The Alabama-Texas A&M game stole all the headlines and lived up to the billing – for the most part. The Crimson Tide flexed its muscle in the second and third quarters before needing to hold on at the end. There’s no questioning the offensive firepower in College Station. Scoring 42 on Alabama is no joke. However, the Aggies no longer look like a national title contender.
That list, in fact, has dwindled through the first three weeks of the season. The year opened with pundits thinking the conference had as many as six national championship contenders. Now that list appears to be down to three – Alabama, LSU and Georgia.
Of course, the way it works in the SEC, that list could lose a member next week when LSU and Georgia meet Between The Hedges. If the Bulldogs defend their turf, LSU would remain a viable national contender. However, if the Tigers steal one, Georgia will likely be finished in the national race.
The biggest shakeup in this week’s power rankings come at the bottom, where Arkansas has finally started to make a move. Vanderbilt’s fall could be a product of a difficult schedule, so don’t give up on the Commodores quite yet.
Here are your Week 3 SEC Power Rankings:
1. Alabama (2-0, 1-0) – Last Week: 1; Won at Texas A&M, 49-42
When defensive coordinator Kirby Smart inevitably accepts a head-coaching job in the next few years, his highlight reel won’t include too many plays from this week’s win. Alabama’s defense certainly did not dominate. The Aggies had the vaunted unit on the ropes for much of the game, though S Vinnie Sunseri turned in what might be remembered as the best interception return of the season. QB AJ McCarron played one the best games in his career, completing 20 of 29 passes for 334 yards and 4 TDs. Eventually the Crimson Tide got rolling in the run game as well, springing RB T.J. Yeldon for 149 yards and a TD. The All-America candidate did lose what could have been a critical fumble while trying to score a touchdown that would have iced the game. Alabama coach Nick Saban said his team would look at this week as just one game. Believe him if you will, but the Crimson Tide had something to prove to the nation. It showed the road to the BCS national title still runs through Tuscaloosa.
2. LSU (3-0) – Last Week: 2; Beat Kent State, 45-13
Not much to say here other than LSU took on an overmatched opponent and put it down early. QB Zach Mettenberger continued his exceptional play and RB Jeremy Hill made his return to the starting lineup to provide the type of balance we’ve come to expect from the Tigers. Hill and fellow RB Terrence Magee combined to rush for 129 yards and 3 TDs on 20 carries. Meanwhile, the LSU defense smothered the Golden Flash into submission.
3. Georgia (1-1, 1-0) – Last Week: 3; Bye week
Amazingly, the Bulldogs actually got a breather this week by virtue of a much-needed bye. Georgia faces North Texas in another cool-off week before getting back into the thick of things a week later against LSU. The schedule grows easier from there, though challenges still lie ahead.
4. Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1) – Last Week: 4; Lost to Alabama, 49-42
QB Johnny Manziel accounted for more than 550 yards and 5 TDs but teammate WR Mike Evans stole the show. Evans caught seven passes for 279 yards, including a 95-yard TD in the defeat. Nobody questions the firepower the Aggies boast. However, the maligned defense did nothing to slow the mounting criticism. Suspensions. No suspensions. This does not look like a defense ready to contend for championships. A&M now finds itself competing with the middling (or worse) SEC teams until squaring off with LSU in late November.
5. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1) – Last Week: 5; Beat Vanderbilt, 35-25
Through three quarters, South Carolina seemed on track to roll to an impressive victory over a divisional foe. The Gamecocks defense largely improved, though it did allow a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Most importantly, coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s defense allowed Vanderbilt to convert just 2 of 12 third downs and rack up just 268 total yards of offense. QB Connor Shaw turned in one of his best career games, throwing for 284 yards and 3 TDs while rushing for 84 more yards.
6. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0) – Last Week: 7; Beat Texas, 44-23
Winning at Texas, even when the Longhorns are down, is a big deal. Ole Miss went in and smacked Bevo in the mouth for a three-touchdown victory. Texas seemed to seize control of the game by jumping out to a 23-14 advantage, but the Rebels answered with a field goal to end the half. That sparked a 30-point run. Ole Miss held the Longhorns to 90 yards of total offense in the second half. RB Jeff Scott ran for 164 yards and a TD. He also returned a punt 73 yards for another score.
