Ranking the SEC, from Bama to Vandy (and Georgia No. 4)

Mark Richt has confidence his Georgia team can rebound from going 4-4 again in the SEC.

Mark Richt is confident Georgia can rebound from a tough summer and going 4-4 in the SEC.

Twelve head coaches stood at the podium during last week’s SEC media days. Shockingly, not one declared, “Thank goodness for Tums because this season could be an unmitigated disaster.”

There’s nothing like the optimism of July, when nobody has lost a game yet. So how do things really stand in the SEC? Here’s a loose guide. I’ve ranked the 12 schools by a combination of perceived current strength and the program’s direction. Feel free to debate.

Looking Down On The Villagers

♦ 1. ALABAMA: It was funny when Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007. There haven’t many opportunities to laugh since. Alabama is 16-0 in the SEC’s regular season in the last two seasons (it only lost to Florida in the 2008 conference title game). The Tide is coming off a BCS title and could repeat. Direction firmly established.

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have established a clear pecking order in the SEC.

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have established the SEC's pecking order

♦ 2. FLORIDA: The Gators are 26-2 with a BCS title in the last two seasons. To recruit, they open the front door. The only questions center on the health of their head coach (Urban Meyer) and the success of Tim Tebow’s replacement (John Brantley). But the program is too strong and too deep to expect a significant descent any time soon.

A Step Below

♦ 3. LSU: Almost placed the Tigers fourth but they did win the BCS title only three years ago. The question is: How much of Les Miles’ early success was residual from the Saban era? His SEC records in his first three seasons: 7-1, 6-2, 6-2. In the last two (with most of Saban’s players gone): 3-5, 5-3. Miles is catching as much heat as Mark Richt. This year’s rebuilding effort includes replacing seven defensive starters. LSU fans want to see progress.

♦ 4. GEORGIA: Richt went 4-4 in the SEC in two of the last four years, not catastrophic. But the last four BCS champions  came from the SEC. That changes the grading scale. The 2008 Bulldogs underachieved. The 2009 team was bad enough that Richt finally felt compelled to dump three assistants, including defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. This year’s team should fare well, partly because of an easier schedule. But there are questions at quarterback (freshman) and on defense (new scheme). Richt needs to firmly establish direction.

Usually Good For An Upset

Steve Spurrier hasn't cracked the elite at South Carolina like he did when he was at Florida.

Steve Spurrier hasn't cracked the elite at South Carolina like he did when he was at Florida.

♦ 5. SOUTH CAROLINA: Steve Spurrier made his mark on offense. His South Carolina teams have been strong on defense. Even he mused that for the first time in his career, he received a salary bonus for his team’s graduation rate, not a bowl game. South Carolina is a stable and competitive program with a great fan base. But Spurrier can’t recruit talented skill position players to Columbia. It wouldn’t be a shock if he retires after this season.

♦ 6. ARKANSAS: Every season there’s one team that’s overrated by media and fans. This year it’s Arkansas. The Razorbacks have a very good quarterback in Ryan Mallett. But what about the rest of the team? And the coach? Bobby Petrino was a success in Conference USA and the Big East. Big wow. He’s 5-11 in the SEC and, it should be noted, Arkansas wasn’t exactly a train wreck when he took over (Houston Nutt went 11-5 in conference in his last two seasons).

♦ 7. MISSISSIPPI: Almost put Ole Miss ahead of Arkansas. Nutt inherited a team that had four straight losing seasons and is 18-6 in two years. He has done better with Ed Orgeron’s players than Ed Orgeron did. But the Rebels have lost eight starters on offense.

♦ 8. AUBURN: The Tigers were a punch line when they hired Gene Chizik to replace Tommy Tuberville. But just because Auburn didn’t fold up last season (8-5, 3-5), let’s not assume greatness just yet. The Tigers went 2-5 after a 5-0 start before beating Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. This year’s quarterback, Cam Newton, has talent but also some baggage: He started at Florida but was suspended after being arrested and charged with stealing another student’s laptop. Bottom line: It’s too early to judge Chizik.

