First SEC ratings of 2004

The first weekend of SEC football didn't prove anything but it certainly offered some intriguing suggestions. To wit:

* LSU and Georgia may be overrated
* South Carolina may be underrated
* Tennessee's freshman quarterbacks may be budding stars
* Kentucky may be in for a long, long year

LSU scarcely resembled a defending national champion, nipping Oregon State 22-21 in overtime. If not for three missed PATs by the Beavers, Nick Saban's team would've lost its home opener. Quarterbacks Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell combined to complete just 16 of 44 passes, so the Tigers may not be the juggernaut a lot of preseason prophets projected them to be.

Georgia struggled mightily with Georgia Southern before pulling away in the second half. Freshman tailback Danny Ware (135 yards) may soften the loss of Kregg Lumpkin, however.

South Carolina's 31-6 domination of Vanderbilt suggests the Gamecocks have recovered nicely from that season-ending four-game losing streak of 2003 that bottomed out with a 63-17 humiliation at the hands of Clemson. They outgained the 'Dores 167-3 yards in the first quarter and coasted from there.

Tennessee's rookie signal-callers, Brent Schaeffer (7 of 10 for 123 yards) and Erik Ainge (10 of 17 for 118 yards and 2 TDs), looked like grizzled veterans in the Vols' 42-17 pasting of Nevada-Las Vegas. Whether they can look that poised against Florida on Sept. 18 remains to be seen.

As for Kentucky, the Wildcats' 28-0 spanking at the hands of Louisville could be the beginning of the end for Rich Brooks. The Big Blue rushed for just 66 yards and has a quarterback (Shane Boyd) who is more of a runner than passer. That does not bode well.

One game does not a season make, of course, so all of these Week 1 impressions could totally change by the time October rolls around. That said, here's InsideTennessee's first SEC ratings of 2004, using the traditional 1-10 scale:

1. Georgia (8.5). The Dawgs sputtered early but dominated late. They're still the team to beat in the SEC.

2. Tennessee (8.0). If the freshman QBs are as good as they looked in Game 1, this could be a Cinderella season in Big Orange Country.

3. Florida (7.5). The Gators' opener with MTSU was postponed by Hurricane Frances, so they're still an unknown quantity. They have Chris Leak at quarterback, though, and that counts for something.

4. LSU (7.0). The Tigers have troubles at quarterback but JaMarcus Russell should solidify that posiiton as the season continues.

5. South Carolina (7.0). In one game, Lou Holtz's perception changed from an aging coach to an ageless coach. My hat's off to him.

6. Alabama (6.5). Thrashing Utah State (48-17) doesn't make the Tide a challenger in the SEC West but it's a good start.

7. Arkansas (6.5). Matt Jones was magnificent (13 of 16 for 195 passing yards, plus 38 rushing yards) as the Hogs manhandled New Mexico State 63-13.

8. Auburn (6.5). Louisiana-Monroe is awful, yet Jason Campbell completed just 11 of 18 passes for 110 yards with an interception and a fumble. Unless Campbell can take the heat off Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, the Tigers will never reach their potential.

9. Ole Miss (6.0). Losing to a very good Memphis team is no cause for alarm. But Michael Spurlock's passing line (11 of 31) is.

10. Mississippi State (6.0). Sylvester Croom's historic debut was memorable. But beating Tulane is a lot less of a challenge than beating SEC foes.

11. Vanderbilt (4.0). The Commodores self-destructed with four turnovers vs. South Carolina. Unless they plug this leak, their ship will continue to sink.

12. Kentucky (3.0). Now you know why Jared Lorenzen started ahead of Shane Boyd ...


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