SEC Power Poll1. LSU (3-0, 1-0): Each week has delivered a new wave if superlatives for the Tigers' tenacious defense. And slowly but surely, the offense and quarterback Jarrett Lee are blossoming and showing the kind of diversity they will need to stick around in the top spot of this poll and perhaps a much more important one when the season winds down.
Last week: 1 (beat #25 Mississippi State 19-6)
This week: at #16 West Virginia
2. Alabama (3-0): The Crimson Tide gets to see exactly what kind of progress it has made this week when Arkansas comes to town. Alabama's defense figures to hold up well enough, but can the offense hang up enough points against a defense with legitimate SEC size and speed?
Last week: 2 (beat North Texas 41-0)
This week: vs. #14 Arkansas
3. Arkansas (3-0): There may not have been a bigger game in Bobby Petrino's tenure than this week's mammoth road trip to Alabama. The Razorbacks' offense can pile up points on just about everybody. The Crimson Tide could be one of the two just-about exceptions Arkansas has to contend with this season.
Last week: 3 (beat Troy 38-28)
This week: at #3 Alabama
4. Florida (3-0, 1-0): Gators looked like a complete team against Tennessee in the first real test of the season. Stepping outside of the cozy confines of The Swamp might present some challenges, but not enough to cause much concern this week for Florida. That comes the next few weeks.
Last week: 6 (beat Tennessee 33-23)
This week: at Kentucky
5. South Carolina (3-0): The Gamecocks scored a season-low point total and gave up the fewest points they have all season and narrowly escaped with a third victory. If the USC defense doesn't show some improvement, though, those plans for Atlanta in early December can probably be scrapped.
Last week: 5 (beat Navy 24-21)
This week: vs. Vanderbilt
6. Auburn (2-1, 1-0): Yeah, the Tigers lost at Clemson and their defense again crumbled against a team with speed. But Auburn is still talented enough offensively to go toe-to-toe with most teams in the conference. That may only take AU so far this season, though.
Last week: 9 (lost at Clemson 38-24)
This week: vs. Florida Atlantic
7. Georgia (1-2, 0-1): Breathing easy was almost a forgotten art for the Bulldogs, but they managed to flex their muscles nicely after a rocky 0-2 start. We'll know if Georgia is capable of competing in the East if it goes to Oxford and takes care of business.
Last week: 8 (beat Coastal Carolina 59-0)
This week: at Ole Miss
8. Mississippi State (1-2, 0-2): Bulldogs have done what good teams don't – take backward steps the last three weeks. State's defense was porous against Auburn and the offense was anemic vs. LSU. If the Bulldogs can rediscover their groove, they can still make something out of this season.
Last week: 4 (lost to #3 LSU 19-6)
This week: vs. Louisiana Tech
9. Vanderbilt (3-0): Hard to leave a 3-0 team this low after a 23-point SEC win, but the Commodores didn't exactly rough up one of the league's elite teams. Still, this is looking like it could be a memorable season for Vandy, especially if its defense can remain opportunistic.
Last week: 12 (beat Ole Miss 30-7)
This week: at #12 South Carolina
10. Tennessee (2-1, 0-1): Offense kept the Volunteers in position to win in a pair of non-conference games and made the loss to Florida at least respectable. But the Tennessee defense leaves way too much to be desired.
Last week: 7 (lost at #16 Florida 33-23)
This week: IDLE
11. Kentucky (2-1): A win last week against Louisville could've been a key turning point for the Wildcats. Instead, they trudged through most of the first three quarters and couldn't complete a comeback. Now UK gets Florida, LSU and South Carolina in order. This could get awfully ugly.
Last week: 11 (lost to Louisville 24-17)
This week: vs. #15 Florida
12. Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1): Blown out by Vanderbilt. Read those four words again very slowly. The Rebels are in for a long, long season.
