The RTI team confers every week of the season to come up with SEC Power Rankings. Here’s our first version of the year, following Week 1:
1) Alabama: The SEC currently boasts maybe the greatest collection of running backs any conference has ever fielded at the same time, and if Derrick Henry isn’t the best of the group then he’s pretty damn close. With the normal level of excellence defensively, and nothing particularly special at QB, Alabama can stay at the top of the SEC by running with Henry. Alabama, essentially, is the best until proven otherwise.
2) A&M: After a disastrous 2014 on the defensive side of the ball, new coordinator John Chavis’ unit allowed only 219 yards of offensive from 15th ranked Arizona State. The QB situation in College Station remains somewhat in flux but the Aggies have enough athletes to cover up any wrinkles in the offense yet to be ironed out.
3) UGA: Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are a monstrous duo for the Dawgs, and it’s likely that Jeremy Pruitt will have the UGA defense playing at a high-octane level this season. UGA appears to be the cream rising to the top of the SEC East, but will have to overcome its usual UGA-itis and avoid a let-down loss to stay there.
4) Auburn: Jeremy Johnson should be a major concern for the Tigers, at least right now. Gus Malzahn’s offenses historically gain stream over the course of the season and peak at the right time, so if Auburn can avoid an early season loss they should be ok. Will Muschamp came out of the gates firing, as most thought he would, Auburn should present a formidable defense in 2015.
5) Ole Miss: The Rebels delivered a pretty ruthless beat down of UT-Martin, with new Quarterback Chad “Swag” Kelly giving an impressive debut. Robert Nkemdiche continues to be a force at defensive tackle, and the Rebels once again have the pieces to challenge for the crowded SEC West.
6) Arkansas: Brandon Allen threw for a career high 308 yards against UTEP, and Arkansas appears poised to take another step forward from their late-season success in 2014. Like several other teams in the West, Arkansas could finish near the top or near the bottom of the division, which actually says very little about their overall quality.
7) Tennessee: The conversation in Knoxville all week has centered around the defensive struggles in the first half against Bowling Green, specifically in the secondary. The Vols find themselves yet again in the national spotlight against a storied program this week, with an opportunity to re-establish themselves as real contenders in the SEC. If Tennessee can get its defense on track, it has a real shot to move up the list.
8) LSU: The Tigers were rained out of their week-one game, but they’ve been a stable enough program over the last decade to earn the benefit of the doubt.
9) SC: The Gamecocks were among the SEC teams to play an opponent from a Power 5 conference, and game away a narrow winner over North Carolina. The Gamecock defense seemingly has improved, though it still gave up 440 total yards of offense to the Heels. Quarterback Connor Mitch showed glimpses of confidence, but USC will need to bring a more organized team to the stadium this weekend in order to beat Kentucky.
10) Miss State: The Bulldogs escaped with a win over Southern Miss, but the Golden Eagles made Mississippi State fans more nervous than they anticipated in week one. Dak Prescott was a little off all game, and Dan Mullen better have his team ready to play against a well-rested LSU team this weekend.
11) Mizzou: It’s hard to put the Tigers so low on the list, considering they are the back-to-back SEC East Champs. Considering all that they lost from their 2014 roster and the difficulty of evaluating a team that beat up on Southeast Missouri State, they find themselves towards the bottom of the list.
12) Florida: In coach Jim McElwain’s debut, the Gators finally found some offense (606 yards to be exact) and their duo of quarterbacks in Treon Harris and Will Grier looked competent. It might be easy to jump the gun on claiming that the Gators are back, but Florida enjoyed similar success early in 2014 as well. Time will tell for the Gators, who host Tennessee in a few short weeks.
13) Kentucky: Kentucky struggled late and nearly blew a lead against UL-Lafayette in week one, ending a six-game losing streak dating back to last year. Mark Stoops has appeased the Wildcat fan base thus far with a pretty decent overhaul of the program, but he’ll need to get his team going and avoid a meltdown in Lexington.
14) Vanderbilt: The Derek Mason experiment can almost officially be considered a total failure. Vanderbilt once again choked on national television against a far weaker opponent in Western Kentucky. Mason took over the defense and improvements were visible, but if Mason can’t beat the easiest opponents on his schedule in year two, when will he?