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SEC Baseball Power Rankings - Week 8: South Carolina Claims the Top Spot as the Season Winds Down

Another week in SEC play brings a new team to the top of our power rankings. South Carolina ascended to the number one spot in this week's rankings after some disappointing out-of-conference performances sunk their competitors. While the Gamecocks went just 1-1 in a weather shortened series against Georgia, Florida and Kentucky squandered solid SEC performances with big losses to Samford and Murray State, respectively.

Those midweek losses had previously held Carolina back, but they've proven in recent weeks that they can win games no matter the level of pressure. South Carolina has gone 11-2 over the past month to get within half a game of conference-leading Kentucky in the standings. Meanwhile, LSU and Florida both still have chances to earn a share of the regular season title with big weekends to close out their regular seasons.

However, this final weekend also has big repercussions for teams outside of the top four. Vanderbilt and Ole Miss will battle in Nashville in a series that has significant implications for both teams. Vandy needs a series win to help lock down a NCAA at-large bid after a dismal 7-15 start to their season. Mississippi needs a big showing against the resurgent Commodores to help make their case for hosting a NCAA Tournament Regional.

Auburn will also be playing for an at-large bid, but they'll have a much tougher task in front of them than the 'Dores. The Tigers will host #3 Florida before heading to the SEC Tournament. If this week's current standings hold true, then they'd have to face the Gators once more to open up their bracket in Hoover. Auburn is already firmly on the at-large bubble, and a poor showing to finish their SEC season could end up stopping their season dead in its tracks.

Alabama and Tennessee will both play their final games of the season this week, as both have been eliminated from the postseason. They'll each get a chance to play spoiler with showdowns against Georgia and Arkansas looming. Both the Bulldogs and the Razorbacks have run through up and down seasons in 2012, and they'll need to polish off their lower-ranked opponents in order to put themselves in a favorable seed next week in Hoover.

So how does the SEC look after two months of conference play? The rankings are after the jump...

Disclaimer: spots 5-9 are all pretty much equal right now. Ole Miss has thrown up some duds this season, but has also beaten Florida and Arkansas while remaining competitive throughout their season. As a result, they earned the top spot amongst a group of teams that have been equal parts brilliant and disappointing in SEC play.

Mississippi State should be higher than eighth, but who do you drop beneath them? A Vanderbilt team that has won three straight series, including two wins over top 10 teams? An Arkansas team that had avoided any embarrassing series losses until this week against Auburn?

Additionally, Georgia fell into the ninth spot by default. A 1-1 split with South Carolina didn't show us enough to make a strong move up the rankings, but know that the Bulldogs could have been ranked in the top half of the league and it would have made as much sense as their spot in ninth. The middle ground of the SEC is just loaded with supremely talented, but flawed, teams in 2012.

Rank LW Team Record Analysis
The Old Guard (and Kentucky)
1) 2) South Carolina 38-13 (17-9) The Gamecocks haven't lost a series in SEC play since falling to Florida back in March. They'll likely have to prove that they can handle the Gators next week in Hoover, but first their streak will be tested by LSU.
2) 3) Florida 38-15 (16-11) Despite being fourth in the standings, Florida is regarded by many as the SEC's top team right now. It was a tight race between them and South Carolina for the top spot in these rankings, so consider them 1b if that makes any difference. The Gators look destined for a national seed and have the ammunition on both sides of the ball to make a return trip to the national championship game this June.
3) 4) Kentucky 41-12 (18-9) The 'Cats did what they were supposed to do with a three-game sweep of Alabama. Then, they followed that up with a 7-3 loss to Murray State - a team that is 8-16 in the OVC. That's probably not the omen that this team was looking for as they fight to hang on to the SEC's regular season crown.
4) 1) LSU 40-13 (17-10) Couldn't close the door on a resurgent Vanderbilt squad on Senior Day at Alex Box Stadium. They can regain their lost ground by going to Columbia and beating South Carolina. It's a tall task, but a big run through the next two weeks could end up putting the Tigers in the top four when it comes to national seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
At This Point in Time, 5-9 Are Interchangeable, So Don't Get Too Mad or Excited
5) 8) Ole Miss 34-19 (14-13) Ole Miss takes the fifth spot by default. The Rebels are talented but their resume is a bit lacking. They've only got four series wins in SEC play, and half of those came against bottom-dwelling Alabama and Tennessee. While wins over Arkansas and Florida are impressive, they'll have to put in some more work if they want to be the fifth SEC team to host postseason baseball.
6) 5) Arkansas 36-17 (13-14) Those losses to Auburn hurt. It looked like the 'Hogs had turned a corner when they took two of three from Florida, but a 2-4 record over the past two weeks of conference play has re-raised some of the questions that followed this team earlier in the season. Can they regain their composure as the postseason looms?
7) 9) Vanderbilt 26-25 (13-14) Vandy has won just once on Friday this season, but the Commodores seem to thrive when playing from behind. They are 12-6 on Saturday and Sunday and that mark has them a weekend sweep away from qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
8) 6) Mississippi St. 31-21 (13-14) Offense failed them this week, as they went 1-3 behind a paltry one run per game average. Chris Stratton took his first loss of the season on Friday against Florida, but he's still got the SEC Pitcher of the Year honors directly in his sights.
9) 7) Georgia 30-22 (13-13) Weather cut Georgia's opportunity to upset South Carolina short. However, based on the rest of their season, the narrative suggests that they would have battled hard before just falling short on Sunday. The Bulldogs can hang with anyone in the country, but they have a knack for coming up on the wrong end of close games.
Clinging to the Bubble
10) 10) Auburn 29-24 (12-15) Vandy's surge knocked them onto the wrong side of the selection committee's ledger despite an upset win over Arkansas last weekend. The Tigers have been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season, and no one really knows how they'll respond to the final two weeks of their season. Will they be the team that beat Ole Miss and LSU? Or will they be the guys who got swept by lowly Alabama?
The Alabama Zone.
11) 11) Tennessee 24-28 (8-19) After a 20-10 start to their season, the Volunteers are just 4-18 since April 6th. That's probably not how first year coach Dave Serrano pictured things ending.
12) 12) Alabama 19-33 (7-20) There's still time to mess up Georgia's season. It's been an awful year, but if the Tide can ruin things for both Auburn and the Bulldogs it's got to provide some consolation for their departing seniors…right?