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July 22, 2013

SEC Preseason Power Rankings: Day 2

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

We’ve now hit Day 2 of our preseason power rankings poll among teams in the SEC, which will end Saturday as the two teams at the top of the league entering the fall are unveiled. Until then, we’ll count down the teams, two at a time, from worst to first. The format will involve a “best-case/worst-case” scenario for each team, taking our cues from former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter’s piece from three years ago.SEC_new_logo

Where will two-time defending national champion Alabama rank? How about Auburn? Texas A&M? Georgia? South Carolina?

Let’s continue answering those questions now. (And please, as Bitter said in his preseason power rankings article from 2010, remember all scenarios “are meant to be hyperbolic.) …

12. ARKANSAS

Well, how about Bret Bielema’s performance at SEC Media Days? We know from his time at the podium last week that he’s not a comedian, an actor or a scientist, which is good, since none of those occupations will help him win football games in the SEC. We also know he’s not a fan of up-tempo offenses, joining the camp of those who think it poses a safety risk to defensive players. Thirdly, he thinks highly of his own coaching style, saying his teams play “normal American football.” Got all that?

How well can the Razorbacks pull off good ol’ “American football” in 2013? It will start with finding a quarterback to replace the departed Tyler Wilson, he of the numerous school records. Arkansas will also be without the services of its all-everything wideout from last year, Cobi Hamilton, who caught 90 passes for 1,335 yards and five touchdowns. Good thing they have one of the top centers in the country in Travis Swanson, who will have to lead a line with youth in some key spots. Arkansas also returns eight starters defensively, though the unit had a lackluster showing last season, ranking 12th in the SEC in both total defense (409.92 yards per game) and scoring defense (30.42 points per game).arkansas-wp-2-1920

If the Razorbacks are unable to make much progress in 2013, who knows what careers Bielema will invoke at next year’s SEC Media Days? A psychologist? A miracle worker, perhaps?
  • Best-case scenario: Though Arkansas has to sweat it out until midway through the fourth quarter, the Razorbacks finally put pesky Louisiana-Lafayette away to win the opening game of Bielema’s tenure. The Razorbacks follow it up with three more victories (beating Samford, Southern Mississippi and Rutgers) to finish the non-conference portion of their schedule unblemished. The zero in the loss column is erased in its SEC opener against Texas A&M, but not before Arkansas pushes the Aggies for the better part of three quarters. The Razorbacks then capture their first conference road victory, and it’s a big one, knocking off an undefeated Florida Gators squad in “The Swamp.” The momentum dips a bit after consecutive losses to South Carolina and Alabama, but the Razorbacks get their sweetest win of the season when Auburn comes to town Nov. 2. Matching wits against his philosophical adversary in Gus Malzahn, “normal American football” reigns supreme, as the Razorbacks frustrate the Tigers in a low-scoring 17-7 affair. Arkansas ends the regular season with wins over Ole Miss and Mississippi State before falling in the finale to LSU. An 8-4 record snags the Razorbacks a Music City Bowl bid, where they face off against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Arkansas smashes its way to victory behind four rushing touchdowns, winning 34-17. After a nine-win season, Bielema starts to think getting to the top of the SEC mountaintop won’t be as difficult as many predicted. But Bielema receives even more vindication from an unlikely place, as noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson releases a study which concludes that “hurry-up, no-huddle” offenses do in fact lead to more injuries for defensive players. “The increased number of plays and collisions brought about by up-tempo offenses isn’t quite unlike the phenomenon that created our galaxy, ” Tyson said. “Think of those collisions on the football field like those that occurred during the Big Bang. Our studies show that these up-tempo offenses in collegiate football have led to injuries for defensive players in greater numbers than ever before. We’ve been able to trace this to the atomic level of players’ cells.” Bielema begins his 2014 address at SEC Media Days by stating, “I’m not an astrophysicist.” The phrase catches on like wildfire, and a successful T-shirt marketing campaign with the slogan emblazoned across it becomes a hit with Arkansas fans near and far.
  • Worst-case scenario: The Ragin’ Cajuns, the clear favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference, put a damper on Bielema’s debut, toppling the Razorbacks 31-27 in the season opener. Arkansas lays it on Samford one week later, but then the wheels come off. Southern Mississippi, reinvigorated with the hire of Todd Monken, hands Arkansas a loss to drop to 1-2 on the season — and it hasn’t even started SEC play yet. After a week of hand-wringing in “The Natural State,” Arkansas answers its critics by winning its first road game, a hard-fought 24-20 victory over Rutgers. But the SEC slate hits Arkansas like a ton of bricks. The Razorbacks start out 0-4 after losing to Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama before Bielema faces his arch-nemesis, Malzahn. The Tigers run the Razorbacks out of their own stadium, as Malzahn doesn’t let his team stop passing until the beginning of the fourth quarter of a 42-14 Auburn victory. Arkansas manages to beat similarly-struggling SEC West mate Mississippi State to avoid going winless in league play, but that does little to brighten the Razorbacks’ spirits after a 3-9 season. Bielema sees how much tougher the SEC is compared to the Big 10, realizing moving up the ladder in the nation’s toughest division will take more work than he ever imagined. Bielema is subjected to further shame when Tyson never gives the issue of “up-tempo offenses as a health hazard to defensive players” a second thought, as the noted astrophysicist is too preoccupied with more important scientific research.

11. MISSOURI

Missouri found it tough sledding in its initial go-round in the SEC, posting a 5-7 record overall and going 2-6 in conference play. It marked the first losing season for the Tigers since 2004, and snapped a school-record for conseutive bowl appearances, which had been at seven in a row and counting. Injuries took their toll last season, especially offensively, as quarterback James Franklin was only able to make eight starts. On the line, just one player, then-freshman Evan Boehm, started all 12 games. Given the hype he arrived with, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham had a disappointing freshman campaign, catching only 28 passes for 395 yards. (Though he did tie for the team-high in touchdown receptions with five.) Defensively, Missouri brings back six upperclassmen starters, with half of those along the line. But that won’t mean much if the Tigers don’t play better than last season, when they allowed nearly 400 yards and 29 points per contest.