♦ 9. TENNESSEE: Derek Dooley inherited a mess, on and off the field. Dooley has all the makings to be a great head coach but he might be overmatched at this point of his career. The Volunteers are short on talent and too much of Dooley’s time right now is being occupied by just giving the team structure and discipline.

♦ 10. MISSISSIPPI STATE: Dan Mullen, a former Florida and Utah assistant, still needs to separate himself from Urban Meyer’s shadow. But he did a solid job in year one and made a terrific hire in defensive coordinator Manny Diaz (Middle Tennessee State). These Dogs may be moving up.

No Place To Go But Up

♦ 11. KENTUCKY: Joker Phillips usually had great offenses as an assistant, but this is a program that went 16-39 in the SEC under Rich Brooks. Three months to basketball practice.

♦ 12. VANDERBILT: New coach Robbie Caldwell has a lot of one-liners. He’ll need them.

A look back at SEC media days

Dooley calmly moving from one fire to next at Tennessee

SEC media days: Tennessee and Dooley take center stage

Spurrier’s lament: Team is better academically than on field

Richt’s words, actions haven’t changed ugliness at Georgia

SEC media days: Waiting on Richt as NCAA hovers at Georgia

NCAA inquiry is the last thing Georgia and Mark Richt need

It’s no coincidence Saban suddenly is concerned about agents

SEC media days: Hey, who let the BCS in here?

We’re LIVE at SEC media days (with no shortage of storylines)

NCAA reportedly investigating Florida (but temper excitement)

Can Dogs end Alabama-Florida monopoly in SEC title game?

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

358 comments Add your comment

superDawg

July 25th, 2010
2:14 pm

schultz your red panties are showing.

FalconUGAFan

July 25th, 2010
2:15 pm

Really can’t argue with your top four. I might have picked Auburn a tad higher.

superDawg

July 25th, 2010
2:16 pm

UGA has a chip on its shoulder and s.c. will feel the brunt early.

bo

July 25th, 2010
2:17 pm

AU and UT are too low, Ole Miss too high.

Not Disappointed

July 25th, 2010
2:28 pm

Interesting Jeff. So you feel South Carolina is a strong 5 or close 4th? hmmmmm.

Good luck pups! Have a good week all!

Ramblin Wreck!

Sweat Socks

July 25th, 2010
2:29 pm

If Richt can’t control his team, he better watch out! The one coach who’s getting a lot of practice at disciplining his team has the last name of Dooley!

GADAWG88

July 25th, 2010
2:30 pm

4th! Go Dawgs! We are in a lot better shape than LSU I feel…

GADAWG88

July 25th, 2010
2:31 pm

6th… dang it

ignition

July 25th, 2010
2:31 pm

Not sure if UGA should be rated this high, after all the turmoil of the offseason, new qb, and new defense. Spurrier playin low key right now but he has a Good Defense and a proven qb.

Colonel Jeb

July 25th, 2010
2:37 pm

3P

July 25th, 2010
2:38 pm

“But Spurrier can’t recruit talented skill position players to Columbia.”

Alshon Jeffery. Marcus Lattimore. Stephen Garcia. Kenny Miles. Weslye Saunders. Jared Cook. Kenny McKinley. Spurrier hasn’t exactly been bereft of talent at the skill positions.

Change it to a comment about the offensive line blocking for those guys and you might be on to something.

bamaguy

July 25th, 2010
2:39 pm

I, for the most part, agree. But I also think the conference is overall stronger this year. There will not be an undefeated team in the regular season to play for the SEC championship. The championship game will be between two once beaten teams, so it will all boil down to who beats whom. I think that makes the SEC’s chances for another BCS title slim.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kirk Hollingsworth, Kirk Hollingsworth, Travis Haney, Jerry Becker, Jeff Schultz and others. Jeff Schultz said: Ranking the SEC, from Bama to Vandy (and Georgia No. 4) http://bit.ly/b9ivMy [...]

