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SEC power rankings: Week 4

9/19/2011

The big mover this week in the SEC power rankings is Vanderbilt, which is 3-0 for only the fifth time in the past 60 years.

The top three, though, remain the same:

1. LSU (3-0, 1-0): The question you’re starting to hear more and more about the Tigers is: Can they win a national championship with that offense? Obviously, we’re going to find out. But here’s a thought: Maybe their offense is playing to a defense that’s absolutely good enough to win a national title. LSU has already won two games away from home against nationally ranked foes.

2. Alabama (3-0): The Crimson Tide get their second big test this coming weekend when Arkansas comes to town. The Hogs have the kind of offensive weapons that will give any defense fits. Alabama’s another team that has a national championship-caliber defense. Moving the ball against the Tide has been like trying to move it against a brick wall. Opponents are averaging just 2.52 yards per play against them, which leads the country.

3. Arkansas (3-0): Coach Bobby Petrino wasn’t real thrilled with the way the Hogs finished the game last week. After getting up 24-0, they turned sloppy in the second half and beat Troy 38-28. They held several banged-up starters out of the game, including receiver Jarius Wright and defensive end Jake Bequette. They’re going to need everybody to be healthy and need some big plays from their defense to win Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

4. South Carolina (3-0, 1-0): The Gamecocks either like living dangerously or still have some serious kinks to work out, because they’ve come a little bit closer to losing every week. They were extremely fortunate to survive last week against Navy in a 24-21 win at home and simply aren’t playing up to their talent level. At least, not yet. It’s a good thing they have Marcus Lattimore on their side.

5. Florida (3-0, 1-0): The Gators make a move into the top 5 this week after dispatching Tennessee 33-23 last week. It was Florida’s seventh straight win against Tennessee and Will Muschamp’s first SEC win as a head coach. The Gators are the real deal in their defensive front seven and should only get better. There’s work to do in the secondary. On offense, Chris Rainey is one of the most dynamic players in college football right now. Good luck in trying to catch him once he gets a step.

6. Vanderbilt (3-0, 1-0): What a fantastic job first-year coach James Franklin and his staff have done to this point with a group of players who genuinely believe that they can have a big season. It gets a lot tougher from here. The next three games are against South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia, but the Commodores’ defense is playing lights out. They already have 10 interceptions this season.

7. Tennessee (2-1, 0-1): The Vols now have a week off to think about all the things they didn’t do well last week in a 33-23 loss to Florida, which has to be paying taxes in the state of Tennessee by now. The Gators have won seven in a row and 15 of the past 19 in a rivalry that hasn’t been much of one. The loss was one thing for the Vols, but they also lost their sensational sophomore receiver, Justin Hunter, for the season with a torn ACL.

8. Auburn (2-1, 1-0): If you like hard-nosed, stingy defense, be sure and steer clear of watching the Tigers play. They were abysmal on defense last week in a 38-24 loss at Clemson and have now given up 1,603 yards and 110 points in three games. They should be able to blow off some steam this Saturday against Florida Atlantic. But after that, they’re in for a rough ride unless they get a lot better on defense.

9. Georgia (1-2, 0-1): As disappointing as Georgia’s 0-2 start was, the Eastern Division looks as wide open as it ever did. There simply doesn’t appear to be a great team in the East. So here’s Georgia’s chance to get back into the race this week with a trip to Ole Miss. This is a game Georgia needs to win big and breathe new life into the entire Bulldog Nation. We won’t even broach the idea of what a loss to the Rebels would mean for Mark Richt and that Georgia program.

10. Mississippi State (1-2, 0-2): The Bulldogs are better than they’ve played to this point, and the season’s not lost. But they need to get busy in a hurry and could use a winning streak going into that bye week on Oct. 22. There was a lot of talk in Starkville this offseason about taking that next step. To do that, the Bulldogs are going to have to start winning some games in the West. They’re now 2-10 under Dan Mullen against Western Division teams.

11. Kentucky (2-1): There’s no getting around the Wildcats’ offensive struggles. They’re going to have a hard time scoring against anybody right now, and this is when the schedule starts to take on some teeth with three straight games against Florida, LSU and South Carolina. The 24-17 loss to Louisville last week not only ended the Wildcats’ four-game winning streak in the series, but now makes it an uphill climb for Kentucky to get back to a bowl game for a sixth straight season.

12. Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1): The Rebels were so close in that opener against BYU. Now, three games in, there’s no telling what might happen. All bets are off following an embarrassing 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt last week, and coach Houston Nutt understands what he’s up against, especially coming off last season’s 4-8 finish. The Rebels get Georgia at home this weekend and need a win in the worst way.