It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here — our first installment of SEC Power Rankings. After a ton of hurry up and wait, here’s our best guess at where the teams stack up entering Saturday’s season-openers. It’s as good of a time as any to remind you that after Saturday, we’ll rank the teams each week based on where they are, not how we think they’ll finish. But that’s after Saturday.

For now, the SEC Power Rankings entering Week 1 look like this.

14. Vanderbilt

Vandy, Arkansas, back and forth … these programs are the clear leaders in the race to the bottom of the SEC. But frankly, we’re not sure who’ll play on the offensive line for Vanderbilt. Or how they’ll ever score points. Edge to Arkansas at least to start.

13. Arkansas

Could still go 0-10. This figures to be another long season, even if the product is better.

12. Mississippi State

Yes, we all enjoy Mike Leach. But he draws a squad that is short on experience and is expected to compete in the toughest division in college football. State could well be better than Mizzou or South Carolina, but based off the coaching transition and, again, the lack of returning players, it’s wise to start the Bulldogs a little farther down the list for Week 1.

11. Missouri

Even before the Tigers stood prepared to start the season down at least a dozen players against Alabama, this figured to be a tough season. The Tigers will have a fairly tough defense and will present a long road trip to the teams that have to go to CoMo. That gets them up to 11th for now.

10. South Carolina

Before the season, the elephant in the room seems to be the number of wins Will Muschamp will need to be South Carolina’s head coach in 2021. Given COVID and the all-SEC schedule, would 4-6 get it done? Can Carolina scrounge up 4 wins, even if that is enough? The lower half of the East figures to be competitive … and that might determine the future of the Gamecocks’ program.

9. Ole Miss

The Rebels are finally out from under the cloud of probation, and Lane Kiffin, much like Elijah Moore, has something to prove to the rest of the SEC. That said, there’ll be some bumps in the road in 2020. However, give Kiffin 2 very serviceable SEC quarterbacks and watch the fireworks begin.

8. Tennessee

The Vols could slide up to No. 6 or so, or could stumble down to 10th or 11th place. Jeremy Pruitt has a good amount of returning experience, and finally getting Cade Mays cleared can’t hurt. On the other hand, it’s a tough schedule, and it’s been awhile since UT truly held its own in the SEC.

7. Kentucky

Kentucky ahead of Tennessee? Despite the Wildcats’ annual struggle-bus run against UT, yes. If the Wildcats could play well in the SEC down the stretch with a wide receiver at quarterback, think what they might do with a healthy Terry Wilson or an eligible Joey Gatewood.

6. Texas A&M

The Aggies were one of the potential surprises in the SEC, but opt-outs have cost them a fair amount of talent in the most unforgiving division in college football. A&M may well be in the top 15 in the nation … and still No. 6 in our SEC Power Rankings.

5. Auburn

Not a ton of returning experience for Auburn, but this feels like the year that Bo Nix could make a significant leap in terms of SEC quarterback status. Seth Williams could be a 1,000-yard receiver, and the defense has allowed fewer than 25 points per game vs. SEC teams in each of the past 4 seasons. Can Kevin Steele work more magic in 2020?

4. Florida

Could the Gators end up No. 2? You bet. In fact, many (including your humble columnist, in his preseason predictions) tagged Florida to win the East. Kyle Trask is a legitimate threat, and the Gator defense, given an outstanding performance in 2019 under Todd Grantham, is as dangerous as any in the nation.

3. LSU

Sure, Joe Burrow is in Cincinnati, and Ja’Marr Chase will not be on the LSU sideline. But the cupboard is far from bare on the Bayou. LSU recruited like a national power over the past few seasons, and while Coach O may not have enough gas in the tank to end up back in the Playoff, don’t sleep on LSU.

2. Georgia

Speaking of football talent factories … Jamie Newman opts out, line up the next 5-star and move on. That’s the story at UGA, where Dan Lanning’s defense in 2019 didn’t allow more than 17 points in any game other than the SEC title game. They have the talent, but when will they get over the hump?

1. Alabama

Once and future kings, the Tide will be tough. COVID and the schedule shakeup might have some programs looking out of sorts. Nick Saban would have been ready if they made the entire schedule with 3 hours notice and forced Alabama to play the games with 10 players. Mac Jones might represent a return to Bama’s “game manager” QBs, but those guys tended to work out pretty well!