SEC Football Power Rankings: Week 2
Alabama and Georgia look like two of the nation's top five teams, and with the Auburn Tigers not far behind them, the national championship appears destined to go through the SEC again.
When you factor in early-season statements by LSU and Mississippi State and a colossal near-upset of Clemson by Texas A&M at Kyle Field on Saturday, it's evident the league is deeper and better than it was a year ago.
Most of the power hails from the SEC West, where the aforementioned teams look like they're going to make things tough on the Tide.
A couple of East division teams are on the cusp of entering the conversation too. The Bulldogs are by far the best team on that side of the conference, but others such as Missouri and maybe even Kentucky could pose a threat.
Still, if you're a Dawgs fan, you've got to be feeling good about your chances of getting to Atlanta after throttling South Carolina this past weekend.
Let's rank the toughest conference in the nation from top to bottom entering Week 3.
14. Arkansas Razorbacks
It's going to take Chad Morris some time to build his program in Fayetteville, especially considering what he wants to do offensively is a complete 180 from what Bret Bielema did before him.
Morris' pass-happy offense clicked on all cylinders in a season-opening 55-20 throttling of Eastern Illinois, but things came crashing back to earth Saturday when a Colorado State team that had looked hapless in the season's first two weekends shocked the Razorbacks 34-27.
Allowing 17 fourth-quarter points did the Hogs in, and they blew a huge lead in the process, falling to Mike Bobo's Rams. First-year defensive coordinator John Chavis had no answer for K.J. Carta-Samuels and his top two targets, including Tennessee transfer Preston Williams.
Arkansas has plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball entering this weekend's tilt against a very good North Texas team. Afterward, Arkansas travels to Auburn before playing Texas A&M and hosting Alabama.
Things could get ugly.
This was never going to be an overnight fix, and the Hogs must be patient in their turnaround. But no matter how you spin it, Saturday's loss to the Rams was bad, and it isn't going to help win Morris any early points with the fans.
13. Tennessee Volunteers
The proud Tennessee fanbase may think the Volunteers are ranked too low on this list after Week 2's 59-3 dismantling of ETSU in Neyland Stadium.
But folks should be in "show-me" mode with the Jeremy Pruitt era.
These power rankings show teams' current status, not as they project to be at the end of the season. UT should improve as the year progresses and the team learns what Pruitt expects as the Vols transition to a 3-4 defense and adapt to Tyson Helton's offensive scheme.
But Tennessee still failed its first big test in the opener as West Virginia won 40-14 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Vols have a ton of youth in the secondary, zero pass rush and an offensive line that has yet to play a full game. The latter was downright awful at times against the Mountaineers and Buccaneers, and if they don't improve in a hurry, they'll struggle in the SEC.
The Vols must focus on getting better each week. They should handle UTEP this upcoming weekend before a massive early-season game against Florida in Neyland that could determine whether Tennessee is a bowl team this year.
The Vols will have every opportunity to move up this list, but they're still the team that went 0-8 in the league a year ago until they prove they can hang in SEC play.
12. Florida Gators
It was ridiculous that Florida was ranked No. 25 entering Week 2, and the Gators proved that by allowing Kentucky to end 31 years of futility with a 27-16 upset victory in the Swamp.
The same old struggles that have haunted UF for the past several years reared their heads again. The offense is seeking anybody who can make plays, and quarterback Feleipe Franks was erratic at best and awful at worst.
Even Florida's defense didn't look as good as it has in recent history, as Wildcats running back Benny Snell ran roughshod to help lead Kentucky to its first win in the series since 1986.
Now, the same Colorado State team that just upset Arkansas travels to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and the Gators are going to have to put up points to win.
Dan Mullen is a good coach who turned around Mississippi State, and many expect him to do the same at Florida, where he was the offensive coordinator during the Urban Meyer era. But he must recruit better than he has so far, and he must find dynamic offensive players to run his spread.
The personnel isn't there, and this isn't a quick fix. Beating the Rams and then the Vols in Knoxville would get the Gators on track and help them move up.
11. Ole Miss Rebels
All the good vibes that Ole Miss built with a dominant Week 1 performance in an offensive slugfest victory over Texas Tech swirled down the proverbial drain this past weekend.
