Once again, I missed last week's SEC Power Poll, administered by our friends at Team Speed Kills. So this week's draft ballot is long because I'm making up for lost time.let's just get this over with here.
I would've had LSU No. 1 last week heading into the Tigers-Bulldogs showdown in Athens, and I might still take LSU over Georgia in a rematch played at a neutral site, but both of those teams have losses, and the best team in the SEC right now is the team that avoids them like the plague.
Alabama could've lost that game against Virginia Tech had its special teams and defense not more than made up for its anemic offense. It could've lost to Texas A&M if its offense hadn't been at full whir. It let Colorado State hang around forever, and led 9-0 over Ole Miss at halftime, before pulling away in both games.
I don't think Alabama's as good as it was last year, and I think that starts with an offensive line that has much been better against young and untested A&M (6.3 yards per carry) and Ole Miss (6.4 YPC) than a fearsome Virginia Tech line (2.5 YPC) and a veteran Colorado State squad (3.1 YPC) that likely knew some of the tricks of the trade for stopping Alabama thanks to former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain being the Rams' head man. That dropoff also extends to a secondary that was gutted against A&M and picked at by Colorado State, which ranks No. 64 in passing offense right now.
But Alabama hasn't lost yet despite having good reasons to lose, and Alabama's schedule is so soft (October brings Georgia State, Arkansas, and Tennessee to Tuscaloosa, and sends the Tide to Kentucky, before a likely SEC West-deciding game with LSU) that the concerns I have now will probably be moot points by the time an improved Alabama team needs a very good performance again. Alabama has gotten through the portion of its season that just needed to be spent not losing, and now the rest can be spent figuring out how to win.
Of late, everything seems to work out for Alabama, and this year's unlikely to be any different.
I watched that entire Georgia-LSU game, and live blogged it, and I have to say that I'm less enchanted by it now than I was on Saturday. Both Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger were great, but they were great largely because of a lack of pressure. (I don't recall Murray ever being stressed on a throw.) Todd Gurley was excellent early, but Georgia's running game fizzled without him. Both teams blew coverages repeatedly, leading to touchdowns; Georgia's secondary had significant troubles recognizing and responding to even some rather elementary schemes, and the Dawgs were horrendous on third down, allowing 10 LSU conversions on 15 tries. LSU ran for a woeful 2.1 YPC, with Jeremy Hill managing 86 yards on his own and four Mettenberger sacks zapping 26 yards from the Tigers' rushing total ... and yet Mettenberger still had enough space to breathe against a good pass rush to throw for 372 yards.
I think I was wrong about LSU's defense being very good: It clearly misses every one of those great players now in the NFL. I think I'm right about Georgia's defense being just about average: There are holes all over, and the only superb thing about that defense on Saturday was the pressure that Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd brought. But those two offenses are good enough to keep outscoring other teams (Georgia's three wins have come by 11, 24, and three points — in games in which its offense topped 40), and the defenses are certainly better than the one Texas A&M trots out, and I'm bearish on South Carolina this week, so these seemed like good spots.
Hey, we're back to ranking the only SEC team with an elite unit (that defense!) paired with an above-average one ahead of teams that didn't lose to Miami by committing five turnovers.
Florida's defense scarcely needs more explanation here (it's allowed 20 points in the second half this season, with seven of those set up by a fumble against Miami), but its offense deserves a defense of its consistency after four straight games in which it never gained fewer than 382 yards or more than 415. Had that offense been just a little more careful against Miami, Florida would be 4-0; had the 122 rushing yards against Miami not come on 44 carries, Florida's rushing game (which has now produced 215 or more rushing yards three times without its best tailback being at full strength) would be hailed as a weapon; had the general ennui that Florida's patient, chain-moving (the Gators are fourth in the SEC in third-down conversion percentage; Georgia and Alabama are 11th and 12th) offense inflicts on Gators fans who wanna see things go boom not colored the national perception of it, it would be better appreciated as the complement to the toothy defense that waits forever for it to grind out drives on the sideline.
I can't make myself think that Texas A&M or South Carolina would beat this Florida team more often than not, and so Florida sits ahead of those two schools. I'm probably being a homer here. I don't care.
5. Texas A&M
It's an elite offense these Aggies have, to be sure, but A&M now has all of the players that were supposed to be playing for its defense back after missing some against Rice and Sam Houston State, and, um, is there a difference? A&M's allowed more than five yards per carry in every game this year, and just gave up 201 yards to Arkansas (on 30 carries) despite the Razorbacks having the somewhat erratic Brandon Allen at quarterback and A&M's offense continually keeping a lead that induced Bret Bielema to throw. Oh, and the secondary might be worse than the front seven, though the Aggies have, at least, snagged seven picks this year.
Keep scoring, Johnny. Your team needs it.
6. South Carolina
Devalued this week because of Connor Shaw's injury, and because of how open the front door was early and the back door was late against UCF. Steve Spurrier is unquestionably one of the best college coaches ever, but his refusal to just run Mike Davis and try to road-grade the smaller Knights, even after Shaw's injury, was flummoxing and frustrating. If UCF were bigger, or better, or had a larger lead than the 10-0 one the Knights put up, South Carolina could very well have lost that game, despite having no good reason to do so.
