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

SEC Power Rankings Week 3: Texas A&M Falls as Arkansas Shoots Up

After a week featuring several surprises in the conference slate of play, the SEC heads into an eventful Week Three.
Seals and Vanderbilt got their first win of the season on Saturday (Vanderbilt Athletics).

The second week of the college football season gave great insight into the current state of the SEC. Every team in the conference now has at least one win this season, as winless LSU and Vanderbilt both got their first victory of the year during Week Two. Meanwhile, most of the top dogs in the conference solidified their position, as the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Florida thoroughly dismantled weaker opponents. At the same time, teams like Texas A&M and Arkansas turned in shocking performances which significantly altered the outlook of the conference. 

After all the dust has settled, here’s how the SEC shapes up heading into Week Three. After a week filled mostly with weaker non-conference opponents, this week’s slate of games will offer several marquee matchups.

1. Alabama: 2-0

The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide had no problems dispatching their FCS opponent, the Mercer Bears, this past week en route to a decisive 48-14 victory. Although Nick Saban was worried about the “rat poison” of the positive expectations associated with his team, there was not enough rat poison in the world that would’ve helped the Bears this past weekend. Alabama got on the board first by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown and never looked back. Although quarterback Bryce Young was not nearly as prolific as in Week 1, he still picked apart the opposing defense to the tune of 227 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters of play. The Crimson Tide defense also provided a trademark performance, registering three sacks and two interceptions. Unfortunately, star linebacker Will Anderson suffered an injury during the game and remains day-to-day. Nick Saban and company can ill afford to lose a player of his caliber, especially as they travel to Gainesville this week for their first SEC game of the season against a dangerous Florida team.

2. Georgia: 2-0

It was kind of a snoozer this week for Georgia as they dismantled UAB 56-7 at home to move to 2-0 on the season. Starter JT Daniels sat for the contest due to a core injury that was aggravated in a Week 1 win over Clemson. Backup Stetson Bennett—who went 10-12 for 288 yards and five touchdowns against UAB—is also dealing with a lower back issue, but has still practiced this week. The Bulldogs will play host to the South Carolina Gamecocks this week in a battle of 2-0 squads, however Georgia should have no issue with the Gamecocks and first-year head coach Shane Beamer. Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs can sit and wait at No. 2 this week and watch as Alabama and Florida duke it out this weekend.  

3. Florida: 2-0

It’s clear through the first couple weeks of the season that Florida isn’t taking a step backwards from last year’s SEC championship appearance performance. After coming in fourth place in last week’s power rankings, the Gators move up one spot this week and have solidified themselves as contenders after handling their business against an outmatched USF team, winning 42-20. However, one massive question looms large over The Swamp: who should be the starting quarterback? To start the season, Dan Mullen has stood by Emory Jones as his starter, giving him every chance to shine after waiting his turn for the past several seasons. However, his play has been a mixed bag, as signified by this past week in which he only threw for 151 yards on 22 attempts and also threw two interceptions. Meanwhile, his backup, Anthony Richardson, has been nothing short of spectacular in the few snaps he’s played. He only threw three passes this past week, but completed every single one of them for 152 yards and two touchdown passes. Moreover, Richardson was just as dangerous on the ground, scampering for 115 yards and a touchdown in a performance reminiscent of a certain Gator legend who shares Richardson’s No. 15 jersey. When Florida takes on No. 1 Alabama this week, Dan Mullen will have quite the conundrum on his hands as to which quarterback will give the Gators the best chance of pulling off the big upset.

4. Ole Miss: 2-0

Ole Miss followed up an impressive Week 1 primetime victory over Louisville with a stomping of Austin Peay in Oxford. Junior Matt Corral tossed five touchdown passes as the Rebels cruised to a 54-17 win. Ole Miss led 37-7 at half in a game that was never close, and they’ll turn their attention to an old SEC foe this week—Tulane. The Rebels are two touchdown favorites over the Green Wave, however Tulane gave Oklahoma a run for its money in their opener, falling 40-35 to the Sooners in Norman. Ole Miss skipper Lane Kiffin described Tulane as an “SEC opponent”, so this will be another good test for the Rebels, who have been thoroughly impressive through the first two weeks of the season. Look for Corral and the Ole Miss offense, which has scored 97 points in two games, to continue to put up big numbers and control the flow of the game. 

