The season’s a third of the way through and every school in the SEC has played at least one conference game at this point, so I thought I’d take a look at where every team stands right now and do a little projecting. I can’t be any more off than where I started with some of my preseason projections.
I’m breaking the conference down into three overall groups: the elite; the ranked, but not elite; and the unwashed. While there are differences between the teams in each classification, they aren’t as great as between the groupings themselves. This is a look at where each stands at present, with some thought as to where they’ll wind up at season’s end.
- LSU (4-0 overall, 2-0 SEC). Not just the best team in the conference, but the best in the country right now. The Tigers simply toyed with Spurrier and his Gamecocks on Saturday. Florida may be better offensively, although I’m not sure about that, but no one is close to this team on the defensive side of the ball. The only question I’ve got today is whether the inexplicable brain fart that’s affected LSU the last two seasons under Miles occurs.
- Florida (4-0 overall, 2-0 SEC). Of all the schools in the SEC to provide the road map on exposing UF’s flaws, Team Orgeron is probably the last I’d pick. The Gator offense still impresses, though. As good a scheme as John Thompson – John Thompson! – came up with, let’s not forget that the Gators still racked up 500+ yards of offense. But Ole Miss (which was one of the lower ranked schools in offense going into the game) exposed the same issues on the Gator defense that Tennessee did the week before – questionable starters in the secondary besides Joiner and little pass rush outside of Harvey (and his pressure came largely from timing snap counts well). Is that enough to translate into more than one regular season loss? Probably not (although you can’t help but wonder if Tebow can continue to be the focus on offense as much as he’s been), but it’s enough to cost them two losses to LSU.
Ranked, but not elite.
- Kentucky (4-0 overall, 2-0 SEC). I’m not ready to drink the Kool-Aid yet, but after the win at Arkansas, I’m at least willing to acknowledge that the glass is sitting on the table near my hand. The ‘Cats won a conference game on the road without going +2 in turnover margin and in fact did a pretty nice job limiting Arky’s offense in the second half when they came back to win. Still, this is a team that hasn’t played a school that has a winning record at this point. Nor is UK going to be confused with one of the conference powerhouses when it comes to playing defense. To be a player in the East this year, I still think Kentucky has to keep the magic on turnovers going. I will say that where I had UK projected at no more than seven iffy wins, it’s looking like a solid 7-8 win team right now. Confidence does matter, and Kentucky does seem to have that in spades right now.
- Georgia and South Carolina (both 3-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). There really isn’t much of a gap between Georgia and South Carolina. I don’t think I’m being a homer here; it’s just that I see a difference between Georgia going into Tuscaloosa with doubts and coming out stronger with the win and Spurrier throwing in the towel at Baton Rouge and changing starting QBs after the loss. Either team could wind up winning as many as ten, but I think eight or nine is more likely. Georgia is just too young in too many key places and SC is too weak on offense to do much better.
- Alabama (3-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). The four million dollar man can coach, but he can’t overcome the lack of depth – on defense especially. If Georgia had held on to a few more passes, last Saturday’s game wouldn’t have been that close. Eight wins still seems likely, which is a good start, ‘Bama fans.
- Auburn (2-2 overall, 0-1 SEC). The Tigers get the top slot here for two reasons: they have the only elite defense in this group (at least when they get everyone back from injuries) and you have to think that they a shot at fixing some of their problems on offense. They could be dangerous at year’s end, simply because it’s likely their season is going to come down to pride with games against Georgia and ‘Bama. Auburn won’t give up, but it’s hard to see more than seven or eight wins for this bunch right now.
- Tennessee (2-2 overall, 0-1 SEC). Ugh. I don’t know why I’m putting the Vols here, other than inertia. In their defense (pun intended), they have played the toughest slate of games of any team in the conference, but they sure don’t have much to show for it. They can’t run the ball against good defenses, they can’t stop the run, they lack elite speed at WR and on defense and they still have lapses in punt coverage. But every time I’m ready to count Fulmer out, he seems to come up with a win that stabilizes the program (’05 excepted, obviously). Nevertheless, flaws are flaws and the Vols are going to have trouble with almost every SEC team left on the schedule. If UT doesn’t beat Georgia in Knoxville in a couple of weeks, it may be no better than a six win regular season. Could Fulmer survive that?
- Arkansas (1-2 overall, 0-2 SEC). A season on the brink. One more conference loss and Nutt is a dead man walking. Yes, the Hogs have missed Monk, but there’s no excuse for how poor a job Herring has done as the DC so far. He doesn’t have the horses in the secondary to play the pressing defense he likes, but he won’t change – except, notably, in the second half of the ‘Bama game. The schedule is so weak that they’ll be bowl eligible, but that won’t be good enough.
- Vanderbilt (2-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). Solid enough by their standards, but depth remains a bugaboo. While the Mississippi win was nice, I’m still having a hard time finding four more wins on the schedule – although a Vol collapse might come in handy for Vandy.
- Mississippi State (3-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). The Auburn game told us that this isn’t a team that you can let hang around through sloppy/sub-par play. The LSU game told us that this isn’t a very good team. They do have a couple of opportunities for wins here and there, but if Croom does pull off a five win season, it’ll have been a helluva coaching job.
- Mississippi (1-3 overall, 0-2 SEC). When it’s likely that your signature game will be a close loss to Florida, that doesn’t bode well for the season. There are two likely wins left on the schedule against cupcakes, and Georgia shapes up as a dangerous trap game, but if this team wins more than four games, it’ll be miraculous.