Driskel has been much maligned for the performance, and he’ll need to improve rapidly if Florida wants any chance of beating out Georgia and South Carolina and getting to Atlanta.
Florida’s offensive inefficiencies are unfortunate considering the strength of their defense. Due to their having one of the top defenses in the country, the Gators should be competitive in most games they play.
Florida hosts Tennessee this week as they look to right the ship in their conference opener.
8. Auburn (3-0, 1-0)
Auburn’s win over Mississippi State was huge on Saturday with the loser likely trending downward and not likely being able to cover with a tough schedule the rest of the way. Gus Malzahn couldn’t have asked for a better start to his tenure on the Plains as the Tigers are 3-0, matching their total number of wins from a season ago. Nick Marshall grew up considerably on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare as he led the Tigers on a game-winning touchdown drive, hitting C.J. Uzomah for what proved to be the game’s winning score with 10 seconds remaining.
Auburn will have to run the ball better in upcoming weeks if they want to have any chance, however, because their defense will have a tough time stopping anybody. While the 3-0 start to the season is nice, and this is a much improved team from a year ago, reality will set in next week in Baton Rouge.
9. Missouri (2-0, 0-0)
Missouri looks to be one of the most improved teams in the league to this point of the season. While their two wins certainly aren’t over great teams (Murray State and Toledo), the manner of which they are winning is impressive. They are scoring points in bunches, with the nation’s 10th ranked scoring offense through three weeks. James Franklin and Henry Josey are healthy again, and that is paying major dividends for Gary Pinkel’s crew.
The Tigers have two more non-conference games left against Indiana and Arkansas State, and neither will be easy wins before they their murderous row of SEC opponents begin with Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina in consecutive weeks. Saturday’s game on the road against Indiana will be a good measuring stick for both teams in what will likely be a shootout.
10. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2)
The jury is still out on the Commodores after their 1-2 start. Their one win came against Austin Peay, and their two losses came against two ranked SEC foes and they acquitted themselves nicely in both games. A late, long touchdown run by Jeff Scott allowed Ole Miss to escape Nashville with a win, and a furious late rally by Vanderbilt came up short against South Carolina last week.
I think Vanderbilt is better than their ranking here, but they haven’t proven that on the field yet this season. They get a couple of what should be easy wins in the next couple of weeks with Massachusetts and UAB, and then a crucial, must-win game comes on October 5th against Missouri. It’s a must-win considering their next three games come against Georgia, Texas A&M, and Florida.
11. Tennessee (2-1, 0-0)
Tennessee looked good in their first two games with easy victories over Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, but fell back down to earth when they were blown out by Oregon to the tune of 45 points last weekend in Eugene. The Vols certainly seem to be moving in the right direction under Butch Jones, but Saturday showed just how far they have to go to be competitive on the national stage again.
The Vols are averaging 244 yards per game on the ground, but only 137 yards through the air. Justin Worley has been an efficient game manager, throwing five touchdowns to only one interception, but they’ll need more from him in the coming weeks. The litmus test for the Vols will be on Saturday in the Swamp against the Gators, who look vulnerable to this point.
12. Arkansas (3-0, 0-0)
Arkansas has taken on the identity of its head coach Bret Bielema as the Hogs have gotten back to running the football ala the days of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis. The Hogs are averaging 294 yards per game on the ground, but much like Tennessee they aren’t getting a lot out of their passing game as they rank 112th in the country in that category. But, if you can run the ball as well as Arkansas has, what is the point in passing? They are 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 17 points over UL Lafayette, Samford, and Southern Miss.
Freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams are leading the way in the backfield for the Hogs, with the former leading the SEC with 418 yards and the latter coming in second with 393 yards. The Hogs will get a nice non-conference test on the road this Saturday against Rutgers before returning home to take on Texas A&M.
13. Mississippi State (1-2, 0-1)
Mississippi State lost a crucial, heartbreaking game on the road Saturday to Auburn. They led by three points late, but allowed Auburn QB Nick Marshall to throw a touchdown pass with just ten seconds remaining as the Bulldogs suffered a tough defeat. Mississippi State’s defense has looked solid enough through three games, but where’s the offense? The shortcomings on that side of the ball are the impetus for their 1-2 start to the season. Dan Mullen is considered an offensive guru, but his team ranks 85th in the country in points per game thus far, and that number could be significantly lower if it wasn’t for the 51 points they put on Alcorn State. They’ve scored a combined 23 points against BCS opponents this season.
They get a tune-up on Saturday and Mullen will look to get quarterback Tyler Russell and the offense in gear before LSU comes to Starkville in three weeks. The loss to Auburn has made it an uphill battle for the Bulldogs to even get to a bowl game. Now, they’ll likely have to win a game against team they aren’t supposed to in order to get bowl eligible.
14. Kentucky (1-2, 0-0)
Kentucky has looked like far and away the league’s worst team through three weeks, but they did make a few strides on Saturday against rival Louisville. They only lost by two touchdowns to the Cardinals, and held their star QB Teddy Bridgewater in check as best they could, allowing him only one touchdown pass and 250 yards. While a two touchdown defeat to their biggest rival certainly won’t spark excitement in the fanbase, the team looked much improved from their nine point loss to Western Kentucky in the season opener.
The Wildcats still need to determine a quarterback and stick with him as Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith split time against Louisville. Neither has been particularly strong this season, but the offense has looked better with Smith taking the snaps. Kentucky gets a week off now to lick their wounds and prepare for this three game stretch: vs. no. 19 Florida, at no. 12 South Carolina, and vs. no. 1 Alabama.