Texas A&M proved it could compete in the SEC from the get-go last year, which Missouri desperately needs to do this season, lest it wants to fall even further away from relevancy in the conference.mu_tigers_m_logo

  • Best-case scenario: Missouri jumps out to a 4-0 start after beating Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State before its SEC opener against Vanderbilt. The Tigers, not surprisingly, level off against the stiffer competition, dropping to .500 after four straight losses (Vandy, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina). Missouri stops the bleeding with wins over Tennessee and Kentucky in back-to-back weeks to attain bowl eligibility. The Tigers pick up their biggest road victory of the year in their next-to-last game, going into Oxford, Miss., and upsetting the Ole Miss Rebels. Yes, Texas A&M crushes Mizzou in the regular season finale, but that’s of little concern to the Tigers, who are goin’ bowlin’. In the Liberty Bowl, they face off against Conference USA champion Tulsa. It’s tight early on, but the Tigers flex their muscle in the second half, cruising to a 45-20 victory over the Golden Hurricane. Green-Beckham rebounds to have a great sophomore season, finishing as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. And with an 8-5 showing in his second season in the SEC and a solid recruiting class coming down the pike, no one questions whether Pinkel is still the right man for the job.
  • Worst-case scenario: The Tigers do what they need to do in the season opener, rolling over Murray State. Things don’t go according to script in Game 2, as the Toledo Rockets come into Columbia, Mo., and leave with a 28-17 victory, making the Tigers’ open date the following week seem even longer. Worse, the loss to the Rockets is an ominous sign of things to come. Missouri fights back and beats Indiana to improve to 2-1, but that’s the last win the Tigers see for almost two months. The Tigers lose to Arkansas State (the Sun Belt Conference program that keeps on chugging despite having a new head coach for the third straight season), followed by an 0-5 start in conference play after defeats to Vandy, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and a resurgent Tennessee program. Missouri rises for one last one salvo in 2013 when it beats Kentucky, but then gets routed in its final two games of the season, by SEC West foes Ole Miss and Texas A&M, respectively, to finish 3-9 overall. With a second straight losing season in hand and no signs of improvement on the immediate horizon, Pinkel is relieved of his head coaching duties after 13 years at the helm of the Tigers. Missouri finds its replacement on the coaching staff of “another Tigers” squad, hiring Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. The offensive whiz helped quarterback Tajh Boyd pilot a Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2013, and more importantly, brought Clemson its first national title since 1981.

July 14, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Arkansas

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 5, we start off with the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Tigers will make the trip to Fayetteville, Ark., to square off against the Razorbacks in Game No. 9 this season.

Who: Arkansas

When: Saturday, Nov. 2arkansas-wp-2-1920

Where: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) | Fayetteville, Ark.

All-time series: Auburn leads 11-10-1

When last they met: Though there were other games with a larger margin of victory for the opponent, Auburn’s 24-7 loss to Arkansas may have been its worst defeat in 2012. How so? The Razorbacks entered that contest dead-last in the nation in total defense, allowing 510.2 yards per game. They had lost by a combined score of 110-10 in their first two SEC games, against Alabama and Texas A&M, respectively. And Arkansas did not get a sack or force a turnover in either of those two losses. (This isn’t even mentioning the fact Arkansas had tumbled from a preseason No. 8 ranking to four straight losses after winning its opener.) After those defeats to the Crimson Tide and Aggies, the Razorbacks followed it up with another one, this one at home versus Rutgers the week before they arrived in Auburn. So of course, Arkansas’ defense came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and looked like world-beaters, coming up with five takeaways and eight sacks. The Tigers were so pitiful then-coach Gene Chizik made it a point to issue an apology to everyone invested in the program in his postgame presser. “The bottom line is,” Chizik said, “the Auburn fans and the Auburn family did not deserve this today, and I apologize to anybody who came to the game to watch it.” Need I say more?

The coach: Bret Bielema (First year as Arkansas’ head coach; 68-24 record overall in seven seasons at Wisconsin from 2006-12)

2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 in SEC; finished in sixth place in SEC West

Total offense: 420.17 ypg (49th in Division I, 6th in SEC)

Scoring offense: 23.50 ppg (89th, 12th)

Total defense: 409.92 ypg (73rd, 12th)

Scoring defense: 30.42 ppg (81st, 12th)

2012 Year-in-Review: Last year was over before it really began for the Razorbacks. The day former coach Bobby Petrino crashed his motorcycle on April 2, 2012, about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville, Arkansas’ hopes and dreams of a storybook season went down with it. Petrino was let go, of course, but not before lying about what had happened and bringing further embarrassment upon the program. (A certain bowl-cut hairstyled student journalist from The Red & Black even penned a column on the stupidity and extreme arrogance of Petrino’s actions.) Enter John L. Smith. The eccentric coach was in over his head from the beginning, as he deserted his alma mater, Weber State, for the chance to take the helm of the sinking ship that was the S.S. Arkansas. Smith ended up making more headlines for off-the-field matters (declaring bankruptcy in the middle of the year) and bizarre press conferences — remember to “smile!”  — than he did for his coaching. (My predecessor, Aaron Brenner, even wrote a great “7 at 7″ about Smith, the coach he dubbed “The Most Interesting Man in the SEC.”) As for the season itself, Arkansas won its opener against Jacksonville State before losing to Louisiana-Monroe the following week in overtime, a defeat which sent the rest of the season into a tailspin. The only solace the Razorbacks could take out of the 2012 campaign was beating Auburn and Kentucky in league play to avoid being labeled “the worst team in the SEC.”

Biggest area of concern: Quarterbacks like Tyler Wilson don’t grow on trees. Expecting redshirt sophomore Brandon Allen to try to replicate Wilson’s production would be ludicrous. Wilson left Fayetteville holding 29 school records and was the first Razorback signal-caller to earn first-team All-SEC honors. A few of those school records he owns are career passing yards (7,765), career completions (593) and career completion percentage (63.3). I could keep listing Wilson’s numbers all day, but for the sake of you, the reader, I’ll digress. One thing in Allen’s favor is that he had the chance to start two games last year while Wilson was hurt. Another is that he won’t be asked to put the ball in the air as much in Bielema’s run-heavy scheme. In Bielema’s seven years at Wisconsin, only one Badger quarterback topped 3,000 yards passing in a season: Russell Wilson in 2011, totaling 3,175. In the six other seasons, Wisconsin’s starting quarterbacks averaged just over 2,000 passing yards per year at 2,075. And in the situations when Arkansas elects to throw, Allen will have to find a reliable go-to option to fill the shoes of receiver Cobi Hamilton, who caught 90 passes for 1,335 yards and five touchdowns last season.

Key returning player/unit: One could easily pick defensive end Chris Smith here. The senior will be in the running for multiple postseason honors and awards as one the top players in the country at his position at the end of the year. But in an offense where being able to pound the ball on the ground is integral, center Travis Swanson will be a nigh-irreplaceable part of the Razorbacks’ offensive line this fall. The senior, who has already been named a preseason All-American second teamer by Athlon Sports, has been a constant presence up front during his Arkansas career. He has started all 38 games he has played in as a Razorback and blocked for a 3,000-yard passer each season. He also was part of the line in 2010 that was the first in school history to have both a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. Having a veteran like Swanson to ease the transition into the Bielema era is a luxury for the Razorbacks.

Extra point: Bielema ended his tenure at Wisconsin taking the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls, though they lost all three games. The last Big Ten coach to pull off that feat was the legendary Woody Hayes of Ohio State, who led the Buckeyes to four consecutive Rose Bowl appearances from 1973-76. The Buckeyes came away victorious just once during that span.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES

Washington State

Arkansas State

Mississippi State

February 12, 2013

Sullivan sputtering, in danger of seeing minutes drop as Auburn desperate for answers

Kentucky Auburn BasketballAUBURN, Ala. – For a guy who just joined the fraternity of Auburn’s top-ten all-time scorers – and did so in his triumph over Alabama in three years, of all games – Frankie Sullivan’s not having a lot of fun right now.

