SEC Power Rankings: Week 1

LSU's defense made life miserable for LaMichael James and the Oregon offense in Dallas. (Scott Threlkeld / The Times-Picayune)
LSU's defense made life miserable for LaMichael James and the Oregon offense in Dallas. (Scott Threlkeld / The Times-Picayune) /

The SEC went 10-2 in Week 1, but not all wins are equal. While some teams (cough, Auburn, cough) struggled mightily in victory, even the top teams have real concerns after seemingly easy wins. If the SEC is going to win its sixth consecutive national title, there is work to be done by the league’s contenders.

1. LSU — The next time Oregon is set to face a top-flight SEC team, the Ducks might just concede the game. LSU’s fast, powerful defensive line held the vaunted Duck rushing game to 95 yards, and the Tigers cashed in on a few turnovers to cruise to an easy win. Even with the relative cakewalk, LSU doesn’t look invincible. Much of the offense was a result of Oregon turnovers deep in its own territory. LSU gained just 273 yards on the night, and Jarrett Lee was 10-for-22 for 98 yards and a touchdown. The defense is great, but the offense has work to do.

2. ALABAMA — It’s tough to really analyze the Crimson Tide after a blowout win over cupcake Kent State. Alabama’s D was dominant, holding the Golden Flashes to 90 yards and -9 yards rushing. The offense did well enough, scoring 42 points and compiling 482 yards, but Alabama’s O isn’t in championship form yet. Battling for the starting quarterback job, A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims each threw two interceptions en route to five Alabama turnovers during the game. Trent Richardson found the end zone three times, but the running back averaged just 2.3 yards on 13 carries. The Alabama offense must get better in a hurry, otherwise this weekend’s trip to Happy Valley to face Penn State could be a disaster.

3. ARKANSAS — Arkansas handled Missouri State with ease, outgaining the bears 466 to 163. Tyler Wilson completed 75 percent of his passes and the Hogs raced to a 30-0 halftime lead, allowing the backups to receive plenty of valuable playing time. While the passing game was fine, the running game struggled. Without Knile Davis, Ronnie Wingo ran for 38 of the measly 102 yards Arkansas managed to gain on the ground. If the Hogs can’t find a consistent rushing attack, they’ll struggle to overtake LSU and Alabama in the West.

4. MISSISSIPPI STATE — Expectations are high in Starkville, and Thursday’s win over Memphis should only contribute to the hype. Chris Relf passed for 202 yards and a TD and rushed for 48 yards, Vick Ballard rushed for 166 yards and three TDs, and Jameon Lewis had 113 receiving yards and was one of three Bulldogs to catch a touchdown pass. The 645 yards gained, including 309 yards rushing, is impressive, but it did come against a Memphis team that was one of the worst in America in 2010. The defense only gave up 14 points, but Memphis managed to gain a decent 338 yards. Most of that was against backups, but it shows that the Mississippi State defense isn’t quite ready to compete with the SEC West’s big boys.

5. FLORIDA — The Gators check in as the first team from the East in the rankings after an impressive performance against Florida Atlantic. The defense was outstanding, holding the Owls to 137 yards and three points. The offense didn’t look bad either, as Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey combined for 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns. John Brantley threw for 229 yards and a touchdown while completing 70 percent of his passes, but he did throw two interceptions. Under the guidance of Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn, the Gator defense should have a good year. It remains to be seen how Brantley will hold up against stiffer defensive competition.

6. SOUTH CAROLINA — Before Saturday’s game against East Carolina, head coach Steve Spurrier announced that Conner Shaw had outplayed Stephen Garcia at quarterback in practice and was going to be the opening-day starter. Shaw was ineffective against the Pirates, completing 3-of-9 passes for 21 yards as ECU jumped out of the gate for a 17-0 lead. Once Spurrier inserted Garcia into the game, the Carolina offense began to click and rolled to 56 points in a 19 point win. The offense looks fine, but after four fumbles lost, protecting the ball must be emphasized. The defense was much shakier, allowing 37 points to a Conference USA team. Thanks to the Gamecocks turnovers, East Carolina was given many offensive opportunities, and that skews their offensive numbers a bit. But if ECU hadn’t tuned the ball over five times, the outcome of the game could have been different.

7. TENNESSEE — Vols quarterback Tyler Bray had one of the best passing days among SEC QBs in Week 1, completing 17-of-24 passes for 293 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Led by Tauren Poole’s 97 yards and one touchdown, Tennessee managed to balance their offensive attack with 128 rushing yards. The defense was strong, allowing just two touchdowns and forcing three turnovers. Allowing Montana to gain 346 yards should be concerning, but 82 of those yards came against backups in a fourth-quarter touchdown drive, so Volunteer fans shouldn’t be too worried. The 2011 Vols should be better than the 2010 version, but Tennesse isn’t ready to compete for an Eastern Division championship just yet.

