Sep 21, 2013; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers linebacker Seth Fruge (48) celebrates a tackle against the Auburn Tigers in the second quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

SEC Power Rankings: Week 4

Alabama has some competition for the top spot in the SEC Power Rankings now, with LSU nipping at its heels. Ultimately, Alabama’s road win over Texas A&M still leaves enough of an impression to allow the Crimson Tide to stave off the Bayou Bengals. LSU made its 2013 SEC debut this week, overpowering Auburn en route to a deceivingly one-sided victory.

Georgia has a chance to shake up the SEC Power Rankings next week when it hosts LSU in what seems to be a battle of two of the better teams in the league.

Perhaps the most noteworthy moment in the conference this week came when Florida QB1 Jeff Driskel suffered a season-ending leg injury. The Gators, ranked seventh in the SEC Power Rankings, will need to find some offensive answers without their top quarterback in order to climb the chart.

We’re starting to get deeper into the SEC schedule, meaning the picture will become clearer. Through the first four weeks, the league appears to have a clear distinction between the top seven teams and the lower seven.

Here are your Week 4 SEC Power Rankings:

1. Alabama (3-0, 1-0) – Last Week: 1; Beat Colorado State, 31-6

Yes, the Crimson Tide is now 3-0. Yes, it has the most impressive win to its resume – a victory at Texas A&M. However, Alabama has not been dominant in wins over inferior teams Virginia Tech and Colorado State. With the level of talent roaming the campus in Tuscaloosa and with Nick Saban coaching the team, the Crimson Tide has a chance to be something special. There is, however, reason to believe this year’s Alabama team does not stack up favorably to the previous two. This week against Colorado State, the offense scored just one touchdown through the first three quarters, allowing the Rams to hang around. Whether by design or not, Alabama neglected the run game. QB AJ McCarron played fine, but the Crimson Tide went just 2 of 10 on third-down conversions. Alabama must also contend with issues in the secondary and its pass rush.

2. LSU (4-0, 1-0) – Last Week: 2; Beat Auburn, 35-21

A dominant win over Auburn left LSU on the verge of surpassing Alabama for the top spot on the SEC Power Rankings. The Tigers have their run game back running at full speed with RB Jeremy Hill shredding Auburn’s defense. More importantly, QB Zach Mettenberger has taken huge and obvious strides under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He looks masterful in the pocket – especially since he is actually getting good pass protection this year. LSU’s defense has looked far better than some of the other units in the conference this year. It could be one of the best in the nation by the time the season ends. LSU ranks second this week but could just as easily have been No. 2. A decisive win over Georgia would likely elevate the Tigers into the top spot.

3. Georgia (2-1, 1-0) – Last Week: 3; Beat North Texas, 45-21

Don’t blame the 21 points allowed on the defense. The Mean Green scored 14 points on special teams – on a kickoff return for a touchdown and a blocked punt recovered for another. QB Aaron Murray threw for 408 yards and 3 TDs – including a 98-yard connection to WR Reggie Davis. North Texas didn’t have a chance to come in and beat the Bulldogs. Mark Richt’s team should be disappointed the Mean Green actually tied the game at 21 early in the third quarter (on the blocked punt). Georgia, like Alabama, ended up pulling away for an uninspired victory. The Bulldogs won’t get away with such an effort next week when they host LSU.

4. Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1) – Last Week: 4; Beat SMU, 42-13

Texas A&M pounded a hapless opponent into submission, running up 32 first-half points on its way to a blow out of SMU. The maligned defense kept the Mustangs down on the scoreboard, but still allowed a troubling number of yards (434, including 341 passing yards). Many people who put together SEC Power Rankings have A&M ahead of Georgia. Through the first four weeks of the season, Georgia clearly has the better win. A home loss to Alabama might not be as much of a “good loss” as a road loss at Clemson. Georgia has struggled on defense (and more notably, its special teams), but the Aggies haven’t exactly been a model of consistency when QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans and company have been on the sideline. As much fun as a hypothetical Georgia-Texas A&M game would be, it is not one we will see in 2013. Just one more reason why SEC teams shouldn’t hesitate to schedule non-conference games against league opponents.

5. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1) – Last Week: 5; Bye Week

Coach Steve Spurrier needed to take the bye week seriously with a road date against UCF this week. The Gamecocks have not proven they are a good enough team to overlook a noon kickoff game against the Knights. A loss here would be devastating for South Carolina’s hopes of an at-large BCS bid (unless it ultimately wins the SEC East and gets its shot at the automatic berth). This week begins a stretch of four road games in five weeks. The Gamecocks should be favored in all four, but the team doesn’t have the dominant streak to sleepwalk into road venues and survive unscathed. Look for South Carolina to get a scare in Orlando this week.

6. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0) – Last Week: 6; Bye Week

The Rebels used their bye week to prepare for a road test at No. 1 Alabama. They have gotten off to a great start that includes road wins over Vanderbilt and Texas. This will undoubtedly give coach Hugh Freeze’s team the biggest test to date. QB Bo Wallace must continue avoiding the costly turnovers that plagued him a year ago and the Rebels will take anything they can get out of RB Jeff Scott. They would also be well-advised to challenge the Crimson Tide vertically two weeks after Texas A&M WR Mike Evans had a field day against it. Between WRs Donte Moncrief, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, the Rebels can challenge an Alabama secondary that looked surprisingly unspectacular against the Aggies. How much the Rebels can pressure and challenge QB AJ McCarron could determine whether they can pull off the huge upset in Tuscaloosa.

7. Florida (2-1, 1-0) – Last Week: 7; Beat Tennessee, 31-17

Florida again dominated defensively in dismantling the Volunteers. However, the already shaky, borderline one-dimensional offense suffered a major blow Saturday when QB1 Jeff Driskel suffered a season-ending leg injury. (To add insult to injury, it came on a pick-6 for Tennessee CB Devaun Swafford.) With Driskel gone for the year, coach Will Muschamp turns to Tyler Murphy, who completed 8 of 14 passes for 134 yards and a TD in the win over the Volunteers. Murphy also ran for 84 yards and another score. Muschamp already ran an intentionally ultra-conservative offense, relying heavily on the ground game. Look for more of the same while offensive coordinator Brent Pease looks for his shots in the play-action game. The Gators remain No. 7 in the Power Rankings because there is no obvious candidate to replace them and because that filthy defense earns the team the benefit of the doubt.

8. Missouri (3-0) – Last Week: 8; Won at Indiana, 45-28

The inadequacy of Missouri’s schedule leaves it impossible to truly tell how good this team can be in 2013. That won’t change this week, when the Tigers host an Arkansas State team that already lost 38-9 at Auburn. The team from the Show-Me State has yet to reveal its mettle, though that can be expected to change in October when it enters league play. This week’s win over Indiana marked the biggest statement to date. QB James Franklin threw for 343 yards and 2 TDs – albeit with 2 INTs – while rushing for 61 yards and scoring another TD on the ground. His strong performance enabled the Tigers to take a three-score road win from Big Ten cellar-dweller Indiana.

9. Vanderbilt (2-2, 0-2) – Last Week: 11; Beat UMass, 24-7

A lackluster win over inept UMass hardly says much about Vanderbilt’s progress. At least the defense dominated, limiting the Minutemen to 248 total yards of offense. The best thing to come out of the win for the Commodores might be the step forward from WR Jonathan Krause, who caught six passes for 105 yards and a TD. QB Austyn Carta-Samuels needed to develop options aside from WR Jordan Matthews and it appears Krause might be a viable weapon. Then again, perhaps Krause should perform against someone other than UMass before declaring the situation resolved.

