The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Way-Too-Early 2020 SEC Football Power Rankings

Late August is usually reserved for Week One power rankings. But with the start of the SEC Football season still a month away, The Hustler put together way-too-early power rankings.
DC Williams holds back a Georgia player. (Photo by Mattigan Kelly)

Traditions are on hold. Few fans will be in the stands. Students are taking remote classes. All are commonplace in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of college life. The college football world is no different. In early August, both the Big Ten Conference and Pacific 12 Conferenc e announced the cancellation of fall sports while the Southeastern Conference, Big-12 Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference planned to proceed. Despite this uncertainty, The Hustler will continue providing coverage as normal—and this year, that starts with some way-too-early 2020 SEC Football Power Rankings: 

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

The Crimson Tide finished with a record of 11-2 in 2019 and, somehow, that’s still considered a down season in Tuscaloosa. Mac Jones is the expected starting quarterback for the 2020 season, and he showed promise with quality performances against Auburn and Michigan at the end of last season after star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went down with a hip injury.  The physical play of running back Najee Harris and the speed of wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jalen Waddle will continue to create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.  There are a few holes to fill in the Alabama defense, but the return of senior linebacker Dylan Moses along with the experience of defensive back Patrick Sutrain II should ease some of these concerns.  Don’t forget about head coach Nick Saban either; the six-time national champion and defensive mastermind always finds a way to get high-quality performances out of any roster he coaches. After the best-in-show LSU Tigers lost most of their firepower to the NFL Draft, we expect this perennial powerhouse to rise back to the top. 

2. Georgia Bulldogs 

The Bulldogs head into this season coming off a 12-2 record that saw them capture the SEC East title, lose to eventual national champion LSU in the SEC Championship and rebound with a Sugar Bowl victory over Baylor. Despite the loss of four year starter Jake Fromm and dynamic running back D’Andre Swift to the NFL Draft, expectations will still be high in Athens as head coach Kirby Smart welcomes the nation’s #1 recruiting class. With transfer quarterback Jamie Newman from Wake Forest most likely assuming the starting role and many key players from the nation’s third-ranked defense returning, Georgia might not win it all, but will very much be in the conversation. 

3. Florida Gators

The Florida Gators are hungry coming into 2020.  An SEC Championship is well within reach after an impressive 2019 season saw the Gators go 11-2 and win the Orange Bowl. Redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask returns to lead the Florida offense after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in ten starts last season. While Trask will do the heavy lifting for Florida, watch out for fellow quarterback Emory Jones; the Gators like to utilize him on certain offensive packages, as his speed provides a change of pace from the slower Trask. The Gators are inexperienced at the running back position, but wideouts Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland should instill fear in opposing defenses. Dan Mullen enters his third season as head coach after a successful first two seasons, and his offensive brilliance will continue to make Florida a force in the SEC. The defense should be solid for 2020, although the Gators will need someone to fill the shoes of star cornerback CJ Henderson, who now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

4. LSU Tigers 

Did the LSU Tigers have the greatest season in college football history last year? That is up for debate, but the numbers certainly support the claim. 2019’s team bulldozed the competition on its way to a perfect season and a National Championship, defeating seven  top-10 teams in the process. The 2020 LSU Tigers will look much different this year, however, with their SEC-best 14 players taken in the NFL Draft. The team will surely miss the electric quarterback play of Heisman Trophy winner and first overall NFL Draft pick Joe Burrow, the shifty nature of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the versatility of do-it-all linebacker Patrick Queen. In order to contend for college football’s greatest prizes this season, head coach Ed Orgeron will have to get creative and successfully utilize the likes of star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase to pull off another magical run. 