Once the SEC’s leading scorer, Sullivan is the spitting image of his sputtering team. The Tigers have lost seven of eight, all good feelings lost from a 2-0 SEC start and searching for reasons to salvage the season.

One of those solutions on the table: start playing the youngsters. At the expense of respected veterans like Sullivan, a shooting guard benched for more than the last ten minutes of Saturday’s loss at Kentucky, an outcome still in doubt until the final few minutes.

“He hasn’t been playing well, so I’ve got to do something to get his attention,” head coach Tony Barbee explained. “He made some bad decisions offensively and made some bad decisions defensively, so it’s time to look at somebody else at that position.”

Even when Sullivan wins, he loses. The Tigers came back to beat Alabama last Wednesday not because of Sullivan’s offense, but in spite of it – he connected on just 1-of-13 field goals.

Maybe the next opponent will jolt Sullivan. Auburn (9-14, 3-7 SEC) opens a three-game homestand tonight in a rematch with Arkansas (14-9, 5-5), which spoiled Sullivan’s 26-point eruption by prevailing 88-80 on Jan. 16.

Since that double-overtime heartbreak in Fayetteville, Sullivan has failed to score more than 14 points, seeing his scoring average dip more than two points to 15.7 per game. A career 40 percent shooter, he’s just 30.5 percent from the floor over that seven-game span.

“He’s still part of the team and part of the lineup and all those things, but he hasn’t been playing well enough to warrant the minutes or opportunities he’s been getting,” Barbee said. “So now it’s time to give somebody else a look. Chris Denson’s been playing the last two games, so I’m going to give him a look at that position for extended minutes and see if he could hold onto it.”

Barbee and Sullivan aren’t even on the same page when it comes to the assessment of Sullivan’s defense.

Said the player, “I think I’m playing great defense … I’ve just got to pick it up on the offensive end just a little bit more. My defense coming back around is really going to help me out with my offense in the long run.”

Said the coach, “As much as Frankie’s been struggling offensively, he’s struggling defensively as well. He’s in his fifth year, he’s beyond learning lessons. He knows if his offense isn’t going, he knows he can still affect the outcome of the game by other parts of the game: defending, rebounding and doing all the little things. And he hasn’t been doing those things either.”

Sullivan calls himself his own worst critic, and he can see an offensive turnaround in the near future, based on what he saw on film of that last Arkansas game.

“I was just taking the shots that was there and not forcing anything,” Sullivan said. “That’s when I really play the best; when I don’t try to force anything. I think my last couple of shots have been kind of forced or me going to the goal has been forced. I’ve got to make the right play when I go to the basket.”

Although the Tigers as a whole are scuffling offensively – they’ve only scored more than 62 points once in the seven-game span – Barbee wants to see Sullivan return to a scorer-distributor role.

“He’s trying to take it all on himself, he’s putting himself in bad position offensively, he’s taking bad shots when there are two guys on him,” Barbee said. “He’s got some good teammates that he’s got to trust.”

November 30, 2012

Tales from the Comeback Trail … yes, there is precedent for turnarounds after poor seasons

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s been well-documented; Auburn’s freefall from national champion to winless in the SEC is the most rapid collapse any college football program has ever seen.

Good news on the Plains: that’s now in the past. Looking to the future, based on track record, it wouldn’t be uncommon for the Tigers to spring back and have a pleasant season in 2013.

Here are some historic examples from Auburn, the SEC and around the country of when bad teams turned good in a flash.

Auburn

1934: 2-8 (SEC rank: 10th) |  1935: 8-2 (4th)

1973: 6-6 (t-8th) | 1974: 10-2 (t-2nd)

1981: 5-6 (t-6th) | 1982: 9-3 (t-3rd)

1992: 5-5-1 (5th West) | 1993: 11-0 (N/A – season played on NCAA probation)

Auburn’s quickest turnaround is a 6-win improvement: Jack Meagher recovered from a 2-8 rookie effort to go 8-2 in 1935, and Terry Bowden took Pat Dye’s swan song of a 5-5-1 campaign to go 11-0 in 1993 behind veteran quarterback Stan White.

Two legendary Auburn coaches oversaw quick fixes: Ralph “Shug” Jordan at the end of his career in the early 1970s, and Pat Dye in his first two years in Auburn in 1981-82 thanks to the arrival of Bo Jackson.

Alabama

2000: 3-8 (5th West) | 2001: 7-5 (3rd West)

2007: 2-6* (3rd West) | 2008: 12-2 (1st West)

Nick Saban’s first go-around yielded a 7-6 result, with five wins vacated stemming from textbook-related violations before Saban’s arrival. The Tide went 12-2 and lost the Sugar Bowl the very next year, before embarking on two national titles the next three seasons.

Dennis Franchione took over Mike DuBose’s 3-8 squad and, in 2001, went won the Independence Bowl.

Georgia

1990: 4-7 (t-7th) | 1991: 9-3 (t-4th)

1996: 5-6 (t-4th East) | 1997: 10-2 (t-2nd East)

2010: 6-7 (t-3rd East) | 2011: 10-4 (1st East)

Mark Richt had a losing team two years ago, but with quarterback Aaron Murray gaining experience, Georgia bounced back to double-digit victories last year and are 11-1 going into Saturday’s SEC Championship game.

The Dawgs also doubled their victories from 1996 to 1997, and experienced another five-win uptick two decades ago under Ray Goff.

Arkansas

1976: 5-5-1 | 1977: 11-1

2005: 4-7 (4th West) | 2006: 10-4 (1st West)

Under Houston Nutt, the Razorbacks went from losing to Vanderbilt at home one season, to playing in the SEC Championship Game the next.

Lou Holtz inherited Frank Broyles’ 5-5-1 squad, and went 11-1 in 1977, winning the Orange Bowl.

Broyles himself had three different year-over-year improvements of five or more victories (1958-59, 1963-64, 1967-68) for the Hogs.

Florida

1979: 0-10-1 (t-9th) | 1980: 8-4 (t-4th)

Charley Pell quickly turned things around at the turn of the decade, going from zero wins to a Tangerine Bowl victory. It portended great things for the future: Florida hasn’t had a losing season since that winless fall 33 years ago.

South Carolina

1999: 0-11 (6th East) | 2000: 8-4 (t-2nd East)

Lou Holtz inherited a 1-10 team, and went winless his first year of 1999. He promptly won the next two Outback Bowls, both over Ohio State.

Texas A&M

1954: 1-9 | 1955: 7-2-1

2003: 4-8 | 2004: 7-5

It was another rebuilding effort for Dennis Franchione, who turned it around quickly in 2004.

