<
>

Close call for Tide, but they remain No. 1

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Then there were two. Alabama and Florida have emerged as not only the two teams that will battle it out on Dec. 6 for the SEC championship, but the winner of that game is also positioned to get a shot at the national championship as long as neither team stubs its toe these last few weeks of the regular season. Florida was expected to be here. Alabama was not. Well, outside the state of Alabama anyway. Here's a look at this week's SEC power rankings:

1. Alabama: Everybody wants to know who's better: Alabama or Florida? The great thing is that we're going to get to find out on Dec. 6 in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide (10-0, 5-0 SEC) proved they could win a tight one on the road last week in overtime. The combination of that offensive line, running game and freshman receiver Julio Jones looks pretty good right now. Alabama is unbeaten with three Top 15 wins away from home. Until somebody beats the Tide, they're going to stay No. 1 in this poll.

2. Florida: Watching Florida play right now is like watching a machine. The Gators (8-1, 6-1 SEC) score when they want to. They block kicks with frightening ease, and they're playing defense at a championship level. The one hiccup on their resume is that home loss to Ole Miss. But in retrospect, that loss might have done them more good than anything, because they've been unstoppable ever since.

3. Georgia: Anybody seen the Georgia defense? With three weeks to go in the regular season, it's missing in action. The Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2 SEC) have given up 125 points in their last three games, and if not for a huge day from the offense last week, would have lost at Kentucky. The Wildcats rushed for 226 yards against the Bulldogs and controlled the ball for nearly 35 minutes. This is a Georgia team that's going to lose again this season if it doesn't get its defensive problems straightened out.

4. LSU: With Tiger Stadium at a fever pitch, LSU (6-3, 3-3 SEC) delivered one of its best performances of the season Saturday, but it still wasn't good enough to win. No. 1-ranked Alabama escaped 27-21 in overtime, thanks largely to LSU mistakes. And to be specific, those mistakes were four interceptions by redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee. He's thrown 14 interceptions this season and had his sixth interception returned for a touchdown Saturday by the Tide. No matter how well you're playing anywhere else, it's hard to win when you're making that many critical mistakes at the quarterback position.

5. South Carolina: Don't look now, but the Head Ball Coach has his club streaking. The Gamecocks (7-3, 4-3 SEC) knocked off Arkansas at home last week and have now won six of their last seven games. They're easily one of the most improved teams in the league after starting out 0-2 in the conference, including a loss at Vanderbilt. It's no secret how South Carolina is doing it -- defense, defense and more defense.

6. Ole Miss: The sixth spot in this week's rankings was the hardest one to select. Moving Ole Miss past Vanderbilt wasn't easy to do, because Vanderbilt won at Ole Miss earlier this season. But Ole Miss has played much better of late and been in every game, whereas Vanderbilt has lost four in a row. The Rebels (5-4, 3-3 SEC) have a chance to finish up with seven wins or more this season. So we'll find out if they truly belong in the upper half of the SEC.

7. Vanderbilt: In dropping their fourth straight game, it's obvious that the Commodores have some real issues right now on offense. Florida's going to beat a lot of teams badly. But Vanderbilt has to be able to execute better offensively and move the football if it's going to win that sixth game and get to a bowl. The Commodores (5-4, 3-3 SEC) have three more chances -- at Kentucky this Saturday, home against Tennessee on Nov. 22 and at Wake Forest on Nov. 29.

8. Kentucky: The Wildcats (6-4, 2-4 SEC) already have the six wins they need to go bowling. But they came agonizingly close to really making this a memorable season in a 42-38 loss to Georgia. Rich Brooks has done a super job in building depth in the program and getting the players to believe. The good news coming out of the Georgia loss is that freshman quarterback Randall Cobb helped energize an offense that had been struggling. But the defense, which had been carrying this team, couldn't stop Georgia when it had to.

9. Arkansas: The Razorbacks (4-6, 1-5 SEC) got a big scare when tailback Michael Smith left the South Carolina game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. It appears to be a stinger, and the good thing for him and the Hogs is that they're off this Saturday. The Hogs continue to be competitive, but youth and turnovers are killing them. They've turned the ball over 23 times this season, while forcing just 15.

10. Auburn: Auburn sat most of its starting defensive linemen against Tennessee-Martin and escaped with a ho-hum 37-20 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium last week. The Tigers (5-5, 2-4 SEC) face a tall order if they're going to become bowl eligible. They play Georgia at home this Saturday and then Alabama on the road in two weeks. It's been a miserable season on the Plains. Winning either one of those games would help ease the pain.

11. Tennessee: It just keeps getting worse for hapless Tennessee, which somehow found a way to lose to Wyoming at home five days after it was announced that Phillip Fulmer was being forced out as coach. The Vols (3-7, 1-5 SEC) have now lost seven games in a season for only the second time in school history. They've gone three straight games without scoring in double digits. It's a complete train wreck on Rocky Top, and the only reason they're not dead last is that they beat Mississippi State head-to-head by 30-plus points.

12. Mississippi State: How bad is Mississippi State? Well, the Bulldogs (3-6, 1-4 SEC) lost to Tennessee. That qualifies as being pretty bad this season. Mississippi State was off last weekend and closes with a road game at Alabama this Saturday, home game with Arkansas on Nov. 22 and road game with Ole Miss on Nov. 28. Injuries have played a large role in the Bulldogs' struggles this season, but an ineffective offense has been the biggest problem.