The SEC's regular season is at an end, and the teams put forth as elite in the preseason turned out to be as good as advertised, while the doormats, for the most part, laid down and served as a dutiful canvas for muddy bootprints. In between, though, there was a fair amount of intrigue, from teams that dramatically exceeded meh expectations (Georgia, Vanderbilt) to those that limboed under medium-to-high ones (Florida, Mississippi State).
To illustrate this, I've included in parentheses each team's ranking in my preseason Power Poll ballot. You'll see that some teams have come a long way since the chaos of Week 1, though not all of them traveled in the right direction.
As always, the ballots will be tallied and totaled at Team Speed Kills on Wednesday.
1. LSU (rank in Week 1 ballot: 1) -- Fell to a 14-0 deficit early against Arkansas, yet by the fourth quarter they had the normally cerebral and tight-lipped Bobby Petrino screaming obscenities across the field. In a season in which the Bayou Bengals have played some extremely entertaining football, that might have been their best achievement yet.
2. Alabama (2) -- Will more than likely have their BCS National Championship Game ticket punched this weekend by sitting back and doing absolutely nothing. And given how close the first Bama-LSU game was, you've got to at least be optimistic about the Tide's chances in a rematch.
3. Georgia (7) -- Mark Bradley, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit all predicted Georgia would struggle (or lose outright) against Georgia Tech because they'd be looking ahead to the SEC title game. The Bulldogs are now 4-0 in games immediately preceding SECCG appearances. Find a new storyline, gentlemen.
4. Arkansas (3) -- "But how can you have Arkansas ranked below Georgia? The Dawgs' schedule was mediocre and they lost to the two best teams they played." Mmm-hmmm. Remind you of anyone?
5. South Carolina (6) -- Definition of mixed emotions, part I: trying to content yourself with only your second 10-win season in program history despite having ceded the division title to a team you beat earlier in the season.
6. Auburn (9) -- Definition of mixed emotions, part II: trying to convince yourself 7-5 really isn't that bad for a team that lost that much talent from the previous year, despite getting blown off the field by your three biggest rivals.
7. Florida (5) -- Toyed with the idea of putting them below Vanderbilt. Decided against it based on head-to-head results. But "We're better than Vandy" isn't going to console many folks in Gainesville.
8. Vanderbilt (12) -- Headed to a bowl game for only the fifth time in program history and now firmly on the radar screens of their SEC competitors. We'll find out next season if that last part is necessarily a good thing.
9. Mississippi State (4) -- An object lesson for Vanderbilt in terms of reading too much into early success. A year ago, Dan Mullen surprised everyone by expressing disinterest in open positions at Florida and Miami; you think he wouldn't take the Penn State or Arizona State jobs tomorrow if one of them were offered to him?
10. Kentucky (11) -- Not to be a major wet blanket less than 48 hours after the Wildcats beat Tennessee for the first time in a quarter-century, but the long-term prognosis for this program under Joker Phillips is not good. There are next to zero playmakers on offense, and all the important contributors on defense (plus punter Ryan Tydlacka) will be gone after this year.
11. Tennessee (8) -- I've been cutting Derek Dooley a lot of slack based on the personnel situation he inherited and the injuries his team suffered through this year, but there just aren't a lot of excuses for the Vols' rancid season finale in Lexington. Difficult circumstances notwithstanding, he's done in Knoxville if he can't pull together a winning record next year.
12. Ole Miss (10) -- Outscored 140-26 by their last four opponents, and only one (LSU) was a juggernaut -- the other three were Kentucky, LaTech, and Mississippi State. The Rebs had better steel themselves for rejection from some top-flight coaching candidates, because there's a pretty hefty rebuilding job ahead in Oxford.