Franchione’s not the only Alabama-bred coach who helped out Texas A&M. Paul “Bear” Bryant started 1-9 with the Aggies in 1954, but went 7-2-1 for a follow-up effort.

Other notable comebacks

Kentucky (1945-46) tasked newly-hired coach Bear Bryant, in his second head coaching season ever, with a 2-8 program in 1945. He led the Wildcats to 7-3 the next year.

Miami (1997-98) hopped from 5-6 to 9-3 under Butch Davis.

Oklahoma (1999-2000) was a meager 7-5 in Bob Stoops’ first year, but roared back to run the table for a national championship.

Notre Dame (2001-02) had Tyrone Willingham take over after Bob Davie put up a 5-6 campaign. Willingham’s Fighting Irish responded with a 10-3 season.

Illinois (2006-07) shrugged off a 2-10 season, still under Ron Zook a year later, to make the Rose Bowl and finish 9-4.

Miami (Ohio) (2009-10) was 1-11 three years ago. The Redhawks ripped off nine more wins in response, going 10-4.

Ohio State (2011-12) went 6-7 last year, the program’s first losing season since 1988. The Buckeyes, knowing they could not play in a bowl in Urban Meyer’s first season, went 12-0, and should finish the year ranked in the Associated Press top three.

November 28, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Bowl Season Edition

AUBURN, Ala. – I need a break from the words “Gene Chizik”, “sources”, “buyout”, “decommit”, “Bobby Petrino”, “sources” again, “Kirby Smart”, “Jetgate”, “SportsbyBrooks”, “Charles Barkley”, “show cause penalty” and “sources” a third time just because, yeah, seriously, it’s getting repetitive.

We interrupt this lead-in to inform you because I successfully used all those words in one sentence, and tagged this blog post as such, this is now the eighth-highest clicked article in Internet history. (The first seven all just list the word ‘Tebow’ over and over again.)

Anyway, you’ll find none of those words in my final SEC Power Rankings of the year. Enjoy the reprieve. I know I will. It won’t last long.

By the way, unless a new coach is named Friday (don’t do it, Auburn), I will be at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, joined by L-E preps writer David Mitchell (@leprepsports) and supplementing the already-fine coverage of Mark Edwards (who covers Alabama at @DailyEdwards) and Seth Emerson (Georgia, @SethEmerson). So follow along for that.

It should be a fantastic game. At least, I was told so by reports from an unnamed source with information close to the situation.

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All rankings BCS**

1) No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat Auburn 49-0

The back eight seems impenetrable. There’s really any number of ‘player of the year’ candidates on this team, which I will go ahead and name for each of the SEC squads. C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner, Robert Lester, it’s just an uber-dominant defense. Good luck out there, Aaron Murray.

Next: SEC Championship Game vs. No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1), 3 p.m. CT | CBS

Player of the Year: C.J. Mosley, jr., LB

Bowl prediction: BCS National Championship

2) No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1); LW, 2

Last week: beat Georgia Tech 42-10

Oh, but Murray will have plenty of help. Todd Gurley’s the SEC’s best back, Keith Marshall’s the best backup back in the league, Jarvis Jones is maybe the best linebacker in the country. This should be a phenomenal game at the Georgia Dome.

Next: SEC Championship Game vs. No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1), 3 p.m. CT | CBS

Player of the Year: Aaron Murray, jr., QB

Bowl prediction: Capital One Bowl

3) No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC); LW, 3

Last week: beat Missouri 59-29

Manziel, not Boyziel. Despite not speaking once to the media during the year, he’ll handle himself brilliantly in New York City a week from Saturday.

Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel, fr., QB

Bowl prediction: Cotton Bowl

4) No. 4 Florida (11-1, 7-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat No. 10 Florida State 37-26

The Gators have not allowed a single rushing gain longer than 24 yards all year. Filthy. And now they just hung 37 on the Seminoles in Tallahassee? You earned your Sugar Bowl trip.

Player of the Year: Marcus Roberson, so., DB

Bowl prediction: Sugar Bowl

5) No. 7 LSU (10-2, 6-2); LW, 4

Last week: beat Arkansas 20-13

So it sounds like Les Miles will not leave the Bayou for a ridiculous, bluff-type offer at Arkansas. Hopefully LSU gave Miles that raise because he earned it, not because a desperate league rival wants to play poker. Said LSU athletic director Joe Alleva Wednesday: “It’s been my plan all along to give coach a longer contract, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Player of the Year: Kevin Minter, jr., LB

Bowl prediction: Outback Bowl

6) No. 10 South Carolina (10-2, 6-2); LW, 6

Last week: beat No. 11 Clemson 27-17

The Gators and Gamecocks are basically twins this year. Except, well, Florida won the matchup. Which is why South Carolina is the sixth best team in its own conference, and can’t even book a New Year’s Day date in a historically top-heavy league.

Player of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney, so., DE

Bowl prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

 

*****big gap here*****

 

7) Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3); LW, 7

Last week: beat Wake Forest 55-21

If I were to tell you two teams in the SEC have six-game overall winning streaks (currently the longest in the conference), and gave you five guesses, I bet many of you would miss one. Georgia is one. The other is not Texas A&M, it’s not LSU, it’s not South Carolina. The Vanderbilt Commodores have not lost since losing gamely to Florida on Oct. 13.  They’ll trounce someone in a lesser bowl.

Player of the Year: Jordan Matthews, jr., WR

Bowl prediction: Gator Bowl

8) Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5); LW, 9

Last week: beat Mississippi State 41-24

Great bounceback effort after a three-game losing streak, sealing that long-awaited bowl eligibility. How about Bo Wallace, teetering on losing his job earlier this year, and responding by throwing five touchdowns in his biggest game of the year?

Player of the Year: Donte Moncrief, so., WR

Bowl prediction: Liberty Bowl

9) Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4); LW, 8

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 41-24

Chad Bumphis, 12 TDs. For a defensive conference, this certainly was a year for top receivers. Very little momentum though for the Bulldogs, losers of four in their past five.

Player of the Year: Darius Slay, sr., DB

Bowl prediction: Music City Bowl

10) Arkansas (4-8, 2-6); LW, 10

Last week: lost to No. 7 LSU 20-13

Eight months, the school has had, to make a decision on a long-term hire. Offering Les Miles the world shows you where the Razorbacks are at. This is by far the weakest of the three remaining SEC openings.

Player of the Year: Cobi Hamilton, sr., WR

11) Missouri (5-7, 2-6); LW, 11

Last week: lost to No. 9 Texas A&M 59-29

Talk about slinking away quietly. Not a lot of positives to build on going into year two of SEC football. Maybe the Big Ten should have gotten a longer look.

Player of the Year: Kendial Lawrence, sr., RB

12) Tennessee (5-7, 1-7); LW, 12

Last week: beat Kentucky 37-17

Next season hinges heavily on Tyler Bray’s decision whether or not to return.

