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

Power Rankings Week Six: Mid-Year report

The Hustler updates its power rankings as we head into the second half of SEC football season.
Truman McDaniel
Vanderbilt Football competes against Ole Miss on October 31st 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

As we reach the halfway point of the peculiar 2020 Southeastern Conference (SEC) football season, we see familiar teams in familiar places. Alabama at No. 1 and Vanderbilt at No. 14 provides a sense of familiarity that is refreshing during these unpredictable times. Georgia and Florida have a matchup this Saturday that could determine the SEC East, and barring a disaster, Alabama seems to be in control of the West.

 The teams in the middle are battling for potential spots in postseason bowl games and trying to break out of the clump of two-win teams across both divisions. Seven of the fourteen SEC teams currently have two wins, as middle tier teams of the SEC have been especially competitive. None of the six games last week were close, as all were decided by multiple scores. Some teams shined while others crashed and burned. The only surprising result was how badly LSU lost to Auburn, earning Auburn a spot above Texas A&M and pushing LSU below Tennessee.


1. Alabama (6-0 1st SEC West)

With a blowout 41-0 win over Mississippi State, Alabama remains the only unbeaten team in the SEC. Alabama decided to flex its defensive muscle in a smothering shutout display, allowing just 200 total yards. Those are both significant improvements on their season averages of 22 points per game allowed and 389.2 yards per game allowed. 

Alabama has hardly been tested so far this season, and they have yet to win a game by less than fourteen points. They are idle this week, with a game at LSU coming up after the bye. The only game on their schedule that figures to be close is a Nov. 28 showdown with Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but given that they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Texas A&M, it seems almost impossible that they will not be representing the West in the SEC championship game this year.

2. Georgia (4-1 1st SEC East)

Georgia, like Alabama, turned in a stifling defensive performance against a struggling Kentucky offense, allowing just three points en route to a 14-3 win. Their lackluster offensive performance under quarterback Stetson Bennett has been concerning, but so far this season they have won every game by double digits, except for a 17-point loss to Alabama. Still, a defense giving up just 16.2 points per game will give them a chance to compete every Saturday, and their offense, despite its struggles last week, has been putting up a solid 29.2 points per game.

This week Georgia faces a Florida team with whom they match up well. The Georgia defense will have to contain an explosive Florida offense if they want to win and take control of their destiny in the East. A rematch of last year’s Georgia-Alabama SEC championship game would not be surprising.

3. Florida (3-1 2nd SEC East)

Florida came from two weeks off to thrash a good Missouri team 41-17 with another impressive offensive performance. Florida is averaging over 40 points per game, and their only loss was on a last-second field goal to a talented Texas A&M team. Their superstar quarterback Kyle Trask has been connecting with projected first-round pick Kyle Pitts to the tune of 22 catches for 355 yards and seven touchdowns over four games. 

This week, Florida takes part in a marquee matchup with Georgia as their electric tandem of Kyles looks to upend Georgia’s plans for another bid to the SEC championship game. After Georgia, Florida does not play another nationally-ranked team, with their most competitive games being a Dec. 5 clash at Tennessee and a Dec. 12 game at home versus LSU.

4. Auburn (4-2 3rd SEC West)

Auburn was going through an unimpressive season since rolling to a 29-13 win in the season opener against Kentucky. They put up six points against Georgia and had close games against inferior teams including Arkansas and Ole Miss, sandwiched around a head-scratching loss to South Carolina. Last week, however, they showed their potential in a 48-11 blowout of LSU. Quarterback Bo Nix looked poised, completing 18/24 passes for 300 yards to go along with 81 yards rushing and four total touchdowns.

Auburn, like Alabama, has the week off before facing a struggling Mississippi State team. They finish the season with Alabama followed by Texas A&M, a daunting two-game stretch. They do still have an outside shot of making the SEC championship if Alabama loses a game and Auburn wins the Iron Bowl. But given Alabama’s performance so far this season, that seems rather unlikely.

