- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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We spent the last few months dissecting the league and projecting how certain teams would look.
Once the first games are played, there are always a few surprises.
Alabama remained atop the first updated SEC power rankings of the season, but there was considerable movement elsewhere:
1. Alabama: The defending national champion is supposed to make quick work of San Jose State, and that’s what Alabama did in a season-opening 48-3 rout. Sure, the Crimson Tide are missing some talented guys on defense from a year ago, but there’s still nobody in this league that can match Alabama’s overall talent. It’s difficult to find any weaknesses on offense, even with Mark Ingram standing on the sideline.
2. Georgia: Some eyebrows are no doubt raised to see Georgia sitting in the No. 2 spot this week. The Bulldogs can validate this ranking the next two weeks against South Carolina and Arkansas. The defense appears to be much improved under first-year coordinator Todd Grantham. It’s hard to beat the balance on offense, especially if the Bulldogs get A.J. Green back, and the kicking game has few, if any, peers in the country. Until proved otherwise, Georgia is as good a choice as any to hold down the No. 2 spot.
3. Florida: There’s no way the Gators are as bad as they looked last week on offense. But, then, is there any way they can recapture what they had the last few seasons with Tim Tebow running the show? The reality is that it might take a while for this team to find its offensive identity. Some more playmakers need to emerge at receiver, and there’s still not a consistent threat in the running game that the Gators can count on for the tough yards. All of a sudden, third-and-2 looks a little more ominous than it used to in Swamp Land.
4. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino couldn’t quit talking about his defense following Arkansas’ 44-3 season-opening win over Tennessee Tech, and that’s good news to the ears of Arkansas fans. Everybody knows these Hogs can score with anybody. Stopping people has been the problem. The opener was the first time Arkansas has kept an opponent out of the end zone since Willy Robinson has been defensive coordinator. Robinson came when Petrino did. More importantly, this appears to be a faster, more aggressive defense that finishes plays.
5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks get bonus points on a couple of different fronts. They battled through some adversity last week and still won handily over a legitimate team. Their 41-13 victory over Southern Miss was never in doubt, and it’s obvious several newcomers (Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders) are going to make a big impact on this team. South Carolina was also playing without five starters last week and may get some of those guys back this Saturday against Georgia.
6. Auburn: Offensively, Auburn came right out in the opener and looked the part of a genuine contender in the Western Division. Quarterback Cameron Newton was outstanding. He spread it around to his playmakers, and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has a fully stocked arsenal now. The glitch was the defense. The Tigers sill looked vulnerable at times and didn’t tackle especially well in a 52-26 win over Arkansas State.
7. LSU: Had LSU not escaped at the end last Saturday against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Les Miles might not have gotten back into the state of Louisiana. The Tigers nearly blew a 30-10 lead in the final quarter after making one critical error after another. There’s more than enough talent on this team to make a run in the Western Division race. Miles needs to make sure he uses that talent correctly, and the Tigers need to figure out a way to knock teams out when they have them on the ropes. There was no excuse for North Carolina, which was missing 13 players, to still be in that game in the fourth quarter.
8. Mississippi State: Here’s Mississippi State’s chance to shoot up these rankings with Auburn coming to town on Thursday night. Dan Mullen has this program on the move in a lot of different areas. What the Bulldogs need to do now is prove they can win a big game at home. They were very impressive in their season-opening 49-7 blistering of Memphis. And for all the talk about redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Russell tying a school-record with four touchdown passes, Manny Diaz’s defense looks pretty nasty, too.
9. Kentucky: The Wildcats need to figure out a way to bottle their start from last weekend and sustain it for the entire game. They unloaded on Louisville in the first half and looked great in building a big lead, but then had to hold on for a 23-16 victory. Finishing games was a problem last season, too, and missing short field goals and extra points will eventually get you beat in this league. Any offense with Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke has a chance to be outstanding. It’s too early to tell about the Wildcats’ defense.
10. Tennessee: The Vols came up against an outmanned foe in Derek Dooley’s Rocky Top debut and did what an SEC team should do to an outmanned foe. They obliterated Tennessee-Martin 50-0. Now, the real season begins when nationally ranked Oregon visits Neyland Stadium this weekend. The Vols have a promising collection of young players, and a lot of those guys are already playing key roles. This may be the weekend, though, that all that youth and inexperience gets exposed.
11. Vanderbilt: The Commodores were right there against Northwestern and showed some signs of improvement on offense. But in vintage Vanderbilt fashion, they were left to wonder “what if” after losing a tough 23-21 decision to the Wildcats. The Commodores didn’t help themselves with a missed extra point, a costly interception and 91 yards of penalties. First-year coach Robbie Caldwell also gambled on a failed two-point conversion try earlier in the game that came back to bite them.
12. Ole Miss: There’s a bylaw somewhere that says if you lose to an FCS school and do so by blowing a 21-point lead, you’re automatically rendered to spending at least three weeks at the bottom of the SEC power rankings. Ole Miss’ 49-48 loss to Jacksonville State was the first time an SEC team had lost to an FCS (Division I-AA) school since Mississippi State was beaten by Maine in 2004.
23hEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough
2dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman