SEC ratings, Week 2

Two football teams who projected to be lousy this fall -- South Carolina and Arkansas -- just complicated the SEC outlook for 2004 by scaring the hell out of top-10 opponents.

The Gamecocks -- 0-4 to end 2003, including a 63-17 annihilation by Clemson -- appeared to be in freefall mode heading into '04. They outplayed No. 3 Georgia on Saturday, however, jumping to a 16-0 lead only to fall 20-16 due to a frantic Bulldog comeback.

The Razorbacks, minus 18 starters from 2003, figured to be young and overmatched. Yet, they pushed No. 8 Texas to the limit on Saturday, bowing 22-20 when Hog quarterback Matt Jones lost a fumble at the Longhorn 8-yard line with 3:00 left.

Another SEC team projected for mediocrity, Alabama, also flexed some muscle on Saturday. Looking to bounce back from a 4-9 disaster in 2003, the Crimson Tide hammered Ole Miss 28-7 in Tuscaloosa. Ray Hudson (116) and Kenneth Darby (87) combined for more than 200 rushing yards, suggesting QB Brodie Croyle won't have to carry the whole load for Bama this fall.

Meanwhile, several SEC teams who were supposed to be very good lived up to their billing on Saturday. LSU regrouped after a slipshod opening win to blast Arkansas State 53-3, Florida opened with a 49-10 beatdown of Eastern Michigan and Auburn manhandled Mississippi State 43-14 as Ronnie Brown (147) and Cadillac Williams (122) combined to rush for 269 yards.

Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt were idle.

Here's a look at this week's SEC Ratings:

1. Georgia (8.5). The Dawgs' win at Columbia boosted their record to 13-1 in SEC road games under Mark Richt. That's counting Jacksonville (where he's 0-3 against Florida) as a neutral site, however.

2. LSU (8.5). If the quarterback situation solidifies, the Tigers could be just as good as they were last year, when they were BCS national champs.

3. Auburn (8.0). I'm still not sold on Jason Campbell, but when Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams run as well as they did against Mississippi State, Campbell doesn't have to do a whole lot.

4. Tennessee (8.0). If the Vols can beat Florida in Knoxville this weekend, they could be headed for a memorable season. But how will their freshman QBs respond to big-game pressure?

5. Florida (8.0). Chris Leak completed 16 of 25 passes for 244 yards and 3 TDs vs. Eastern Michigan. If Ciatrick Fason (105 rushing yards) can be effective against the SEC's better teams, the Gators will be hard to beat.

6. South Carolina (7.5). Dondrial Pinkins completed 13 of 21 passes for 200 yards vs. Georgia. If he can be that productive each week, the Cocks could be a force in the SEC East race.

7. Arkansas (7.0). The Hogs' showing against Texas was impressive. Let's not forget, however, that they beat the Longhorns last year in Austin only to struggle when matched against SEC competition.

8. Alabama (7.0). It will take more than a homefield win over a struggling Ole Miss team to convince me the Tide is a good team. But their schedule is so favorable that they probably can go 8-3 WITHOUT being a good team.

9. Ole Miss (5.5). QB Michael Spurlock was benched midway through the Bama game after completing just 5 of 15 passes. He's 16 of 46 for the season. Unless David Cutcliffe solves his quarterback problem, he's in for a long year.

10. Mississippi State (5.5). Starting QB Omar Conner had decent stats vs. Auburn but it was backup Kyle York who threw two late TD passes. Like Cutcliffe, Sylvester Croom may have to determine who his best quarterback is ... and quickly.

11. Vanderbilt (4.0). The Dores' 31-6 Week 1 loss to South Carolina looks a little better now that Carolina pushed Georgia to the limit ... but not MUCH better. Vandy has enough experience and talent to be a .500-level team but the Commodores need to get their act together in a hurry.

12. Kentucky (3.0). I've always thought Shane Boyd was too erratic and mistake-prone to be a quality SEC quarterback. He's got a ways to go to prove me wrong.


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