With one week in the books, this seems like a good time to put together power rankings for the SEC.
The opening nights turned out largely well for the conference. Mississippi State bruised the league’s ego by laying an egg offensively in a neutral-site game against Oklahoma State. Georgia fell at Clemson, too, though that is nothing really of which even a top-notch SEC team should be ashamed. Clemson will be a good team all year and played last night at home. Fans should give credit to both teams for scheduling this series.
Still, a young Georgia defense proved it wasn’t ready to step up to a primetime level in Week 1, surrendering 38 points to the Tigers.
On the positive side, LSU scored the most impressive victory in a neutral-field, modified road game against TCU in Arlington, Texas.
Alabama and South Carolina each posted wins over ACC opponents, though both teams were heavily favored.
Without further ado, here are your Week 1 Power Rankings:
1 . Alabama – Beat Virginia Tech, 35-10 in Atlanta
The two-time defending national champions get the benefit of the doubt after a less-than-stellar offensive performance because they have earned it. Even with poor offensive production, the Crimson Tide dominated – specifically on defense and on special teams. WR Christion Jones proved to be the star of the game, scoring touchdowns on a punt return, a kickoff return and a third-quarter AJ McCarron pass that put the game away. Neither McCarron (10-23, 110 yards, TD, INT) nor RB T.J. Yeldon (17 carries, 75 yards, TD) was especially impressive in the win, though both did more than enough to go home 1-0. The defense, meanwhile, harassed Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas into a 5-of-26, 59-yard, 1-INT performance. Several of Thomas’ incomplete passes were drops, but Tide defenders deserve credit for that as well. If there was a concern, it would have been that RB Trey Edmunds ran for 132 yards and a TD.
2. South Carolina – Beat North Carolina, 27-10
Conversation got dominated by DE Jadeveon Clowney not recording a sack and getting winded. That the Gamecocks demonstrated a potentially dominant run game got lost in the shuffle. RB Mike Davis looked every bit like the real deal and teammate Brandon Wilds has already shown the tools to be a more-than-competent change-of-pace back. Davis impressed most with his versatility. He’s as able to gain six tough yards through the middle as he is bust a huge run to the outside – as he did to put the game on ice in the third quarter. We already know QBs Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson leave South Carolina in good hands. Anyone thinking that one game means Clowney won’t be a dominant player simply isn’t thinking straight. This should be a dangerous Gamecocks team that comes rolling into Athens for next week’s showdown at Georgia.
3. LSU – Beat TCU, 37-27 in Arlington, Texas
The Tigers contained an underrated TCU passing game and, at times, dominated a good opponent last night. LSU didn’t lose anything by turning its run game to RB Terrence Magee, who gained 95 yards and scored 2 TDs on 13 carries – though Jeremy Hill will likely be a welcome addition when coach Les Miles decides it’s time for him to return. An inexperienced defense shined, holding the Horned Frogs to 259 yards of total offense and forcing a pair of turnovers. Perhaps more importantly, the passing game played well enough against what should be a strong secondary. QB Zach Mettenberger threw for 251 yards on 50 percent passing. WRs Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry topped the 100-yard mark. It’s dangerous to read too much into an opener. This LSU team looked like it’s in good shape to face a grueling schedule, though.
4. Georgia – Lost at Clemson, 38-35
Some will downgrade the Bulldogs for their season-opening loss to heavy ACC favorite Clemson. To do so is to downplay just how good the Tigers are this year. There were some alarming signs for Georgia. Notably, the young defense played well at times, but allowed 38 points and failed to get Clemson’s offense off the field on seven of 16 third downs. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, went just 4-of-14 on third-down conversions, though they also successfully converted two of three fourth-down tries. QB Aaron Murray played well for the most part, but his two turnovers proved especially costly. His fumble on a third-down sack in the second quarter set up Clemson to cash in a touchdown on a short field. The senior threw an interception later in the quarter after a Sammy Watkins fumble gave the Bulldogs their own field position advantage. Murray’s interception on the first play after Watkins’ fumble ended a potential scoring opportunity. The play that will haunt coach Mark Richt’s nightmares for the next week, though, was a horribly high snap on an especially short field-goal attempt. That the Bulldogs ended up losing by three only drives the dagger in deeper. Georgia proved in the game that it has a run game that will stand up to any defense in the country. If it’s going to win the SEC, though, it will need Heisman-like performances from Murray in big games – not decent showings. That Georgia lost WR Malcolm Mitchell for the season with a knee injury does not bode well for the Bulldogs.