Player of the Year: Cordarrelle Patterson, jr., WR

13) Auburn (3-9, 0-8); LW, 13

Last week: lost to No. 2 Alabama 49-0

“The Auburn people don’t deserve that.” said a certain former head coach. Was he talking about the three-hour slaughter just finished on the field, or the three-month disaster preceding it?

Player of the Year: Tre Mason, so., RB

14) Kentucky (2-10, 0-8); LW, 14

Last week: lost to Tennessee 37-17

Best of luck, Mark Stoops. If you last three years, it’ll be a modern marvel.

Player of the Year: Avery Williamson, jr., LB

November 21, 2012

SEC Rankings/Bowl Predictions: Week 12

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday unless noted … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat Western Carolina 49-0

Many schools’ game notes will break out their listings by unit, which would be ordered just as you’d expect: offense, then defense, then special teams … or QBs, then RBs, then WRs, etc. etc. down to DBs, Ks, Ps and returners. Not Alabama’s. Defensive notes come first. It’s fitting, really. The Crimson Tide defense has become the college version of Tom Brady: even when it’s not a season for the ages, you look at the quiet statistics, and they still jump out at you. (For example, Alabama “only” ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense.) Dee Milliner, Robert Lester, C.J. Mosley, the whole gang’s just good. Auburn’s offense gained 140 total yards and zero points last year at Jordan-Hare against the Tide. Why does this game smell about the same?

Next: vs. Auburn (3-8, 0-7), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

Bowl prediction: BCS National Championship

2) No. 3 Georgia (10-1, 7-1); LW, 2

Last week: beat Georgia Southern 45-14

Aaron Murray, deflecting NFL talk before he makes a decision whether to return for his senior year. “I’m having too much fun right now.” That’s what it’s all about. He’s probably leaving Athens soon, but what a ride it’s been for him.

Next: vs. Georgia Tech (6-5), 11 a.m. | ESPN

Bowl prediction: Capital One Bowl

3) No. 9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2 SEC); LW, 4

Last week: beat Sam Houston State 47-28

Yeah, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples said it best on the tricked-out Texas A&M page: “If the award is going to be for the most outstanding football player – for the guy who makes the biggest difference – there’s no question who that is. If you’re not thinking of voting for Johnny Manziel, you’re nuts.” In other words: hey, stuffy old farts who have a Heisman vote. Don’t care if it’s a freshman, a senior, a senior citizen, or Sam Gordon. You pick the best player. It’s not even close this year. Wasn’t even close before K-State went down, but hey, good guy and good player Collin Klein, appreciate you making this easier.

Next: vs. Missouri (5-6, 2-5), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

Bowl prediction: Cotton Bowl

4) No. 7 LSU (9-2, 5-2); LW, 3

Last week: beat Ole Miss 41-35

Really couldn’t have asked for a tougher slate for LSU this year. Had to play South Carolina AND Florida outside of the SEC West, and their two losses are to top-four squads by a combined 12 points. Tough submerging LSU below the Aggies, who the Tigers just beat at Kyle Field within the past month. But A&M’s been more impressive, and has the better offense more likely to compete with the top-flight foes.

Next: at Arkansas (4-7, 2-5), 1:30 p.m. Friday | CBS

Bowl prediction: Sugar Bowl

5) No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat Jacksonville State 23-0

Quit ripping on Florida’s offense. The Gators have the NCAA’s second-longest FBS streak of games without getting shut out. You have to go back 307 games to Oct. 29, 1988: Auburn 16, Florida 0. (Gene Chizik was a graduate assistant at Clemson, and the eldest current Tiger, T’Sharvan Bell, was 10 months away from being born.)

Next: at No. 10 Florida State (10-1), 2:30 p.m. | ABC

Bowl prediction: Outback Bowl

6) No. 12 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2); LW, 6

Last week: beat Wofford 24-7

Goes without saying the Clemson offense against the South Carolina defense should be a fantastic matchup. But look for Connor Shaw (career record: 18-3) to quietly make enough plays for a big road win. Here’s a stat that may shock you, in the passer rating category: Shaw 156.93, Manziel 155.14.

Next: at No. 11 Clemson (10-1), 6 p.m. | ESPN

Bowl prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

7) Vanderbilt (7-4, 5-3); LW, 8

Last week: beat Tennessee 41-18

Five magical words soon to be oft-uttered into the holiday season: “Wait, Vanderbilt has eight wins?” Fill in obligatory coach-killer joke here, after the Kentucky and Tennessee drillings. Watch your back, Jim Grobe.

Next: at Wake Forest (5-6), 2:30 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Music City Bowl

8) Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3); LW, 7

Last week: beat Arkansas 45-14

Stinks that the Egg Bowl’s been relegated to ESPNU. The Bulldogs, ranked in both human polls but not in the BCS top 25, are almost certainly heading to Jacksonville no matter what the outcome. They should be uber-motivated for a couple reasons: State’s got something to prove, since its four conference wins are against SEC teams with a combined 2-26 league record; and that state battle for bragging rights is something nasty.

Next: at Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Gator Bowl

9) Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5); LW, 9

Last week: lost at No. 7 LSU 41-35

You seem a likeable guy, Hugh Freeze. What’s with the player embargo this week? Prepare to get ripped if you blow this home game – and with it, a bowl shot.

Next: vs. Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Liberty Bowl with a victory, about a 50-50 proposition

10) Arkansas (4-7, 2-5); LW, 10

Last week: lost at Mississippi State 45-14

Only two more days until the sad conclusion of the ‘Smile’ era. A pity reporters can’t attend both Les Miles and John L. Smith press conferences. Can we dub this the Delightfully Weird Bowl?

Next: vs. No. 7 LSU (9-2, 5-2), 1:30 p.m. Friday | CBS

11) Missouri (5-6, 2-5); LW, 12

Last week: lost to Syracuse 31-27

Ooof, that’s gotta hurt. No reason not to take care of business against the Orange. That’ll deprive Mizzou of about 15 bowl practices, which really could have been useful.

Next: at No. 9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

Bowl prediction: BBVA Compass Bowl with a victory, which is unlikely (could move up to Liberty Bowl if Ole Miss loses)

12) Tennessee (4-7, 0-7); LW, 11

Last week: lost at Vanderbilt 41-18

My hairstylist’s daughter said a friend told her she heard that Sam Gordon might be a candidate for the Tennessee job. Wanna tweet my report, Football Rumor Mill?

Next: vs. Kentucky (2-9, 0-7), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

13) Auburn (3-8, 0-7); LW, 13

Last week: beat Alabama A&M 51-7

Yer darn right I slipped multiple Sam Gordon references into these rankings. Oh, yes, right, something Auburn-y. Welp, Jonathan Wallace’s winning percentage currently exceeds that of Tyler Wilson. This is a fact. … Look, give Chizik this: he’s not lying when he says Auburn has to play its best football of the year to have a chance. In all reality, that can probably be tweaked to “perfect” football. The Tide will not take pity on the Tigers.

