SEC power rankings: Week 4

There’s no debate about who the No. 1 team is in the SEC.

After that, it’s a jumbled mess, but a mess that should start clearing up this coming weekend with a couple of huge games.

Here’s a look at this week’s SEC power rankings:

1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide (3-0, 0-0) have been scary good to this point. Granted, San Jose State and Duke aren’t juggernauts, but they toyed with Penn State. And now that both Mark Ingram and Marcell Dareus are back in the lineup, Alabama is operating at full strength. A big test looms this Saturday, though, at Arkansas, the first of three straight big tests for the Crimson Tide.

2. Arkansas: What’s hotter: Ryan Mallett’s throwing arm or a ticket to Saturday’s showdown with No. 1-ranked Alabama? The Hogs (3-0, 1-0) have been pointing toward this game ever since they were blown out by the Crimson Tide last season in Tuscaloosa. Candidly, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said afterward his team went into that game not thinking it could win. Something says that won’t be a problem this weekend in Fayetteville.

3. South Carolina: The Head Ball Coach has already stated the obvious. If the Gamecocks (3-0, 1-0) are going to have any kind of big season, they’ve got to win on the road. Their first test comes Saturday at Auburn. South Carolina has only beaten two nationally ranked SEC opponents on the road under Steve Spurrier -- at Tennessee in 2005 and at Georgia in 2007. Beating a third would give the Gamecocks a huge boost in this year’s East race.

4. Auburn: If nothing else, the Tigers (3-0, 1-0) have been resilient. They’ve done their best work in the second half each of the past two weeks, especially defensively. Quarterback Cameron Newton continues to make big plays when Auburn needs them on offense. The important thing now is taking advantage of the schedule. The overtime win against Clemson Saturday marked the start of a stretch where Auburn will play five of its next six games at home.

5. LSU: Ever since that near-disastrous fourth quarter against North Carolina in the opener, LSU (3-0, 2-0) has played lights out on defense. The Tigers have been dominant up front and intercepted five passes last week in the 29-7 win over Mississippi State. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson showed some positive signs in the second half, but still wound up with just 97 passing yards. It remains to be seen if the Tigers can beat a marquee team with Jefferson having to throw it.

6. Florida: The Gators (3-0, 1-0) had the biggest drop this week in the power rankings simply because they haven’t played well enough offensively yet to beat a quality team. That’s not to say they won’t improve because they most assuredly will as junior quarterback John Brantley continues to settle into the job. But had they played any of the top SEC teams the past two weeks playing the way they are right now offensively, they’d be 1-1 at best and maybe even 0-2.

7. Kentucky: Here’s Kentucky’s chance to break into that upper echelon in the league. The Wildcats (3-0, 0-0) have beaten up on lightweights the past two weeks, but obviously have plenty of firepower offensively. They’re going to need all the firepower they can muster to budge Florida’s defense, which is a load. Kentucky has lost 23 in a row in this series. The last time they ventured to the Swamp, they lost by 58 points. This is Joker Phillips’ first shot at the Gators as head coach. We should have a better idea late Saturday night if this program is indeed ready to take that next step.

8. Georgia: The numbers don’t lie. Georgia is just 2-6 in its last eight SEC games. The Bulldogs (1-2, 0-2) aren’t necessarily a bad team this season, but they’ve had bad breakdowns, bad stretches and picked bad times to be a bad-tackling team. Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray is getting better and played well in leading the Bulldogs back from a 14-point deficit this past week. The offensive line has to play better if this team is going to dig out of this hole, and it’s a hole that could well become an abyss if Georgia loses at Mississippi State this coming weekend.

9. Vanderbilt: Why rank the Commodores (1-2, 1-1) this high? They have an SEC win on the road, something the teams below them can’t say. Their 28-14 win at Ole Miss last Saturday tells you a little something about first-year coach Robbie Caldwell, his staff and the players on Vanderbilt’s roster. This is a team that’s going to keep fighting, and there are enough talented younger players on this club to offer hope for on down the road. The Commodores get a bye this week and then face two very winnable games against Connecticut and Eastern Michigan.

10. Mississippi State: Offensively, it’s been a train wreck for the Bulldogs, who threw five interceptions last Saturday in the 29-7 loss to LSU. The defense has played pretty well and kept Mississippi State (1-2, 0-2) in games. But ever since that opener against Memphis, it’s been tough sledding for an offense that looks like right now it’s going to have a hard time generating a consistent passing game.

11. Tennessee: You could make an argument that the Vols (1-2, 0-1) are at one of their all-time lows. They’ve given up 79 points in their past two games, the most they’ve ever given up in back-to-back games at Neyland Stadium. They’ve lost nine of their past 10 games to nationally ranked foes by an average margin of 15.7 points. And in their last 28 games, they’re just 13-15. To their credit, they kept fighting in the second half of their 31-17 loss to Florida this past Saturday, and the young talent on this team is promising. But finishing with a winning record this season looks like a real stretch.

12. Ole Miss: It’s hard to imagine it getting much worse in Oxford. The Rebels (1-2, 0-1) were supposed to be feasting on this first part of their schedule. Instead, they’re sinking and sinking fast; so fast that finding many more wins on the schedule is difficult. Losing by two touchdowns at home to Vanderbilt is never a good thing. But to really put things in perspective, this is the same team that lost to FCS foe Jacksonville State at home the first week. Well, Jacksonville State had to go into overtime last week to beat Georgia State, a team in its first year of football.