Hype and hoopla surrounded a Rebels team that looked much improved from a season ago, but they returned to Oxford and suffered one of the biggest scares in a long time from FCS opponent Southern Illinois.
The Salukis matched them point for point for three grueling quarters, and defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff had no answers for a team that threw for 388 yards. For much of the afternoon, it looked like it could be a repeat of Jacksonville State's 49-48 upset of the Rebels in 2010.
Instead, Jordan Ta'amu threw for 448 yards with five touchdowns, and running back Scottie Phillips ran for 107 yards and two scores as the Rebels poured it on late in a 76-41 win.
Still, there are red flags for a 2-0 team. There's no question Ole Miss can score, but the Rebels must stop SEC teams to win games. We'll find out if they can do that against No. 1 Alabama in Oxford this weekend.
The Crimson Tide have arguably the toughest, most balanced offense in the league, so this could be a statement game for the Rebels if they perform well and a major shocker if they win. Obviously, if that happens, they'll move to the top half of the power rankings.
But that defense looks rough right now.
10. Vanderbilt Commodores
One of the most impressive early-season teams in the league has been Vanderbilt, believe it or not. Is that fool's gold, or is the team in black and gold worth paying attention to this year?
Much like with Ole Miss, we'll find out this weekend.
The first two weeks, the Commodores used stifling defense and exceptional quarterback play from Kyle Shurmur (the son of New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur) to cruise past Middle Tennessee and Nevada. While neither of those opponents is top-notch, they aren't awful either.
Vanderbilt beat them by a combined total of 76-17.
Now, the Commodores travel to South Bend to take on a Notre Dame team that whipped Michigan in the first weekend before struggling past Ball State on Saturday. Vanderbilt received three votes in the Amway Coaches Poll, as noted by the Tennessean's Adam Sparks.
Nobody expected much of VU this year, but coach Derek Mason's team looks improved.
Last year, the Commodores jumped out to a 3-0 start with an upset of No. 18 Kansas State and received votes. However, as Sparks wrote, "Vanderbilt climbed as high as 27th with 92 votes in the coaches poll before losing 59-0 to No. 1 Alabama and not receiving votes the rest of the season."
Can Mason's team parlay early success into a quality season? Beating the Fighting Irish would be a huge step for the program.
9. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was nearly moved to tears on the SEC Network's postgame interview after his Wildcats ended years of futility against the Florida Gators. They'd come so close the past few years only to squander it.
Maybe this year is different.
The Wildcats have a veteran defense that finally looks the way Stoops wanted when he took over the program six years ago. It hasn't been an easy rebuild, but Kentucky has taken baby steps, and with that stellar D and Benny Snell as the offense's bell cow, there's reason for hope.
When you throw in JUCO transfer quarterback Terry Wilson, who looks like a major difference-maker, these 'Cats are a legit threat to finish in the top two or three in the division, though it's unclear if they can contend with Georgia.
"Did you see him? Did you see what he was doing?" Snell told the Louisville Courier Journal's Jon Hale. "The pocket was collapsing, he was running. He was running like 20 yards and it was supposed to be a sack. Man, Terry is so great. He makes this offense so much more deadlier."
Wilson passed for 151 yards and a couple of scores, and he added 105 rushing yards and another touchdown.
With that added element of the offense, Kentucky should scare a lot of teams. Contending with Snell was tough enough, and now defenses must scheme for Wilson too.
Beating Florida may just be the start.
8. South Carolina Gamecocks
Gamecocks are not supposed to lay eggs.
But that's exactly what South Carolina did Saturday with a golden opportunity to seize control of the SEC East against rival Georgia in a big early-season matchup at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Coach Will Muschamp's team lost to the reigning SEC champion Bulldogs 41-17, and it was far from competitive. Georgia dominated the 'Cocks in every facet of the game.
Quarterback Jake Bentley had a chance to move into the upper echelon of the conference, but the signal-caller struggled against UGA's young, talented defense.
There's no shame in losing to Georgia. Everybody but Alabama and Auburn has done it over the past two years, and the Dawgs paid back the Tigers. The Crimson Tide were losing the entire game before beating the Dawgs in overtime too.
But the lack of a competitive edge against Georgia is a big deal. The 'Cocks will probably be fine and even move up this list eventually, but that was an ugly showing. They get Marshall before embarking on a Vanderbilt-Kentucky-Missouri trifecta that looks tougher than it once did.