5. Florida – Beat Toledo, 24-6
Anyone expecting a drop-off in defensive performance from Florida this season should have realized quickly it isn’t coming. The Gators, without suspended starters LB Antonio Morrison and CB Loucheiz Purifoy, broke in 10 new starters and still dominated a Toledo offense that returned several starters from a strong 2012 campaign. The Gators harassed Rockets QB Terrance Owens into 45-percent passing. The run game –behind RB David Fluellen – went no better for Toledo, compiling just 50 yards on 16 attempts. Florida QB Jeff Driskel, meanwhile, turned in the type of workman-like performance we have come to expect of him. He completed a high percentage of passes – going 17 of 22 – though for 153 yards and a TD. The Gators again relied on the run game despite being without RB Matt Jones. RB Mack Brown had a field day in his stead, rushing 25 times for 112 yards and 2 TDs. Florida wasn’t overly impressive in its methodical victory, but it showed it belongs in the conversation toward the top of the SEC.
6. Texas A&M – Beat Rice, 52-31
I wrote a more thorough recap of this game here. But here are the cliff-notes. QB Johnny Manziel, the most polarizing figure in college football, played and played well. That should come as no surprise. He escaped pressure, scrambled for big gainers and hit passes that went for long yardage – throwing for 3 TDs in the second half. He also trash-talked – as players often do – and mocked Rice defenders. Manziel will continually hear opponents trash-talk him all season. Failing to keep his emotions in check will result in potentially meaningful penalties that Manziel should avoid. On the other hand, the A&M offensive line dominated and wore out the Owls, opening all kinds of running lanes for RBs Tra Carson and Ben Malena, who accounted for 4 TDs. The defense provided the reason for what would have been a downgrade if we would have run a preseason SEC Power Rankings. That unit underachieved and allowed an inferior opponent to hang around far too long. Nobody questions what the Aggies will do offensively this season. If the defense doesn’t improve dramatically, though, they will have to score 40 points per game to be a real championship contender.
7. Ole Miss – Won at Vanderbilt, 39-35
When we look back on 2013, we will realize Ole Miss and Vanderbilt gave us one of the most entertaining, exciting games of the season on opening night. In the final moments, RB Jeff Scott rescued the Rebels with a 75-yard run, hitting the corner and finding pay dirt. That Scott’s winning score came on the read-option seemed only fitting considering the amount of success Ole Miss had with the play all night – specifically when QBs Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti kept the ball. Wallace, plagued by turnovers in 2012, avoided those mistakes in the opener. He went 31 of 47 for 283 yards. This game served as a notice to the rest of the SEC as well. The 2013 signing class full of high-profile recruits is as advertised and some of those players – DE Robert Nkemdiche and WR Laquon Treadwell – are prepared to make an impact this season. At times, Vanderbilt pushed the Rebels offensive line around. The Commodores have the talent to do that to a number of teams this year, but when Alabama and LSU are in your conference, it is a cause for concern. Ole Miss also failed to so much as slow down WR Jordan Matthews. There’s no question Matthews is among the best receivers in the conference, but there was also no question Vandy would target him early and often. With how much time the Rebels had to prepare, it’s concerning they were unable to zero in on Matthews. Still, Ole Miss left Nashville with a 1-0 record. Considering the Rebels’ schedule, that is huge.
8. Vanderbilt – Lost to Ole Miss, 39-35
With a few better breaks, the Commodores could be the 1-0 team rather than opening with a home loss. In the end, though, Vanderbilt’s total failure to defend the read-option cost it the first game. During the second quarter the Commodores’ defensive front dominated Ole Miss up front – especially on obvious passing downs. That stopped in the second half, partially because the front seven didn’t seem to know its assignments on the option. As mentioned above, WR Jordan Matthews dominated the game when Vandy needed him – until the final offensive snap when a pass slipped between his hands for a game-ending interception. Still, Matthews finished with 10 catches for 178 yards and a TD. Matthews also helped QB Austyn Carta-Samuels get find a rhythm. The former Wyoming starter threw for 300 yards with a pair of TDs. His biggest room for improvement will come from getting to second reads and looking at targets other than Matthews – though what a nice first option to have. Vanderbilt also found ways to continue drives, converting on 8 of 16 third downs.
