THIS WEEK'S SEC RATINGS

Now that the annual carnage known as Southeastern Conference interleague play has begun, the wheat is being separated from the chaff and the contenders are being separated from the pretenders.

Here's a look at each division, with the teams rated on a 1-10 scale.

SEC EAST

TENNESSEE (9): The Vols' 24-10 defeat of Florida was impressive, especially coming at The Swamp, where the Gators are close to invincible. Tennessee's defense smothered UF's young quarterbacks and the Vol offense got cranking after a sluggish start. For the first time all season, the Vols looked like a top-10 team. With South Carolina coming to Knoxville this weekend, the Big Orange can't afford a letdown.

GEORGIA (8.5): The Bulldogs are coming off a 17-10 loss at LSU but there's no shame in that, since LSU appears to be one of the top 10 teams in college football. I suspect there are only a half-dozen teams who could go into Baton Rouge and come away with a victory. The Dawgs have this weekend off before hosting Alabama on Oct. 4.

FLORIDA (7): The Gators had Tennessee on the ropes until the Vols converted a Hail Mary pass on the final play fo the first half. Without that big play, who knows how the second half would've unfolded? As Florida's young QBs mature, this could develop into a very fine team.

KENTUCKY (5.5): The Wildcats lack the overall talent of UT, Georgia and Florida but they have two great equalizers in QB Jared Lorenzen and return specialist Derek Abney. The Big Blue hammered Indiana 34-17 last Saturday and could be jelling. The Cats should give Florida fits this Saturday in Lexington. I'd rate that one a tossup.

SOUTH CAROLINA (5.5): South Carolina's defense has been outstanding this fall, with the exception of a 31-7 loss to Georgia two Saturdays ago. The Gamecocks are struggling a bit at quarterback, however, and we all saw Saturday in Gainesville how well John Chavis can exploit teams with that particular weakness.

VANDERBILT (3): After pushing Ole Miss and trouncing UT-Chattanooga, Vandy has returned to form -- losing big to Auburn and TCU (30-14) the past two weekends. The Commodores are better than last year but they've still got a ways to go before they are competitive with the SEC's better teams. Georgia Tech, coming off a disappointing loss to Clemson, should get well at the Commodores' expense this Saturday.

SEC WEST

LSU (9): Who would win if Tennessee played LSU. The home team is my guess. Like the Vols, the Tigers seem to be solid across the board. They face Mississippi State this weekend at Starkville, and that game could get ugly in a big hurry.

ARKANSAS (8.5): The Razorbacks were my darkhorse pick in preseason, but they're far better than I imagined. They've emerged as one of the top three teams in the league thus far, with a big win at Texas already behind them. If they can win this Saturday at Alabama, the Hogs have an excellent chance to win the West.

ALABAMA (7.5): Stunned by Northern Illinois last weekend, the Tide must bounce back in a hurry, since its next two games are vs. Arkansas (in Tuscaloosa) and Georgia (in Athens). Mike Shula's boys will be hard pressed to win one of those two games, let alone both. In addition, Bama still has to play Tennessee and LSU at home, plus Auburn and Ole Miss on the road.

AUBURN (7): After losing their first two games, the Tigers essentially are getting three weeks -- Vanderbilt (Sept. 13), open date (Sept. 20) and Western Kentucky (Sept. 27) -- to preare for Tennessee (Oct. 4 at Auburn). Unless Tommy Tuberville can repair his team's fractured psyche in a hurry, the Tigers could be the biggest flop in college football this season.

OLE MISS (4.5): After struggling with Vanderbilt and losing at Memphis, Ole Miss whipped hapless Louisiana-Monroe, then enjoyed an open date. Texas Tech visits Oxford this weekend, then the Rebels visit Florida Oct. 4 to open a seven-game stretch which includes games with Bama, Arkansas, South Carolina, Auburn and LSU. Even with Eli Manning behind center, Ole Miss should be an underdog in all five of those games.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (3): Now 0-3 after losing to lowly Houston, the Bulldogs' outlook is downright bleak heading into this weekend's game with visiting LSU. Even if Nick Saban's crew takes MSU lightly, the visitors should win handily. The big question: Who'll succeed Jackie Sherrill?


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