- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our top team just keeps separating itself from the rest of the pack, but the real tests are coming in the next two weeks:
1. Alabama (7-0; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide played its most complete game of the season in its 44-13 win over Tennessee. The offense was as balanced as ever and AJ McCarron showed everyone that he can stretch the field when asked to. This team played the exact game it needed before back-to-back games against Mississippi State and LSU. The scary thing is that this team is just getting better.
2. Florida (7-0; LW: 2:): Well, as unconventional as the Gators are on offense, they just know how to win games. All this team has needed is for its defense to come to play and it has been fine ... so far. Mike Gillislee didn't even run all that well against South Carolina, but Florida forced turnover after turnover and eventually wore down the Gamecocks. Believe it or not, this team could win the SEC East on Saturday.
3. LSU (7-1; LW: 3): Don't sleep on the Tigers. Sure, their passing game isn't very pretty, but like Florida, LSU relies heavily on its stout defense and running game. The Tigers forced critical turnovers in their comeback win over Texas A&M and shut down Johnny Manziel's offense in the second half. This team now gets an extra week of rest to figure things out on offense and prepare for Alabama.
4. Georgia (6-1; LW: 5): The Bulldogs weren't exactly crisp in their return to the football field against Kentucky. Yes, they won, but the margin of victory was much smaller than most expected. Concerns still surround the defense, especially after it gave up 206 rushing yards to one of the SEC's worst rushing teams. But the SEC East is still there for the taking. If Georgia beats Florida on Saturday, the Bulldogs sit in the East's driver's seat.
5. Mississippi State (7-0; LW: 6): Slowly, the Bulldogs are starting to gain a little more respect outside of the SEC. But people will really take this team seriously if it holds its own against the nation's best -- Alabama. Mississippi State believes it's the best team in the SEC West and it will have the chance to prove it Saturday. The defense has been solid all season, but in order to have a chance against Alabama, it has to generate a better pass rush.
6. South Carolina (6-2; LW: 4): The Gamecocks were pretty banged up heading into their game with Florida, and left both mentally and physically fatigued. South Carolina's offense failed to reach the end zone against the Gators and starting quarterback Connor Shaw was eventually benched for Dylan Thompson. The East is gone if Florida wins this weekend, but a top bowl is still in the cards. This team has to get healthy and refocused with Tennessee coming to town.
7. Texas A&M (5-2; LW: 7): Johnny Football met his match against LSU's defense. Faster and more physical defenses have had success against the Aggies offense this season, so adjustments have to be made with Alabama and Mississippi State still on the schedule ... and no bye in sight. The good news for the Aggies is that they get to lick their wounds against a stumbling Auburn team.
8. Ole Miss (4-3; LW: 8): The Rebels were off and got valuable rest before taking on Arkansas in Little Rock, Ark. This team doesn't have the greatest depth, so this time off was very important from an energy standpoint. Now, the Rebels will take on an Arkansas team that has found a bit of a spark. Ole Miss' offense has been pretty fun to watch thus far, and Arkansas' defense really struggled before its past two wins. Something has to give.
9. Arkansas (3-4; LW: 9): The bye week might have cut into the Razorbacks' momentum after their last two wins, but this was a chance to get some extra work for that defense, which is still near the bottom of the SEC in most categories. This offense slapped around Kentucky two weeks ago and now has some fire back. A bowl is still in sight, but this team has to find three more wins, starting with Saturday.
10. Vanderbilt (3-4; LW: 11): This defense is one of the most underrated units in the league. The Commodores are in the top half of the SEC in scoring defense, passing defense and total defense. Vanderbilt is still very bad when it comes to stopping the run, and if this team is going to find the three more wins it needs to become bowl eligible, it has to toughen up when it comes to stopping the run.
11. Tennessee (3-4; LW: 10): The Vols showed fight against Alabama, but it was never enough. Right when Tennessee hit Alabama's defense for a big play, the Tide clamped down on the Vols' very next step. When the defense made big stops, Alabama came right back on the next drive and scored. Derek Dooley is now 14-18 at Tennessee with only four SEC wins, and change is on the minds of a lot of fans in Knoxville, Tenn. For now, this team is just fighting to make it back to a bowl game.
12. Missouri (3-4; LW: 12): The Tigers had to be happy about getting a bye last week. This team needed time to get healthy and to get its mind right. With an 0-4 start in the SEC and a bunch of bumps and bruises to go along, Mizzou needed to recharge its batteries. The Tigers are in must-win mode with Kentucky coming to town because it's hard to find three more wins for this team if it doesn't beat the Wildcats.
13. Auburn (1-6; LW: 13): The Tigers are off to their worst start since 1952 and there's a chance this team won't win an SEC game this year. The defense was better in the Tigers' recent loss to Vanderbilt, but the offense still can't generate any sort of consistency, no matter who is under center. Gene Chizik said that he trusts his coordinators, but added that he'll reevaluate things at the end of the season. It's safe to say that the heat around the entire staff is intensifying each week.
14. Kentucky (1-7; LW: 14): The Wildcats didn't win Saturday, but they showed tremendous character in a game for which they could have easily laid down. Kentucky stayed with Georgia and even found itself with the lead three times. The Wildcats have lost six straight and won't be bowling this year, but the younger players on this team are starting to grow up. Too bad it couldn't have been earlier.
7hDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff