By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 9 SEC Power Rankings
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1. Alabama (8-0) – Let the countdown to Saturday begin. The Crimson Tide had a bye in Week 9 and will be rested and ready to go for Saturday’s matchup against LSU. The No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown is easily the most-anticipated game of 2011. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for the SEC West title and a spot in the national championship game. Alabama has won two out of the last three against LSU, but lost last season’s matchup in Baton Rouge.
2. LSU (8-0) – As mentioned several times in the power rankings this season, there’s really no separation between Alabama and LSU. However, Saturday will finally provide some insight into both teams. The Tigers have steamrolled all of their opponents this season, with the smallest margin of victory being 13 points (Oregon and Mississippi State). LSU defeated Alabama 24-21 in last year’s matchup.
3. Arkansas (7-1) – The Razorbacks escaped Nashville with a hard-fought 31-28 win over Vanderbilt. Arkansas trailed 21-7 in the second quarter, but rallied behind the steady play of quarterback Tyler Wilson and a fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Jerry Franklin. Arkansas has won four in a row and its only loss this year was to Alabama on Sept. 24. The Razorbacks have a favorable stretch upcoming, as their next three games are at home, starting with Saturday’s matchup against South Carolina.
4. South Carolina (7-1) – Without running back Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks are going to have to win ugly the rest of the year. Saturday’s 14-3 victory over Tennessee is probably a sign of things to come. Freshman Brandon Wilds did an admirable job filling in for Lattimore, rushing for 137 yards on 28 attempts. South Carolina faces a key road test at Arkansas this Saturday. The Gamecocks still own the edge in the SEC East, but a loss to the Razorbacks would put Georgia in the driver’s seat.
5. Georgia (6-2) – Saturday’s 24-20 win over Florida was huge for Georgia’s SEC East title hopes. The Bulldogs got off to a slow start, but the defense stepped up in the second half, while aggressive play calling allowed the offense to score two touchdowns on fourth-down tries. Not only was the win a big one for the SEC East race, it’s huge for coach Mark Richt and should cool the talk of him being on the hot seat. The Bulldogs step out of conference for a matchup against New Mexico State this Saturday.
6. Auburn (6-3) – Thanks to Saturday’s 41-23 victory over Ole Miss, the Tigers are bowl eligible. Considering the personnel losses entering this year, winning seven or eight games is a good season for coach Gene Chizik. Running back Michael Dyer is just 11 yards short of reaching 1,000 for the year, while also recording three 100-yard games in SEC play. The Tigers are off this Saturday, before returning to action on Nov. 12 at Georgia.
7. Florida (4-4) – Will Muschamp is having a rough first season in Gainesville. The 24-20 loss to Georgia on Saturday was Florida’s fourth loss in a row. And the Gators have only two wins in SEC play entering November. Outside of the Nov. 19 date against Furman, there’s not a guaranteed victory on the schedule. A much-improved Vanderbilt team visits the Swamp this Saturday, before traveling to South Carolina and hosting Florida State in the regular season finale. The ankle injury to quarterback John Brantley was costly for the Gators, but they are also struggling to establish their rushing attack in SEC play.
8. Mississippi State (4-4) – The Bulldogs finally broke through in SEC play, winning 28-16 over Kentucky. Quarterback play has been a source of concern Mississippi State this season, and coach Dan Mullen tried out a new strategy against the Wildcats. Chris Relf and Tyler Russell alternated series and the result was a solid statistical outing – 15 of 21 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Mississippi State steps out of conference this Saturday, taking on FCS foe Tennessee-Martin in Starkville.
9. Tennessee (3-5) – True freshman quarterback Justin Worley was thrown into the fire and the results were predictable. The Volunteers struggled to move the ball on offense, while Worley completed only 10 of 26 throws for 105 yards and two interceptions. The rushing attack continued to struggle, managing only 35 yards on 21 attempts. Tennessee steps out of conference for a matchup against in-state foe MTSU this Saturday. The Volunteers still have bowl hopes, but need to win three out of their last four games.
10. Vanderbilt (4-4) – First-year coach James Franklin isn’t into moral victories, but the Commodores have made solid improvement this season. Vanderbilt outplayed Arkansas last Saturday, but fell short, losing 31-28 to drop its record to 4-4 this year. The Commodores have found a spark on offense recently, as quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy have played well over the last two games. Vanderbilt is in a good position to get to a bowl game in 2011, as it needs two victories and Kentucky and Tennessee are very winnable.
11. Ole Miss (2-6) – The pressure continues to build on coach Houston Nutt, as the Rebels lost 41-23 to Auburn for their third defeat in a row. Ole Miss’ defense has been a sore spot all season and has allowed at least 41 points in two out of its last three games. If the Rebels are going to win a game in SEC play, it has to happen this Saturday at Kentucky. Ole Miss still has bowl hopes, but winning four in a row to finish out 2011 is very unlikely.
12. Kentucky (3-5) – The Wildcats continued to struggle in SEC play, suffering a 28-16 defeat to Mississippi State on Saturday. However, the news wasn’t all bad coming out of the loss. Freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith jumpstarted the offense in the second half, completing 26 of 33 throws for 174 yards. Although Smith performed well, the Wildcats still have a lot of offensive issues going into this week’s game against Ole Miss. If Kentucky doesn’t beat the Rebels in Lexington this Saturday, a victory in conference play appears unlikely.