Here’s a look at our SEC power rankings upon the completion of the regular season:
1. LSU (12-0, 8-0): The Tigers have been perfect, and they’ve made it clear that their goal this season is perfection, which would require a win against Georgia on Saturday in the SEC championship game and a second win this season against Alabama on Jan. 9 in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. If the Tigers make it through at 14-0, it would go down as the greatest season in SEC history.
2. Alabama (11-1, 7-1): After polishing off Auburn last Saturday, the Crimson Tide get to sit and wait. There’s virtually no scenario out there that would knock them out of one of those top two spots in the final BCS standings, which puts the Tide in great shape. They’re going to get their rematch with LSU, unless the Tigers get blown out by Georgia, and won’t even have to play another game.
3. Arkansas (10-2, 6-2): There was some thought given to moving Georgia up into the third spot, but the Hogs are still a top 10 team nationally and would likely be playing for a championship somewhere if they were in any other division than the SEC West. Bobby Petrino guided the Hogs to their second straight 10-win season, but they lost by a combined 48 points to Alabama and LSU.
4. Georgia (10-2, 7-1): Here’s Georgia’s chance to move into the top three with a win against LSU in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs have won 10 in a row and were especially impressive in their 31-17 win at Georgia Tech last week. They’re playing the kind of defense right now that gives you a chance against anybody, which is a good sign heading to the Georgia Dome. Not to take away from Georgia’s run, but avoiding Alabama, Arkansas and LSU this season was huge.
5. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2): The Gamecocks fell short of their goal to go back to the SEC championship game for a second straight year, but they did win 10 games for only the second time in school history, and punctuated the regular season with their third straight win against arch-rival Clemson. It was vintage Steve Spurrier afterward when he quipped, “Historically, Clemson has owned this series. They don’t own us now.”
6. Auburn (7-5, 4-4): A year ago, the Tigers were masterful when it came to finishing games and finishing the season on their way to a national championship. But nobody on the Plains will be happy about the way they finished this season. Auburn was blown out at home last Saturday by Alabama, 42-14, and didn’t score an offensive touchdown. In three of their past four SEC games against Alabama, Georgia and LSU, the Tigers were outscored 132-31.
7. Florida (6-6, 3-5): The Gators were just glad to get the regular season behind them, and it ended with an ugly 21-7 loss to rival Florida State at home. It’s Florida’s worst regular-season record since 1987, and the Gators didn’t beat a single FBS team that finished the season with a winning record. The offense was a train wreck for much of the season, and it’s clear Will Muschamp has his work cut out to get this program back on track.
8. Vanderbilt (6-6, 2-6): Look at James Franklin in his first season at Vanderbilt. He has the Commodores heading to a bowl game for only the fifth time in school history, and they’re coming off a 41-7 thrashing of Wake Forest on the road in their most complete game of the season. The offense has made huge strides. The defense has been excellent, and this is a team that could very easily be 9-3 right now when you look at the close losses to Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia.
9. Mississippi State (6-6, 2-6): The Bulldogs didn’t meet their lofty expectations this season. But, then, maybe those expectations were a tad too high. What they did do was beat Ole Miss for a third straight season, something that hadn’t happened in nearly 70 years, and Dan Mullen has Mississippi State back in a bowl game for the second straight year. The Bulldogs’ defense was vastly improved the final half of the season.
10. Kentucky (5-7, 2-6): It was a disappointing season for the Wildcats, who won’t be going to a bowl game for the first time since 2005, but the offseason figures to be a lot more tolerable thanks to the 10-7 win against Tennessee last Saturday. The streak is finally dead, which should give the Wildcats some momentum going forward. At the top of Joker Phillips’ to-do list is fixing an offense that went belly-up this season.
11. Tennessee (5-7, 1-7): The Vols can thank their lucky stars for Ole Miss. Otherwise, they’d be in dead last. They had their 26-game winning streak against Kentucky stopped last Saturday, with the Wildcats playing a receiver at quarterback. It’s the first time since 1910 and 1911 that Tennessee has suffered through back-to-back losing seasons, and while Derek Dooley will be back for a third season, it now becomes paramount that the Vols show marked improvement in 2012 if he’s going to be around long term.
12. Ole Miss (2-10, 0-8): For any group of fans who think they truly had a wretched season, they might want to look at what the Rebels went through this season and think again. It mercifully ended for Ole Miss last Saturday with a 31-3 loss to Mississippi State, and it was also Houston Nutt’s final game with the Rebels. They’ve lost 14 straight SEC games over the past two seasons.