With two thirds of the season in, there are a couple of things we can see about the SEC this year: (1) the difference in quality some thought they saw in separating the Southeastern Conference from the remaining BCS conferences is not as apparent at the top, at least with regard to the Pac-10 and, arguably, the Big 12; and (2) the quality of the SEC at the middle and lower parts of the conference, on the other hand, is apparent.
The result of these two factors has been one of the most competitive, exciting conference races I can remember. No team in the SEC East as I type this has been mathematically eliminated from going to Atlanta. The West isn’t quite as bunched up, but it still boasts three teams that have a shot at the SECCG.
In a season that’s seen Kentucky go from beating the #1 team in the country and being ranked as high as #7 to getting blown out by Mississippi State at home a couple of weeks later, I feel a little queasy ranking the teams, but I’ll give it a shot nevertheless.
- LSU (7-1 overall, 4-1 SEC). The Tigers’ loss at UK looks weaker now, but, in spite of that, not too surprising, given their track record under Miles. Still sporting the best talent in the conference, LSU shouldn’t lose again. That doesn’t mean it won’t, though. If LSU beats ‘Bama, it’s pretty close to over in the West, as LSU would have the tiebreaker advantage over its two closest rivals.
Good, But Not Elite
- Georgia (6-2 overall, 4-2 SEC). All but given up for dead three weeks ago after a horrendous loss at Tennessee, the Dawgs may have found their identity in that thrilling win against Florida. Then again, who knows? Auburn and Kentucky are both winnable games, but Georgia is a team that isn’t good enough to win just by showing up and bringing its “C” game. I thought at the beginning of the season that this team would win anywhere from 8 to 10 games with a shot at the SECCG, and it’s still on track to accomplish that. However, the ride will continue to be a wild one for the rest of the season. Hold on to your hats.
The Rest Of The Ranked
- Alabama (6-2 overall, 4-1 SEC). Really, there isn’t much of a gap between the schools on this tier. I give ‘Bama the slightest of nods because it’s the only school in this bunch that doesn’t have three losses. Saban has done a fine job masking this team’s shortcomings, but he’s going to have his hands full this Saturday. The win over the Vols was impressive, but I have a hard time getting worked up over a program that’s lost to FSU this year. I still think eight wins looks likely for this bunch, but we’ll see.
- Florida (5-3 overall, 3-3 SEC). Wow, isn’t it special to be the best three loss team in the country right now? Georgia exposed some flaws with this team. The holes in the defense weren’t unexpected, but the coaching staff’s inability to adjust to game developments was. The Gators are teetering on the brink of a four or five loss season if they don’t fix a few things. That being said, this is a talented group that has the resources to rebound quickly.
- Auburn (6-3 overall, 4-2 SEC). Great defense, mediocre offense. Very good coaching staff. All of that translates into eight or nine wins, tops.
- Tennessee (5-3 overall, 3-2 SEC). Yes, the Vols have the inside track to Atlanta from the East. How many of you are ready to bet the ranch that they’ll actually be there?
- South Carolina (6-3 overall, 3-3 SEC). Like Tennessee, the ‘Cocks are ranked in the AP poll, so I’ll list them here. It feels like the bloom is wearing off the rose a little with this team and the OBC doesn’t seem to be working his magic on offense consistently. There are no gimmes left on the schedule, either. The ‘Cocks will be doing quite well to get to eight wins, but may very well have to settle for less.
The Few, The Proud, The Unranked
- Kentucky (6-3 overall, 2-3 SEC). They are freefalling. Fast. With the ‘Cats remaining schedule, we’ll see if Rich Brooks is the coaching guru every pundit claimed he was three weeks ago. All of their games are winnable - and if you’re a Georgia fan, you probably ought to hope that’s truly the case with the season finale against UT.
- Arkansas (5-3 overall, 1-3 SEC). Yes, the season is toast for the Nuttster. But this team shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Any time you trot that backfield out, you’ve got a chance. Monk is back, although clearly not up to top speed at this point. There are no gimmes in the final four games, however, the Hogs definitely have a chance to screw with some other teams’ seasons. It’s hard to see more than seven wins, though, which is not where they should have finished with this schedule.
- Vanderbilt (5-3 overall, 2-3 SEC). One win away from bowl eligibility, although it’s not going to be easy to get there. Surprisingly tough on defense. Six wins, max – and if they get it, it’s been a good year.
- Mississippi State (5-4 overall, 2-3 SEC). The Croom Abides. This is not a very talented team, but it plays to the limits of its abilities most weeks. If you want to beat MSU, it’s pretty simple: don’t turn the ball over. That being said, this team looks like it will be bowl eligible by season’s end. Good on ‘em.
Bringing Up The Rear
- Mississippi (2-7 overall, 0-6 SEC). There was a brief moment in midseason when it looked like things might be starting to come together for the Rebels, but that turned out to be a mirage. Three wins, none in the conference, seems likely from here. If you’re fired after losing to MSU when they’re favored, have you been croomed?