SEC Power Rankings: Week 8

For the second straight week, we’ve had some shakeup in the SEC power rankings:

1. Auburn: It’s hard to get much better than seven straight wins, and it’s hard to get much better than junior quarterback Cam Newton is playing right now. Here’s the other thing: The Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) have owned the fourth quarter this season. Still, if they’re going to stay unbeaten, they will have to get better on defense, especially when it comes to stopping the pass.

2. Alabama: Nobody was talking up the artistic value of Alabama’s 23-10 win over Ole Miss this past weekend, but the Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1) did look like they ironed out some things defensively. The offense is another story. The running game sputtered for a second straight week, making the No. 2 spot a close call between Alabama and LSU. Sooner or later, though, you know Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are going to get it going again.

3. LSU: The Tigers (7-0, 4-0) get a chance to make believers out of everybody once and for all this Saturday at Auburn. A win on the Plains would shoot LSU to the top of the SEC Power Rankings, and more importantly, would enhance its positioning in the BCS standings. There’s no question that LSU has a championship-caliber defense. But as evidenced again in a sluggish 32-10 win over McNeese State, the jury is still out on the Tigers offensively. They finished with just 282 yards of total offense.

4. South Carolina: After blowing such a sweet opportunity to really position themselves nicely in the Eastern Division race and maybe even the first BCS standings, the Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2) probably don’t deserve to be this high. But who else are you going to put in this slot? Stephen Garcia’s pass there at the end of the 31-28 loss to Kentucky was a poor one. But why are you not going to Alshon Jeffery in that situation? South Carolina’s secondary didn’t even bother to make the trip.

5. Mississippi State: One of the hottest teams in the league is also the most improved team. The Bulldogs (5-2, 2-2) have won four straight and can make it five in a row this weekend with a win at home over UAB. The 10-7 win at Florida last weekend was their first in Gainesville since 1965. This defense is playing with a purpose, and the running game is the real deal. Dan Mullen has this club positioned for a nice bowl game if the Bulldogs can finish the job.

6. Arkansas: The big question around Fayetteville centers around quarterback Ryan Mallett. How badly is he hurt? He suffered a concussion in the first half of Arkansas’ 65-43 loss to Auburn. His symptoms are improving, according to Arkansas officials, but there are no guarantees for this weekend against Ole Miss. Tyler Wilson played extremely well for the Hogs (4-2, 1-2) in relief of Mallett until the two late interceptions. But that Arkansas defense, which had shown marked improvement, was pillaged last weekend on the Plains.

7. Georgia: A lot of people wrote off Georgia after that four-game losing streak, but the Bulldogs (3-4, 2-3) have put together two impressive games in a row, albeit against Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Still, Mark Richt and his staff have made some adjustments. The defense is starting to play better, and having A.J. Green back on offense makes a world of difference. If the Bulldogs can win at Kentucky this weekend, that makes the game in Jacksonville on Oct. 30 awfully interesting.

8. Florida: No need to rub your eyes. Florida is working its way a little further down the SEC Power Rankings each week. The Gators (4-3, 2-3) have lost three straight games, and by their own coach’s admission, aren’t a very good football team. More specifically, they’re not a very good offensive football team. In fact, they’re a bad offensive football team and getting worse. If ever a team needed a bye week to figure some things out, it’s this one. The Gators are off this weekend before facing Georgia on Oct. 30.

9. Kentucky: After so many close losses, Kentucky (4-3, 1-3) came through with a huge 31-28 win over South Carolina on Saturday. The Wildcats rallied from a 28-10 halftime deficit, which is particularly impressive when you consider they’d lost three in a row coming into the game. Senior quarterback Mike Hartline is playing the best football of his career, and this team took a big step toward securing its fifth straight bowl appearance.

10. Ole Miss: The Rebels (3-3, 1-2) competed hard and played respectably in their 23-10 loss to Alabama, although Houston Nutt didn’t go to Tuscaloosa looking for moral victories. The bright spot was the way that the Ole Miss defensive line played and kept the team in the game. It’s the way most people expected the Rebels to play all season up front. They’re still going to have to turn it on down the stretch to ensure themselves a bowl game, starting with a trip to Arkansas this coming weekend.

11. Tennessee: The Vols (2-4, 0-3) are coming off a much needed week off and take on Alabama at home this Saturday. They’re trying to keep from going 0-for-October, although that’s going to be a chore. After Alabama’s visit, Tennessee travels to South Carolina to close out the month. The Vols should be healthier for this stretch. Offensive guard JerQuari Schofield (foot) is expected back at practice after being out since the Florida game. Defensive tackle Montori Hughes and offensive tackle Dallas Thomas have also had some time to recover from ankle injuries.

12. Vanderbilt: All the equity Vanderbilt built up with its win at Ole Miss earlier this season went down the drain Saturday and sent the Commodores (2-4, 1-2) spiraling to the bottom of this week’s SEC Power Rankings. The 43-0 loss to Georgia was Vanderbilt’s worst in seven years. The Commodores were outclassed in every phase of the game in what coach Robbie Caldwell called an embarrassing performance.