7. Florida (1-1) – Last Week: 6; Bye week
The Gators will have had two weeks to find some offense in preparing for a home game against Tennessee this weekend. By the looks of the Miami game, they needed it. Florida’s defense legitimately ranks among the best in the nation. It would be nice to have a competent, mistake-free offense to go along with it.
8. Missouri (2-0) – Last Week: 9; Bye week
Missouri took a break at the halfway point of its non-conference schedule. The Tigers are currently 2-0 and realistically need a perfect slate outside the SEC to have any margin for error in qualifying for a bowl game.
9. Auburn (3-0, 1-0) – Last Week: 10; Beat Mississippi State, 24-20
Perhaps the luckiest team on the list this week, Auburn got out-manned on both the offensive and defensive line and lost the turnover battle. The Tigers were also held to their lowest rushing total of the season. In the game’s defining moments, though, QB Nick Marshall shined. He engineered a 12-play, 88-yard drive running the 2-minute offense, culminating with his game-winning TD pass to TE C.J. Uzomah. Marshall took a big step forward Saturday, throwing for 339 yards and 2 TDs. State did pick him off twice, but Marshall still had the confidence to make the big throws in the biggest spot.
10. Arkansas (3-0) – Last Week: 13; Beat Southern Miss, 24-3
Southern Miss never had a chance offensively against the Arkansas defense, which surrendered just 254 yards of total offense to the Golden Eagles. It’s a good thing because Razorbacks QB Brandon Allen left the game after injuring his shoulder while rushing for a touchdown. Arkansas only attempted 11 passes, which works just fine when you have tailbacks like Alex Collins and Johnathan Williams. The two combined for 231 yards and 3 TDs with Collins becoming the first player in SEC history to rush for 100 yards in his first three games. Added bonus: We got to find out that Jen Bielema is a fan of karma! Who’s rooting for a potential new Bravo reality show, SEC Wives? Bielema and Kristi Malzahn can co-star.
11. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2) – Last Week: 8; Lost at South Carolina, 35-25
The Commodores made the final outcome look closer than they deserved for most of the game. QB Austyn Carta-Samuels took a rough reminder that he has a long way to go still as an SEC starter. Throwing the ball to WR Jordan Matthews, one of the best in the country, is a remarkable advantage. However, Carta-Samuels must develop some other targets. He completed 12 passes Saturday, eight of which went to Matthews. Worse, Vanderbilt’s defense has now given up 74 points to the first two SEC teams it has played this year.
12. Mississippi State (1-2, 0-1) – Last Week: 12; Lost at Auburn, 24-20
The Bulldogs deserved better at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. They largely controlled both lines of scrimmage and put QB2 Dak Prescott – starting for Tyler Russell, who is trying to come back from a Week 1 concussion – in good situations. Prescott played like a beast, throwing for 213 yards and rushing for 133 more and 2 TDs. State also held Auburn to just 120 rushing yards, easily marking the Tigers’ lowest total of the season. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they went into a ridiculous prevent defense on Auburn’s final drive and QB Nick Marshall picked it apart. Marshall completed an 11-yard TD pass to C.J. Uzomah to allow the Tigers to sneak out with the win.
13. Tennessee (2-1) – Last Week: 11; Lost at Oregon, 59-14
Well, Tennessee got on the board first. So there’s that. Of course, that only goes so far when the opponent pours on the next 59 points. The Volunteers had no answer for Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, who threw for 456 yards and 4 TDs in less than three quarters. Fortunately for Tennessee, there are no more trips to Eugene. The SEC East might look easy compared to a Saturday with the Ducks.
14. Kentucky (1-2) – Lost to Louisville, 27-13
Defensively, the Wildcats played admirably against Louisville and QB Teddy Bridgewater. They trailed just 10-3 at halftime before the Cardinals essentially put the game away with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns. The dual-quarterback system has only grown worse, with neither Maxwell Smith nor Jalen Whitlow playing to potential.
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