How they fare in those games will determine whether Muschamp's team is a threat to finish second in the division. They've got a long way to go to realize their potential on both sides of the ball.
7. Missouri Tigers
The Missouri Tigers disposed of a pesky Wyoming team Saturday, and they continue to prove that a prolific offense and signal-caller Drew Lock have the potential to keep them in most games.
We'll find out quickly how good Mizzou can be.
A tough stretch is coming up that includes a road game against Purdue, hosting the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs and then a bye week before traveling to South Carolina and top-ranked Alabama. Memphis, Kentucky and Florida follow.
In order to escape from the first four of those games, the Tigers have to build on a solid defensive showing to start the year. Head coach Barry Odom is a defensive-minded coach, so the Tigers must take on his fiery personality.
But they're going to have to keep the throttle down on offense. So far, the marriage of Lock with new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley is working well.
They've scored 91 points in two games. Not only do the Tigers continue to do it through the air, but the running back duo of Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III is also tough to handle.
Mizzou can throw a lot at you and will be a challenge for opposing defenses.
6. Texas A&M Aggies
Was Saturday night's incredible near-upset of Clemson at Kyle Field a one-game wonder, or was it a sign of things to come for the Texas A&M Aggies under new coach Jimbo Fisher?
The answer to that question will come soon. After the Aggies host Louisiana-Monroe this weekend, they travel to Tuscaloosa. There's no team in the country with two tougher games in a three-week span, but A&M was a two-point conversion away from taking the Tigers into overtime.
What the world saw firsthand is the development of sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond, who backed up Nick Starkel for much of the season last year but beat him out in a neck-and-neck race this summer. He looks like an emerging dual-threat star.
After 430 yards of heroics against Clemson, the college football world knows what it's up against.
"We knew [Mond] could play," Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell told 247Sports' Chris Hummer after A&M's heartbreaking 28-26 loss. "We didn't know he'd show up like that."
Few did, but it's obvious A&M is investing in what Fisher is teaching. Not only that, but the defense has also made an incredible turnaround under first-year coordinator Mike Elko, who left Notre Dame for the big bucks in College Station. He's already coaching circles around what John Chavis did in his tenure.
The Aggies really have it all. They recruited well under Kevin Sumlin, and though they aren't used to winning at a high level, Fisher is. If he can turn that talent into believing, the Tide may have a game on their hands.
Even if Alabama wins that one, A&M looks legit.
5. LSU Tigers
LSU already has one of the nation's top defensive coordinators in Dave Aranda, and the Tigers flexed their muscle on that side of the ball in a convincing season-opening win over Top 10 Miami.
Now, coach Ed Orgeron hopes he has found a quarterback, too, though Joe Burrow is completing 47.7 percent of his passes. The Ohio State transfer needs to play at a much higher level to end LSU's woes at that position.
The good offensive news for Orgeron is even though the Tigers don't have a dominant running back like they've had the past few years with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, Nick Brossette has done more than hold his own.
The senior patiently waited his turn behind those more talented runners, and he has eclipsed 100 yards in each of his first two career starts.
If he can do it again this week, it'll be huge for LSU, which travels to Auburn for a major SEC West showdown.
There's no question the Tigers need to win with their defense. Aranda has stars Devin White, Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit, Jacob Phillips and Breiden Fehoko, and all of them need to play at their highest level to beat AU on the Plains.
Orgeron's team will win at least eight or nine games. But that's not good enough for the Bayou Bengals, who should be talented enough to battle for the West every year. This weekend will go a long way toward determining whether they can in 2018.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs
It's never easy going through a coaching change, especially when you're happy with the guy who's leading your program. That's exactly what Mississippi State was forced to do this offseason, though, when Dan Mullen left Starkville to coach the Florida Gators.
Rather than fret, the Bulldogs hired the ideal fit for a year when they've got enough talent to do big things in the rugged SEC West.
Former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has done an excellent job with his new team, which went into the "Little Apple" of Manhattan, Kansas, last weekend and disposed of Kansas State, 31-10. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was rusty after his one-game suspension for a violation of team rules, but MSU had no issues.