5. Texas A&M: 2-0

Texas A&M may be the No. 7 team in this week’s AP Poll, but they looked like anything but a team worthy of that spot in their narrow 10-7 win over the Colorado Buffaloes. The Aggies trailed for 57 minutes of game action until finally mustering enough strength to score a go-ahead touchdown with 2:41 remaining in the game. Outside of the game-winning drive, Texas A&M’s offensive performance was nothing short of putrid, as both the passing and running games left much to be desired. Starting quarterback Haynes King left the game early with an injury and his replacement Zach Calzada only completed 18 of 38 passes in his absence. Calzada also fumbled the ball at the goal line midway through the fourth quarter, putting the Aggies’ hope of victory in severe jeopardy. Luckily for Texas A&M, its defense showed up in a big way and kept it in the game by holding Colorado to a mere 260 yards of total offense. Still, this past weekend’s game in Denver was a massive disappointment and consequently Texas A&M fell two spots in this week’s power rankings to No. 5. The Aggies will hope to make up lost ground this weekend against New Mexico.

6. Auburn: 2-0

To say that Auburn has had a less-than-difficult start to the season would be an understatement. The Tigers have outscored opponents 122-10 over the first two weeks of the season—putting up at least 60 points in each of their first two contests after a 62-10 shellacking of Alabama State this week. Former Vanderbilt head coach and now Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason has the Tiger defense playing just as fierce—Auburn has allowed less than 400 yards on the year thus far. Put simply, the Tigers have absolutely dominated their competition this year, Akron and Alabama State, but their schedule just got incredibly more difficult. The Tigers will travel to Happy Valley to face off against another former Commodore head coach in James Franklin and the Penn State Nittany Lions. It will easily be the biggest test of the season thus far, and we’ll get a glimpse at what Year 3 Bo Nix looks like against a real defense. With so much at stake, Auburn has the most potential to move up or down in the power rankings this week. 

7. Arkansas: 2-0 

Texas may not be back, but it looks like Arkansas very well may be. After demolishing the Longhorns 40-21 at home this past weekend, the Razorbacks have leapfrogged several of the teams ahead of them to take the seventh spot in this week’s power rankings. Arkansas dominated their opponent from the opening kickoff, running the ball at will, as the team finished with 333 yards rushing and four different players had at least 50 yards. On defense, Arkansas silenced an overhyped Texas offense. The Longhorns only managed 256 yards of total offense and did not have a drive of over 41 yards until they were already losing 33-7. Sam Pittman may only be in his second year as head coach of the Razorbacks, but this past week is undoubtedly the signature win of his tenure. Arkansas hopes to keep its momentum going this upcoming week as it prepares for a less demanding matchup with Georgia Southern.

8. Kentucky: 2-0

Kentucky did what Kentucky does under Mark Stoops on Saturday night. The Wildcats ran all over Missouri to the tune of 340 rushing yards in a 35-28 victory over the Tigers, securing a 2-0 start on the 2021 campaign. Feature back Chris Rodriguez Jr. had a fantastic performance, rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri. The Wildcats face Chattanooga and South Carolina over the next two weeks, so look for Kentucky to ascend up the power rankings with a potential 4-0 start and national ranking. 

9. LSU: 1-1

After a disappointing loss to open the season last week, LSU stays at No. 9 this week after defeating McNeese State, 34-7. Getting to play a weak FCS opponent was a welcome sight for the Tigers and they took full advantage of the opportunity. LSU’s defense, which struggled greatly the week before, gave a vintage performance against the Cowboys by only allowing 142 yards of total offense. Still, the game was not a total reversal of fortune for the Tigers, as their own offense continued to lag behind expectations. While quarterback Max Johnson threw for three touchdowns, the offense barely eclipsed 300 yards in an effort that left head coach Ed Orgeron frustrated. This week, LSU will continue their non-conference schedule with a home matchup against Central Michigan.

