Every team in the conference has played at least a quarter of its schedule and every team in the conference with the exception of Kentucky has at least one SEC game under its belt, so now seems as good a time as any to take stock of how the schools are shaping up this season.
My overall general impressions to date are that (1) the top of the conference is as good as it’s ever been; (2) the bottom of the conference may be worse than it was last year; and (3) the West is definitely weaker than the East this year.
- Alabama (1-0 SEC; 4-0 overall). The Tide runs the ball (first in the SEC in rushing offense) and stops the run (third in the SEC in rushing defense). That’s a damned good place to start if you want to win in this conference. I’m not a John Parker Wilson fan, but they really don’t ask him to do too much. I originally thought ‘Bama was good for about eight wins this year, but given the weakness at the bottom of the West and the way Saban has his defense playing, it’s not unreasonable to see ten wins for this team.
- LSU (1-0 SEC; 4-0 overall). You don’t want to read too much into one magical moment, but these guys have to be feeling good about their chances now. Outside of quarterback, this is still the most talented team in the SEC. I think they beat ‘Bama to win the West, but lose two other conference games, because that’s what they do under Miles. They sure are fun to watch, though.
- Auburn (1-1 SEC; 3-1 overall). You’d like to say Auburn is a work in progress, except that the LSU game showed some chinks in the armor. Everyone gets mesmerized by the defensive speed, but tends to forget that this team is smallish on defense and consequently vulnerable to teams with power running games that can pound on them over the course of a game. Check the schedule; these Tigers will lose at least two more games this year in the conference.
- Arkansas (0-1 SEC; 2-1 overall). Of all the comments I’ve read about last weekend’s games, nothing puzzled me more than the recurring one that ‘Bama’s win over these guys was significant. Based on what? This is a bad football team and it may not win another game this year, including Tulsa at home and Mississippi State on the road. But at least the records requests will be down this year.
- Mississippi (0-1 SEC; 2-2 overall). Closer, but not there yet. Jevan Snead is not without talent, but he’s also thrown more interceptions than any other QB in the conference. The Rebels are getting key personnel back on defense, so there’s room for improvement, but bowl eligibility may boil down to a road game in Columbia.
- Mississippi State (0-1 SEC; 1-3 overall). When games against Louisiana Tech and Georgia Tech expose your structural flaws, you might as well face the fact that you aren’t very good. This is a very bad, very untalented offensive team that has to hope its defense can keep things close and that it can win the turnover battle. That formula worked well for Croom last year, but it’s deserted him this year. The Bulldogs may steal a game this year doing that, but it’s just as likely they’ll blow one, too. Bowl eligibility looks like a stretch right now.
- Vanderbilt (2-0 SEC; 4-0 overall). Yes, the Commodores are ranked in the top 25. Yes, they stand atop the East standings. It’s a mirage. They’re last in the SEC in both total offense and total defense and were outgained on average in their two conference wins by about 140 yards per game. The good news is that they’ve got Duke and Mississippi State to play and that should be just enough to get them into a bowl game.
- Georgia (1-0 SEC; 4-0 overall). This team is better than it was at the same stage a year ago. The emergence of A. J. Green for an offense that’s already ranked first in the conference in total offense has to be encouraging. Still, the schedule is a demanding mistress. My heart says one loss (and it’s not in Jacksonville). My head says two right now.
- Florida (1-0 SEC; 3-0 overall). I think the Gator secondary is this team’s weak link. The catch is that, in this Year of SEC Passing Offenses With Mediocre Quarterbacks, it may not matter. Florida won’t go undefeated, but it’s not going to lose more than two, either.
- Kentucky (0-0 SEC; 3-0 overall). The Wildcats haven’t played anybody so far, so it’s hard to give them a complete evaluation. But the fact that UK is ninth in the conference in total offense after playing the likes of Louisville, Middle Tennessee State and Norfolk State doesn’t bode particularly well. They’ve still got one more cupcake to play this week, and Arky and Mississippi State are coming up, so they’ll probably eke out six wins or so, but there just isn’t much to see here.
- Tennessee (0-1 SEC; 1-2 overall). There’s something about chickens coming home to roost that’s appropriate here. This team has talent, but it’s a mess. All the negative preseason trend lines that I mentioned a while back – first time offensive coordinator and starting quarterback, all those close wins last year, for example – are coming back to kill UT with a vengeance. This week’s game at Auburn is huge. If Herbstreit’s right and the Vols get off to a 2-4 start, here’s the table they have to run to finish with eight wins: Mississippi State, Alabama, at South Carolina, Wyoming, at Vandy and Kentucky. Could they do it? Sure. Would they? Probably not.
- South Carolina (0-2 SEC; 2-2 overall). That Spurrier is seriously considering starting Stephen Garcia to jump start his offense tells you all you need to know about the ‘Cocks, who are still second in the SEC in total defense. There are four more wins apparent on the schedule right now, but these guys won six last year and got shut out of a bowl game. That seventh win would have to come out of this bunch: LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Clemmins. It’s looking more and more like a rerun, isn’t it?