8. AUBURN — Landing at No. 8 in the first SEC rankings is pretty bad for the defending national champions, but it could have been worse. Some late game heroics allowed Auburn to make an improbable escape against Utah State and extend its winning streak to 16 games. The passing game picked up the slack for a mostly non-existent running game, but the defense was dominated all day. In addition to Barrett Trotter throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns, the new starting receivers playing well, and the kickoff and kickoff coverage teams looked great. Other than that, it was a horror show. Auburn will find out what it’s made of in Week 2 against Mississippi State. If the Bulldogs dominate, it’s going to be a long season on the Plains.

9. GEORGIA — The Bulldogs take the honor of being the first SEC team to lose to Boise State, ruining the rest of the conference’s ability to ridicule the Blue Turf Broncos as a mid-major gimmick. On paper, Georgia didn’t play particularly poorly against Boise, but the Dawgs were never really in the game in the second half. The big problem for Georgia on offense will be the ground game. The Bulldogs compiled 137 rushing yards, but 80 of those came on Brandon Boykin’s lightning strike touchdown. (Of course, quarterback Aaron Murray lost 33 yards due to sacks.) Curiously, the Georgia coaching staff didn’t see fit to give Boykin any more carries after that touchdown. Georgia was 2-for-13 on third down conversions, and with Murray being sacked six times, it’s obvious the Dawgs have a long way to go on offense. Defensively, Georgia held Boise to 3.5 yards per rush and forced a Kellen Moore interception but couldn’t stop Boise when its offense was clicking on touchdown drives. With a potent South Carolina offense staring down the Dawgs in Week 2, Georgia is likely looking at and 0-2 start, and Mark Richt is inching closer and closer to unemployment.

10. VANDERBILT — The final score — 45-14 — looks impressive, but it wasn’t a walk in the park for the Commodores against Elon. Larry Smith threw two touchdown passes and no interceptions, but he was just 13-of-27 for 125 yards. The rushing game wasn’t much better as Smith led all rushers with 34 yards and a touchdown. In all, Vandy scrounged up 309 yards against the FCS Phoenix. Up 24-14 at the end of three quarters, it wasn’t until a 21-point, fourth-quarter outburst that the ‘Dores put the game away. Vandy did a nice job on defense forcing three turnovers and holding Elon to 5-of-16 of third down attempts, but that should be expected against a Southern Conference team. James Franklin should have Vanderbilt playing better as the year progresses, but right now, the offense needs some serious work.

11. KENTUCKY — The Wildcats owe Auburn a letter of gratitude. Thanks to the Tigers close call against Utah State, most fans in the conference forgot about Kentucky’s miserable showing against Western Kentucky on Thursday. While the defense was fine against the Hilltoppers, the Kentucky offense put together one of the worst performances seen in sometime. Kentucky gets credit for having a balanced offense, but when that equals 97 yards passing and 93 yards rushing against a middling Sun Belt team, there’s a big problem. Morgan Newton did his best to play the anti-Cam, completing 7-of-18 passes and throwing three interceptions. It wasn’t until a late 58-yard run on third and 14 followed by a 31-yard touchdown pass that Newton did any good. Josh Clemons led all Kentucky rushers with 39 yards and a whopping 3.5 yards per carry. Everyone knew the loss of quarterback Mike Hartline, do-everything Randall Cobb and running back Derrick Locke would hurt, but the Wildcats appear to be in even worse shape than expected.

12. OLE MISS — Despite ranking at the bottom of the SEC after Week 1, it’s not all bad for Ole Miss. The defense held up well against BYU, allowing the Cougars to gain 316 yards and only 91 yards on the ground. Tyler Campbell averaged 56.8 yards per punt, and the Rebs’ Charles Sawyer returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown. Other than that, it was a pretty frustrating Saturday in Oxford. The Rebel offense is bad. Probably as bad as Kentucky’s and maybe worse. Against the Cougars, Ole Miss gained 209 yards, was 3-for-12 on third downs, compiled 13 first downs and scored six offensive points. To make matters worse, the one true playmaker on the Rebel offense, running back Brandon Bolden, appears to have a fractured his ankle and will surely miss significant time. Once Bolden left the BYU game early in the second quarter, Ole Miss couldn’t do anything on the ground. With no real passing attack, the loss of Bolden leaves the Rebels with a zero-dimensional offense. It looks like a safe bet that Ole Miss will be residing in the SEC’s cellar for most of the season.