Those numbers are misleading, of course. Most programs schedule weak opponents for opening day, so they can start the season on a "feel-good" note. Hammering teams such as Western Kentucky, Charleston Southern, Missouri State, Miami of Ohio and Western Carolina excites the fan base but proves next to nothing.
That's why the initial SEC Ratings for 2009 involve even more guesswork than usual. Trying to compare Florida's 62-3 blowout of an utterly inept Charleston Southern team to Alabama's 34-24 defeat of a high-caliber Virginia Tech team is an exercise in futility.
Still, here goes:
1. FLORIDA (9.5): The Gators showed once again that speed kills in their 62-3 beat-down of Charleston Southern. Sprinters Jeff Demps (touchdown runs of 8 and 23 yards) and Chris Rainey (76-yard TD run) helped Florida average 11.2 yards per carry, and Brandon James flashed his speed on an 85-yard kickoff return for TD. Some guy named Tebow (10 of 15 passing for 188 yards) did OK, too.
2. ALABAMA (9.0): The Tide proved it can win without a huge day from superstar receiver Julio Jones (four catches, 46 yards) by thumping nationally ranked Virginia Tech 34-24 at The Georgia Dome. Mark Ingram gained 150 yards on 26 rushes and Greg McElroy was OK in his starting debut at QB, completing 15 of 30 passes for 230 yards. Bama's defense was awesome, limiting Tech to 2 of 12 on third-down conversions and 9 of 20 passing. The Tide won the yardage battle 498 to 155 and the time of possession 37:02 to 22:58.
3. OLE MISS (7.5): Leading just 24-14, the Rebels scored 21 points in the final eight minutes to subdue pesky Memphis 45-14. Ole Miss needed a 38-yard interception return TD by Fon Ingram 41 seconds shy of halftime to take a 17-7 lead to the locker room. Jevan Snead survived a rocky start to finish 12-of-22 passing for 175 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Dexter McCluster had a big game for the Rebs, catching six passes for 65 yards and gaining 50 more on nine carries from the "Wild Rebel" formation.
4. TENNESSEE (7.5): The numbers the Vols put up in beating Western Kentucky 63-7 were impressive, even given the level of opposition. Jonathan Crompton completed 21 of 28 passes for 233 yards and 5 touchdowns ... tailbacks Monterio Hardesty (18 carries for 160 yards) and Bryce Brown (11 for 104) ran wild ... the Vols outgained the Hilltoppers 657 to 83 in total yards and piled up 34 first downs to WKU's 6.
5. LSU (7.5): The Tigers were beaten everywhere except on the scoreboard in a 31-23 road defeat of a Washington team coming off an 0-12 season in 2008. LSU was outgained 478-321 and dominated 36:52 to 23:08 in time of possession. John Chavis' defense allowed the Huskies to convert on 11 of 19 third-down plays and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Jordan Jefferson was very impressive at quarterback for LSU, completing 11 of 19 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to rushing eight times for another 42 yards. Terrance Tolliver averaged nearly 30 yards per catch (4 for 117) with two TD grabs.
6. ARKANSAS (7.5): Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett completed 17 of 21 passes for 309 yards in his debut as the Razorbacks routed Missouri State 48-10. Jarius Wright caught six balls for 139 yards as the Hogs piled up 447 passing yards. Michael Smith, a 1,000-yard rusher last fall, carried just four times for 43 yards. Dennis Johnson contributed a 91-yard kickoff return.
7. AUBURN (7.0): Leading just 13-10 at halftime, the Tigers needed a 93-yard touchdown pass from Chris Todd to Terrell Zachery to pull away and beat Louisiana Tech 37-13. Onterio McCalebb carried 22 times and accounted for 148 of Auburn's 301 rushing yards. Ben Tate added 117 yards on 20 carries as the Tigers outgained Tech 556 to 245. Todd finished 17 of 26 passing for 255 yards and 2 touchdowns.
8. VANDERBILT (7.0): Freshman running backs Zac Stacy (20 carries for 133 yards) and Warren Norman (18 for 105) cracked the century mark in their collegiate debuts, helping the Commodores manhandle Western Carolina 45-0. The Dores dominated statistically, posting a 33-4 advantage in first downs, a 433-41 margin in rushing yards and a 620-115 advantage in total yards. Larry Smith completed 10 of 18 passes for 153 yards and Vandy's defense held WCU to 0 of 13 on third-down conversion tries.
9. GEORGIA (6.5): The Dawgs went 80 yards for a touchdown on their opening possession, then gained just 177 yards the rest of the way in a 24-10 loss at nationally ranked Oklahoma State. Joe Cox completed 15 of 30 passes for 162 yards in his first start since 2006. With the air attack struggling, Georgia gained just 95 rushing yards on 30 carries and coughed up two fumbles. Blair Walsh was a bright spot for Georgia, nailing a 53-yard field goal.
10. SOUTH CAROLINA (6.0): An awesome defense and an awful offense combined to give the Gamecocks a lethargic 7-3 defeat of North Carolina State. SC limited the Wolfpack to 133 total yards but likely would've lost 10-7 if State's Jay Smith hadn't dropped a perfectly thrown 32-yard touchdown pass with 4 minutes left. Gamecock QB Stephen Garcia completed 13 of 22 passes for 148 yards but engineered just one scoring drive.
11. KENTUCKY (6.0): The Big Blue outgained Miami of Ohio 488 to 188 in total yards and kept the ball 36:25 to 23:35 en route to a 42-0 romp. The Cats also converted 11 of 18 third-down plays while limiting the Redhawks to 2 of 15. Mike Hartline was solid, completing 18 of 27 passes for 222 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Versatile Randall Cobb caught seven passes for 96 yards (including a 27-yard TD), returned three punts for 28 yards and added an 11-yard rushing TD.
12. MISSISSIPPI STATE (6.0): Backup QB Chris Relf ignited the Bulldogs in their 45-7 pasting of Jackson State. Relf completed 7 of 10 passes for 75 yards and ran 12 times for another 82 yards. He accounted for four touchdowns (three passing) and guided a 21-point third quarter that put the game away. Starting QB Tyson Lee was OK, too, completing 9 of 14 for 97 yards. Mississippi State's defense was excellent, forcing 5 turnovers (3 fumbles, 2 interceptions) and allowing just 1.8 yards per carry.