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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 Nine: Tide, Gators cruise

The Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida Gators just keep cruising.
Ken Seals throws on the sidelines against the Florida Gators on Nov. 21, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

After a tumultuous November full of postponements and COVID-related complications, the end of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) season is beginning to take shape. Every team has played at least six games and is scheduled to play each of the next three weekends if necessary. Some teams will play their tenth games on the day of the SEC championship on Dec. 19. Of course, there will likely be more cancellations and COVID-19 outbreaks, but the SEC organizers will hope that, as students go home for Thanksgiving break, the football programs can stay COVID-free and complete their ten-game seasons.

Alabama and Florida remain the top two teams and the most likely championship matchup, while Vanderbilt and Mississippi State stay at the bottom of the power rankings, where they have been for the last couple weeks. Between the top and bottom, there has been a lot of movement, with LSU jumping four spots and Arkansas falling three after LSU’s 27-24 win. Missouri also had a good week, jumping up three spots, while Kentucky fell a couple spots following a brutal, 63-3 loss to Alabama. Check out the rest of the power rankings below.

1. Alabama (7-0, 1st West)

Alabama remains the top team in the SEC. After two weeks off due to a scheduled bye and a COVID-related cancellation, the Crimson Tide returned to the field this weekend and embarrassed Kentucky 63-3. Alabama has been dominant all season, and after a shaky start, the defense has begun to find its footing. In their last two games, they have surrendered just three points. On the offensive side, despite the quarterback play that has put Mac Jones in the Heisman Trophy conversation, it was the run game that overpowered Kentucky, with five rushing touchdowns from four different players.

Alabama plays the Iron Bowl against Auburn this weekend, and since they have the head-to-head tiebreaker against Texas A&M, they will only need to win two of their final three games to secure a spot in the SEC Championship game. The College Football Playoff committee released their first rankings this week and had Alabama at No. 1. Should Alabama finish the season with less than two losses, it’s difficult to imagine a situation where they find themselves outside of the top four.

2. Florida (6-1, 1st East) 

After beating Georgia three weeks ago, Florida found itself in perfect position to win the SEC East. They have backed up that win with convincing wins over Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Quarterback Kyle Trask has continued his impressive campaign that has him positioned as the current favorite in the Heisman race. He leads the FBS in touchdowns while throwing just three interceptions over seven games.

Florida finishes the season with games against Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU, and given that they have the tiebreaker with Georgia, they will need to win two of the three for the SEC East title, a very achievable record for this talented Florida team. In order to earn a spot in the CFP, however, they will have to win out and beat Alabama in the SEC Championship. 

3. Texas A&M (5-1, 2nd West)

The Texas A&M Aggies have had a very good season since their week 2 loss to Alabama. They have been idle for two weeks but they were ranked fifth in the first edition of the CFP rankings. It is difficult, however, to imagine any realistic scenario where they finish in the top four. They would need to win out and hope that the committee appreciates the dominance of Alabama. 

The Aggies have four games left in the regular season, hosting LSU this weekend before traveling to Auburn and Tennessee in the following two weeks. They will have to be careful against an LSU team that seems to be improving after two weeks off.

4. Auburn (5-2, 3rd West) 

After two weeks off, Auburn took care of business against Tennessee this weekend. They put together a 30-17 win in a game that was closer than the score suggested. Smoke Monday had a 100-yard pick-six as Tennessee was in the red zone looking to take the lead in the third quarter, and it never got close again. 

Auburn has a massive showdown against Alabama this weekend. Head coach Gus Malzahn will have to find a way to slow down an Alabama offense that has been on fire all season, which should prove to be a daunting task. A win could give Auburn a chance to win the West, if Alabama loses another game and they beat Texas A&M the following week. 

5. Georgia (5-2, 2nd East) 

Georgia took a bit of a fall this week after an unconvincing 31-24 win over Mississippi State. In a game that was tied after three quarters, Georgia showed their regression on defense as they were unable to win handily over one of the lesser teams in the conference. Quarterback JT Daniels had a very good game throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns. The lack of quarterback consistency has hurt Georgia all season, but they hope that the sophomore quarterback will be a longer-term solution.

Georgia travels to South Carolina this week as they look to finish the season strong and earn a spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. 

6. Missouri (3-3, 3rd East) 

Like many teams in the SEC, Missouri had two weeks off before beating South Carolina 17-10. In a game that was closer to the low-scoring defensive struggles that have characterized the SEC in years past, Missouri did just enough to hold on to an early lead. Linebacker Nick Bolton lead the team with eight tackles and six assists, while his partner Devin Nicholson chipped in with an interception and a half sack. 

Missouri’s schedule gets easier over the next two weeks as they face the two teams at the bottom of these power rankings, hosting Vanderbilt before traveling to take on Mississippi State. Given their favorable schedule they should earn a spot in a bowl game, and should Georgia lose, they could find themselves in second place in the SEC East.

