Posted: 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Didn't get my SEC Power Poll ballot up yesterday like I intended, but here's how I voted in this week's poll, which has Florida moving past South Carolina and into the No. 5 spot.
At the top (thoroughly NSFW language), it's just Alabama. 'Cause I don't fully trust anyone that's not Alabama.
I'm still not buying the idea that Alabama's on par with previous Alabama teams under Nick Saban, and still feeling like Alabama's having its version of the 2009 Florida season, but there is one other undefeated SEC team and Alabama's much, much better than Missouri. And the only other SEC team with a win over a team I have in the top seven here is...
...a team that just got taken to the brink by Tennessee.
Granted, Georgia is playing even more reserves than Florida is at this point, and Georgia's running back and wide receiver depth is being stress-tested, but there's really no way any of the other top teams in this bunch would trail Tennessee 31-24 in the fourth quarter. Georgia's special teams apart from Marshall Morgan and Reggie Davis have been average to bad, and that defense has been bad.
Then again, Georgia came back from that 31-24 deficit in calm, composed fashion, and that offense is led by a quarterback so good that it may not even matter. Missouri is going to be a tough test for Georgia (really!), and we'll know more about whether this team can really survive 2013 with just one loss after that game, but it's done enough to earn the benefit of the doubt from me and perch at No. 2.
Georgia, after all, beat LSU, which looks to be no worse than the No. 3 team in the conference. The offense's improvement has more than made up for the defense taking a step or two back in 2013, and that defense being vulnerable has only mattered in a tough road game that LSU lost by a field goal. The Tigers probably won't win the West, but getting Florida at home makes getting to 10 wins easier, and the touchdown line for this Saturday's gamefeels right to me.
LSU might have to win 14-7 or 21-13 to cover that line, though, because Florida's defense just keeps getting better. Loucheiz Purifoy looked like an elite corner for the first time this year last week, and the adjustments Florida's line and linebackers made to take away an Arkansas running game that looked very impressive early were just as remarkable. Marcus Roberson should finally be back for LSU, too, giving the top-flight secondary what was its best cover corner coming into 2013, along with an improved Purifoy and the superb Vernon Hargreaves III. That secondary against LSU's receivers may be the best matchup of position groups in the nation this year.
A bye does not change my opinions here: A&M;'s offense might struggle with Florida's defense, and A&M;'s defense struggles with everyone. Florida's ability to control three quarters against Arkansas, rather than just a half, gives the Gators a slight edge this week.
I have so many questions about South Carolina, and this bears noting: Since playing Georgia tough for most of four quarters, the Gamecocks have won games by 10, three, and seven points ... over Vanderbilt, UCF, and Kentucky. And only that UCF game was on the road. The 'Cocks did lead Kentucky 27-7 in the fourth quarter, but they also gave up 21 points to Kentucky in the fourth quarter.
I've seen enough to think these Tigers lead the pack of teams with nine-win ceilings, but I've also seen enough to be relatively sure that Missouri's not on par with the conference's top six.
Quietly, Auburn's becoming the mid-tier SEC team you don't want to see in November. (Which is great news for Georgia, I'd imagine.) Its offense has remained consistently productive against a variety of challenges, and its defense is doing yeoman's work despite being stranded on the field for dozens of plays. (Just 12 teams that have played five games have been on the field for more defensive plays.) Ole Miss's freshmen have gotten a lot of pub, but Auburn has a few very good ones, too, and more talent left over from Gene Chizik's better classes.
The schedule got harder, and Mississippi got two losses. These are growing pains for a young team, and the Rebels will be 3-4 after games with A&M; and LSU over the next two weeks. But the path to a bowl is clear: Beat Idaho, Arkansas, and Troy at home in November after that, and even potential losses to Missouri and Mississippi State won't be an issue.
At some point, I think Vandy will win an SEC game. I mean, Vandy plays Tennessee and Kentucky.
Alex Collins looked mostly mortal against Florida, and still racked up 99 total yards, the most by a skill position player against the Gators this year. Brandon Allen was mostly good despite his wide receivers wearing Anti-Stickum. Arkansas held Florida's running game in check. So I think Arkansas was definitely the best SEC team Florida's beaten ... which makes the Hogs better than Tennessee and Kentucky.
The Vols spent five weeks looking like a team that needed turnovers to look even competent; that close win over South Alabama felt even more telling than the blowout losses in Eugene and Gainesville. But then Tennessee decided to stage a four-quarter performance of Scaring Georgia To Death last Saturday, and put together two long (75 yards, 80 yards) touchdown drives in the fourth quarter in doing so. This isn't the worst team in the conference, and it's a lot better with Justin Worley at quarterback than any of its other options, but that's damning with faint praise on both points, and I think Tennessee losing a home game it led 31-24 with a couple of minutes left counts for something, too.
I would advise you to spend no time trying to figure out whether Mississippi State is better or worse than Kentucky. Your time is more valuable than that. Take a nap. Make waffles. Read bad poetry. Do anything else.