SEC Power Rankings Week Three: Tide on top, Razorbacks rise

The SEC faces a new challenge with a conference-only schedule. In 2020, there will be no freebies.

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Hunter Long

Vanderbilt football plays Kentucky on Saturday, November 12, 2017. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Jesse Goldman and Brett Needelman

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has decided to utilize a conference-only schedule this season,. presenting  a new set of challenges for SEC teams that typically schedule easy non-conference opponents to start their seasons. With no easy victories to pad their records, these schools will be finding themselves in unusual positions that may include a losing record just a few weeks into the schedule. Week Two saw the cream of the crop in college football’s best conference all come home with victories, along with a couple recent bottom feeders making moves. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt was not one of them. These rankings are certainly not a projection of how the season will end, and expect fluctuation in the upcoming weeks. 

 

1. Alabama

Alabama is the unquestioned leader of the power rankings so far. The Crimson Tide had the best recruiting class in the country in 2019, and the second best recruiting class coming into this season. That talent is now hitting the field alongside three senior offensive lineman and a returning quarterback in Mac Jones who was able to get a handful of games under his belt last year due to Tua Tagovailoa’s hip injury. After losing two receivers to top-15 picks of the NFL draft this past year, the receiving core in Tuscaloosa is seemingly just as dangerous with projected first-round picks Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith accounting for 428 yards and 4 TDs in two weeks. This is all before we even get to the defense—ina program led by a defensive coach. This program is a powerhouse for a reason. Right now, the SEC is their conference to lose. 

 

2. Florida

The fourth-ranked Florida Gators took care of business once again defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks, 38-24. The Gamecocks kept it close through the majority of the first half but were eventually outmatched by Gators’ quarterback Kyle Trask. After a fumble leading to a South Carolina touchdown early in the second quarter, Trask led his Gators to score 24 unanswered points and put a stop to any possibility of an upset in Gainesville. Trask threw four touchdown passes in the victory, adding to his whopping ten touchdowns through two games. The Gators will be traveling to Kyle Field next week to face 21st-ranked Texas A&M. 

 

3. Georgia

A strong recruiting class and a dominant 27-6 victory over visiting Auburn this past weekend have the Georgia Bulldogs at third. The defense has been stellar, coming away with four interceptions and only allowing 16 points through the first two games. However, Georgia is most vulnerable to slip in these rankings in the coming weeks. As steady as their defense has been, their offense falls on the other end of the spectrum. Their Week One matchup against Arkansas was an offensive disaster when it took the Bulldogs 39 minutes of game time to score their first touchdown. Former walk-on Stetson Bennett has been serviceable, but is clearly not a championship-level signal caller. USC transfer J.T. Daniels will likely take over the helm when healthy, but with a shortened training camp and a new system, it’s tough to guess how well he will play. Georgia holds this spot. For now, at least.

 

4. Auburn

There were not a lot of positives to take away from the 27-6 beating the Auburn Tigers took at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs scored early in the first quarter and never looked back, taking full control of the game from start to finish. Auburn surrendered 442 yards to the Bulldogs and was only able to generate a measly 216 yards of offense. The Tigers could not gain any momentum in either their passing or rushing attack and did not resemble anything close to a top-ten team. The tough loss could be attributed to a formidable Georgia team as Auburn should look to return to form next week as they host Arkansas.

 

5. LSU 

LSU lost 14 players to the NFL draft last year, including five in the first round. And of course, one of them was quarterback Joe Burrow, who put together one of the best seasons by a player in the history of college football. Ja’Marr Chase, the projected best receiver in college football, also opted out of the season due to COVID concerns. Please do not overreact after Week One saw LSU lose  to Mississippi State with first year head coach Mike Leach, who is notorious for his air raid passing system and absurd number of points scored. LSU returned to form against Vanderbilt on Saturday with a 41-7 victory, showing off their speed and an improved offensive line. This team needs some time with so many new pieces, and they could be fighting for a top spot on this list by season’s end. 

 

6. Tennessee

The Tennessee Volunteers have done everything that has been expected of them thus far this season, as they remain perfect through two games. Tennessee even extends their win streak to eight, dating back to last season. The 14th-ranked Volunteers marched through the Missouri Tigers, beating them 35-12. Tennessee established the run game against Mizzou as running backs Eric Gray and Ty Chandler rushed for 105 and 90 yards, respectively, while both scoring a touchdown. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano added another two on the ground to contribute to the blowout. The Volunteers have their first real test of the season as they head to Athens to play Georgia next week. 