5. Auburn Tigers

Quarterback Bo Nix is the player to watch for the Auburn Tigers this season. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Year threw for 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2019, and he should be even better this season as he continues to polish his raw talent.  The offensive line is a concern as the Tigers lose all five starters from 2019, so head coach Gus Malzahn will have to find ways to get the ball out of Bo Nix’s hand quickly.  Wide receiver Seth Williams will be a big target for the Tiger offense after a breakout season saw him reel in 59 receptions for 830 yards and 8 touchdowns.  Fellow wide receiver Anthony Schwartz also creates problems for defenses; although he had a disappointing 2019 campaign, he is an absolute burner and may well be the fastest player in the conference. Defense could be an area of concern for the Tigers after losing much of the secondary and defensive line stars Derrick Brown and Marlon Davis to the NFL.  First team all-SEC linebacker K.J. Britt is returning, however, which should give the Tigers defensive strength in the middle of the field. 

6. Texas A&M Aggies

Texas A&M enters 2020 looking to close the gap at the top of the conference. The Aggies finished 4-4 in the SEC last season, with each loss coming to powerhouse programs Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia. Quarterback Kellen Mond struggled at times, posting 9 interceptions with 25 touchdowns. Look for an improvement in the offense as the unit spends another year together under third year head coach Jimbo Fisher. In order to see a substantial jump, Texas A&M will need to force more turnovers on the defensive side of the ball, as its leading interception leader only came down with two in 2019.

7. Tennessee Volunteers 

Are the Vols back? Maybe. Fans are buzzing after Tennessee secured the 10th ranked recruiting class for 2020 and currently has the 6th ranked recruiting class for 2021.  It will likely be a few years before the Vols are able to see the fruits of these recruiting classes, but an 8-5 season and 5-3 conference record in 2019 (after opening losses to Georgia State and BYU) is certainly a step in the right direction for a historically great program that has been stuck in the mud for the past few seasons.  Redshirt senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano brings plenty of experience to the table in 2020 after throwing for 2,158 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2019.  Guarantano does have some competition on the roster, but with his experience, he should be the starter for week one.  The offensive line is strong, and sophomore running back Eric Gray and experienced senior running back Ty Chandler provide a solid one-two punch in the backfield.  The Tennessee defense will look to build on the momentum it had at the end of last season after holding each of its last six opponents to 22 points or fewer.  It appears that head coach Jeremy Pruitt might have something brewing in Knoxville.

8. Kentucky Wildcats

For a school primarily known for its prowess on the hardwood, the Kentucky Wildcats surprised many on the gridiron last season. The team turned the unusual into a deadly attack as wide receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. captained the Wildcats to a 8-5 season and a Belk Bowl victory. In 2020, the team will certainly face a challenge replicating Bowden Jr.’s 1,816 yards from scrimmage, as the former Wildcat has moved onto the NFL. While most will look to Kentucky’s ability to replace those yards as the barometer for how successful the Wildcats can be, the team does return strong depth at key positions. However, a conference-only schedule in 2020 means another bowl run may be out of the cards for the Wildcats.

9. Mississippi State Bulldogs 

This could be a very interesting season for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.  After a disappointing 6-7 season in 2019, the Bulldogs decided to move on from head coach Joe Moorhead and brought in Mike Leach, former Washington State head coach. Leach’s high-flying, air raid offense will certainly be different from what Bulldog fans are accustomed to seeing.  Graduate senior quarterback K.J. Costello joins the team after transferring from Stanford, where he threw for 3,540 yards and 49 touchdowns in 2018.  Injuries limited him to just five games in 2019, but Costello is a talented passer who should fit well with Leach’s scheme.  Costello is joined in the backfield by talented senior running back Kylin Hill, who rushed for an impressive 103.8 yards per game last season.  There are concerns at the wide receiver and secondary positions due to a lack of depth and experience, but if the Bulldogs are able to address these issues, they may be able to climb the power rankings this season with Leach’s dynamic offense.

10. South Carolina Gamecocks

The South Carolina Gamecocks must be relieved to be finished with the 2019 season. Ranked the most difficult schedule in the nation by ESPN’s Football Power Index coming into the year, South Carolina was beaten badly by the nation’s powerhouses of LSU, Alabama and Clemson. Aside from a double overtime surprise upset against #3-ranked Georgia in Athens, losses in winnable games against Missouri and North Carolina hurt the Gamecocks’ momentum. Turning the page to 2020, head coach Will Muscamp will look to ignite a subpar offense led by sophomore quarterback Ryan Hillinski. Such a task will not be easy as the Gamecocks lost both leading receiver Bryan Edwards (816 receiving yards) and running back Tavien Feaster (672 rushing yards) to the NFL Draft. Combined with the nation’s 66th-ranked defense in terms of total defense, expect South Carolina to continue to struggle.