10. Auburn (3-1, 1-1) – Last Week: 9; Lost at LSU, 35-21

Auburn spent the first half trying to find ways to plug an absurdly porous front seven. On a couple TD runs from LSU RB Jeremy Hill, Auburn wouldn’t have downed him in flag football. The linebacker position continues to serve as a glaring weakness and – in 2013, anyway – might be a problem for which no solution exists. At the same time, the Tigers’ defensive line must do a better job of clearing lanes for them. That wasn’t going to happen against LSU. QB Nick Marshall struggled out of the gate, possibly at least partly because of the driving rain. He did find his touch on a couple second-half deep passes, though they were far too little, far too late. Marshall’s early struggles were predictable considering he needed to ease comparable nerves in the season opener against Washington State. Odds are he will be far improved in his next road start. RB Tre Mason ran well, racking up 132 yards and 2 TDs against a dominant LSU front seven.

11. Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1) – Last Week: 12; Beat Troy, 62-7

At this point, QB Tyler Russell would be well-advised to return from his concussion as soon as he can safely do so. Otherwise the senior might not regain his position from QB2 Dak Prescott. The former backup has provided a running presence Russell simply can’t and he has developed as a passer – though he still could use some additional polish. The sledgehammer-like running ability of Prescott makes mistakes in the passing game more tolerable because he can pick up 7 or 8 yards in spots to pick up first downs or to put the Bulldogs ahead of the chains. Take specific note of State’s 8-of-12 performance on third-down conversions. Prescott threw for 233 yards and a TD and rushed for 53 yards and 2 TDs (on five attempts) in State’s deconstruction of Troy. The Bulldogs also held a proud Trojans offense to 186 total yards of offense.

12. Arkansas (3-1) – Last Week: 10; Lost at Rutgers, 28-24

The Razorbacks faced three enormous obstacles this week at Rutgers. For starters, they hadn’t played anyone of consequence so far this season – nor had they played anyone on the road. QB2 AJ Derby provided the other factor. He made his first start, filling in for QB Brandon Allen, who suffered a shoulder injury last week. The Scarlet Knights wisely dared Derby to beat them. Statistically, Derby didn’t play poorly. He completed largely high-percentage passes and threw for a TD. However, he never forced Rutgers to respect him and the run game therefore struggled. RB Alex Collins, facing his first real challenge of a defense, got held to 63 yards after going for 100-plus in his first three games. Fellow RB Jonathan Williams couldn’t even match Collins, rushing for just 25 yards on 12 carries. Rutgers held the Razorbacks to under 300 yards of total offense and – most tellingly – allowed them to convert just 3 of 14 third downs.

13. Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) – Last Week: 13; Lost at Florida, 31-17

Coach Butch Jones’ curious decision to start QB2 Nathan Peterman blew up in his face. Peterman, making his first collegiate start against one of the nation’s top defenses, looked completely lost. He completed just 4 of 11 passes for 5 yards with 2 INTs and a lost fumble that led to Florida’s first score. Peterman also suffered a hand injury that will keep him out for four weeks. Justin Worley, the QB1 through the first three games, didn’t fare much better. He went 10-of-23 for 149 yards with a TD and 2 INTs. The Volunteers held a brief lead thanks to CB Devaun Swafford’s interception returned for a touchdown, but they couldn’t do anything enough offensively. The injury to Florida QB1 Jeff Driskel seemed to set the best possible scenario Tennessee had for an upset win over the Gators and it still lost by two touchdowns. Jones has a history of big improvements and he has certainly created off-the-field momentum of which predecessor Derek Dooley could have only dreamed. Better days are ahead for the Volunteers. They just might not come this season.

14. Kentucky (1-2) – Bye Week

The lowly Wildcats got a week to lick their wounds and come up with some sort of plan to turn around what has been a dismal first few weeks for Mark Stoops. Kentucky hosts Florida this week, which means taking on a team transitioning to a new quarterback. If Stoops hopes to score a signature victory during his first season, this seems like the most likely candidate. With games at South Carolina and home against Alabama to follow, it sure would be nice to at least make a good showing against the Gators this week.

Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Arkansas Razorbacks Auburn Tigers Florida Gators Georgia Bulldogs Kentucky Wildcats Louisiana State Tigers Mississippi State Bulldogs Missouri Tigers Ole Miss Rebels SEC South Carolina Gamecocks Tennessee Volunteers Texas A&M Aggies Vanderbilt Commodores

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