9. Auburn – Beat Washington State, 31-24
It took mere minutes for it to become obvious that Gus Malzahn’s debut wouldn’t go according to script. Washington State drove the ball straight down the field for a touchdown on the opening possession. Auburn QB Nick Marshall then proceeded to misfire on just about all of his first-half passes, going 2-of-8. However, Malzahn quickly reminded Tigers fans how dynamic his offense can be. RB Corey Grant broke a couple huge runs, including one for a 75-yard touchdown. Auburn’s three-headed RB attack of Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Grant led a tremendous ground show that accumulated 295 yards and 2 TDs. Marshall settled in the second half and showed the touch on medium-length passes he lacked before halftime. The junior-college transfer showed a cannon arm, though he missed on just about every long pass – partly on Marshall and partly on receivers. Defensively, Auburn picked off more passes on Saturday – three – than it did all last season – two. Star Robenson Therezie intercepted two passes, including one in the end-zone to end the Cougars’ final real threat. The Tigers could have easily had at least three more interceptions, too. True freshman DT Montravius Adams turned in a stellar debut after sitting out the first quarter. He will see more time going forward because of all the pressure he applied on QB Connor Halliday. Aside from getting Marshall and the receivers on the same page, Auburn needs to get more pressure on quarterbacks and control the line of scrimmage more. That could be difficult with starting DT Jeffrey Whitaker out indefinitely after knee surgery. How quickly DE Dee Ford returns will be key for the Tigers to apply pressure organically more regularly.
10. Arkansas – Beat Louisiana-Lafayette, 34-14
Bret Bielema’s Arkansas debut provided plenty of reason for optimism. QB Brandon Allen threw for 3 TDs and RBs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins combined for 282 yards and a TD. The Razorbacks went for 522 total yards of offense and controlled the ball for more than 37 minutes. They also converted on 7 of 13 third downs. Meanwhile, Arkansas controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game. The Ragin’ Cajuns managed just 2.7 yards per carry for 85 total rushing yards. Beating Louisiana-Lafayette isn’t equivalent to taking down, say, Texas A&M, but the program did win the Sun Belt last season and pushed Florida to its limit.
11. Missouri – Beat Murray State, 58-14
It’s difficult to figure out what to make of Missouri’s dominant win over FCS foe Murray State. On the one hand, the Tigers took care of business as they needed to. On the other, what did we really learn about the team in Week 1? QB James Franklin threw for 318 yards and 3 TDs. RB Russell Hansbrough ran eight times for 104 yards and 2 TDs and RB Henry Josey added 113 more yards and another TD. The Tigers also intercepted three passes. Murray State took a 14-13 lead toward the end of the first quarter before Missouri stormed back to score the final 45 points. We’ll learn more about the Tigers next week when they host Toledo – the same team Florida pounded in Week 1.
12. Tennessee – Beat Austin Peay, 45-0
The Volunteers scored 42 first-half points in coach Butch Jones’ debut and cruised to an easy victory. QB Justin Worley passed for 3 TDs and Tennessee rushed for 315 yards. RB Rajion Neal led the way with 141 yards and a TD on just 16 carries. As in the case of Missouri, it’s hard to gauge where Tennessee fits in the first round of power rankings after beating an FCS opponent. We should have a better feel next week when the Volunteers play the same Western Kentucky team that squashed Kentucky in Week 1.
13. Mississippi State – Lost to Oklahoma State, 21-3 in Houston
For the first half, Mississippi State’s defense kept it in the game and the run game found some big-gainers. Unfortunately, quarterback play sunk the Bulldogs the entire day. QB Tyler Russell went 10-of-16 for 133 yards and an INT. More telling, State converted on just 2 of 14 third downs. Russell went 1 of 6 for 13 yards (a first down) and his interception on third downs before leaving the game in the third quarter with an apparent head injury. There was no immediate update on his condition. Russell’s inability to keep Oklahoma State’s defense honest with the passing game created huge problems all day for Mississippi State. Bulldogs RB LaDarius Perkins found gaps early, but once the Cowboys started focusing more attention on him, those holes vanished. Perkins finished with 50 yards on 16 carries. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, allowed Oklahoma State to rack up 286 rushing yards and 3 TDs.
14. Kentucky – Lost to Western Kentucky, 35-26 in Nashville
WKU coach Bobby Petrino got off to a great start in exacting revenge on the SEC schools that ignored him by stomping out the Wildcats. The Hilltoppers actually led 35-17 before Kentucky added two late cosmetic scores. QBs Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow both played – as promised – and both accounted for TDs. Penalties hurt the Wildcats. They committed 10 for 69 yards. A front seven with plenty of talent failed to man up against the Hilltoppers run game. Western Kentucky finished with 216 rushing yards and 4 TDs. Kentucky has a long way to go before first-year coach Mark Stoops can have fans believing this program his headed in the right direction.
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