Posted by Jerry Hinnen
This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.
Who says tough nonconference scheduling doesn't pay? The Tigers had arguably the least-impressive performance amongst the top three teams in the polls, getting precious little going on the ground in the first half against Kentucky and needing another Tyrann Mathieu defensive touchdown to crack 30 points ... at home ... against a Wildcat defense that had yielded 48 to Florida the week before in Lexington. The Tigers' Week 3 defensive lockdown of Mississippi State looked a little less impressive, too, after Georgia made Dan Mullen's offense look nearly as impotent and LSU had.
But the voters remained more concerned with the Tigers' nonconference scalps of Oregon and West Virginia than more recent results. The AP kept LSU a relatively firm No. 1 (40 first-place votes to Alabama and Oklahoma's combined 20) while the Coaches broke last week's second-place tie with the Tide in favor of the Tigers (if only by two points). It's not what you'd expect looking at this week's results, but judging by LSU's overall body of work and continued defensive dominance, their poll positions remain entirely defensible.
Let's get this out of the way: how the Tide managed to go on the road, beat a previously undefeated Florida team by four clear touchdowns, and somehow move down a spot in the Coaches Poll is the kind of mystery Robert Stack used to try and ask home viewers to help solve*. (Or not: as we'll find out looking at South Carolina and Auburn, sometimes the Coaches Poll is just like this.)
But at least the AP was paying attention, moving the Tide up another rung on the ladder to set up a potential 1-vs.-2 showdown against the Tigers if both teams stay undefeated through Nov. 5. And with all due respect to an excellent Oklahoma team, that's how it should be. 10-point wins over Florida State and Missouri are nice; 24- and 28-point wins over Arkansas and Florida are something much, much nicer. It doesn't make much sense -- and we're speaking to you directly here, coaches -- to anoint a team No. 1 in the preseason and then refuse to move them down when the only thing that made them No. 1 in the first place was sheer hypothetical guesswork.
The good news is that no amount of voting silliness will matter once the Tide and Tigers actually meet on the field; if Alabama wins out, it'll wind up where it deserves to be.
It's a flying leap forward for the Razorbacks as they vault eight spots in the AP and six in the Coaches from last week's consensus 18th. That's quite the reward for beating a Texas A&M team whose list of victims-to-date consists of nothing more than SMU and Idaho, not to mention giving up more than 600 yards of offense in the process. In this case, we'd actually side with the Coaches--with undefeated records and decent-to-quality wins under their belts, Texas and Michigan (Nos. 10 and 11 according to the Coaches) deserve the higher slots, even if we'd take the Razorbacks over either head-to-head.
Take a good look, folks: while the AP and Coaches always have their little differences, particularly early in the season, an eight-spot difference of opinion over an SEC team five weeks into the season is something you just don't see every day ... or year ... or maybe even decade.
But that's what we've got thanks to the Tigers' highly uneven 2011 season so far. On the good side of the ledger, there's the home win over a (still) likely bowl-bound team in Mississippi State and now the road victory over an undefeated, previously top-10 team in South Carolina. Those are two solid-to-excellent wins, though they have to be balanced against the narrow escape over Utah State, the decisive loss to Clemson (albeit one on the road to what appears to be a top-notch team), and the sleepwalk past FAU. Any particular spot between that No. 15 slot and the No. 23 slot would work fine.
But one thing we do know about the Tigers is that they ought to be ranked ahead of the Gamecocks, right? Team A beating Team B on Team B's homefield while both teams have the same record and Team A's only loss was to an unbeaten top-10 team makes this a very simple decision, doesn't it? Not for the Coaches; they somehow have Auburn nine spots behind the same South Carolina team they just defeated. Go figure.
After ranking 12th in both polls, the Gators slid five and six spots, respectively. It's a fair assessment for a team that still has a comfortable win over Tennessee and the resume, but didn't look all that sharp vs. Alabama after the game's opening 15 minutes and now could be without John Brantley for an extended period of time. With a road trip to LSU on the docket this week, the Gators could land the win that vaults them all the way into the top 10 ... or exiles them from the balloting until further notice.
18/14. South Carolina.
Thanks to the Gamecocks' wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt (not to mention a Navy team that should still make the postseason), Carolina certainly deserves to remain ranked, and probably even in the top 20. Just not ahead of Auburn.
*You know you want to hear the theme song. Here you go.