7. Ole Miss (3-4, 5th West) 

After starting the season 1-4, Ole Miss has won their last two games in impressive fashion. Their defense has been struggling all season, giving up over 40 points a game, but the offense has started to find its groove. Quarterback Matt Corral has thrown for a combined 59-66 for 925 yards and ten touchdowns to zero interceptions over his last two games. If he can keep playing to this level, the Rebels can beat anybody.

After a week off, Ole Miss hosts Mississippi State before traveling to LSU. If they can win two of their final three games, they will likely find themselves participating in postseason play.

8. LSU (3-3, 4th West) 

LSU made the biggest jump after a gritty 27-24 win over Arkansas. After 2 weeks off due to byes and COVID-19, the Tigers jumped out to an early lead and held on in the second half. Running back Tyrion Davis-Price ran for 104 yards and a touchdown, highlighting LSU’s commitment to the run. Quarterback TJ Finley made the most of his opportunity, and he should retain the starting role after his two-touchdown, zero-interception performance.

LSU travels to Texas A&M this weekend for a tough matchup with the Aggies, but they hope to win two of their final four games to avoid being just the second defending National Champion to finish the season with a losing record.

9. Arkansas (3-5, 6th West) 

Arkansas took the biggest drop this week, after a 27-24 loss to LSU forced a look past the talent to the reality of Arkansas as a 3-5 team with wins over lowly teams like Tennessee, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Against LSU last weekend, the Razorbacks held a four-point lead in the fourth quarter before surrendering a four-minute touchdown drive and missing a 44-yard field goal on their ensuing drive. 

Arkansas is idle this weekend before going to Alabama next Saturday to take on the Crimson Tide. Their talent could give them a chance for an upset that seems unlikely, given just how dominant Alabama has been.

10. Kentucky (3-5, 4th East) 

Kentucky, much like South Carolina, had a 2-2 start to the season and reasons to be optimistic. Then, their offense lost its rhythm. In their three losses over their last four games, they have averaged 5.3 points per game, and last week they suffered a 63-3 loss at Alabama. It was the first game in which their defense—a solid unit to-date—looked totally lost. 

This week, they go to Florida to take on a very good Gator team that will be looking to secure an SEC East title. They will need to improve dramatically on both sides of the ball to have a chance for an unlikely upset.

11. South Carolina (2-6, 6th East) 

At one point the South Carolina season had a lot of promise. They were 2-2 after upsetting a ranked Auburn team and playing well on both sides of the ball. They have proceeded to lose their next four games by an average of almost 25 points, including a 17-10 loss to Missouri last week. Star cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu have opted out of their remaining games to focus on preparations for the NFL Draft after the firing of head coach Will Muschamp.

The Gamecocks finish the season by hosting Georgia before traveling to Kentucky for their season finale. Interim head coach Mike Bobo will face the challenge of motivating his players after the loss of their defensive leaders.

12. Tennessee (2-5, 5th East) 

Tennessee has continued their disappointing fall from being a ranked team over the first couple weeks of the season. They have lost five games in a row, and all of them have been by multiple scores. Last week they lost 30-17 to Auburn, and they showed signs of life before quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw a back-breaking red-zone interception that was returned for a touchdown. 

Tennessee’s schedule does not get any easier. They have a week off this week before hosting Florida and Tennessee, making it unlikely that they finish their season with any more than three wins. They will provide Vanderbilt’s best chance to pick up a win in the season finale.

13. Mississippi St (2-5, 7th West)

Since a season-opening victory over LSU, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have been unimpressive. They have rebounded from their mid-season offensive slump scoring 24 points in each of their last two games. They continue to rely on the passing attack in Mike Leach’s air raid offense, racking up 98 passing attempts compared with 24 rushing ones over their last two games. Will Rogers has replaced KJ Costello as the starting quarterback, after starting the season as the backup and splitting time through the middle of the season.

Mississippi State travels to take on Ole Miss this weekend, before hosting Auburn and Missouri to close out their season. They will hope to pick up a win or two but will likely finish last in the stronger West regardless. 

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

Vanderbilt’s record may not show it, but the Commodores have been improving. They played one-score games against Mississippi State and Kentucky before keeping it competitive in the first half against Florida. Ken Seals continues to look like an effective quarterback, and the timely use of some Mike Wright packages seems to have fixed some of the red zone woes. The Commodores will look for the return of running back Keyon Henry-Brooks as they finish out their season.

On Tuesday, the SEC announced that Vanderbilt would be travelling to Missouri to take on the Tigers this weekend, postponing their scheduled matchup with Tennessee. The Tennessee game is likely the best chance for Vanderbilt to pick up a win, but they could pull off an upset on Saturday as the desire to avoid an 0-10 season starts to kick in.

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About the Contributor
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].    
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