If Shaw comes back healthy, I have no problem sliding South Carolina ahead of A&M, but Shaw's absence leaves the Gamecocks with a fairly predictable offense, and his extensive injury history (and Spurrier's extensive Spurrier history) gives me reason to think Shaw-as-South Carolina's-unquestioned-starter might not actually happen. And so sixth works for me.
Auburn was off last week, but what it did late against LSU two weeks ago shouldn't be overlooked. Tre Mason, who is not one of the SEC's top five running backs (though, granted, that's a hard group to break into), had more than five yards per carry against LSU's line. Nick Marshall showed flashes of future nightmares for other SEC teams. Auburn didn't even come close to quitting despite a 21-0 halftime deficit on the road.
That's almost definitely not good enough to beat LSU, or Alabama, or Texas A&M, or Georgia, and thus 8-4 is almost definitely the Tigers' ceiling, but 8-4 is a lot better than Auburn's been over the last two years, so I'm sure Tigers fans would take it.
8. Ole Miss
Congrats, Rebs: You got your "Welcome to the SEC, young talent" loss on the road at a power one week after Auburn got its booby prize. The defense played gamely in Bryant-Denny, and kept it close for a full half, but that's not nearly enough to beat a good team when the running game is nonexistent (46 yards on 25 carries) and the passing game is erratic, much less enough to beat Alabama on the road. Head to the back of the line of the good teams that no one will mistake for great teams.
Missouri has four wins. They have come over Murray State, Toledo, Indiana, and Arkansas State, and only the win over Indiana has come away from Faurot Field. Missouri's offense has looked good, but it has looked good against FBS teams ranked 67th (Toledo), 103rd (Arkansas State), and 108th (Indiana) in total defense, and Murray State, an FCS team that has held just one opponent (NAIA Campbellsville, which it eviscerated by an 83-14 margin) under 34 points. (Murray State led that game 41-0 after the first quarter, and 62-0 midway through the second.)
Read Rock M Nation's recap of Missouri's 41-19 win over Arkansas State, one that Bill Connelly headlines as "Mizzou survives Arkansas State" in the site's StoryStream for the game, and tell me that your impression of Missouri isn't an average SEC team that has been saved from a loss by a favorable schedule so far.
Vanderbilt is in a limbo that has to be excruciating for the very-interested-in-attendance-huh-isn't-that-strange James Franklin. This is not a particularly good team, as losing to Ole Miss at home and struggling to put away UMass should have shown, and not a particularly bad team, as a respectable loss to South Carolina and a blowout win over UAB have made clear. The Commodores fight; they're just not talented enough for that fight to matter against better teams.
And more of those better teams are on the horizon: Vandy gets Mizzou at home this week, then gets a bye, then has to play Georgia and travel to Texas A&M and Florida in succession. If the 'Dores don't top the Tigers, they will almost certainly be out of bowl contention by the end of the day on November 9, which might cramp the style of a coach whose interests seem to me to include getting him out of Nashville before too long.
You could sell me on Arkansas beating Vanderbilt because Arkansas is a more physical team and hung with Texas A&M for a while. But Arkansas also lost to Rutgers by blowing a late lead, has some serious issues passing the ball against secondaries that don't belong to A&M, and trailed Samford entering the fourth quarter. So I'm not saying you'd convince me.
12. Mississippi State
Off last week, which is likely to help perception this week, before LSU destroys the Bulldogs. Mississippi State's wins are over a terrible Troy team (losses to Arkansas State and Duke) and Division II Alcorn State, which needed 23 fourth-quarter points just to make a loss to fellow SWAC team Alabama State last Saturday look as respectable as a 49-30 final is.
Here is where some of my reservations about having Florida No. 4 lie: I sincerely think Florida just played the two worst teams in the SEC. Now, the Gators weren't threatened by either team (fluke touchdowns handed over by Florida's offense and special teams prevented the Gators from shutting both out in the first half), but Kentucky's offense was good for two drives against the Gators, and yet bogged down both times, and Tennessee's offense was only good when Florida had a three-touchdown lead and two healthy cornerbacks. And neither defense did very much to stop Florida's offense, which is plodding and predictable in addition to being patient and efficient: Tyler Murphy aerated Kentucky, and ran circles around Tennessee.
So the problem, then, becomes differentiating between awful and more awful, and I think Tennessee takes the cellar floor this week. The Vols allowed an 82-yard touchdown drive to South Alabama to begin another painful Saturday, allowed 17 unanswered points in the second half after taking a 31-7 lead, and decided to pass on nine of their first 11 plays in the fourth quarter, despite averaging more than seven yards per carry in the game, which allowed the Jaguars, in just their second year as an FBS team, to drive into Tennessee territory with a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
"Bullets, Dodged and Otherwise" is the subtitle of Will Shelton's recap of the narrow 31-24 win at Rocky Top Talk, and it seems clear that Tennessee, when not greatly benefiting from opponents depositing those bullets into their own persons, is not exactly good enough to withstand a shot.
As always, I welcome disagreement in the comments. Make my ballot better!