11. Missouri Tigers

Last season was disappointing for the Tigers. Missouri started off strong with a 5-1 record and reached #22 in the AP Poll before getting upset by Vanderbilt in week seven. It was all downhill from there, as the Tigers finished with a 6-6 record and injury-ridden quarterback Kelly Bryant failed to live up to the preseason hype. The 2020 season isn’t looking bright for the Tigers either. There is no definitive starter at the quarterback position, and the top three wide receivers from 2019 are gone. Running back Larry Roundtree III is a solid option in the backfield, but don’t expect much from the Missouri offense in 2020. The defense, highlighted by a strong secondary, might be a bright spot, but Tiger fans should brace for what could be a long season.   

12. Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss never really found its stride in 2019, as an early injury to quarterback Matt Corral thrust John Rhys Plumlee into the starting role. As the offense adjusted to the new signal caller, two game winning streaks were met with three game losing skids. Head coach Lane Kiffen insists on an open quarterback battle for 2020. Whoever is under center will need to rely on returning wide receiver Elijah Moore to have another big year along with running back Jerrion Ealy. Expect another tough season for the Rebels as they look to rebuild in this conference-only season.

13. Arkansas Razorbacks

The 2019 season can be summed up in one word for the Razorbacks: yikes. Arkansas posted a miserable 2-10 record and did not win a game in SEC competition; however, there are a few glimmers of hope for the 2020 season. Florida transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks brings talent and experience to the offense, and running back Rakeem Boyd is back for his senior campaign after rushing for 1,183 yards and 8 touchdowns in the 2019 season. The Razorbacks’ offensive line play does need to significantly improve, as does an abysmal defense that gave up 36.8 points per game in 2019.  Head coach Sam Pittman has a tall task ahead of him in the 2020 season, and it doesn’t help that the Razorbacks open the season up against the Georgia Bulldogs on Sep. 26.   

14. Vanderbilt Commodores

2019 was a year to forget for the Vanderbilt Commodores. Struggles on both sides of the ball were amplified by a rough opening schedule that featured both Georgia and LSU. The offense was unable to effectively utilize its big three of running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, tight end Jared Pinkney and wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb. Additionally, the defense was often gashed for many big plays to the tune of 31.8 points per game allowed. While new offensive and defensive coordinators should bring fresh ideas to the field, there will be a new quarterback under center yet again for head coach Derek Mason’s bunch. To make matters worse, the new starter will not have the comfort and experience of the aforementioned trio to rely on following their departures to the NFL. If there is a bright spot, however, it is the veteran presence of cornerback Allan George, defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo and leading tackler linebacker Dimitri Moore anchoring the defense. 


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About the Contributor
Bobby Kent
Bobby Kent, Former Senior Staff Writer
Bobby Kent (’23) was a Senior Staff Writer for The Hustler Sports section, having been on staff since his first semester at Vanderbilt. Bobby was also the Sports Director for VandyRadio, co-host of Kent and Coad, a weekly sports talk show on VandyRadio and the host of VU Sports Wired, a Vanderbilt Video Productions and Hustler Sports Television show. Bobby previously interned at CNN Sports where he assisted in producing studio shows, writing anchor scripts and creating fullscreen graphics. He also wrote an article about Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo for that was a top 5 story for digital. He was an economics major in the College of Arts and Science with a minor in business. Bobby has been a dedicated sports fan ever since he was little and loves to track the decisions made by front offices, players and coaches. Bobby hopes to one day have a career in the business of professional sports either in sports media or with a professional sports organization. When not writing articles, providing opinions about Vanderbilt sports on TV or serving hot takes in the radio studio, Bobby can be found watching his beloved Philadelphia sports teams and watching the Eagles fly. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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