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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
What do you know? The Florida Gators finish the season in the SEC power rankings right where they started back in August -- No. 1. Something tells me they'll start next season there as well. Meanwhile, the rest of the SEC will be doing its best to make sure Urban Meyer doesn't create a dynasty in a league where one team rarely sets up shop at the top very long. Taking the bowl games into account, here's the final installment of the 2008 SEC power rankings:
1. Florida (13-1): A second BCS national championship in three years makes this a no-brainer. The question now: Can the Gators make it three national titles in four years in 2009? With Tim Tebow coming back, they will be the favorite and will again be loaded with offensive playmakers and a defense that could return everyone depending on what middle linebacker Brandon Spikes decides.
2. Alabama (12-2): Even Alabama coach Nick Saban admitted that it will be difficult not to remember the disappointing finish when he looks back on the 2008 season. The Crimson Tide, after going 12-0 and spending the entire month of November ranked No. 1 in the polls, didn't finish the season the way they wanted to. The SEC championship loss to Florida was one thing, but the dagger was the 31-17 loss to Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl where they were thoroughly outplayed and outcoached.
3. Ole Miss (9-4): Outside of Florida, nobody else in the SEC was hotter when the season ended than Ole Miss, which capped a six-game winning streak with a convincing 47-34 spanking of No. 7 Texas Tech in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. The Rebels were also the only team in the country to defeat the Gators, giving them two Top 10 wins. This could have easily been an 11-win season had it not been for their turnover problems earlier in the season. Houston Nutt has them believing in Oxford.
4. Georgia (10-3): When 10-win seasons are a disappointment, that's usually a telltale sign that your fans are spoiled. That's part of the deal with the Bulldogs, who've now won 10 or more games in six of Mark Richt's eight seasons in Athens. The other part is that they went into this season ranked No. 1. Expectations were through the roof. Ultimately, the Bulldogs couldn't overcome all their injuries. But the biggest downer was that they were uncompetitive in their two biggest SEC games (lopsided losses to Alabama and Florida) and gave up 409 yards rushing in a 45-42 loss to nonconference rival Georgia Tech.
5. LSU (8-5): The defending national champions salvaged a little pride with a 38-3 pasting of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It was the kind of performance that made you think, 'Where was that defense all season?' The Tigers had allowed 30 or more points in three straight games heading into the bowl and were much too talented to be shredded like that. LSU coach Les Miles shook up his defensive staff at season's end and brought in former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis.
6. Vanderbilt (7-6): The Commodores get the nod over South Carolina and Kentucky to finish in the top half of the league thanks to head-to-head victories over both the Gamecocks and Wildcats and their come-from-behind win over Boston College in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. There's no doubt that Bobby Johnson has upgraded the talent at Vanderbilt, but he still gets as much out of his personnel as any coach in the SEC. Don't be surprised if the Commodores challenge for a second straight bowl game next season.
7. South Carolina (7-6): The Gamecocks get the award for the most disappointing finish to the season, beating out Alabama. The Crimson Tide at least played hard in the SEC Championship Game loss. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, were outscored 118-30 in their last three games, including a 31-10 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl. It was a pitiful effort by a program that has a history of pitiful efforts in bowl games. The Head Ball Coach has seen better days.
8. Kentucky (7-6): The Wildcats' second-half rally to defeat East Carolina 25-19 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl made a huge difference in how the 2008 season will be remembered in the Bluegrass. They'd only won two games since September going into the bowl game and finished 2-6 in the SEC. But getting some guys healthy on defense was critical, and Rich Brooks' club was able to win its third consecutive bowl game, which had never been done in school history.
9. Tennessee (5-7): A second losing season in four years was too much for Phillip Fulmer to overcome, as Tennessee's offense went belly-up in 2008. So for the first time since the 1960s, Tennessee conducted an actual coach search and came up with 33-year-old Lane Kiffin. Unproven as a head coach, Kiffin has Tennessee fans excited with the staff he's putting together. The two centerpieces are his dad, Monte Kiffin, who will run the defense and former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron, who will head up recruiting and coach the defensive line. Lane Kiffin plans to call his own plays.
10. Arkansas (5-7): There was certainly some disappointment along the way, but Arkansas' 5-7 was markedly different from Auburn's 5-7 or Tennessee's 5-7. The Razorbacks played 16 true freshmen, the third most in the country, and they improved greatly during the second half of the season. The 31-30 win over LSU on Thanksgiving weekend was a great way to go into the offseason. Bobby Petrino said the key to taking that next step in 2009 will be getting more physical on defense.
11. Auburn (5-7): Tommy Tuberville had told people privately that "they" were simply waiting for an opening to get him. That opening came during the 2008 season when things unraveled on the Plains. Tuberville, who never had full support of key power brokers at Auburn, didn't survive the failed spread offense experiment and his first losing season since his first year at Auburn. His defensive coordinator on the unbeaten 2004 team, Gene Chizik, now gets his chance to see what he can do with the reins to a program that was a pillar of consistency for much of this decade.
12. Mississippi State (4-8): This time a year ago, everybody was talking about what a great job SEC Coach of the Year Sylvester Croom had done with the Bulldogs' program after winning eight games. Then came a disastrous 4-8 season, culminating with an embarra
ssing 45-0 loss to Ole Miss, and Croom was suddenly out of a job. Dan Mullen, the former Florida offensive coordinator, now takes his shot at getting Mississippi State's program back to speed.