 

7. Ole Miss

Mississippi may be the most intriguing team in the SEC to watch in the next few weeks. After dropping 35 on Florida in a season-opening loss, the Rebels went into Lexington and beat Kentucky in overtime. With 715 yards, seven touchdowns and only one interception so far, Quarterback Matt Corral looks poised to have a breakout sophomore season. He also adds versatility in the run game, as he rushed for 50 yards in both games so far. Mississippi gets Alabama at home next week, so do not expect to see this team move up in the rankings right away, but as 23.5-point home underdogs, there is hope that Mississippi can keep it close. 

 

8. Mississippi State

Mike Leach took over the head coach position for the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the start of this season and immediately made waves, as they defeated the reigning national champion LSU Tigers. Though LSU has a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball, the win was still a major statement. Mississippi State did not enjoy the same success this week as they lost to Arkansas 21-14, giving the Razorbacks their first SEC win since 2017. Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello was unable to replicate any part of his 623-yard,five-touchdown pass performance from a week ago. Instead, he threw three interceptions, including a pick-six on the opening drive. Mississippi State will look to get back on track next week as they face the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington. 

 

9. Arkansas 

Arkansas deserves congratulations for receiving both their first SEC win and highest power rankings spot in over two years. While the offense is still struggling, Florida transfer Feleipe Franks at least provides the Razorbacks with some experience at quarterback. Their defense, on the other hand, has been respectable. They held Georgia to five points in the first half in Week One, and then went on the road to Mississippi State and won. A week after Mike Leach and KJ Costello exploded for over 600 passing yards and five touchdowns, Arkansas’ defense held the Bulldogs to a meager 14 points. This team is not great, and it may not even be good, but for the first time in years it is not terrible. Ninth seems about right. 

 

10. Texas A&M

The Texas A&M Aggies have been far from impressive this year, as they only narrowly beat the Vanderbilt Commodores last week and got decimated by the Alabama Crimson Tide, losing 52-24. The Aggies allowed more points than any other team in the SEC this week, as they had no means of stopping the Alabama passing game. Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond looked better this week than he did last week against the Commodores but still was not enough to match the potent Crimson Tideoffense. Despite failing to meet expectations through two games, the Aggies remain 21st in the AP Top-25 Poll. Texas A&M will have another tough matchup this week as they host the fourth-ranked Florida Gators. 

 

11. Kentucky 

After losing wide receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. to the NFL Draft this year, Kentucky needed to figure out what to do without one of the most unique players in college football last season. Evidently, they did not change much, as the Wildcats continue to run the football at a startling pace. They totalled 56 carries and 408 yards on the ground while tallying 41 points, so their offense is not the problem. The problem lies on the defensive side of the ball—Kentucky’s defense just needs to be serviceable, and so far it has failed to be. By running the ball so frequently, Kentucky is going to shorten the game, limit positions and control the clock. Taking a loss after scoring 41 points on 56 carries is astounding, this team will not win until they figure that out. A kicker that could make the game-tying extra point in overtime would probably be helpful as well. 

 

12. South Carolina 

The South Carolina Gamecocks extended their losing streak to two as they lost 38-24 on the road against Florida. The Gamecocks are one of four winless teams in the SEC, but their schedule to this point of the season has not done them any favors. Back-to-back matchups against top-25 opponents is never an easy way to start the season, though the Gamecocks have shown some promise. They lost to Tennessee in a one-possession game last week and kept it close with the Gators through the majority of the first half before eventually falling apart on the defensive end. There are certainly some bright spots for this Gamecocks team, they just have not manifested themselves in the win column yet. Next week, South Carolina will come to the Music City to battle another winless team in the Vanderbilt Commodores. 

 

13. Vanderbilt 

The Vanderbilt Commodores are full of promise and hope for the future, but that is not enough to boost them up the rankings. Through two games, it seems like they still lack the athleticism and speed to compete at a high level in the SEC. The Commodores will be underdogs in every game they play this year, and for good reason, considering they have a true freshman starting at quarterback, a patchwork offensive line and no players on the outside that would start at another school in the conference. Nonetheless, the run game has shown some promise, the defensive line has played up to the standards of an SEC football team, and quarterback Ken Seals has shown poise in his first two college starts. Yes, this team is 13th. Yes, that’s where they should be. But the future is bright. 

 

14. Missouri 

The Missouri Tigers lost to Tennessee 35-12, marking their second double-digit defeat in two games. First-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz has not been able to translate the success he had with Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Conference to his new Mizzou team, as he has faced a myriad of challenges thus far. The Tigers still have yet to name a starting quarterback, as both Connor Bazelak and Shawn Robinson have logged passes this season. Missouri will face their third AP Top-25 team of the season next week as they will face the 17th-ranked LSU Tigers.