Ranking SEC Football Teams From First To Worst

Phillip Marshall gives his opinion on the performance of all 12 SEC football teams.

If last Saturday didn't make it obvious, I don't know what will. Every week is different in the fiercely competitive world of Southeastern Conference football.

One Saturday's euphoria can so easily become the next Saturday's dismay. A week after being whipped by Auburn in every way a team can be whipped, Tennessee went on the road and beat Georgia, then the nation's No. 3 team, 19-14. A week after an embarrassing 45-16 meltdown at Georgia, defending national champion LSU went to The Swamp and rallied in the final minutes to beat Florida 24-21. South Carolina squeezed into the Top 25, only to lose 31-28 at home to an Ole Miss team seemingly headed for nowhere.

With seven SEC Saturdays remaining before the championship game, more twists and turns are ahead.

Though things can and will change, here's one man's opinion of how the teams stack up as they turn for the home stretch:

1. Auburn. At this point, there is no room for argument. The Tigers are the league's only unbeaten team. They have proved they can come from behind, beating LSU 10-9 on Jason Campbell's 16-yard touchdown pass to Courtney Taylor. They have proved they can win on the road against a power team, routing Tennessee 34-10 at Neyland Stadium.

Nothing is more crucial to a special season than injury luck, and Auburn has not lost a key player through six games. The schedule is favorable because the biggest games are spaced out. If the Tigers can beat Arkansas at home Saturday, they should cruise into their Nov. 13 showdown with Georgia 9-0 with a spot in the SEC Championship Game locked up. Ole Miss, coming off an open date, could be dangerous in Oxford, especially since it will be Auburn's ninth consecutive game without an open date. But the Rebels don't appear to have enough on either side of the ball to spoil Auburn's party.

2. Tennessee. By most objective comparisons, Georgia would seem to have a better team than Tennessee. But the Vols were better when it counted, winning 19-14 at Sanford Stadium, and will be favored in each of their final six games. Trips to Ole Miss and South Carolina could be testy, and one loss could put Georgia back in control of the East Division.

It would be wise to remember that Tennessee is still playing a true freshman at quarterback. Erik Ainge was as good against Georgia as he was bad against Auburn. There's no guarantee he won't be bad again. In fact, it's a pretty safe bet that he will be.

3. Georgia.

The Bulldogs have just about everything you'd want in a football team. They have experience, talent and depth on both sides of the ball. But other than against LSU, they have played all season as if something is missing, particularly on offense.

After Saturday's scrimmage against Vanderbilt in Athens, the schedule gets more challenging. There is a potentially dangerous trip to Fayetteville to play Arkansas and the annual showdown with Florida in Jacksonville, where Georgia has lost six straight. The Bulldogs can't afford to lose again. If they do, they almost certainly won't make a third consecutive trip to Atlanta for the championship game.

4. LSU. From what I saw of LSU's victory over Florida, which was most of the second half, the Bayou Bengals looked like the team most people expected to see going into the season. They were dominant on defense against a powerful offense. Fifth-year senior Marcus Randall played the way you'd expect a veteran to play at quarterback and, one would have to assume, won the starting job.

LSU shouldn't face another serious challenge until its regular-season finale against Arkansas in Little Rock, but there will not be an opportunity to defend the SEC championship. For it to even become a matter of discussion, Auburn would have to lose three games. That's not going to happen.

Gator head coach Ron Zook

5. Florida. Could Ron Zook's third season as Florida head coach be his last? That would certainly seem to be a possibility. After 12 years of dominance under Steve Spurrier, the Gators lost five games last season and five in 2002. If they do it again--and they could--one would have to think that would ring curtain down on Zook's tenure. His replacement? There seems to be little doubt a call would go out to Spurrier to come home. Whether he would do it or not is another matter.

The Gators are way too soft on defense, and sophomore quarterback Chris Leake, talented as he is, isn't the jaw-dropping phenom he has been portrayed as.

To be fair, the Gators should be 4-1 instead of 3-2. Bungling SEC officials stole a sure victory from them at Tennessee.

6. Arkansas. It's old news now that the Razorbacks lost almost every starter from last season's team. They make a lot of Auburn folks nervous, and with good reason. Their last three victories over the Tigers have been blowouts, but this is a different Arkansas team and a different Auburn team.

Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones can make more plays than any player in the SEC, but if you make him throw it, a lot of those plays will be bad ones. The Razorbacks could make a move toward the top of the league or sink toward the bottom. They have proved nothing with wins over Utah State, Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama, but they were somewhat impressive in losing to Texas and at Florida.

7. South Carolina. The Gamecocks are pretty stout on defense, but not great. They are below average on offense, but not terrible. They are an average team at best, maybe not that good. They'll do well to stay in the middle of the pack in the end.

8. Alabama. Don't put much stock in Alabama's 45-17 win at Kentucky. The Wildcats are the worst team this side of Mississippi State. The Tide was shaky with quarterback Brodie Croyle and tailback Ray Hudson. Without them, the future doesn't look bright.

If Alabama beats Southern Mississippi this week, it should beat Mississippi State on Nov. 6 and squeeze into a minor bowl. Anyone who expects more than that is expecting too much.

9. Ole Miss. The Rebels used a three-quarterback rotation at South Carolina, but that's not going to work week in and week out. They gave up 491 yards to the Gamecocks, which is not easy to do, and still won, which is even harder to do.

Ole Miss folks were telling anyone who would listen before the season that they could actually be better this season than last when they won 10 games with Eli Manning. Some of us were silly enough to believe it.

10. Vanderbilt. As bad as Vanderbilt is, it still isn't the worst in the league. But blowing a 27-3 lead against Rutgers last Saturday was a low point, even for a program accustomed to low points.

11. Kentucky. Mark the date on your calendar. On Oct. 30 in Starkville, Kentucky and Mississippi State will play to decide who goes winless in the SEC. The Wildcats should win that one, but there are no guarantees.

12. Mississippi State. The Bulldogs started their season with a 28-7 victory over Tulane. Since then, they have lost 43-14 to Auburn, 9-7 to Division I-AA Maine, 51-0 to LSU, 31-13 to Vanderbilt and 27-13 to UAB. Lordy, how bad must Tulane be.

Until next time...


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