Wednesday, December 5, 2012
SEC power rankings
By Edward Aschoff
We've come to the end of the regular season for the SEC, so here is our final batch of power rankings until the new year:
1. Alabama (12-1; last week: 1): No, Alabama wasn't perfect in its 32-28 victory against Georgia in the SEC title game, but talk about resolve. This team trailed by 11 in the second half, but fought back with a punishing running game and just wore down one of the most talented defenses around to throw itself into the Discover BCS National Championship against Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide will now play for their second national championship in a row, and third in four years.
2. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): The Gators didn't win their division and weren't in Atlanta, but it's hard to find a team with a better résumé. Florida finished the season with four wins against teams currently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings. Three of them are in the top 10. Florida is headed to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009. The Gators will face Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
3. Georgia (11-2; LW: 2): You have to feel for the Bulldogs after their heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the Georgia Dome. The offense, led by a very steady Aaron Murray, played one of its best games and ended up literally being a play away from replacing Alabama in Miami. History won't be kind to this team because it lost the biggest game of the season, but the Bulldogs had a heck of a season. After being counted out because of their blowout loss to South Carolina, the Dawgs cruised into Atlanta with six straight wins, with four coming by an average of 32 points.
4. Texas A&M (10-2; LW: 4): Led by Heisman front-runner Johnny Manziel, the Aggies are headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl to face Oklahoma in what should be one of the most exciting bowls of the season. Texas A&M has one of the nation's best offenses, and scored 40 or more times seven times this season. The Aggies also registered 600-plus yards of total offense six times. That win against No. 1 Alabama stands out as a major victory for this program.
5. LSU (10-2; LW: 5): The Tigers ended the season being known for more than just their defense. The offense really started to jell in the Alabama game, and LSU was far more balanced for the rest of the year, averaging 395 yards in its final four games. The key to LSU's offensive revival was the play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who averaged 267 passing yards in the final four games. He didn't have consecutive 200-yard passing games until the last four games.
6. South Carolina (10-2; LW: 6): After never reaching 11 wins before 2011, the Gamecocks are a win away from getting 11 wins in back-to-back seasons. The job Steve Spurrier has done in Columbia has been remarkable, and now he'll be there even longer with his recent extension. He's had these two successful seasons while losing his best player in running back Marcus Lattimore halfway through the season both years.
7. Vanderbilt (8-4; LW: 7): The Commodores are going bowling in consecutive seasons for the first time. Thanks to the complete attitude change that coach James Franklin instilled in his guys, the Commodores have become more relevant and competitive in the SEC. Vandy won its last six games of the regular season, a streak that the Dores haven't experienced since 1955. Vandy also won five conference games for the first time since 1935.
8. Ole Miss (6-6; LW: 8): What a first season for Hugh Freeze. Not only did the Rebels end their 14-game losing streak in conference play, but they're headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2009. The attitude overhaul went a long way toward making Ole Miss much more competitive this season. The Rebels won three SEC games and ended the season with a blowout win against rival Mississippi State to bring the Golden Egg back to Oxford.
9. Mississippi State (8-4; LW: 9): After starting the season 7-0, the Bulldogs were 1-4 in their final five games. The least amount of points Mississippi State lost by was 17 to Ole Miss. It was a bad way for the Bulldogs to end the season, but there's now ample time before the bowl game for them to fix some of the issues that plagued them during the last month of the season, especially on defense. There's no question that Dan Mullen has been extremely successful in Starkville, and he is a win away from getting nine victories for the second time in four years.
10. Missouri (5-7; LW: 10): It wasn't the start that people at Mizzou expected. Injuries piled up and the offense limped its way through a disastrous start to life in the SEC. Now offensive coordinator David Yost is gone, and the offense will have to rebuild in its second year in a new conference. The Tigers averaged more than 100 yards fewer on offense in each game this season compared to 2011, and aren't going bowling for the first time since 2004.
11. Tennessee (5-7; LW: 11): A very rough season at least ended on a high note. With Derek Dooley no longer roaming the Vols' sideline, Jim Chaney guided Tennessee to a 37-17 win against Kentucky to end the regular season. For the second year in a row, Tennessee didn't make it to a bowl, and is now in the final stages of finding a new head coach. A major emphasis has to be put on defense, as the Vols were last in the SEC in total defense and scoring defense.
12. Arkansas (4-8; LW: 12): The Hogs ended a dreadful season with a nail-biting loss to rival LSU. Now the program turns its attention to the future and new coach Bret Bielema, who was hired away from Wisconsin on Tuesday. He'll bring a more rugged/physical style of defense and should make Arkansas' running backs very happy with his offensive style. It was a shocking hire, and Bielema has his work cut out on defense, but this one appears to have excited the fan base.
13. Auburn (3-9; LW: 13): The Tigers couldn't get anything going on either offense or defense this season, and had to part ways with coach Gene Chizik after being blasted 49-0 by rival Alabama. The Tigers will look to build a flashier offense with the return of Gus Malzahn. He was very popular on the Plains when he was the offensive coordinator from 2009-11. During that time, the Tigers averaged 33.6 points per game and 424.9 yards of offense, including 227.8 on the ground.
14. Kentucky (2-10; LW: 14): The Wildcats were banged up for most of the season, and just didn't show any signs of improvement as the year went on. Joker Phillips was fired, and now Mark Stoops, who was the defensive coordinator at Florida State, takes over a program that has really fallen hard in the past two years. His first order of business is to improve a defense that has loved giving up points the past two seasons. Going the defensive route is a nice change of pace for the Wildcats.