Gator Hater

July 25th, 2010
2:45 pm

Jeff, gotta wonder about LSU being ranked third. I still don’t believe they have a very good QB unless JJ has markedly improved.

mark

July 25th, 2010
2:58 pm

We keep quoting these teams records and I wonder if the officiating will continue to favor certain teams?

Tide Rising

July 25th, 2010
3:00 pm

I would put AU up there in the top 5 teams. They have something like 24-26 seniors on that team and that’s always a reason for optimism. Plus any team in year 2 of a new system allways seems to step it up in that 2nd year.

The west has 3 teams LSU, ARK, and AU that could all 3 come out now where, put it all together, and field a 10 win team. Same with Georgia and South Carolina in the east. If Carolina is ever going to put it together this is the year. Florida? What can you say about those guys? Just another usual 12-13 win season for them.

For my own team I will just say one thing. Saban talked the other day about his biggest disappointment ever had as a coach. It was his 2004 LSU team that underachieved the year after winning the bcs title. This time he and our team have a laser focus. The team is working even harder than in the leadup to the 2009 season. Still the schedule and the season are just too tough and I don’t see Bama or Florida emerging unscathed.

Everybody will lose at least one game in the sec this year and it wouldn’t terribly surprise me if the future sec champion has 2 losses at the end of the regular season. Overall I think there’s that much good balance and depth in the conference.

In the west you can’t even look past the 2 Miss schools. In the east the only really bad team will be Vandy. UK can surprise some people and allthough UT will be in transition they still have enough talent on that team to win a few games.

Rick Lairsey

July 25th, 2010
3:05 pm

U missed it on Spurrier and South Carolina …. GA will find that out on September 11 ….. Bama on Oct 9 ….

HugoStiglitz

July 25th, 2010
3:12 pm

I think South Carolina and Auburn will be better then people think. South Carolina should probably be the 4th team on the list with UGA coming in at 5. I think Auburn would come in at 6 because I have a feeling that Arkansas is not going to be anywhere near as good as people think. Overall, its basically going to be one great team, one good team, and then 10 other ok teams battling for third place.

Gator Hater

July 25th, 2010
3:12 pm

Rick, looking forward to a good game, but don’t overlook Southern Miss in your opener.

El Jefe`

July 25th, 2010
3:21 pm

Pretty far off. Arkansas is better than UGA and SC. The comment about Spurrier not being able to recruit skill position players is incorrect. He’s had All SEC WRs nearly every year (Rice, McKinley, now Jeffrey) has had two top line TEs (Cook, Saunders), etc. OL has been the problem.

dawgfan

July 25th, 2010
3:23 pm

A fair assessment Schultz. Now, it looks like its time for another get Mark Richt fired column. Get to work…

LOL @ the goons saying South freaking Carolina should be ranked ahead of Georgia. Based on what, that impressive showing against UCONN in the bowl game? South Carolina is a poser program with a washed up coach that will never amount to anything. Every year its the same thing with these pretenders. All talk and no walk. They play some teams tight, finish 7-5 at best, and then run their mouths about next year being the year. See you in Columbia at your dump stadium, a.k.a. Mark Richt Stadium (4-0 at South Carolina). South Carolina is the Georgia Tech of the SEC.

Good day.

hop

July 25th, 2010
3:27 pm

i love it when jeff really thinks he is putting pressure on mark richt with his arrogant comments.

richt is not going anyway, as the dawgs will be the surprise of college football this year as phil steele has already stated!

Mrs. Manners

July 25th, 2010
3:30 pm

There you go again, declaring that Richt is on a hot seat. Despite the fact that everyone associated with Georgia states the contrary, it appears that you and some of your regional colleagues just can’t seem to let that go. Is there some sort of Journolist where you, Finebaum, and Bianchi worship together?

Jeff Schultz

July 25th, 2010
3:39 pm

SuperDawg — yes but they pick up the red in my eyes, don’t you think?