That's because of all the weapons Moorhead is utilizing. Perhaps no one has been more impressive than running back Kylin Hill, who beat out incumbent Aeris Williams for the starting gig and has looked like a potential Heisman Trophy conversation-starter.
Williams is still entrenched in the offensive game plan, and if Fitzgerald were to get hurt, Keytaon Thompson is a dynamic backup who will keep defenses on its toes.
That's not even mentioning a fast, opportunistic defense that looks like it has adapted well to first-year coordinator Bob Shoop. Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat lead that unit, and those two surefire NFL prospects make the Bulldogs stout on both sides of the ball.
They may wind up competing for a shot at Atlanta.
3. Auburn Tigers
For all the talk about the lack of style points in a season-opening win over Washington, Auburn looked about as good as it could have hoped in a defensive slugfest.
If you're the Tigers, and especially defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, that's exactly the kind of game you want because of how it'll prepare you for late-season battles against Georgia and Alabama. Auburn may have the same kind of tug-of-wills against LSU this weekend.
Welcome to the SEC West, where it's going to be a war of attrition in 2018.
The Tigers have all the defensive weapons they need, including the nation's top D-line, a bunch of second-level talent led by Deshaun Davis, and a fast secondary.
Offensively, they're still looking for playmakers to go with talented quarterback Jarrett Stidham and receiver Ryan Davis. Auburn isn't where it needs to be to run Gus Malzahn's offense to perfection, but there is plenty of time and talent to get there.
That doesn't change the early importance of the game on the Plains this weekend.
If LSU can steal a road win, Auburn will tumble down this list. More importantly, it'll fall in the SEC West, which looks like it's at least four or five strong teams deep. This weekend's contest isn't a must-win, but when you're competing for bigger things, they all are.
Auburn expects to play in the biggest games this year, and that includes the conference-title matchup. This weekend will show how close the Tigers are to being ready.
2. Georgia Bulldogs
Not every team can lose 31 seniors and come back with a vengeance the next year. Perhaps in recent memory, only Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State regularly have those waves of talented playmakers.
You can add Georgia to the list.
The Bulldogs are reaping the benefits of coach Kirby Smart's first two full classes, which were elite. Those kids are starring all over the field, and the Bulldogs proved this past weekend in a dominant 41-17 road win over South Carolina that they're for real again.
The Bulldogs play such an easy schedule that it's hard to envision anybody will knock them off until they play Auburn on Nov. 10, unless a team such as Missouri can sneak up on them.
If quarterback Jake Fromm goes down, elite freshman Justin Fields could step in. While UGA lost Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the Bulldogs replaced them with D'Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, James Cook and others.
When a defensive standout went down last weekend, freshman Brenton Cox came in and starred. The left tackle gets hurt? Oh well, UGA replaces him with freshman Cade Mays, who pancaked two South Carolina defensive linemen.
The Bulldogs have talent in waves. Though Auburn is more experienced, UGA is more electrifying, and those youngsters who are in the two-deep will develop, as they'll get playing time.
Their easy schedule might hurt the Bulldogs later in the year. But for a while, UGA looks like it's on track to get back to Atlanta.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
For the vast majority of coach Nick Saban's championship-laced tenure in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has been known for its dynamic, disruptive defense.
This year, the offense is getting most of the headlines, and rightfully so with the nation's best group of running backs (led by Damien Harris) and a Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The receiving corps has an impressive mixture of size and speed, and freshman Jaylen Waddle is a budding star.
All those weapons make things easy for new coordinator Mike Locksley, who's having a smooth time getting into a rhythm.
That defense isn't bad either.
The Crimson Tide are fast and furious on that side of the ball, even if they are young. Louisville couldn't get any traction in the season opener, and even a decent Group of Five team with a seasoned quarterback—Arkansas State and Justice Hansen—could muster just seven points.
This weekend will tell us a lot about UA's defense as it goes against Jordan Ta'amu, A.J. Brown and a high-flying Ole Miss passing game, but the Rebels don't have a defense anywhere near good enough to keep Alabama off the scoreboard.
Things will get interesting in Tuscaloosa in two weeks when Texas A&M visits town.
The defending national champions have done nothing to dissuade voters from putting them at No. 1. The Crimson Tide look like the toast of not only the SEC but also the entire nation.
It's up to the rest of the league to prove that wrong.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.