5. Texas A&M (4-1 2nd SEC West)

Texas A&M had a slow start to the season. They gave Vanderbilt fans hope after a close, hard-fought 17-12 victory at Kyle Field. Since that game, the Aggies have improved significantly. They beat a very talented Florida team at home, and their only loss was at Alabama. Since beating Vanderbilt, they have averaged 33.8 points per game, and running back Isaiah Spiller is putting together an impressive season. With 512 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 6.0 yards per carry, he has taken some of the pressure off quarterback Kellen Mond to do everything for the Aggies.

Texas A&M plays a competitive South Carolina team this week, who has already shown Auburn what can happen if they are taken lightly. The biggest game left on the schedule is their season finale at Auburn, which will likely have serious bowl implications, although it is unlikely to impact the SEC championship game. Dropping two spots has less to do with the Aggies’ play and more to do with how impressive Auburn and Florida looked last week.

6. Missouri (2-3, 3rd SEC East)

Missouri has been a surprising team this season, and they remain at sixth in the power rankings despite getting blown out by Florida on Saturday, as LSU and Arkansas, the two teams behind them, both suffered double-digit losses. They haven’t exactly been impressive, but they have had one of the toughest schedules in the SEC. Quarterback Connor Bazelak has thrown just one interception on the season and ranks 20th in the FBS in ESPN’s QBR metric

Missouri has a week off before taking on Georgia, but after that, they find themselves with a number of winnable games and a very realistic chance of finishing at 5-5, more than exceeding expectations.

7. Arkansas (2-3, 4th SEC West)

As far as scheduling is concerned, Arkansas got the short end of the stick. They are the only team to play all five of the SEC teams currently ranked in the AP Top-25, as well as eight of the top ten teams in these power rankings. They have taken care of the lesser teams in the conference, and with the exception of their season-opening rout at the hands of Georgia, they have been competitive with the elites of the SEC, losing to Auburn by two and Texas A&M by 11. They have been led by senior quarterback Felipe Franks, who has thrown for 1,213 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games. 

Arkansas faces a Tennessee team looking to get off a three-game losing streak on Saturday, before facing Florida, LSU, Missouri, and Alabama in their final four games. Their best-case scenario is to go 3-2 and finish .500, likely earning their first postseason appearance since 2016.

8. Tennessee (2-3, 4th SEC East)

Tennessee was a ranked team at the beginning of the season and looked very impressive, starting 2-0 and riding high following a 23-point win against Missouri. But the last three games have been a disaster for the Volunteers. They move up a couple of spots in the power rankings because of some lackluster performances last weekend while they were idle, and because they should be able to use their bye to work out some of the issues with their defense. They have given up 126 points over the last three games, including 34 points to an otherwise unimpressive Kentucky offense.

Tennessee has likely the toughest schedule remaining, playing Texas A&M, Auburn, Florida and a resurgent Arkansas team. It’s hard to see them winning more than one of those four games and finishing better than 4-6.

9. LSU (2-3, 5th SEC West)

LSU was a team with extremely high expectations to start the season. Then they suffered a string of opt-outs but were still optimistic. Eyeing a repeat National Championship, they took the field against Mississippi State in Week One and promptly got shredded by Mike Leach’s air raid offense. They have failed to live up to expectations and have only beaten Vanderbilt and South Carolina. They have struggled to find a quarterback who supports their offense, and their defense has been porous. Against teams not named Vanderbilt, they have given up 40.3 points per game—it’s hard to win games doing that.

They are off this week, but they play nationally ranked Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M in their last five games, as well as a pair of talented teams in Arkansas and Ole Miss. It’s difficult to imagine how this LSU team finishes with a winning record, but perhaps they can fix their defensive issues over the bye week and come back playing loose without any of the expectations that were there to start the season.