Next: at No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

14) Kentucky (2-9, 0-7); LW, 14

Last week: beat Samford 34-3

Apparently, this rivalry is referred to as the Battle for the Barrel. However, there is no longer an actual barrel up for grabs, after a 1998 alcohol-related car crash killing Kentucky players. But this great American rivalry does, indeed, have a name. See. And you thought you wouldn’t learn anything new from this column.

Next: at Tennessee (4-7, 0-7), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

November 5, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Ten edition

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: won at No. 5 LSU 21-17

The human emotion is a funny thing. Tim Tebow’s about as tough a dude as there is out there, and A.J. McCarron showed his own cold-blooded cojones on that game-winning drive against a feasting defense. So what’s the big deal with crying in sports? Roger Federer does it. Tiger Woods has. Kevin Garnett resorted to a primal yell to mask the tears. I guess what I’m trying to say is, fans of Alabama and against Alabama should embrace McCarron, not critique him, for reminding us these are people on the field. Warriors, yes, but people too. Good for McCarron. And a bit of crow to gobble for Crimson Tide fans who once ripped Tebow for letting the waterworks flow.

Next: vs. No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

2) No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1); LW, 3

Last week: beat No. Ole Miss 37-10

Happy birthday to Aaron Murray Saturday, turning 22. What a task in front of Auburn’s own No. 22, T’Sharvan Bell, and the defense to slow down the scorching-hot Bulldogs, who must win the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to punch their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.

Next: at Auburn (2-7, 0-6), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

3) No. 7 LSU (7-2, 3-2); LW, 2

Last week: lost to No. 1 Alabama 21-17

The offense is what it is, and what it is not is a quick-strike of the 2-minute variety. Zach Mettenberger caught fire on a couple drives Saturday – impressive against this defense – but LSU simply does not have championship playmakers with the ball.

Next: vs. No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN

4) No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC); LW, 6

Last week: won at No. 15 Mississippi State 38-13

The Aggies top Florida, since the Gators’ 3-point win at Kyle Field was two months ago. Johnny Manziel’s second career start. Soooo … if this coming showdown against the defending champions was in College Station, wouldn’t Texas A&M be favored? Or at least be regarded as having one heck of a chance to come out on top? Bama’s gonna be drained after last week’s festivities. And don’t forget Texas A&M’s road resume: 48-3 at SMU, 30-27 at Ole Miss, 59-57 at No. 23 Louisiana Tech, 63-21 at Auburn, 38-13 at No. 15 Mississippi State. Five wins, no losses. Do not hand this game automatically to Alabama. By any stretch.

Next: at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

5) No. 6 Florida (8-1, 7-1); LW, 4

Last week: beat Missouri 14-7

They’ll be rooting for Auburn. Big-time.

Next: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

6) No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2); LW, 5

Last week: Idle

It’s our job as journalists to roar in response when Steve Spurrier remarks that Alabama could compete with an NFL team. I’m sure that wasn’t at all a mediocre attempt to inflate the heads of Crimson Tide players, thus bettering LSU’s chances and therefore those of South Carolina to make the national championship game. Nope. No chance at all.

Next: vs. Arkansas (4-5, 2-3), 11 a.m. | CBS

7) No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2); LW, 7

Last week: lost to No. 16 Texas A&M 38-13

Other than Alabama first and Kentucky worst, there’s no ranking I feel more sure about than right smack-dab in the middle. Mississippi State is clearly not on the level of the top six, and clearly is better than the bottom seven. Thing is, while the Bulldogs will likely see their losing streak stretched to three at Tiger Stadium, the last two games – vs. Arkansas and at Ole Miss – could be fuzzy. State’s job isn’t over yet. Let’s not dismiss the fact there’s a real chance Mississippi State hasn’t beaten more than one bowl-bound team yet this year.

Next: at No. 7 LSU (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN

8) Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3); LW, 9

Last week: won at Kentucky 40-0

First goose egg against an SEC team in 44 years. Of course, that was against Kentucky. Of course it was. Commodores are well on their way to back-to-back postseason games for the first time in school history – they’ve gone bowling just five times, ever.

Next: at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

9) Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3); LW, 8

Last week: lost at No. 6 Georgia 37-10

Fascinating matchup in Oxford this weekend. Truth is, since Vandy’s final two games are far easier than those for Mississippi, the Rebels straight-up have got to take care of business at home. If they do, they’ll be preparing to play in their first bowl in three seasons. Ole Miss, incredibly, is 8-1 in the postseason since 1990.

Next: vs. Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

10) Arkansas (4-5, 2-3); LW, 11

Last week: beat Tulsa 19-15

Nice little win over a solid Tulsa team. Defense has totally undergone a makeover. It’s almost like they’re trying to save their coach’s job or something.

Next: at No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2), 11 a.m. | CBS

11) Tennessee (4-5, 0-5); LW, 10

Last week: beat Troy 55-48

Speaking of defense; that sounded like a clown show out there in Knoxville. Vols keep sliding, even in victory. At least they finally pulled out one of those down-to-the-wire finishes.

Next: vs. Missouri (4-5, 1-5), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

12) Missouri (4-5, 1-5); LW, 12

Last week: lost at No. 7 Florida 14-7

Had their chances since Florida looked hungover. Crummy game by James Franklin, whose accuracy needs a lot of work, cost the Tigers that chance.

Next: at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

13) Auburn (2-7, 0-6); LW, 14

Last week: beat New Mexico State 42-7

Sure helps to have a terrible opposing quarterback to create good feelings on defense. It absolutely looked like Daren Bates was stiffarming a lot of frustration out of his body when he trucked that NMSU running back. The Tigers understand Georgia’s a different challenge.

Next: vs. No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

14) Kentucky (1-9, 0-7); LW, 13

Last week: lost to Vanderbilt 40-0

Love the rumor mill spiraling out of control. I actually heard Chip Kelly mentioned as a candidate to go to Kentucky. Folks, it’s not a good football job. They’ll take some old alum or raw upstart, and need multiple years to become competitive.

Next: Idle

October 31, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Nine

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat No. 11 Mississippi State 38-7

Nick Saban isn’t really a robot … hey, the guy has two Debbie cookies for breakfast. The All-Access show ESPN has programmed this week might be interesting. If for nothing else, watch for Samantha Steele. She might be a better Erin Andrews than Erin Andrews ever was.

Next: at No. 5 LSU (7-1, 3-1), 7 p.m. | CBS

2) No. 5 LSU (7-1, 3-1); LW, 3

Last week: Idle

Is Death Valley where dreams go to die? That’s fair to say. And night games under Les Miles? Tigers are now 58-5 in that setting. We’re gonna find out if the Crimson Tide are for real, absolutely.