10. Missouri: 1-1

Missouri vs. Kentucky is often a good litmus test for both sides—both programs are pretty even in stature in the SEC East and the winner of this game usually finishes higher in the East division standings. Thus, it made sense that this was a hard-fought, 35-28 game. Yes, the Wildcats had their way on the ground—rushing for 340 yards total on the day—but this was a contest that was tied in the fourth quarter. Tiger’s starter Connor Bazelak threw for four touchdown passes on the road and will continue to lead the Missouri offense, especially as the schedule lightens up over coming weeks. 

11. Mississippi State: 2-0

After a week in which Mississippi State narrowly avoided an embarrassing loss to Louisiana Tech, the Bulldogs responded with a much improved effort in a 24-7 win against the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Mike Leach’s trademark pass-heavy offense was on full display in Starkville, as quarterback Will Rogers had quite the day. The sophomore gunslinger threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns, picking apart the Wolfpack secondary at will. However, Rogers did not secure the victory on his own, as he got plenty of help from his defense and special teams throughout the game. Mississippi’s State defense forced three turnovers, including two interceptions, and kick returner Lideatrick Griffin took the game’s opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Overall, the Bulldogs turned in a performance significantly better than the week prior and earned a modest bump up to the 11th spot in this week’s power rankings. Mississippi State will hope to continue its upward rise in the power rankings this week as they visit a formidable Memphis Tigers team.

12. Tennessee: 1-1 

Stop me if you’ve heard this before—it was a disappointing non-conference home loss that dropped Tennessee in the power rankings this week. The Volunteers built a 10-0 advantage on the Pittsburgh Panthers after one quarter, but the Panthers seized control of the contest from there on out and ran out of Neyland Stadium with a 41-34 victory. Volunteer starter Joe Milton left the game with an injury and did not return, but backup Hendon Hooker actually gave Josh Heupel’s offense a bit of a jolt. Now Tennessee has a bit of a quarterback controversy on their hands and, per usual, it seems like the drama never stops in Knoxville. 

13. South Carolina: 2-0 

It’s unusual to see an undefeated team start the season ranked so low in a conference power rankings list. While much of this ranking has more to do with the teams above it than South Carolina itself, South Carolina’s often head-scratching performance in their 20-17 win over the ECU Pirates earned them the penultimate spot this week. South Carolina struggled to create much offensive production against an ECU program which has failed to win more than four games in each of the past five seasons. In fact, the only time during the game that the Gamecocks held a lead over the Pirates was in the final moments, when kicker Parker White knocked through the game-winning kick. That being said, there were some positives on the defensive end for the Gamecocks. South Carolina intercepted two ECU passes, including a 63-yard pick-six by linebacker Damani Staley which gave South Carolina new life right before halftime. Still, South Carolina’s overall performance was uninspiring and would have assuredly resulted in a loss against any team of higher quality. South Carolina will have to get its act together quickly though, as they have the massive task of taking on Georgia this week in Athens.

14. Vanderbilt: 1-1

Through about five and a half quarters of play, it looked like Vanderbilt was on track to be one of the worst Power Five teams of all time. A week after getting blown out by ETSU, Vanderbilt found itself down 14-0 to Colorado State of the Mountain West Conference. Then, the Commodores resurrected themselves and changed the narrative of their season—dominating the rest of the contest and escaping Fort Collins with their first road win in over two years. Ken Seals (27-42 for 238 yards and 2 TDs) turned in a terrific second half to lead the Commodore offense, and the defense and special teams created a few huge plays to win the field position battle. Vanderbilt still sits at No. 14 in our rankings—but certainly not by as much as last week.

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About the Contributors
Bryce Smith, Former Sports Editor
Bryce Smith ('23) is majoring in human and organizational development in Peabody College with a minor in business. Bryce previously wrote for SBNation before joining The Hustler. Hailing from Chicago, Bryce is a die-hard Bears and Cubs fan who is also hoping that the Bulls and Blackhawks may one day rekindle their dominance. He can be reached at [email protected].    
Luke Mukundan, Former Staff Writer
Luke Mukundan ('22) was a staff writer for the Sports section born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. He majored in political science. Among other things, Luke is an avid film buff and an audiophile in the making. He is also a life-long Vanderbilt sports fan, which is, in fact, a real thing. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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