Posted by Jerry Hinnen
This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to its bottom, and what it means.
ALABAMA/LSU. Entering this week, there was some expectation that a comprehensive performance from the Crimson Tide in Happy Valley might allow Alabama to retake the No. 2 slot in the media poll and consolidate their lead on the Bayou Bengals -- scheduled for what was little more than a light scrimmage against Northwestern State -- in the Coaches.
Thanks to getting that comprehensive performance, the Crimson Tide did indeed leapfrog the Tigers into No. 2 in both polls--but their margin for error in either balloting remains thinner than Nick Saban's patience for unforced mistakes. In the AP, Alabama has eight fewer first-place votes but a miniscule six-point lead all the same (1,422 to 1,416); in the Coaches, the margin is 38 points, less than half the gap between LSU and fourth-place Boise State.
Frankly, this is how it should be; both teams have decisive victories over quality opponents (though Oregon does look a good bit stronger than the Lions at the moment), both have overpowering defenses and a few offensive questions, and both spent one week dallying against lesser competition. If it looks like the pollsters are pslitting hairs at the moment, that's because those hairs ought to be split.
SOUTH CAROLINA. Interestingly, the team just ahead of the Gamecocks in each poll -- Virginia Tech -- happened to face the same team in Week 2 -- East Carolina -- Carolina had faced in Week 1. So between the Gamecocks' road victory over a desperate Georgia team and Tech's weaker performance against the Pirates, it's only fair that Steve Spurrier's team jumped the Hokies in both polls, going from No. 12 to No. 11. The Gamecocks are even within striking distance of the top 10 in the AP, sitting only five points back from Nebraska.
Too bad the Gamecocks won't have much of a chance to make an impression the next two weeks--they take on Navy and Vanderbilt.
ARKANSAS. The Hogs blasted New Mexico, but given that the Lobos may not be much better than Arkansas's Week 1 FCS opponent Missouri State, there can't be any complaints out of Fayetteville about staying at No. 13 in the Coaches and No. 14 in the AP.
FLORIDA. The Gators blew past overmatched UAB in a second straight tune-up, but thanks to Mississippi State's loss and Ohio State's ineffective performance against Toledo, the Gators moved up anyway to No. 17 in the Coaches and No. 18 in the AP. That's a jump of four spots from the Gators preseason rank in each poll, just for beating the hapless Blazers and even-more-hapless FAU--sometimes scheduling cupcakes pays, apparently.
AUBURN. Weclome back to the AP poll, Tigers; Auburn's win over previous No. 16 Mississippi State has the defending national champions re-included at No. 21 in the AP and up three spots to No. 19 in the Coaches.
It's not a bad reward, but there's an argument to be made that the AP could do even more for the Tigers, though, and are still overreacting to the Week 1 escape against Utah State. After all, look at Florida--the media started the season with Auburn just one spot behind the Gators. Since then, Auburn has beaten two teams better than either of Florida's opponents--and now sit five spots behind the Gators.
MISSISSIPPI STATE. The Bulldogs can thank their New Year's Day Gator Bowl pounding of Michigan for just remaining in both polls this week, clinging to the No. 25 rung; without that emphatic victory, there's no doubt MSU doesn't enter this past week at No. 16/17, and (in turn) even less doubt they lose that top-25 spot. At this point, it's not like beating Memphis (47-3 losers to Arkansas State) should be worth anything in the voters' minds.
TENNESSEE. It's time for the voters to pay more attention to the Vols. After throttling a likely bowl team in Cincinnati, Tennessee has accomplished more in the win column and looked more impressive in doing so than, say, West Virginia, which beat Marshall in Week 1 and somehow trailed middle-of-the-road FCS program Norfolk State at halftime in Week 2. But the Mountaineers are ranked 20th in the Coaches and 18th in the AP, while the Vols limp along deep in the "Also Receiving Votes" category.
That's not to say the two teams should necessarily be switched; the young Vols still have a lot to prove. But there's no way the gap should be that wide given the results on the field.