Last week: 10 (lost at Vanderbilt 30-7)
This week: vs. Georgia
This week's games
LSU at West Virginia, 7 p.m. (ABC)
Georgia at Ole Miss, 11:21 a.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Vanderbilt at South Carolina, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
Florida at Kentucky, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Florida Atlantic at Auburn, 6 p.m. (ESPN3)
Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game of the week
Arkansas at Alabama: The first marquee game of 2011 in the West Division is a doozy as Arkansas takes its high-flying offense to match up with the Crimson Tide’s suffocating defense. The Razorbacks lead the SEC in scoring offense (47 points per game), passing offense (346.7 yards per game) and total offense (517.3 yards per game). Alabama counters with a defense allowing league-lows in points (6), passing yards (114.7) and total yards (170). … The three teams Arkansas has beaten this season have combined to go 0-8 and two of the three, Missouri State and New Mexico, have surrendered 50 points or more in two of those losses. … The Razorbacks are one of six teams in the NCAA that have not given up a rushing touchdown this season. Of Alabama’s 14 offensive TDs, 12 have come on the ground. … The Tide has won its last 19 SEC openers dating back to 1992, the year Arkansas joined the conference. The Hogs are 10-9 in that span, 5-4 in SEC road openers. … Bama owns four wins in a row over Arkansas (all under Nick Saban) since a 24-23 double-overtime loss in 2006. … The Tide has won 22 of its last 23 games at Bryant-Denny Stadium since 2008. … Alabama has won 15 of its last 20 games against Top-25 opposition.
Around the SEC
The busiest week of SEC play yet kicks off and there are other interesting games besides the Arkansas-Alabama tussle – just not for the same reasons. Georgia and Ole Miss tangle in Oxford in a game both teams desperately need to win to avoid an 0-2 start in league play. The Bulldogs have won the last eight games against the Rebels. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt never beat Georgia when he was at Arkansas, going 0-5. Despite a 1-2 start, Bulldogs QB Aaron Murray is off to a fast start with 968 passing yards and nine TDs. … Vanderbilt travels to South Carolina looking for a 4-0 start and 2-0 beginning in SEC play. The Commodores’23-point victory over Ole Miss (30-7) last week was their widest in a league game since they walloped Mississippi State 49-19 on Sept. 25, 1971. That win also snapped a six-game SEC losing streak. Vandy has jumped out to early leads in all three games, and is outscoring opponents 56-10 margin in the first half. Last week for the second straight game, the Commodores defense limited an opponent under 250 total yards of offense. Vandy has picked off 10 passes this season, tops in the nation, including five against Ole Miss last week. South Carolina leads the series with the ’Dores 16-4 and all four of Vandy’s wins have been in consecutive years – 1998-99 and 2007-08. In the last meeting, a 14-10 Gamecocks’ win, USC quarterback Alshon Jeffery caught nine passes for 158 yards and a game-winning 72-yard bomb in the fourth quarter. Gamecocks’ QB Stephen Garcia passed for 355 yards and completed 31-of-39 passes, two for TDs. Garcia also threw for 312 yards and a pair of scores in 2009. … Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is 16-2 against Vanderbilt, his most wins against any team except Kentucky (17-1). … Florida leaves home for the first time this season with a road trip to Kentucky, which means at least 16 Gators will play their first road game. The Wildcats haven’t beaten Florida since 1986 – a 25-year losing streak that is the longest in the SEC right now. None of the current players on either team was born when UK won 10-3 in Lexington a quarter century ago. … Auburn and FAU meet for the first time. The Tigers are 16-0 against Sun Belt Conference foes. AU running back Michael Dyer has rushed for 150 yards in back-to-back games. … Mississippi State has lost its last two games against Louisiana Tech, including a 22-14 decision in Ruston in the 2008 season opener.
NOTE: Here’s how 12 writers from around the SEC, including me, voted in a league-wide power poll.
1. LSU (10) 142, 2. Alabama (2) 134, 3. Arkansas 114, 4. South Carolina 109, 5. Florida 102, 6. Mississippi State 69, 7. (tie) Auburn and Georgia 68, 9. Tennessee 53, 10. Vanderbilt 42, 11. Kentucky 22, 12. Ole Miss 14