Tommy

July 25th, 2010
3:39 pm

Wow Pi$$onaDawg, what the hell is wrong with you? This is sports we are talking about for God’s sake and you are comparing a football game to the worst tragedy in the history of this country… Show some respect you piece of s#%$

Jeff Schultz

July 25th, 2010
3:40 pm

Not Disappointed — I think there are big gaps between 2 and 3, and between 4 and 5.

Gator Hater

July 25th, 2010
3:40 pm

“crumbling down like the WTC Buildings.”

Worst analogy ever, get a grip Pi$$onaDawg, this is a GAME.

wiley

July 25th, 2010
3:40 pm

South Carolina, Arkansas, and UGA all seem pretty interchangeable to me. Auburn has been loading up and may surprise some people too but this list is not that bad at all. Good work Jeff. I like LSU’s inclusion because they won 9 games last year and most of their fans saw that as a miserable season…talk about high expectations…LSU should have something to say about the west crown.

NoGaGator

July 25th, 2010
3:41 pm

I agree with your first three choices. I’d have AU at #4 because their OC – Malzahn – is the most innovative in the conference and will maximize Newton’s talent. For 5 and 6 I’d flip a coin between UGA and USC, with the winner of that game being #5. At #7 is Arky and their questionable D. Rebs at #8. MSU at #9. UT at #10 (Kiffin and latest off-field problems make it a tough 1st yr for Dooley. UK at #11 with Vandy at #12.

Jeff Schultz

July 25th, 2010
3:41 pm

GaDawg88 — Truth is I went back and forth on LSU/Georgia in terms of which was 3rd. Ultimately the BCS title only 3 years ago tipped the scale.

wiley

July 25th, 2010
3:42 pm

We officially disown you Pi$$onaDawg…signed Georgia Tech fans everywhere. You are a piece of crap for making that analogy.

Jeff Schultz

July 25th, 2010
3:43 pm

3P — You’re stretching the definition there quite a bit, particularly with Garcia, who’s underachieved. But I’d agree with you on the OL.

Jeff Schultz

July 25th, 2010
3:43 pm

Gator Hater — Might be true about LSU QB, but we don’t really know about Aaron Murray yet either. Only know he was great in high school.

Jeff Schultz

July 25th, 2010
3:46 pm

Dawgfan — For the record, I’ve never written EVEN ONE “Fire Mark Richt” column. But around here any time you say/write something negative, it gets blown up into something that isn’t. I’ve come to expect that.

Jeff Schultz

July 25th, 2010
3:46 pm

Dawgfan: See “hop.”

Jeff Schultz

July 25th, 2010
3:47 pm

And Mrs. Manners . . .

PDawg

July 25th, 2010
3:48 pm

Auburn 8th? I don’t think so.

wiley

July 25th, 2010
3:50 pm

Honestly the more I think about it the more Arkansas makes the strongest argument for #4…UGA has an unproven QB and new defense with a lot of new players….SC and Arkansas have QBs with experience….UGA should already know how good Ryan Mallett is….I guess the only question mark is the running game and the defense for Arkansas. This may be the first year in a long time that the SEC does not have a BCS championship…they will beat up on each other and if one team is dominant it will come from the West…Alabama or LSU…still I see both division champions having one or more losses…I cant remember having this many question marks around the top teams in the SEC. The QB position is the most important….who knows though.

Paddy

July 25th, 2010
3:52 pm

Jeff. Arkansas should not have made your top 12.

Tide Rising

July 25th, 2010
3:59 pm

Jeff,

La-Monroe? As a Bama fan I have to admit it that I do in fact laugh about it nowadays the same way our rivals laughed at us 3 years ago. Of course they aint laughing anymore.

