SEC power rankings: Week 8

Hey, what do you know? The first BCS standings of the 2011 season look exactly like this week’s SEC power rankings at the top.

It’s still LSU and Alabama and then everybody else:

1. LSU (7-0, 4-0): For perspective on how well the Tigers have it rolling right now, they steamrolled Tennessee 38-7 in Neyland Stadium last Saturday, one of the Vols’ worst home beatings ever, and LSU coach Les Miles said afterward, “It wasn’t our best game, certainly, but we did the things we needed to do to secure victory.” It’s the same thing the Tigers have been doing all season, controlling the game with a punishing running attack on offense and then turning around and punishing opposing offenses with a suffocating defense. That’s seven straight wins by double digits, and LSU heads back home this week to face Auburn after debuting as the No. 1 team in the first installment of the BCS standings.

2. Alabama (7-0, 4-0): With the way the Crimson Tide are running through foes, it’s hard to imagine them being second to anybody. Checking in at No. 2 in the first BCS standings, they’ve won their four SEC games by a combined margin of 162-31 and are coming off a 52-7 pasting of Ole Miss on the road. It’s difficult to see anybody beating this team right now. That is, unless it’s LSU. We won’t have to guess much longer. Their Nov. 5 matchup is fast approaching. But Alabama still has Tennessee at home this week before turning its attention to LSU. The Crimson Tide might be known for their defense, but they’re also demonstrating that they can be plenty explosive on offense. And the guy wearing No. 3 on offense for the Tide ain’t half bad.

3. Arkansas (5-1, 1-1): The Hogs were the third SEC team in the top 10 of the first BCS standings. They were No. 9, which seems like a long way back. But if they keep winning, who knows what can happen? Coming off an open date, Arkansas travels to Ole Miss this week and has a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. The Hogs should also be as healthy as they’ve been after seeing several starters sidelined, including senior defensive end Jake Bequette, for much of the first half of the season. There’s a lot of momentum in the program right now, especially with the way junior quarterback Tyler Wilson is playing, and a second straight BCS bowl berth will be at stake over these next six weeks.

4. Auburn (5-2, 3-1): The Tigers might have one more loss than South Carolina, but they also beat the Gamecocks in Columbia and are coming off an impressive defensive performance in a 17-6 win at home against Florida. Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his staff deserve some props, because that defense has made considerable strides since those first few weeks of the season. The quarterback picture is unclear heading into the LSU trip this week, although Clint Moseley replaced Barrett Trotter in the Florida game and is likely the guy going forward. Either way, the Tigers continue to find ways to win and have been the SEC team that has done more with less, especially when you consider how inexperienced they were coming into the season.

5. South Carolina (6-1, 4-1): The Gamecocks can only hope they don’t have many more weeks like last week. Fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia was kicked off the team. Coach Steve Spurrier unloaded on a local columnist and was skewered for it nationally, and then star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 14-12 win at Mississippi State. Nothing has come easy for South Carolina this season, and it hasn’t always been pretty. The offense (other than the Kentucky game) has sort of puttered along, and it will really be a challenge now that Lattimore is out. Nonetheless, the Gamecocks control their own destiny in the Eastern Division race and are playing their best defense of the season. In their past four games, they’ve given up a total of 34 points. They’re one of four teams in the league off this week.

6. Georgia (5-2, 4-1): While it’s South Carolina that holds the head-to-head tiebreaker and controls its own destiny in the East race, Georgia might have the clearest path to the division title. The Bulldogs survived last week in a harrowing 33-28 win against Vanderbilt and have now won five straight games since opening the season with back-to-back losses. They get a week off before their Oct. 29 showdown with arch-rival Florida, which should ensure getting some of their best players back, including linebacker Alec Ogletree and freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell. The start to the season was disappointing, but this is right where the Bulldogs wanted to be going into late October. They’ve fought their way back into the race. Now, we’ll see if they can finish the deal.

7. Florida (4-3, 2-3): After three straight losses to Top 25 opponents, the Gators get a week off. The even better news for them is that they hope to get senior quarterback John Brantley back in time for the Georgia game on Oct. 29. Brantley suffered a high ankle sprain in the Alabama game, and Florida’s offense has been dreadful ever since. The Gators have gone three straight games now without rushing for 100 yards and are still looking for an identity in a lot of different areas. The defense played better in the 17-6 loss to Auburn, but Florida made a ton of mistakes on special teams and still has a ways to go before climbing back into elite status in this league.

8. Tennessee (3-3, 0-3): There’s not a lot guaranteed for the Vols the rest of the way other than the fact that they’re going to have to scratch and claw just to finish .500 or better. It doesn’t look like sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray will be back during the regular season, as the plan now is for him to have surgery on his broken thumb. The Vols will need to get more out of backup quarterback Matt Simms and the passing game from here on out, but this next one could be even uglier than the 38-7 home loss to LSU last week. The Vols travel to Alabama looking to snap an eight-game losing streak against nationally ranked foes.

9. Vanderbilt (3-3, 1-3): The Commodores fought the whole game last week and nearly pulled off a big upset against Georgia. After the game, first-year coach James Franklin was still fighting mad as he and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham almost came to blows. Franklin said this version of Vanderbilt isn’t going to “sit back and take it anymore.” It was a big step in the right direction offensively for Vanderbilt, which tried a little bit of everything in piling up 349 total yards and scoring 28 points. Next up is Army at home, a must-win for the Commodores if they’re going to be bowl-eligible this season.

10. Mississippi State (3-4, 0-4): The Bulldogs have Ole Miss and Kentucky to thank, or they’d be even lower in these rankings. Once ranked as high as No. 16 in the national polls this season, Mississippi State is still looking for its first SEC win. The consensus among the players coming out of last Saturday’s 14-12 home loss to South Carolina was that the Bulldogs weren’t that far away from being a good football team. That might be, but their record is a long way from being where everybody in Starkville thought it was going to be at this point.

11. Ole Miss (2-4, 0-3): It just keeps getting worse for the Rebels. They were flattened 52-7 last Saturday at home by Alabama, their 11th SEC loss in their past 12 games dating to the 2009 season. If that’s not enough, they also lost two more key defensive players. Cornerback Marcus Temple and end Wayne Dorsey, both seniors, suffered season-ending injuries against the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss has scored just three offensive touchdowns in its three SEC losses this season.

12. Kentucky (2-4, 0-3): For the first time in a while, the Wildcats aren’t coming off a loss. That’s because they were off last week, a much-needed open date after four straight losses and a glut of injuries. The Wildcats are still searching for anything to get them going offensively. Coach Joker Phillips hopes to have a few more guys closer to 100 percent this Saturday against Jacksonville State. In the meantime, he doesn’t have to worry about his job. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said last week that Phillips would “absolutely” be back next season as coach.