SEC play begins this weekend, so it's time to start ranking the conference from top to bottom. This week, Kevin and I casted our ballots -- assigning 14 points to first place, 13 points to second, etc. -- to determine the conference rankings. The results are below, followed by our comments.
1. LSU -- The Tigers stay on top until someone dethrones them. Powerful offense, a strike-heavy pitching staff. The record only has a single blemish and probably won't have many more.
2. Vanderbilt -- In football terms, think Oregon's offense and Alabama defense. Speed, quick strike and a pitching staff that is accurate and pitches deep into games.
3. South Carolina -- Carolina is Carolina. The offense hasn't put up gaudy numbers, but USC has shown it can easily take a 1-0 lead, sit back and not worry.
4. Ole Miss -- A shutdown closer. A solid top to bottom offense. Good things are brewing in Oxford.
5. Mississippi State -- The Bulldogs have a chance to take the top spot if they can dethrone LSU over the weekend. Hit a little bump by dropping a series to Central Arkansas, and that's what puts them this low.
6. Kentucky -- Who knows what to expect from Kentucky? Off to the same hot start as last year and not getting a ton of publicity. No bad losses, but no stellar wins right now.
7. Auburn -- The Tigers have a good record but have beat up on some cupcakes. This weekend proves if they are for real or not.
8. Florida -- Hard to tell what has happened to the Gators. Preseason favorite to dropping series against Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana. Florida has shown it can't win close games. As soon as the Gators fix that, they will back in business.
9. Arkansas -- From preseason No. 1 to middle of the SEC pack. The Razorbacks had a solid four-game sweep of San Diego State, but it's hard to tell if that team, or the team that lost four straight in Surpise, Ariz., shows up.
10. Alabama -- 'Bama is an oddity. The Tide are playing a ton of new faces and were off to a hot start but have hit a skid, losing six of their last seven.
11. Texas A&M -- The Aggies have played a tough schedule and have the bumps and bruises to show for it. As soon as the bullpen can stop walking batters, then the boys from College Station can turn things around.
12. Tennessee -- Hard to get a read on UT. The Vols have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation and have scrapped together solid single wins against UNLV and Arizona State. They open with Alabama and can start separating themselves from the bottom of the SEC pack with a series win.
13. Georgia -- The more the Bulldogs struggle, the more the seat warms for Dave Perno. UGA has fallen a long way from being one win from the College World Series title in 2008.
14. Missouri -- Bad. Just bad. Plus, to make matters worse, they've barely played any games because of snow and rain.
1. Vanderbilt -- It looks like Tim Corbin's club is ready for another deep postseason run. The Commodores have solid hitting and pitching, and their baserunning -- 44 steals already -- is producing plenty of extra runs.
2. Mississippi State -- The Bulldogs have the conference's best pitching (1.73 team ERA), and the offense has been good. However, is four runs or fewer in five of their last seven games an anomaly or a sign of things to come.
3. South Carolina -- Carolina took two of three from rival Clemson a couple of weeks ago, and LB Dantzler (.400 BA, 4 HRs, 15 RBIs) looks like a contender for player of the year.
4. LSU -- The Tigers have been awfully impressive, winning by an average margin of 4.7 runs and holding opponents to three runs or fewer in 11 of 16 games.
5. Ole Miss -- The Rebs opened the season with what looked like an impressive sweep of TCU, but the Horned Frogs have been less than stellar this year (5-9). Still, the pitching has been solid, and there's talent in the lineup.
6. Kentucky -- Like last season, the ‘Cats are killing it at the plate (.308 BA) but just mediocre on the mound (2.42 ERA, seventh in the SEC).
7. Arkansas -- At home against weak competition, the Hogs have rolled up an 11-1 record. But Arkansas went 0-4 on a road trip out west, falling to Arizona State (twice), Gonzaga and Pacific. That's a definite red flag.
8. Texas A&M -- It's hard to get a read on the Ags so far, but with their talent, they should improve throughout the year.
9. Auburn -- Despite some issues (defense, late-inning struggles, lineup going quiet for long stretches), the Tigers have posted a nice record through non-conference play. They'll need to fix some of those issues if they want to have success in SEC action.
10. Florida -- The Gators are far too talented to have a losing record and drop a series to Indiana. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if, like last year's Vandy team, they got hot late and were a dangerous tournament team.
11. Alabama -- Looks like ‘Bama is in for more struggles this season. In games against real competition (Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss, Tulane, Auburn, Louisville), the Tide are 4-7.
12. Georgia -- The Dawgs rank eighth in the SEC in runs scored (97), dead last in team ERA (4.73) and have dropped series to Georgia Southern and Belmont and midweek games to Kennesaw State and Georgia State. Why, exactly, was UGA ranked in the preseason?
13. Tennessee -- Tennessee doesn't have much in the way of pitching (4.13 ERA) or hitting (.277 BA). It's going to be a long year in Knoxville.
14. Missouri -- When the Tigers actually do get to play -- they've had four games canceled due to weather -- they aren't very good. Are we sure we want Mizzou in the SEC?