Report Card On SEC Football

Columnist Phillip Marshall grades all 12 SEC football teams on their 2002 performances.

As the Southeastern Conference season nears the halfway point, there are still more questions than answers. It's not time for anyone to start making reservations in Atlanta for the championship game.

Here's a team-by-team look, starting with the West:

AUBURN (4-1, 2-0): Carnell Williams has established himself as the SEC's top tailback. "Cadillac" has spectacular ability and a huge heart to go with it. Quarterback Daniel Cobb has had good moments and bad, but the offense overall has been effective. The defense has been strong, but late fourth-quarter drives by USC and Syracuse are cause for concern. The Tigers' fate will be largely determined in a four-game stretch that starts next Saturday. Arkansas is first up, followed by Florida, LSU and Ole Miss.

Overall grade: B


ALABAMA (4-1, 1-0): With three potential first-round draft choices on the defensive line and a big and powerful offensive line, the Tide is the league's strongest team on the line of scrimmage. There is still no big-play wide receiver and the secondary has yet to be tested by a team with a high-powered passing game. The loss of punter Lane Bearden could hurt more in the long run than the loss of tailback Ahmaad Galloway.

Overall grade: B


LSU (3-1, 1-1): Quarterback Matt Mauck has been shaky, and that's putting it kindly. Fortunately for the Bayou Bengals, tailbacks LaBrandon Toefield and Domanick Davis have been terrific. Davis might be the nation's best kick returner. The defense has been solid, but you don't get the feeling LSU can score enough points to win the really big games.

Overall grade: B-minus


OLE MISS (3-1, 1-0): In another season, Eli Manning would be a shoo-in to be the All-SEC quarterback. That honor will probably to Florida's Rex Grossman, but Manning gives the Rebels a chance against anybody. The problem is that he can't play defense. The Rebels were atrocious on defense in a 45-38 victory over Vanderbilt. They'll win some games, thanks to Manning, but that defense can't get them to Atlanta.

Overall grade: C-plus


ARKANSAS (2-1, 0-1): We said we didn't know about Arkansas after blowout wins over Boise State and South Florida. Now we know. The Rezorbacks were routed 30-12 by Alabama at home last Saturday. But it would be wise to remember that Houston Nutt's teams often have rotten Septembers only to rebound.

Overall grade: C-minus


KENTUCKY (4-1, 0-1): The Wildcats are the year's heartwarming story. They won four nonconference games and almost pulled off a miracle at Florida. But if you look down the schedule, it's hard to find more than another win or two.

Overall grade: C


MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-3, 0-2): The Bulldogs just don't have the firepower they once had, particularly on the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. Kevin Fant is a good quarterback, but he has precious little help. These are not good days in Starkville. A second consecutive losing season is coming and the NCAA is in town.

Overall grade: D


FLORIDA (4-1, 2-0): Just as everybody was about ready to write off the Gators, they went to Knoxville and knocked off Tennessee. They survived a scare against Kentucky in a game that would have been a rout had it not been for a special teams meltdown. Grossman gives his team a chance against anybody.

Overall grade: B


GEORGIA (4-0, 1-0): The Bulldogs are ranked No. 6 in the country, but they haven't played like it. They are dead last in the SEC in total offense. They beat South Carolina only because Andrew Pinnock fumbled away the winning touchdown. They beat Clemson only because of a missed field goal. Sophomore quarterback David Greene had to share time with D.J. Shockley early and hasn't played as well as he did last season. The defense is suspect.

Overall grade: C-plus


TENNESSEE (3-1, 0-1): Last week, Tennessee players were saying unkind things about wide receiver Kelley Washington, who could surely be named self-promoter of the year. This week, Tennessee players are talking about what a terrific guy Kelley is. The Vols looked awful against Florida and not much better against Rutgers last week, but they have the talent to make a move at any time.

Overall grade: C-plus


SOUTH CAROLINA (3-2, 1-1): The Gamecocks don't have the talent they've had the past couple of years. They have enough to win games if they can avoid turnovers, which they have not managed to do. The almost became Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson's first SEC victim last week.

Overall grade: C


VANDERBILT: Johnson came in like other Vanderbilt coaches before him, saying Vanderbilt could win. Like other coaches before him, he's seen Vanderbilt come close but falls short in early-season games. Like other coaches before him, he'll see Vanderbilt lose a lot more.

Overall Grade: D

THIS WEEK'S PREDICTIONS:

Alabama 28, Georgia 17

Florida 45, Ole Miss 20

South Carolina 21, Mississippi State 13

Tennessee 24, Arkansas 10

LSU 38, Louisiana-Lafayette 6


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