USCKEN

July 25th, 2010
4:00 pm

LOL…. YOU DAWG FANS ARE IN FOR A SUPRISE IN COLUMBIA!! YOU HAVE NO DEPTH, AND BRINGING A GREEN QB INTO THE BRICE!!! SPECIAL TEAMS KEPT US FROM WHIPPING YOU LAST YR!! AJ GREEN IS A TALENT, BUT YOUR QB WILL BE RUNNING FOR HIS LIFE ALL NIGHT!! THE BEST SECONDARY IN THE COUNTRY PRESIDES IN COLUMBIA S.C. IM GLAD ALL YOU GEORGIA REPORTERS ARE DOUBTING THE GAMECOCKS!! GOING BE MUCH SWEETER WHEN I READ ALL OF YOUR HEADLINES ON THE SUNDAY MORNING!! 80,000 STRONG WILL BE HOLDIN RED PANTIES AT THE END OF THE GAME!!! CAUSE AFTER THAT POUNDING WE GIVE YOU GUYS, YOU WANT REMEMBER WHERE YA LEFT THEM!! SEE YOU AT THE BRICE PUPS!!!!!! SHULTZ??? GO WRITE ABOUT HOME AND GARDEN BIG GUY!! LOL

dawgfan

July 25th, 2010
4:01 pm

For the record, Pi$$onaDawg=Techie.

You know, just in case there was any doubt that Techies are the biggest D-bags on the planet.

Thanks.

Gator Hater

July 25th, 2010
4:03 pm

I still laugh about La-Monroe and how Nick’s suspension of WR DJ Hall was commuted at halftime.

USCKEN

July 25th, 2010
4:05 pm

THERE IS A SMALL GAP BETWEEN UGA AND USC! RBS-USC QB-USC OL-UGA WR-EVEN
DL-USC LB-UGA DB-USC SS-USC FS-USC COACHING- U S C!!!! GET YOUR DAWG BIAS OUT OF IT PLEASE

wiley

July 25th, 2010
4:06 pm

Dawgfan…none of us claim him. He is not a real Techie…plenty of Tech people have fought and died for this country. Not an accurate snapshot of our fanbase…just saying.

K City Dog

July 25th, 2010
4:12 pm

Georgia will improve largely because:
1- 75% of teams in double digit poor turnover margin, improve the next season
2- Weaker schedule, 75% improve when this big of a shift

Probably looking at Georgia going 10-13 wins, depending only on QB play.

If QB’s td to int ratio is:
5 to 1, National Champs
4 to 1, 12 wins
3 to 1, 11 wins
2 to 1, 10 wins
Below 2 to 1, 9 wins

tony

July 25th, 2010
4:14 pm

The dawgs have been a subpar football team for the past 5 seasons because of their poor playcalling on offense, the defense played too passive and lack of discipline. I think we will see a much improve defense because the players will be allowed to be more aggressive and Todd Grantham will hold his players accountable for lack of effort.

The only improvement we will probably see on offense is at the qb position. I think Aaron Murray will execute plays better than Cox because of his ability to hit his targets and because of his mobility. This team is good enough to go through the regular season undefeated. The Tides is the only team that can give the dawgs trouble when they play for the SEC Championship.

Tide Rising

July 25th, 2010
4:14 pm

Gator Hator,

Good for you that you’re still laughing about something from 3 years ago. Living in the past are ya?

As for DJ Hall he was suspended for one game but its not because of an arrest. He was suspended for breaking a team rule which no one outside of Saban even knew what rule he broke. There are programs I can think of where no one even gets a half game suspension for breaking team rule.

But now you probably want to talk about all our arrests over the past year and all that don’t you? Oh, wait a minute. We haven’t had any players arrested in a year. Never mind.

Phillies Fan

July 25th, 2010
4:15 pm

I’d switch Auburn & South Carolina.

South Carolina’s stuck at 7 wins mentally, #8 in SEC.

Auburn’s a program on the rise, #5 in SEC.

dawgfan

July 25th, 2010
4:17 pm

Well Schultz, I’m not sure how the “Dark Cloud” column can be construed as anything else, but agree to disagree I suppose. I mean, you even tried to pin Damon Evans on him for krike’s sake. It sure seems like you’re out to get someone when you do something like that. That’s just my opinion though.