LSU Alabama Football

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, right, and LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, left, meet in the center of the field on Nov. 4, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Now that we are past the midway point of the conference season, it seems like a fair time to dust off the old power rankings and see where the SEC teams stand as we enter the stretch run.

Tier 1: The ‘Natty’ contenders

1. LSU — The Tigers have shown nearly no weakness this season. Prior to last week’s 23-20 victory over Auburn, the LSU offense had scored at least 36 points in every game this season. Joe Burrow looks like the Heisman Trophy favorite at this point in the season, and he is surrounded by elite talent. Unlike Alabama, the Tigers challenged themselves in the non-conference slate with Texas and appear to have broken the Longhorns. LSU has already beaten Florida and Auburn, so next week against Alabama looks like the last test in route to a perfect regular season.

2. Alabama — The Crimson Tide has yet to face a team that is still in the top 25 in the nation. They have rolled through their schedule thus far, and with the best receiving corps in the country, their offense would be a runaway train even if I were under center. With that said, a healthy Tua Tagovailoa makes them nearly unstoppable. LSU’s defense has faced tougher challenges and performed better than the Tide’s so far. On paper that looks to give the Tigers the edge next week, but Alabama has Nick Saban and the home-field advantage, so the national championship preview in November is anyone’s guess at this point.

Tier 2: Close, but not this year

3. Florida — With only a hard-fought loss to LSU on its resume, the Gators are still justified to believe that they belong in that top tier with the Tigers and the Tide, but on paper they simply don’t match up. I believe they will find that out today against a Georgia team that has struggled but surely is looking to make a statement. It seems harsh, but Felipe Franks’ injury allowed Florida to upgrade at quarterback. Kyle Trask has been very good, and with him and their defense beating the Bulldogs is possible. If they do, the Gators have cupcakes on the schedule the rest of the way, and the SEC Championship game becomes a CFP play-in game. Unfortunately, the Gators would lose that game, and if the SEC gets two playoff teams they will be LSU and Alabama.

4. Auburn — The Tigers have beaten the teams they are supposed to beat, and they’ve lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to (with the exception of Oregon if you picked the Ducks). Bo Nix has looked like a freshman quarterback in big situations this year, but the defense is as elite as there is in the SEC. Auburn should benefit from the return of JaTarvious Whitlow and the emergence of DJ Williams at running back, which will take some pressure off Nix. In order to beat Georgia and Alabama later this season, the Tigers will need better play from the quarterback spot than they have been getting.

5. Georgia — Sorry Dawg fans: you can’t lose to South Carolina and be any higher than this in my rankings. The Bulldogs haven’t played any of the SEC elites yet, but they have Florida today and Auburn in two weeks. They edged past a Notre Dame team that was exposed by an average Michigan team this past week. On paper, the D’Andre Swift, Jake Fromm and George Pickens offensive corps is as talented as any in the nation, but they have yet to prove that. The next three weeks are the chance to do that.

Tier 3: Thanks for playing, enjoy your bowl

6. Texas A&M — The Aggies were picked preseason to finish around this spot in the conference, but the only reason they remain here is because nobody below them has emerged to move up. The Aggies follow the Auburn model of losing to the teams you are supposed to (but by greater margins than the Tigers) and beating the teams you are supposed to (but by much, much closer margins). Losses to Clemson, Auburn and Alabama wouldn’t have me as down on this team, but they also won one-score games against Arkansas and Ole Miss. The Aggies have the talent to play with the SEC’s top 5 but seem destined to never show it. They get Georgia and LSU to close the season, but upsets there seem unlikely.

7. Tennessee — Just another testament to the lackluster SEC once you get past the first few teams, the Volunteers lost to Georgia State a down BYU team to begin the year. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them in a nail-biter with UAB this week, but wins over South Carolina and Mississippi State — along with a not embarrassing showing in Tuscaloosa — have the Volunteers back in the bowl mix. With UAB, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt left, the 3-5 Volunteers look like they could very well be bowling after all. That is not something anyone thought possible after two games.

8. Kentucky — The Wildcats still appear to have a good shot at going to a bowl this year with a 4-4 record and games with Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Martin and Louisville. With a 29-7 win over Missouri last week, Kentucky appears to be turning a corner, and if the Wildcats beat Tennessee next week they could find their way to an eight-win season. It sure is nice when you can avoid LSU, Alabama and Auburn on the schedule.

9. Missouri — The Tigers lost to Vanderbilt and were blown out by Kentucky the last two weeks. Those two games and a season-opening loss to Wyoming sort of cancel out the five-game winning streak Mizzou enjoyed. With Georgia and Florida next on the schedule, things may soon get worse for the Tigers, and a game versus Tennessee is suddenly looking more losable every day. Luckily for Missouri, they will end with a high note courtesy a trip to Arkansas. This is certainly not what Kelly Bryant envisioned when he picked the Tigers as his transfer destination.

Tier 4: The Muschamp tier

10. South Carolina — South Carolina beat Georgia and gave Florida a good fight, so they must be right on the verge of the top couple tiers. Wait, South Carolina is 3-5 with 20-points losses to Tennessee and Missouri, so they must be the SEC bottom-feeder. The Gamecocks are the most inconsistent team in the SEC. Their dysfunction even extends to scheduling; where every SEC team schedules a cupcake in the middle of their SEC slate, the Gamecocks scheduled undefeated Appalachian State. The 7-0 Mountaineers may cost South Carolina its bowl shot. Even if the Gamecocks top App State, they will need to win two of three against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Clemson to go to a bowl.

Tier 5: Better luck next year

11. Ole Miss — The Rebels have not been an easy out lately and have pushed both Missouri and Texas A&M to the wire in their last two games. As explained above though, neither of those teams are anything to write home about, and with the Rebels’ only SEC wins being against Vanderbilt and Arkansas, the Rebels look dead in the water.

12. Mississippi State — At least the Egg Bowl will be a close game this year, even if it isn’t the highest quality of football. Boobee Whitlow’s collision with Bully, the Bulldogs’ mascot, sent the Bulldogs spiraling and they haven’t won a game since. A bowl still actually seems possible despite the four-game skid with Arkansas this week and games against Abilene Christian and Ole Miss to end the year. The Bulldogs had the good fortune of avoiding Georgia and Florida on the schedule this season, which is the only reason the six-win mark is still possible.

13. Vanderbilt — The Commodores beat Missouri 21-14 in their last game. Unfortunately, that may say more about Missouri than Vanderbilt. It is still by far the best performance of the season for the Commodores and represents enough of a reason to pull them out of the final tier of these power rankings.

Tier 6: The 99-17 tier

14. Arkansas — 99-17 represents the combined score of the Razorbacks’ last two losses — the first being a 51-10 loss to Auburn and the second being a 48-7 defeat to Alabama. Arkansas was never going to be beat either of those teams, but the absolute carnage in both games does not bode well. The Razorbacks have the chances to bounce back this week with a home game against Mississippi State, but until proven otherwise, it seems safe to mark Arkansas as a win on any opponent’s schedule.

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