By Steven Lassan
Post-Week 1 SEC Power Rankings
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1. Alabama – A lot of interest in Saturday’s opener in Tuscaloosa centered on the quarterback situation. AJ McCarron took the first snap for the Crimson Tide offense, but Phillip Sims also saw playing time. McCarron outplayed Sims against Kent State, completing 14 of 23 passes for 226 yards and one score. Junior running back Trent Richardson was surprisingly quiet, rushing for only 37 yards on 13 attempts. The Crimson Tide defense is one of the best in the nation and kept Kent State in check all afternoon, allowing the Golden Flashes to manage only 90 total yards. Alabama will travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State this Saturday.
2. LSU – If the off-the-field distractions surrounding quarterback Jordan Jefferson and receiver Russell Shepard bothered LSU, the players certainly didn’t show it against Oregon. The Tigers scored a huge non-conference victory over the Ducks, using an opportunistic defense and a run-first offense to seal the victory. LSU has a breather against Northwestern State this Saturday, before taking on a brutal two-game road stretch of Mississippi State and West Virginia.
3. Arkansas – The first start of the Tyler Wilson era gets a passing grade. Wilson threw for 260 yards and two scores against an overmatched Missouri State secondary. Replacing Knile Davis won’t be easy, but Ronnie Wingo averaged 3.9 yards per carry on Saturday night, while true freshman Kody Walker also showed some promise in limited work against the Bears. The Razorbacks have two more non-conference games before a key trip to Alabama on Sept. 24. New Mexico and Troy are two games that Arkansas should win and continue to sort things out on the rushing attack for SEC play.
4. Florida – Will Muschamp’s first game as head coach at Florida was a home run. The Gators thoroughly dominated FAU, holding the Owls to only three points and 137 total yards. The offense showed improvement from last season, with quarterback John Brantley completing 21 of 30 passes for 229 yards and one score. Running back Chris Rainey also had a huge game, rushing for 74 yards and a score, along with picking up a blocked punt return for a touchdown. Muschamp and his staff would like to see the offense clean up the turnovers – the Gators had three on Saturday – but it was a positive start for a team that looked out of sync last year.
5. South Carolina – Let the quarterback carousel begin in Columbia. Connor Shaw started against East Carolina, but was pulled for Stephen Garcia. Although he’s had his off-the-field issues at South Carolina, Garcia was clearly the better quarterback on Saturday and should be the starter against Georgia. However, when dealing with Steve Spurrier, you just never know. The Gamecocks struggled early against East Carolina, but eventually pulled away in the second half. One positive for the defense was the pass defense. The Gamecocks struggled in the secondary at times last year, but held a high-powered East Carolina passing attack to 260 yards. The South Carolina defensive front was a handful for the Pirates’ offensive line, and the battle in the trenches is a key area to focus on for Saturday’s game against the Bulldogs.
6. Mississippi State – Memphis was one of the worst teams in college football last season, but Dan Mullen had to be pleased with the way his team performed in the opener. The Bulldogs collected 309 yards on the ground, including 166 by Vick Ballard. Quarterback Chris Relf was solid, completed 13 of 21 passes for 202 yards and two scores, while adding 51 yards on the ground. The Mississippi State defense limited Memphis to 14 points and forced three turnovers. Again, the competition wasn’t great, but this was a good start to the year for the Bulldogs. The schedule picks up for Mullen and his team this week, as defending SEC champion Auburn visits Starkville.
7. Georgia – The Bulldogs entered the year with high hopes, but looked like the same team that finished with a disappointing 6-7 record last year. Boise State’s defensive front completely dominated Georgia’s offensive line, sacking Aaron Murray six times and holding the rushing attack in check. Although the loss to the Broncos was a setback, all is not lost for the Bulldogs. The SEC East title is within their grasp, especially with South Carolina visiting Athens on Saturday. Georgia’s backs are against the wall and if they can’t come out and perform, you can bet Mark Richt’s seat is going to get even hotter going into Week 3.
8. Tennessee – As was the case at many college football games in Week 1, weather played a factor in Tennessee’s opener. The kickoff was delayed due to storms, but it didn’t slow Tennessee down once the game started. The Volunteers cruised to an easy win over Montana, led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray’s 293 passing yards. Although it was a positive opener for Derek Dooley’s team, question marks remain. The Volunteers struggled to establish their rushing attack against the Grizzlies, while the defense is still short on depth. With Cincinnati coming to Knoxville this Saturday, the defense will have its hands full trying to slow down quarterback Zach Collaros.
9. Auburn – With so many new faces on both sides of the ball, most expected the Tigers would have a few ups and downs this year. However, no one could have expected Saturday’s performance. Auburn was handled in the trenches by Utah State and if not for some last-minute heroics, could have been facing an 0-1 record. With a difficult SEC schedule and a young team, the Tigers can’t afford to lose in their non-conference slate. Auburn has a lot of issues to work out this week in practice and after watching the defense struggled to stop Utah State’s rushing attack, Mississippi State could be in for a big afternoon on the ground.
10. Kentucky – Thursday night’s performance wasn’t exactly what head coach Joker Phillips had in mind. The Wildcats were dreadful on offense all night, ending up with only 190 total yards. Quarterback Morgan Newton completed only 7 of 18 throws and tossed three picks. The Wildcat defense made forcing turnovers a key focal point in fall camp, and they managed to come away with four against Western Kentucky. The defense also kept Hilltopper running back Bobby Rainey in check, allowing 103 yards on 28 carries. The Wildcats have a long ways to go, but a game against Central Michigan on Saturday could help find some answers, particularly on offense.
11. Ole Miss – Houston Nutt entered the year on the hot seat and Saturday’s loss to BYU certainly won’t help ease the pressure. The Rebels led deep into the fourth quarter, until BYU scored on a three-yard fumble return for the winning score. The Ole Miss offense sputtered at times, largely due to injuries at running back. Brandon Bolden is out indefinitely due to an ankle injury, which means Jeff Scott will be forced to take on a bigger role in the backfield. Zack Stoudt will also replace Barry Brunetti at quarterback for Saturday’s game against Southern Illinois.
12. Vanderbilt – The Commodores passed their first on-field test under James Franklin on Saturday against Elon. Vanderbilt took home a 45-14 victory over the Phoenix, even though they were outgained 323 to 309. The Commodores showed signs of life on offense, as quarterback Larry Smith posted three total scores and zero turnovers. Franklin was also aggressive on fourth down, but the Vanderbilt offense converted all three times. The Commodores have a more challenging test awaiting them on Saturday, with defending Big East champ Connecticut visiting Nashville. This is a winnable game for Vanderbilt and one that could help them escape the No. 12 spot in the SEC power rankings.