Next: vs. No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0), 7 p.m. | CBS

3) No. 6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1); LW, 7

Last week: beat No. 2 Florida 17-9 in Jacksonville

My bad, letting Georgia sink that low in these rankings. It wasn’t pretty Saturday – what has been this year, for Mark Richt’s team? – and yet the Bulldogs are deservedly sixth in the country. Jarvis Jones, the Nagurski Defensive Player of the Week, is a man among boys out there.

Next: vs. Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

4) No. 7 Florida (7-1, 6-1); LW, 2

Last week: lost to No. 10 Georgia 17-9 in Jacksonville

Last year’s plague came back to haunt Florida. Offense is just not at a championship-caliber level. And so, Florida beat South Carolina, who hammered Georgia, who beat the Gators. Oy.

Next: vs. Missouri (4-4, 1-4), 11 a.m. | ESPN2

5) No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2); LW, 4

Last week: beat Tennessee 38-35

It’s been stunning to view the outpouring of support for Marcus Lattimore. Absolutely numbing. On the football side, this does affect this team’s season greatly – Kenny Miles just isn’t the same.

Next: Idle

6) No. 16 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC); LW, 6

Last week: won at Auburn 63-21

Vroom vroom. The Aggies’ offense waits for no one. Its next road tests, Mississippi State and Alabama, should each be a dandy.

Next: at No. 15 Mississippi State (7-1, 3-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN

7) No. 15 Mississippi State (7-1, 3-1); LW, 5

Last week: lost at No. 1 Alabama 38-7

Herein lies the issue – the Bulldogs used an awful lot of emotional juice to get up for Alabama. There enough left in the tank for a home game they’ve got to have?

Next: vs. No. 16 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2), 11 a.m. | ESPN

8) Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2); LW, 9

Last week: won at Arkansas 30-27

Not really sure why I had Vandy over Ole Miss last week – I saw both teams beat Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Rebels are better. A road win at Arkansas, which was starting to gain some momentum, proves it.

Next: at No. 6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

9) Vanderbilt (4-4, 2-3); LW, 8

Last week: beat Massachusetts 49-7

Zac Stacy’s a little banged up … but he could be less than 100 percent and still run on this Kentucky defense.

Next: at Kentucky (1-8, 0-6), 11 a.m. | ESPNU

10) Tennessee (3-5, 0-5); LW, 10

Last week: lost at No. 13 South Carolina 38-35

They continue to be thaaaaaaat close to a big win. But it’s a results-based sport. (What sport isn’t, really?) This will be remembered as a very poor season in Knoxville, even if it’s a handful of plays here and there from being markedly different.

Next: vs. Troy (4-4), 11 a.m. | FSN

11) Arkansas (3-5, 2-3); LW, 11

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 30-27

It’s been greatly discussed, Auburn’s fall from grace. But that was over two seasons. Even if the Tigers don’t win another game – and they absolutely should, with two non-con patsies coming up – that’s a dropoff of seven victories from a year ago. Unless the Razorbacks (11-2 in 2011) can somehow knock off South Carolina, Mississippi State or LSU, their setback will be an eight-game differential … and that’s presuming a victory over better-than-you-know Tulsa, which can absolutely move the football on this Razorbacks defense.

Next: vs. Tulsa (7-1), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

12) Missouri (4-4, 1-4); LW, 12

Last week: beat Kentucky 33-10

Gary Pinkel says SEC > Big 12. Big 12 fans freak out. SEC fans smirk.

Next: at Florida (7-1, 6-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN2

13) Kentucky (1-8, 0-6); LW, 13

Last week: lost at Missouri 33-10

What did the Wildcats ever do to tick off the football gods? Injury after injury after season-ending injury.

Next: vs. Vanderbilt (4-4, 2-3), 11 a.m. | ESPNU

14) Auburn (1-7, 0-6); LW, 14

Last week: lost to Texas A&M 63-21

Here’s the keys, Jonathan Wallace. Not much you can do to make this worse, but use this week to gain some confidence, and then the Auburn family will see what you can do against the big boys of Georgia and Alabama after that.

Next: vs. New Mexico State (1-7), 11:30 a.m. | CSS

October 26, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Eight

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings/receiving votes from AP poll**

1) No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: won at Tennessee 44-13

Fun crazy Alabama stats of the week: Crimson Tide are 75-18-3 lifetime against Mississippi State. Alabama has trailed for 15 seconds this season. AJ McCarron and other Alabama quarterbacks haven’t thrown an interception in 10 games.

Next: vs. No. 13 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0), 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

2) No. 3 Florida (7-0, 6-0); LW, 2

Last week: beat No. 9 South Carolina 44-11

It’s not even Halloween, and the Gators can already punch their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game with a victory in Jacksonville.

Next: vs. No. 12 Georgia (6-1, 4-1) in Jacksonville, 2:30 p.m. | CBS

3) No. 6 LSU (7-1, 3-1); LW, 3

Last week: won at No. 20 Texas A&M 24-19

Now it’s Jeremy Hill running wild in the LSU backfield. Is there some type of factory that just churns out running backs as necessary in Baton Rouge?

Next: Idle

4) No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2); LW, 4

Last week: lost at No. 3 Florida 44-11

Schedule quiets down now for big-game Gamecocks, who get three in a row at home against two below-.500 SEC opponents and FCS-member Wofford before heading to Death Valley for the Clemson showdown.

Next: vs. Tennessee (3-4, 0-4), 11 a.m. | ESPN

5) No. 13 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0); LW, 6

Last week: beat Middle Tennessee 45-3

Has any top-15 SEC undefeated ever received less respect going into a big game? This probably speaks more to Alabama’s prowess. Or maybe to the fact half the college football world doesn’t know what city the Bulldogs call home. As mentioned above, Alabama’s been a bunch of front-runners, but State’s not to shabby either: the Bulldogs have only trailed for 16 minutes, 11 seconds, fourth-best in the country.

Next: at No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0), 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

6) No. 22 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC); LW, 7

Last week: lost to No. 6 LSU 24-19

Eleven turnovers the past two SEC games. Take care of that oblong, Johnny Football and company.

Next: at Auburn (1-6, 0-5), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

7) No. 12 Georgia (6-1, 4-1); LW, 5

Last week: won at Kentucky 29-24

Good thing that “soft” defense has a better half. Georgia’s offense is fourth in the country in yards per snap (7.2) and is the league’s best coming away with seven instead of three in the red zone.

Next: vs. No. 3 Florida (7-0, 6-0) in Jacksonville, 2:30 p.m. | CBS

8) Vanderbilt (3-4, 2-3); LW, 9

Last week: beat Auburn 17-13

Coach James Franklin on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference: “I don’t know what you’re talking about with these bowl things.” Pleading ignorance. Taking the 1-0 mentality. Vandy needed that Auburn win, because UMass and Kentucky are gimmes while either Tennessee (at home) or Wake Forest (on the road) should fill out the six wins necessary.

Next: vs. Massachusetts (0-7), 6 p.m. | FSN

9) Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2); LW, 10

Last week: Idle

It’s already been a season to tuck in the back pocket of Hugh Freeze, no matter what happens the rest of the way. This is, however, just the Rebels’ third road game, and for a change they’re not the clear dog (as they were at Tulane) or the clear hydrant (at Alabama).

