- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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The SEC flexed its muscles again, and as we head into the SEC championship game, we release the final regular-season power rankings for the league:
1. Alabama (11-1; last week: 1): Since losing at home to Texas A&M, Alabama has done exactly what it has needed to do against inferior opponents by defeating Western Carolina and Auburn by a combined score of 98-0. For a team that could have pouted about its loss, Alabama has come out very, very strong in the past two weeks. This week, the Tide take on a Georgia team that is also playing its best ball of the season in the SEC championship game. A win, and Alabama will be headed to its third national championship game in four years.
2. Georgia (11-1; LW: 2): Like Alabama, the Bulldogs haven't really been challenged of late. Against overmatched opponents in the past four weeks, the Bulldogs have averaged 470 yards and haven't scored fewer than 37 points in an outing. The offense is back to its explosive ways, and the defense looks elite again. This team is equipped with the talent to win the SEC, but does it have the right mindset? We'll find out very soon.
3. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): Someone please figure out this team! For weeks, the Gators floundered with the ball in their hands, but when they took on the nation's No. 1 statistical defense (Florida State) on the road, they turned back into that hard-nosed running team. The Seminoles were giving up 2.3 yards per carry, but Florida averaged 5.2 yards per carry and registered 244 rushing yards. The defense is elite, and regardless of what the offense looks like, the Gators have the SEC's best résumé with four wins over top-10 BCS opponents.
4. Texas A&M (10-2; LW: 4): The Aggies walked all over a bad Missouri team Saturday. Johnny Manziel injured his knee in the first quarter and was still able to accumulate 439 yards of offense and five touchdowns. The defense gave up 22 points in the second half, but the game was well in hand by halftime. No one knows how this team won 10 games in its first year in the SEC without a bye week, but A&M was a pleasant surprise for the conference. These aren't the Big 12's Aggies, and they're headed to a January bowl.
5. LSU (10-2; LW: 5): The Tigers had a tough game in Fayetteville against a struggling Arkansas team, but LSU grabbed its third straight 10-win season. The offense has exploded since the Alabama game, and the defense is still one of the best around. It took Zach Mettenberger most of the 2012 season, but he's finally looking like the top-notch quarterback many expected him to be from the start. Imagine if this LSU team had been here all season.
6. South Carolina (10-2; LW: 6): Clemson's Death Valley wasn't very intimidating for the Gamecocks. Even without starting quarterback Connor Shaw, the Gamecocks carved up the Tigers for 444 yards of offense. Backup Dylan Thompson more than did his part with 310 passing yards and three touchdowns. Oh, and Jadeveon Clowney ruined Clemson's night with 4.5 sacks. The Gamecocks have been overlooked a little since losing to Florida, but this team is really clicking in all phases of the game.
7. Vanderbilt (8-4; LW: 7): What a year for James Franklin and his crew. For the first time since 1982, the Commodores have eight wins, and they closed the season riding a six-game winning streak. The defense has been solid all season, but the offense really turned things on during this winning streak. In the past six games, the Commodores scored 40 or more points and eclipsed 400 yards of total offense four times. The Commodores are in line for a high-profile bowl game.
8. Ole Miss (6-6; LW: 9): Mississippi State might have two more wins, but the Rebels crushed the Bulldogs at home to jump in the rankings. After a back-and-forth start, Ole Miss outscored the Bulldogs 24-7 in the second half. In the three games prior, the Rebels were obliterated in the second half. Hugh Freeze has really turned things around in Oxford and is up for coach of the year in the SEC. The Rebels are going bowling for the first time in three years and registered three SEC wins after entering the season on a 14-game losing streak in conference play.
9. Mississippi State (8-4; LW: 8): After starting the season an impressive 7-0, the Bulldogs finished 1-4. Mississippi State was outscored by a combined 93 points in those losses. What might have been the most shocking part of the Bulldogs' fall was that the defense was the main offender. The Bulldogs allowed an average of 327 yards through the first seven games but conceded 477 per game in the last five weeks. The weaker first-half opponents clearly masked the glaring issues this defense had.
10. Missouri (5-7; LW: 10): A long, rough first season in the SEC ended with a 30-point blowout loss to fellow newcomer Texas A&M. Injuries ravaged this team all year, and the Tigers head into the offseason very disappointed with how the 2012 season went. The offense lost its explosion early in the season and could just never help the defense out as the year went on. Coach Gary Pinkel said last week that there won't be staff changes, but if some sort of change doesn't happen, the Tigers won't get any better.
11. Tennessee (5-7; LW: 12): Like the Tigers, a very long and disappointing season is over with in Knoxville. Derek Dooley is gone, and it's time for this program to start over and search for a new coach to lead the Vols. The first order of business for the new coach will be recruiting juniors Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson and then fixing the major issues on defense. A huge reason for Tennessee's disastrous 2012 season was that the defense allowed 471 yards and nearly 36 points per game. Both were highs (or lows) in the SEC.
12. Arkansas (4-8; LW: 11): The Razorbacks fought hard in their final game of the season but came up just short against LSU. It was a year of major lows for Arkansas' program, but it has finally ended. Now, the Razorbacks turn their attention to finding a new head coach. Defense becomes a priority for the Hogs' next coach, as Arkansas allowed 30-plus points in seven of its eight losses this year.
13. Auburn (3-9; LW: 13): Another SEC team that is looking for a new head coach. After a dreadful season on the Plains, Gene Chizik was fired Sunday just two years removed from a national championship. An 0-8 record in the SEC, hardly any signs of improvement throughout the year and being blown out 150-21 in your last three SEC games will send you packing. There's plenty of talent at Auburn, but development issues kept this team near the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories. That right there goes back to coaching.
14. Kentucky (2-10; LW: 14): The Wildcats officially said goodbye to coach Joker Phillips after their 37-17 loss to Tennessee on Saturday. It seemed like no team in the SEC dealt with the number of injuries Kentucky did this year. This team was required to play a handful of youngsters, but there weren't signs of improvement in Lexington as the season went on with the defense and offense hovering around the bottom of the SEC all season. The good news is that those youngsters got a lot of valuable game experience.
17hDavid M. Hale