10. South Carolina (2-3, 5th SEC East)

South Carolina is another interesting team. They have been incredibly inconsistent, beating Auburn, then turning around and losing by 28 to LSU the next week. They have shown the potential to be competitive in any game, behind elite corner play and an effective rushing attack, but they have also looked vulnerable. Running back Kevin Harris has had 535 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.8 yards per carry, highlighting their backfield.

The Gamecocks host Texas A&M this week as they look to pull off another upset. Looking at the rest of their season, they play Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Missouri in the final weeks as they hope to finish well enough to earn a bowl game appearance, after missing postseason play last year.

11. Kentucky (2-4, 6th SEC East)

Kentucky dropped two spots from last week’s power rankings following a second straight loss, albeit to SEC East leader Georgia. The Wildcats were largely unimpressive, especially on offense, where they have struggled to find a rhythm all season. Their defense, however, has been the strong point of the team all season. Kentucky would have the same record, 2-4 if their offense had zero points on the season; in every game they have won, their defense has outscored the other team’s offense. 

Kentucky has a week off before hosting Vanderbilt, and they should have a chance to boost their confidence before heading into matchups with Alabama and Florida in consecutive weeks. It’s difficult to imagine them winning either of those games, but wins against Vanderbilt and South Carolina would move them to 4-6, a respectable record on an all-SEC schedule.

12. Ole Miss (2-4, 6th SEC West)

Ole Miss moved up a spot in the power rankings after a convincing 54-21 win at Vanderbilt that was not even as close as the very lopsided score. Ole Miss’ offense, led by wide receiver Elijah Moore, who had 14 catches for 238 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, looked unstoppable, while their defense turned off in the second half and let Vanderbilt score a season-high 21 points. 

Ole Miss will have a bye week before finishing their season with games against South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and LSU. If quarterback Matt Corral continues to play to the level he played at against Vanderbilt, they could win three of those games and find themselves competing in a bowl game.

13. Mississippi State(1-4, 7th SEC West)

Rewind to Week One, and Mississippi State looked like a force to be reckoned with. They used their air raid offense to put up 44 points on LSU, who had decided to run man coverage all game. Flash forward four games later, and the air raid offense looks to be crumbling. Teams adjusted, they sat back, put three players on the line of scrimmage and dropped eight back in zone, and Mississippi State has had no response for it. They have scored just 30 points in their last four games, and nine of those points have been scored by the defense. They had a bye week to adjust to the new defenses and scored zero points against a struggling Alabama defense.

Despite all of that, Mississippi State are 18-point home favorites against Vanderbilt this week, and they should be able to pick up their second win of the season. Perhaps the Bulldogs can steal another game or two if they figure out their offense, but that is looking less likely each week. It’s them and Ole Miss competing to not finish last in the West.

14. Vanderbilt (0-4, 7th SEC East)

Vanderbilt was No. 14 in last week’s Power Rankings, and that was before an embarrassing 54-21 loss to Ole Miss. They showed some promise in Week One, keeping it close against the nationally-ranked Texas A&M Aggies, but since then, the Commodores’ closest game has been that 33-point loss to Ole Miss. Perhaps the only positive has been the play of true freshman quarterback Ken Seals, who has looked serviceable and should be a central focus on a team that hopes to be competitive in the coming years. This year, though, the team around him is just not good enough.


Looking forward, it’s very hard to see Vanderbilt winning a game. They are 18-point underdogs against Mississippi State, who have only scored 21 offensive points in their last four games. If Derek Mason doesn’t follow the rest of the SEC’s example and drop eight in zone coverage this week, it will be a lot worse than 18 points, and there is no reason to have confidence in him to do so.  There is no sugarcoating it: Vanderbilt football has been embarrassing and they do not look poised to improve.


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About the Contributors
Hunter Lee, Former Staff Writer
Hunter Lee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science studying economics. You can reach him at [email protected].    
Truman McDaniel, Former Multimedia Sports Specialist
Truman McDaniel (2023) is a student in the College of Arts & Science majoring in Environmental and Ecological Biology and Political Science. In his free time, he enjoys taking pictures, drinking coffee and watching movies. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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