We are closer and closer to the historic clash between Alabama and LSU. Both are off this weekend, so we'll have to wait two weeks before our top teams return to the playing field.
It should be well worth the wait.
Let's check out the rankings for Week 9:
1. LSU (8-0, 5-0): The Tigers just keep getting stronger each week. Even when you take key guys out of the lineup, LSU just bounces back even better. LSU might have played its best game of the season when it ran Auburn out of the bayou before the third quarter was even over. Some have doubted LSU because of the distractions and some inconsistency on offense, but the Tigers haven't missed a beat this season. They are at the top of the BCS standings for a reason and that is just adding even more hype to the Tigers' showdown with Alabama.
2. Alabama (8-0, 5-0): For 30 minutes Saturday, we realized that Alabama was human. The Crimson Tide had just six points at halftime against a battered Tennessee team and we quickly realized that even one of Nick Saban's best teams can be susceptible to looking ahead or having a lack of focus. But the Alabama team we've seen consistently run over and through opponents showed up in the second half and pummeled the Vols by scoring 31 straight points in the last two quarters. Now, the Tide can rest before their epic battle with LSU. Some Alabama players tried to downplay their excitement for this game, while others seemed relived that it was finally time to focus on LSU.
3. Arkansas (6-1, 2-1): The Razorbacks were lackadaisical coming out against Ole Miss and it almost resulted in their second loss of the season. That exciting passing game was nonexistent and the running game continued to struggle. But like Alabama, the Hogs rallied at halftime and blew past Ole Miss in the third on their way to a closer-than-expected victory. This isn't the first time Arkansas has gotten off to a slow start, and with a few tough games remaining, that is a concern going forward. Still, the Razorbacks have the best passing game in the league, so Tyler Wilson's arm will keep the Hogs in any game. We still need to see more out of the running game and more consistency on defense.
4. South Carolina (6-1, 4-1): The Gamecocks were off over the weekend, giving them time to regroup and find some more weapons to help soften the blow of losing running back Marcus Lattimore. South Carolina will have to heavily lean on its defense from here on out and that might not be such a bad thing. The Gamecocks rank fourth in the SEC in total defense (278 yards per game) and have forced a league-high 24 turnovers. This group went from flaky to fierce, which has to be comforting for South Carolina's staff. The Gamecocks will have to rely on Brandon Wilds at running back from here on out. Remember, he was fifth on the depth chart coming into the season. He'd better stay healthy because the depth isn't great at all and there are former walk-ons waiting in the wings.
5. Georgia (5-2, 4-1): The Bulldogs were off as well before they take on Florida in what should still be referred to as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Georgia will come out of the bye feeling a little healthier as well with linebacker Alec Ogletree coming back and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell probably returning as well. Georgia has the least taxing schedule remaining in the East, and if the Bulldogs win out, there's a strong chance they will represent the East in the SEC championship game. South Carolina still needs to lose at least one game, but with Arkansas and Florida remaining, that's a definite possibility. Georgia needs to focus on itself, and it's done a great job of that since starting off 0-2. The Bulldogs can thank their tenacious defense for this turnaround.
6. Auburn (5-3, 3-2): The Tigers have been fun to watch all season because of the heart and resiliency they have played with. However, we quickly realized just how young this team was against LSU. This group of Tigers was blasted over the weekend, and not even making a change at the quarterback spot could save it. Clint Moseley was abused against LSU's defense and Auburn totaled just 248 yards and the defense let LSU move up and down the field with relative ease. We know this team has some nice talent, but the youth is starting to catch up with it.
7. Florida (4-3, 2-3): The Gators had to be thrilled that they were off over the weekend. Florida stumbled into its bye week with three straight losses and an offense that seems to have regressed to what last year's looked like. The hope in Gainesville is that quarterback John Brantley (lower leg) will be back for the Georgia game, but that isn't a given. With an extra week to prepare for the Bulldogs, you'd think that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis could cook up a decent game plan for his two freshmen quarterbacks. A week hasn't been enough for him or his youngsters since Brantley went down. Florida has the mental edge over Georgia after winning 17 of the past 20 meetings, but not getting a win this weekend against the Bulldogs will send Florida into a deeper downward spiral.
8. Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3): Coach James Franklin made the right decision when he started Jordan Rodgers at quarterback against Army. Sure, Army isn't the most imposing team, but the Commodores totally clicked on offense for the first time in a while. Rodgers can sling the ball around the field and he can also make plays with his legs. He got nearly 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing over the weekend, and the more snaps he takes out there, the more comfortable he'll be. This defense continues to impress as it forced three more turnovers Saturday. This isn't the Vanderbilt opposing teams have come to know and love.
9. Tennessee (3-4, 0-4): The Vols kept up with Alabama for the first half Saturday, but after the half it became painfully obvious that Tennessee just doesn't have the manpower to sustain such life against bigger, better teams. The Vols have a lot of young talent, but it is all starting and the depth issues are very much a concern right now. Sure, Tennessee is out of the SEC East hunt, but you can tell that the wheels are moving in the right direction for this team. Coach Derek Dooley has instilled the right mindset into his players, but it's just tough that there aren't able bodies to consistently come in and help out on both sides of the ball. Not having four of your best players -- Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, Herman Lathers and Janzen Jackson -- doesn't help, and it has showed in the past few weeks.
10. Mississippi State (3-4, 0-4): The Bulldogs have had a ton of offensive problems since Week 2, and the hope is that a lot of those execution issues were cleared up during the bye week. Coach Dan Mullen can't be happy with how his spread offense has looked of late and making personnel changes, starting with the quarterback spot, wouldn't surprise anyone. Chris Relf was benched for Tyler Russell against South Carolina, but nothing really changed for the offense, meaning that he quarterback battle should continue until someone runs away with the position. This team was supposed to make noise in the SEC West this year, but it has yet to get a conference win. A trip to Lexington, Ky., could help deliver that first win, but even the Wildcats' offense looked better Saturday than Mississippi State's has since September.
11. Kentucky (3-4, 2-5): After a strong offensive showing against Jacksonville State on Saturday, the Wildcats are out of our SEC cellar. No, Jacksonville State isn't SEC competition, but coming off the bye, Kentucky had the performance it needed to get out of its rut and stop its four-game slide. Kentucky put up a season-high 445 yards. The passing game wasn't great, but quarterback Morgan Newton was as efficient as ever and took a step in the right direction against the Gamecocks. But Kentucky still has a long way to go. Mississippi State is the next opponent and it has its own struggles to work out. Can the Wildcats squeak by at home to get its first conference win of the year?
12. Ole Miss (2-5, 0-4): The Rebels fought for four quarters against Arkansas, but just couldn't hold up with depth issues plaguing them on both sides of the ball. The offense was clicking early, but got nothing going in the third quarter and trudged along in the fourth. If not for a badly thrown pass from Randall Mackey that was intercepted to seal the game for the Hogs, Ole Miss might be grinning from ear to ear after a major upset. But that didn't happen and the Rebels remain winless in the SEC. Ole Miss is having to use a plethora of youngsters, especially from its freshman class, and that means tons and tons of growing pains. Houston Nutt's seat in Oxford is only getting hotter and hotter with each week that passes by.