The SEC Gridiron Gradebook: Vol. II

Jeffrey McDanielCorrespondent IOctober 5, 2008

Though it was hardly an upset this season, Vanderbilt knocked off No. 13 Auburn, 14-13, giving the Commodores a perfect 3-0 SEC record for the first time in decades.  Kentucky proved they still belong in the conversation, losing a heartbreaker at Alabama, 17-14.  South Carolina helped their cause with a big road win in Oxford over Ole Miss. 

In this week’s Gridiron Gradebook, there were a few changes in the middle, but the Crimson Tide remained at the top, though they weren’t nearly as impressive against the Wildcats as they were last week at Georgia.

1. Alabama (Grade: B-)

It wasn’t pretty, but the Tide held on. Glen Coffee was very impressive, rushing for 218 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback John Parker Wilson was seven for 17 passing and threw for 106 yards and an interception.  Alabama rushed for 282 yards against a defensive unit that had allowed an average of just 73 yards per game on the ground. 

The Tide jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and looked ready to score again when Coffee fumbled at the Wildcat five-yard line.  Add to that Leigh Tiffin’s two missed field goals, and that’s 13 potential points that the Tide left on the field in the first half. 

Defensively, Alabama’s secondary gave up four plays of more than 20 yards in the second half, including a big touchdown late in the game.  Against top tier teams in the SEC, that won’t cut it.  If they play like this against LSU, there won’t be a changing of the guard in the West this year.

2. Vanderbilt (Grade: B+)

There really is something special going on at Vanderbilt this season.  They beat Auburn for the first time since 1955.  The last time they were 5-0 was during the Truman administration.  They hadn’t won a game as a ranked team since 1956.  All of that has changed. 

It’s hard for fans to recognize the Commodores.  They’re contenders now, and they can win the SEC East for three reasons. 

They control their own destiny, with games against Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee all still to come.  They are no longer afraid of those perennial bullies.  Above all else, they are better at almost every position over last year's team.  Can you imagine this team with Jay Cutler at QB or Earl Bennett at WR?

Their defense held Auburn scoreless after the first quarter, and they made several big plays down the stretch, including a game-saving interception.

Sure, they could lose every game the rest of the way, including Duke.  But honestly, they could win every game the rest of the way too.

3. LSU (Grade: B)

For a team that looked complacent for much of the second half against Mississippi State, the bye week may have a negative effect on the Tigers.  LSU took the week off before Florida to prepare for Tim Tebow and the rest of the Florida playmakers, who’ll have revenge on their minds after last season’s tough loss.

Saturday would have been the perfect time for the Tigers to make a case for the top spot in the SEC.  We’ll see this week if the extra rest and preparation can help LSU leapfrog Vandy and Alabama.

4. Florida (Grade: B+)

The Gators thumped Arkansas, the worst team in the SEC and one of the worst teams in the country, 38-7.  Their play wasn’t spectacular, but the result was never in question. 

Tim Tebow, fresh off his promise of harder, more inspired play, did a solid job managing the offense, passing for 217 yards and two scores. 

The Gators gained 278 yards on the ground and punished the Razorback defense on seemingly every possession of the second half. 

Florida gave Arkansas every opportunity, including penalties on four straight plays in the first half, which forced a punt.  The only problem: Arkansas fumbled away to the Gators, who scored three plays later. 

5. Georgia (Grade: A)

The off week couldn’t have come at a better time.  Following their loss at home to Alabama, the Bulldogs needed the rest. 

Running back Knowshon Moreno is questionable for Saturday against Tennessee, a game Georgia absolutely must win.  Losing to the Volunteers would almost surely sink both their SEC and National Title hopes instantly.

6. Kentucky (Grade: B)

The Wildcats were impressive despite their loss at Alabama.  What helped were the three turnovers they were able to force, including one when the Tide was driving deep in Kentucky territory.  Otherwise, it would have been the “Blood Bowl” I predicted last week. 

Kentucky proved that they could stay with big teams, which is good considering they still have Florida, Georgia, and Vanderbilt to play. 

Next week’s game at South Carolina may actually tell us more about the Wildcats than Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa.  Kentucky showed a lot of moxie against Alabama, proving they are a better team than I thought.

7. South Carolina (Grade: B-)

The Gamecocks won on the road in the SEC against a feisty Ole Miss team coming off a big upset at Florida.  While South Carolina isn’t out of the SEC East race just yet, they are on the outside looking in. 

Quarterback Chris Smelley looked solid, throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns, and South Carolina forced three Rebel turnovers.   

A big test looms in Lexington, where the Gamecocks hope to catch Kentucky off guard.

8. Auburn (Grade: C-)

Auburn looked poised early to end the party in Nashville, but Vanderbilt had the last laugh.  It’s becoming a theme with the Tigers: stellar defense, terrible offense. 

Installing the spread offense is looking more and more like a mistake, hopefully prompting Tommy Tuberville to make a change at QB.  Chris Todd isn’t getting the job done.

9. Ole Miss (Grade: D+)

Following last week’s upset of Florida, Ole Miss came out firing against South Carolina, taking an early 14-3 lead.  But two costly first half turnovers gave the Gamecocks the lead, and Ole Miss couldn’t get back any momentum.  The road gets tougher this week at Alabama.

10. Tennessee (Grade: D)

The good news is Tennessee beat Northern Illinois.  The bad news is it was by only four points, 13-9.  The Volunteers are worse than possibly anybody thought they were. 

Even breaking in a new starting quarterback, Tennessee should have scored more than one touchdown against Northern Illinois.  Nick Stephens did play better than Jonathan Crompton, throwing for 156 yards and a touchdown. 

If Tennessee wants to salvage this season, they need only look back to last year.  Heading into the Georgia game, Tennessee seemed lost and destined for obscurity until the Volunteers dominated the Bulldogs. 

Georgia awaits in Athens on Saturday.

11. Mississippi State (Grade: B)

The Bulldogs spent their bye week getting ready for Vanderbilt.  What used to be an SEC pillow fight has become a tough game for Mississippi State.

12. Arkansas (Grade: D-)

The Razorbacks may be able to turn things around under Bobby Petrino, but it certainly won’t happen this season, and maybe not even next.  Arkansas looked like a high school team against Florida, and the Gators gave the Hogs loads of help in the form of penalties.  They were penalized 12 times for 110 yards. 

Arkansas was still in the game until the fourth quarter.  Michael Smith rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown, and Casey Dick was 24 of 38 for 220 yards with an interception.  Those were the bright spots, though. 

Their defense allowed 541 yards, a season high—and you might remember they were blown out by Alabama, 49-14, and Texas, 52-10.  As predicted, Arkansas was blown out by Florida, although not as badly as I thought.

The biggest question I have is this: Given his track record of leaving teams high and dry, how long will Petrino tolerate coaching a terrible team before he leaves for greener pastures?


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