It’s come down to this: Alabama and Georgia will play for a spot in the BCS national championship game by way of an SEC title clash in Atlanta this week. Top-ranked Notre Dame is already waiting for them.
But are the Nos. 2 and 3 BCS teams still the top teams in the Southeastern Conference (Florida surely has an argument)? Here’s this week’s SEC Power Rankings:
1. Alabama (11-1, 7-1)
As expected, the Crimson Tide took care of Auburn on Saturday to set up a meeting with Georgia for the SEC championship. The winner will find itself in the BCS National Championship game, a familiar spot for Alabama under coach Nick Saban.
2. Georgia (11-1, 7-1)
A workmanlike performance from the Bulldogs showed that they are focused on the big prize. Not the SEC title. They want the whole thing. Aaron Murray is playing better than any point in his career with 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions since halftime of the win over Florida. He’ll need it against Alabama.
3. Florida (11-1, 7-1)
Coach Will Muschamp called his Gators a “sexy football team” after they knocked off Florida State. Maybe, but that’s in the eye of the beholder, and in the case of the BCS, the Gators are on the outside looking in when it comes to the national title game. No matter. Muschamp has done an excellent job turning the program around.
4. Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2)
Johnny Manziel, this is the world. World, this is Johnny Manziel. Texas A&M doesn’t let its freshmen talk to the media, so we don’t know what Manziel thinks about his amazing season. So to prepare him for Heisman hype, they’re holding press conferences for him this week. We’ll see if he can talk the talk. We already know he can walk the walk.
5. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2)
The experts didn’t give the Gamecocks much of a shot at defending Clemson’s powerful offense, but South Carolina stopped quarterback Tajh Boyd and watched emergency starter Dylan Thompson run the offense with aplomb. The Gamecocks controlled the clock, allowing them to rule the in-state roost with their fourth straight win over Clemson.
6. LSU (10-2, 6-2)
The Tigers limped to the finish with their final five wins being decided by 10 points or less. That’s sort of modus operandi for Les Miles’ teams, but they had to rally to defeat Ole Miss and Arkansas to close the season. This isn’t one of the LSU’s strongest teams, but it does enough to win.
7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3)
A season to remember keeps getting brighter at Vanderbilt. The Commodores have won eight games for the first time since 1982 and were already guaranteed a bowl berth, making it two in a row for the oft-moribund program. Coach James Franklin already finds himself on some of the big boys’ wish lists.
8. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5)
Winning the Egg Bowl was a huge accomplishment for the Rebels, who had lost three straight in the rivalry, but that bowl leads them to another bowl. Ole Miss is bowl eligible now for the first time since 2009, thanks to its convincing victory. Hugh Freeze has done an excellent job in his first season.
9. Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4)
Just when Bulldogs fans thought the season couldn’t get worse, they lost to the rival Rebels. Tyler Russell had one of his worst games, throwing two picks in a game for the first time all season. Mississippi State is heading to a bowl, but lost four of its final five games.
10. Missouri (5-7, 2-6)
Running back Kendial Lawrence said it best: “The last three years I’ve been here we always went to a bowl game. So this is tough to end this way.” The loss to Texas A&M ended Missouri’s bowl run at eight seasons and the Tigers’ three-game win streak over Texas A&M. Missouri’s first season in the SEC was a tough one.
11. Tennessee (5-7, 1-7)
The new coach of the Volunteers is going to find the cupboard pretty bare, but he’ll have an especially rough greeting if quarterback Tyler Bray and his top targets Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson decide to go pro. Just think, interim coach Jim Chaney won as many games (one) as former coach Derek Dooley did in the final two months.
12. Arkansas (4-8, 2-6)
Quarterback Tyler Wilson and wideout Cobi Hamilton were about the only bright spots. The Razorbacks will be glad to see the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, bringing an end to a tumultuous and disheartening 2012.
13. Auburn (3-9, 0-8)
It’s official. Only the guy who jumped out of the balloon from outer space fell to earth quicker than Gene Chizik. Less than two years ago, he was a national champion. Now he’s Auburn’s chump. Another lasting impact is Chizik’s severance package, valued around $7.2 million.
14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8)
Joker Phillips knew this would be his last game, so he was prepared. “My office is emptied out. I’ve got keys I’ve got to return … and we’re gone,” he said after the Wildcats finished 0-8 in the SEC for the first time since 2000. It could be a long road to respectability for Kentucky.