Greetings, friends, and welcome in to another edition of RTI’s SEC Power Rankings. This twelfth installment is brought to you by utter realism. Because by now, things have shaken out to a large degree which allows us to finally see teams for what they are.
Yes. Compelling matchups await. And things could always change. But by now the teams have more or less found their place in the pecking order. Or so it would seem at least. To that end, let’s begin with the first group:
Better Luck Next Year
14. South Carolina
Boy has this team ever played better under Shawn Elliott. The Gamecocks kept it very respectable in their back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Florida. Period, next thought. They’re absolutely awful. They finish SEC play with a lone conference win over Vanderbilt. (Um, how did they beat UNC in the season opener?)
Big Blue, what happened to you? You knocked off the ol’ ball coach, took the eventual East winner down to the wire and there you stood at 4-1. You even looked strong against Auburn, losing by just three. But that loss triggered four more just like it. The last of which to Vanderbilt, thus cementing your legacy this year. Sure, you’ll probably get by Charlotte next week, but you’ll have to man up and beat a suddenly hot Louisville team just to go bowling, something which seemed to be a foregone conclusion mere weeks ago. Which is why I dedicate the following song to your 2015 season.
Ah, yes, Big Blue. The ride with you was worth the fall. My friend.
I may have had a little fun with Kentucky, but things in Missouri are no laughing matter. Off-the-field issues have dominated their news cycle of late, and one which went far beyond the field and one which affected the head man on it. Say what you want about Mizzou this year, but when it comes to Gary Pinkel, there’s little debate. He’s done an incredible job in Columbia. He’s their all-time winningest head coach. He’s consistently competed in a conference that features teams far more talented than his. And he’s led Mizzou to two consecutive SEC East division titles. And waxed UT three times in the process.
People were laughing at Missouri when the Tigers came into the SEC. But Gary Pinkel got the last laugh. So while this season may not have gone as well as he’d hoped, he’s got nothing to hang his head about. The Vols will have all they want on Saturday night when Pinkel takes Faurot Field for the last time as the head guy in Columbia. Because that crowd will be eight kinds of lathered to give all they’ve got to send their beloved head coach out a winner. Throw in the divisive social issue, and you’ve got a real powder keg on your hands.
Missouri is not to be taken lightly. Ask BYU.
Just ahead of Mizzou we see the other team remaining on Tennessee’s schedule. They’ve won two of their last four, two of their last three in conference. Their lone loss was by just two points in the Swamp against SEC East winner Florida. They get the Aggies in Nashville this week.
Many picked Auburn to win outright last week against Georgia. Many were wrong. Which means the team that many picked to win the West has only beaten two SEC teams, KY and A&M. Idaho, the Iron Bowl and a horrible bowl game await before Gus Malzahn can put this season to rest.
Talented But Inconsistent
9. Texas A&M
The Aggies haven’t notched back-to-back wins since October 3. Yes, they’ve got Ws over Arkansas and Mississippi State, but they also barely escaped South Carolina and lost to Auburn. You never know what you’re gonna get from these guys. They close their regular season with SEC matchups on the road against both Vanderbilt and LSU.
I’m thinking about writing a book about the 2015 Georgia football season. My working title is “Whatever.” It’s not the teams they’ve lost to, necessarily. (Alabama, Tennessee and Florida.) It’s the fact that each L has been a beatdown, or at least a meltdown. Plus that little two-game touchdown drought. (Florida and Mizzou.) This team’s on-off switch is in jumping jack mode.
First UT was wildly inconsistent within the course of a single game as evidenced by Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas. Now UT is inconsistent within the course of clusters of games. The Vols played inspired football against Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky, but followed that up with very flat efforts against South Carolina and North Texas. We all know the stat: three of their four losses are against one loss teams ranked in the top 10. The fourth came against a team in Arkansas that’s playing as well as anyone (not named Alabama) in the conference.
But if Tennessee wants to join such elite teams next year, the Vols need to figure out how to apply consistent effort both within the course of a game, as well as within the course of a season. Two huge conference games and a bowl game can set the table for UT to do just that.
6. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs are another team that’s had a bit of an up and down go of it. But their effort feels more earnest than some of the others in the yo-yo division. For the most part, they’ve taken care of business on days they were supposed to do just that. (Convincing wins over KY, Missouri and Auburn.) And two of their three losses have been hard-fought contests, especially the two-point affair they dropped in Death Valley. But they got throttled last week at home by Alabama and have two really tough games staring them in the face (at Arkansas and the Egg Bowl). The results in those two will heavily affect the narrative of their 2015 campaign.
5. Ole Miss
Another team with two really tough games remaining. They host LSU before heading to Starkville. But, like their foe in Starkville, these guys aren’t quite as up and down as the other teams in this cluster. Memphis is no slouch. A nightmare nooner road game if there ever was one. And, yeah, there’s really no excuse for them to have gotten waxed like they did in the Swamp. But their loss against Arkansas week before last was horrible luck. This should be a two-loss team with but a solitary blemish on their conference record. Like Mississippi State, their 2015 story will be summed up in the next two weeks.
Leonard Fournette has rushed for a combined 122 yards in his last two games. Prior to that, his single game low was 150. But it’s not all on Leonard. Les Miles’ offense has disappeared. And with it, so, too, did the chance for an elite season. They got manhandled by our next team.
Good grief. How can a team that lost to Toledo and Texas Tech be the third best team a conference that’s supposed to be the baddest in the land? Two ways. First, the SEC ain’t all that. But second, Arkansas really is. Their physical style of play is conducive to peaking at the right time. They’ve won four of their last five conference games (TN, AU, Ole Miss, LSU), their lone loss a noble effort to Bama. You think Vol Nation is playing the What Coulda Been game? Just think what they’re doing in Fayetteville. These guys are legit.
They’re in the clubhouse waiting to see who comes in from the West, and their resume speaks for itself. There have been two lackluster games the last couple weeks, but the Gators are just fine where they are. If you’re not impressed with the job Jim McElwain’s done with a backup QB playing behind a patchwork offensive line, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Simply put, the Tide is clowning people left and right. I’m not sure if they deserve to be the No. 2 team in the land. A loss is a loss, and an indirect loss to Memphis is definitely in WOW territory. But so is what Bama’s done since turning the ball over five times against Ole Miss. Which is why they’re more than deserving to be the No. 1 team in the conference.