Next: at Arkansas (3-4, 2-2), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

10) Tennessee (3-4, 0-4); LW, 8

Last week: lost to No. 1 Alabama 44-13

Good work by former Auburn beat writer Evan Woodbery http://www.govolsxtra.com/news/2012/oct/23/buying-out-derek-dooley-and-staff-could-cost-as/, breaking down exactly how much it’d take to dismiss Derek Dooley and his staff.

Next: at No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2), 11 a.m. | ESPN

11) Arkansas (3-4, 2-2); LW, 11

Last week: Idle

Paging Tommy Tuberville, to War Memorial? Mr. Tuberville?

Next: vs. Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

12) Missouri (3-4, 0-4); LW, 12

Last week: Idle

Quarterback James Franklin was jogging around practice this week. Not likely to suit up. Not likely to be needed.

Next: vs. Kentucky (1-7, 0-5), 11 a.m. | ESPNU

13) Kentucky (1-7, 0-5); LW, 14

Last week: lost to No. 13 Georgia 29-24

See, now this is the key for Joker Phillips to keep his job: go play SEC newbies like Mizzou, which is 0-2 lifetime against Kentucky. (Never mind both games were in the 1960s.)

Next: at Missouri (3-4, 0-4), 11 a.m. | ESPNU

14) Auburn (1-6, 0-5); LW, 13

Last week: lost at Vanderbilt 17-13

Texas A&M offense has scored a touchdown on its last four opening drives. Auburn’s defense, um, has not started well http://www.wareagleextra.com/2012/10/20/6616/. The first five minutes will be quite telling.

Next: vs. No. 22 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

October 18, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Seven

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings/receiving votes from AP poll**

Auburn live chat: Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET

1) No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: won at Missouri 42-10

AJ McCarron, and Knee Bruisegate. LaMichael Fanning, wrong sport. But those were pretty much the only dark clouds from Saturday … other than all those swirling above Faurot Field, which chased all the Mizzou fans home as a blowout commenced. Hard to believe any college program can field this good about itself.

Next: at Tennessee (3-3, 0-3), 6 p.m. | ESPN

2) No. 3 Florida (6-0, 5-0); LW, 2

Last week: won at Vanderbilt 31-17

No knock on the Gators, but that No. 2 BCS ranking seems high – granted, those standings mean nothing until December. They have three very, very, very good wins (back-to-back at Texas A&M and Tennessee, and 14-6 vs. LSU) but not truly a great win. Of course, the schedule shakes up beautifully for Florida, hosting South Carolina in a couple of days and taking on Georgia in Jacksonville before staying home for awhile. Probably the most impressive part is the grueling nature of big game after big game. The season-ender at Florida State, and presumably the SEC title game, will give Florida its shot at a truly memorable season.

Next: vs. No. 9 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

3) No. 6 LSU (6-1, 2-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat No. 3 South Carolina 23-21

Stupid question on the national talk show circuit Monday: is LSU back in the national title hunt? I’m sorry, since when did one tough road conference loss against a top-three opponent crush the hopes of an SEC team? Everything the Tigers want is still in front of them. Now they just need to learn how to throw in the direction of those dreams. No, Mr. Mettenberger, handoffs and backward laterals don’t count.

Next: at No. 20 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN

4) No. 9 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1); LW, 3

Last week: lost at No. 9 LSU 23-21

Adversity strikes in Columbia. Loss in LSU. Flu bug. Marcus Lattimore questionable for Saturday. And defensive tackles are throwing haymakers, drawing the ire of Steve Spurrier. Not the way the Gamecocks wanted their mojo going into Gainesville.

Next: at No. 3 Florida (6-0, 5-0), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

5) No. 13 Georgia (5-1, 3-1); LW, 4

Last week: Idle

Might not be the worst thing to sit Jarvis Jones for the Kentucky game. Keep him healthy and hungry (or, well, thirsty) for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, because the Bulldogs’ schedule opens up considerably after that.

Next: at Kentucky (1-6, 0-4), 6 p.m. | FSN

6) No. 15 Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0); LW, 7

Last week: beat Tennessee 41-31

Credit the Bulldogs for simply going about their business, and picking up increasingly impressive victories. After the decent Blue Raiders follow three straight ranked teams (at Alabama and LSU), steadily rebounding Arkansas and the Egg Bowl in Oxford. No more gimmes. By the way, the SEC is 123-6 against the Sun Belt since 1995, but two of those wins came this year (ULM over Arkansas, Western Kentucky over Kentucky,) so you know MTSU would love to get in on the action. So, take caution, Miss State.

Next: vs. Middle Tennessee (4-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

7) No. 20 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC); LW, 6

Last week: won at No. 23 Louisiana Tech 59-57

Johnny Football, Heisman candidate? Let’s see him get it done against LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama before we bronze him.

Next: vs. No. 6 LSU (6-1, 2-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN

8) Tennessee (3-3, 0-3); LW, 8

Last week: lost at No. 19 Mississippi State 41-31

Who knows, maybe Derek Dooley will be more effective coaching from the box. Head coaches on the field this year are 0-6 against Nick Saban.

Next: vs. No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0), 6 p.m. | ESPN

9) Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3); LW, 9

Last week: lost to No. 4 Florida 31-17

One winning season in the last 30 years? Yeah, the Commodores kind of need this game Saturday. You know they’ll be ready from the word go.

Next: vs. Auburn (1-5, 0-4), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

10) Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2); LW, 10

Last week: beat Auburn 41-20

You know what’s scary? That extremely potent offense is only going to get better. They lose one athlete (Randall Mackey), a tight end and right guard after 2012.

Next: Idle

11) Arkansas (3-4, 2-2); LW, 12

Last week: beat Kentucky 49-7

Yeah, the bye doesn’t come at the greatest time. Pretty nice little seven quarters for the Razorbacks (73 points for, 14 points again.) Sure, it’s over the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the league, but at least that’s not Arkansas any more.

Next: Idle

12) Missouri (3-4, 0-4); LW, 11

Last week: lost to No. 1 Alabama 42-10

So, Gary Pinkel, was the transition to the SEC tougher than you thought? “No,” Pinkel told the SEC teleconference, “it’s exactly what we expected.”

Next: Idle

13) Auburn (1-5, 0-4); LW, 14

Last week: lost at Ole Miss 41-20

I have solved Auburn’s problem. The Tigers are 1-0 when Trent Fisher starts at free safety. 0-5 when he doesn’t. Maybe consider starting the lone Nashville native on the roster?

Next: at Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

14) Kentucky (1-6, 0-4); LW, 13

Last week: lost at Arkansas 49-7

Even Mother Nature couldn’t take any more Kentucky football.

Next: vs. No. 13 Georgia (5-1, 3-1), 6 p.m. | FSN

-AB