The SEC: Up, Down or Status Quo?

It was somewhat ugly but LSU beat Mississippi State 19-6 in a Thursday night game that featured five field goals through three quarters of play. LSU's No. 3 ranking may or may not go up to No. 1 if Oklahoma gets beat by Florida State—it's possible Florida State jumps LSU for the No. 1 spot and LSU and Alabama fight over the No. 2 spot. So who looks like a world-beater in the SEC?

LSU 3-0

LSU's defense looked nasty on Thursday night. The Tigers stuffed Mississippi State in the red zone holding them to just two field goals and 57 rushing yards. That's impressive. The running game was equally impressive—running back Spencer Ware rushed for 107 yards. The team discipline was not impressive—during the third quarter the Tigers were flagged five times in under ten minutes and finished the game with nine penalties for 83 yards. Les Miles does like to make it interesting, doesn't he? I won't bet against The Hat and right now, LSU looks like a championship contender.

Auburn 2-0

The Tigers struggled against Utah State and Mississippi State. What to make of this? Auburn does have a completely rebuilt team so we expected them to face an uphill battle this year. While I had them pegged for a win over Utah State, most people—including myself—had assumed they would lose to Mississippi State. They didn't.

What we have is a team that is the defending BCS Champion and carrying a bit of a chip on their shoulders due to a perceived lack of respect by many analysts. The Tigers are winning ugly, but last year they won ugly early in the season as well. Let's also not forget about another team that won ugly but ended up in the BCS Championship game on January 3, 2003—the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Tigers take their first road trip this Saturday at Clemson—if they win, they're in the thick of it.

Alabama 2-0

The favorite to win the SEC West beat Penn State on the road 27-11, but there seems to be a perception of the team really not jelling yet. You can't (yet) put a finger on the Tide's personality and their veteran defense doesn't look as dominant as 2009's version of Crimson Tide defense. Still, to win on the road in a stadium that holds well over 107,000 is very impressive.

Do they look the No. 1 team in America? No, but not many teams do after just two weeks of football. Nick Saban, however, does look like the best coach in college football, for what it's worth.

Arkansas 2-0

The Razorbacks are rolling over opponents. They beat Missouri State 51-7 and New Mexico 52-3. Yes, they haven't faced an opponent with a pulse yet but if you're going to play a team you're expected to beat badly and do that, you're doing your job right. This week the Razorbacks host Troy and are a three-plus touchdown favorite but Troy is a team that has been known to give teams fits—last year they lost to Oklahoma State 41-38, scored 34 points on No. 10 Georgia in 2007 and 31 points on No. 19 LSU in 2008. If Arkansas doesn't get caught in this trap game (the Razorbacks travel to Alabama the following week) then the Razorbacks deserve to be in the national conversation.

Mississippi 1-1

The Rebels lost to BYU 14-13 in week one and beat Southern Illinois 42-24 last week but that score is deceiving. Ole Miss was leading 35-10 in the third quarter but Southern Illinois answered to cut the Rebels' lead to 11 with 6:39 left in the game. The Salukis were hoping to pull an upset like Jacksonville State did against the Rebels last year but came up short. Where they didn't come up short was in total yardage—the Salukis offense produced 420 yards compared to the Rebels' 315. This looks like another down year for Ole Miss.

Mississippi State 1-2

So far, the Bulldogs are winless in the brutal SEC West. They spanked Memphis 59-14, but Memphis is a bad football team this year—so bad, head coach Larry Porter fired his defensive coordinator Jay Hopson on Wednesday. The Bulldogs then lost to Auburn and LSU and now rank No. 75 in red zone conversions. Mississippi State's defense is fairly strong and should hold off Louisiana Tech, UAB, Kentucky, UT Martin and Mississippi giving them six total wins and a bowl berth.

Florida 2-0

No one is talking about the Gators, which seems kind of odd, doesn't it? Maybe it's because they've feasted on a CUSA team (UAB, 4-8 last year) and a Sun Belt team (Florida Atlantic 4-8 last year) and it's just too early to tell if a combined score of 80-3 against their last two opponents means anything. Maybe it's because the South Carolina Gamecocks have had the spotlight all on them.

We're about to find out if the Gators' two consecutive routs are just cupcake-feasting or a sign of a team that is rebounding from a mediocre 2009. What everyone wants to know is if OC Charlie Weis' mentoring will pay off when quarterback John Brantley—who didn't fare well in 2010— faces his first big test of the year this Saturday against the high-flying Volunteers at the Swamp. If the Gators beat the Vols they will be somewhat battle-tested when they face a brutal October schedule; Alabama, at LSU, at Auburn and at Jacksonville for their annual date with Georgia. Don't sleep on the Gators but pray for an October miracle.

Georgia 0-2

The school is circling its wagons around Georgia head coach Mark Richt—UGA President Dr. Michael Adams asked Bulldog fans for patience and to give Richt their full support. This is never a good sign but unless Richt's team waxes Coastal Carolina, it's going to take more than words to get the fans back on board with Richt.

Georgia's schedule isn't that difficult—after their date with Coastal Carolina they face Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Georgia then plays Florida, New Mexico State, Auburn, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. Surely there are six wins in that schedule, but there's a sinking part of me that says we shouldn't be surprised if there aren't. It looks like another Liberty Bowl for the Dawgs.

Tennessee 2-0

The Vols' entire season may be defined this Saturday at the Swamp. Beat the Gators and their flying-below-the-radar act will disappear and head coach Derek Dooley may finally get the early upper hand in the SEC East. The Vols still have to play South Carolina and a down-trodden Georgia before taking on Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but they may be a bit beat up mid-November—they drew LSU, Alabama and Arkansas from the West. The schedule is daunting, but if they can win at the Swamp, I like their chances to win the East with Tyler Bray as the field general.

South Carolina 2-0

Here we go again. Last year the Gamecocks looked like world-beaters until they dropped two games in a three game stretch. This year we've got quarterback Stephen Garcia back from suspension and a supposedly nasty defense that seems to be missing a few teeth—the Gamecocks are ranked No. 76 in total defense giving up an average of 390.5 yards per game. So is the offense better?

The offense is averaging 373 yards per game, but there are 72 teams ahead of them in terms of offensive productivity. Head coach Steve Spurrier will probably work out the kinks, but he'd better have the offense running like a well-oiled machine by late October—the Gamecocks travel to Tennessee and Arkansas before hosting Florida, The Citadel and Clemson. The SEC East could get very interesting if the Gamecocks drop any of those games.

Kentucky 2-0

In their first game against Western Kentucky, the Wildcats struggled to score 14 points. Their second game against Central Michigan wasn't much better—the Cats were down 13-6 at the half before rallying to win the game 27-13. Kentucky did run the ball well (230 rushing yards), but that should be expected against a MAC team that went 3-9 last year. So yes, Kentucky is more well-known for their basketball program than their football program but they also pull off a huge upset seemingly every year—who will be their victim this year?

Vanderbilt 2-0

The Commodores are 2-0 and have already beaten a BCS team—the Big East's UConn—while under year one of the Paul Pasqualoni era. It's a big win for Vanderbilt because their schedule is one of the toughest in the country. If you need perspective on Vanderbilt's outlook from other SEC schools, the homecoming schedule for three SEC teams should give you a clue—Alabama, Georgia and Florida all have Vanderbilt circled as their Homecoming opponent. Alumni love Homecoming games because usually—but not in all cases—their team's opponent on that day is the underdog and a win is a great way to keep boosters fat and happy. When you are the team that is traveling to three different Homecoming games, it usually doesn't end well. 'Nuff said.
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