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 5: Our Own Worst Enemy

With four teams in the AP Top 10 and another at No. 12, the SEC continues to dominate heading into Week 5 of the college football season.
Vanderbilt fell 62-0 to Georgia last Saturday (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly).

Seemingly, a power conference that won seven games and lost four in a single week would be the object of ridicule. The one problem with that logic when it comes to the SEC’s Week 4: every loss, save for one, came to another SEC team.

This week’s AP Top 25 rankings  features seven SEC teams— half of the conference—before a single program from the ACC, which boasted two teams in last year’s playoff. With this week’s only out-of-conference games coming against UConn and Troy, expect the SEC to clean house and retain at least three teams in the AP Top 10.

1. Alabama: 4-0

There isn’t much to say about this one, as the Crimson Tide are simply rolling. They are unequivocally the best team in college football right now. The only team that poses a plausible threat to them is Georgia, and only time will tell for that matchup. Quarterback Bryce Young has vaulted himself to the top of the Heisman race through the opening four weeks of the 2021 campaign. Looking forward, Alabama will take on the No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels in a heavily anticipated matchup this week. The duel between Young and Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral should generate some offensive fireworks all game.

2. Georgia: 4-0

Though taking a dramatic step down in competition since Week 1 against No. 25 Clemson, the Georgia Bulldogs have refused to take their paws off the brakes. Kirby Smart’s squad took the Vanderbilt Commodores to the pound last week with a season-high 62 points and 28 first downs. Georgia also got to use a lopsided second half in Week 4 to play their second-and-third-stringers for valuable minutes—meaning the entire roster should be ready to go this week against the No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks. With College Gameday in Athens this weekend and eight consecutive SEC games on the horizon, Georgia will need to remain on its “A” game to hold its spot at No. 2 in the country and the conference.

3. Florida: 3-1

Florida will travel to Kroger Field to face an undefeated Kentucky team this week, where quarterback Emory Jones will look to stay on track after playing his best game as a Gator last week. Jones threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the Gators’ blowout victory against Tennessee. Perhaps even more paramount was that he played his first clean game of the 2021 season, not committing any turnovers after throwing five interceptions through his first three games. He’ll attempt to extend his clean streak to two straight games this week against a below average Kentucky defense.

4. Arkansas: 4-0

Woo Pig Sooie! With a 20-10 victory over No. 15 Texas A&M, Sam Pittman and the Razorbacks are off to their first 4-0 start since 2003. Heading into the season, there was considerable concern about Arkansas’ ability to throw the ball. Such concerns have been largely assuaged thanks to the absolute dominance of wide receiver Treylon Burks, who ranks top 30 in the nation in total receiving yards (373) and yards per catch (19.6). The Razorback running game—currently averaging the eighth highest yards per game nationally at 261—has also proven to be elite. All of Arkansas’ prior accomplishments and experience are going to be put to the ultimate test this week against No. 2 Georgia, a game which will define whether they belong in the top tier of SEC programs or still rank just a hair below the elite teams.

5. Ole Miss 3-0

Ole Miss got to take last week off before a road trip to Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama in one of this weekend’s biggest games. Last year’s 48-point performance by the Rebels was the most any offense managed to tally against a stellar Crimson Tide defense. If Lane Kiffin wants to be the first blemish on Nick Saban’s current 23-0 record against former assistants, the Ole Miss offense will need to produce more of the same. That effort will begin and end with junior quarterback Matt Corral, who so far has thrown nine touchdowns without an interception and boasts the third-most yards per pass (10.4) of any quarterback in the country. How the Rebels’ middle-of-the-road defense deals with the explosiveness of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young will also be an important factor; however, if the future is anything like the past, Kiffin and company will embrace the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense.

6. Texas A&M: 3-1

Texas A&M may have won nine straight games against Arkansas before last week’s matchup, but the Aggies doomed their chances of a 1-0 start to SEC play a week prior when starting quarterback Haynes King was injured in the opening quarter against Colorado. Since then, the A&M offense has struggled mightily, putting up a combined 20 points against two Power Five opponents with new quarterback Zach Calzada. However, the Aggies’ defense—which is only one of two in the nation to allow fewer than 10 points per game—has continued to stifle opponents across the board. Until King returns, Texas A&M will continue to lean on its defense, especially this week as it takes on Mississippi State’s air raid scheme. 

7. Auburn: 3-1

Auburn’s Week 4 matchup with Georgia State was close. Maybe a little too close. Regardless, it wasn’t enough to warrant a drop in their AP Top 25 rankings, as the Tigers actually moved up a spot. The biggest story of the matchup was the benching of quarterback Bo Nix for LSU transfer quarterback TJ Finley. Finley certainly impressed, marching down the field and scoring a touchdown to take the lead with less than a minute remaining. The real question is this: Who will start at quarterback this week for Auburn in their matchup against LSU? Finley executed a clutch game-winning drive, but it’s hard to justify keeping a three-year starter with as much success as Bo Nix on the bench.

8. LSU: 3-1

LSU, riding a three-game win streak, enters their Week 5 home matchup with No. 22 Auburn with lofty expectations. The Tigers survived a late surge from Mississippi State in their 28-25 win last week behind four passing touchdowns from Max Johnson. Johnson has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers after Myles Brennan went down with an arm injury in the preseason, throwing for 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. If LSU makes it four straight victories, they should be able to make their way back into the Top 25 for the first time since their Week 1 loss to UCLA. 

9. Kentucky: 4-0

This is it, Kentucky! This week marks the Wildcats’ first opportunity to prove that they can contend with the heavyweights of the SEC, as they’ll take on Florida at home. In Kentucky’s previous game, they won a tight contest against South Carolina. While the Wildcats haven’t particularly impressed in their wins, they have still won, and there’s something to be said about that. Outside of Alabama, Florida hasn’t faced exceptionally quality teams, so it wouldn’t be completely outside of the realm of possibility to see an upset. It all starts with quarterback Will Levis. If he steps up to the plate, the Wildcats can pull it off.

10. Mississippi State: 2-2

The Bulldogs should look to recover after an arduous Week 4 loss against LSU that saw their comeback bid fall scant. It won’t be easy, though, as Mississippi State has to journey to Kyle Field to face No. 15 Texas A&M. Quarterback Will Rogers has been nothing short of excellent this year, with 11 touchdowns to only two interceptions. He also leads the SEC in passing yards. Granted, this isn’t completely out of the ordinary. As a quarterback in the famous Mike Leach “Air Raid” system, he throws the ball significantly more than everyone else, but he’s still completing passes at a stellar rate of 75 percent. The Aggies boast an absolutely stout defense, so its matchup against Rogers and high-flying Mississippi State offense should be, in a word, explosive. 

11. Missouri: 2-2

The Tigers suffered an absolutely heartbreaking overtime loss last week against Boston College. An ill-advised throw by quarterback Conor Bazelak resulted in an interception, ending the game in a 41-34 victory for BC. This week, Missouri will face the Tennessee Volunteers in a battle of the bottomfeeders. If last week’s defensive performance from the pair is any indicator of what is to come, then fans should be in for an offensive spectacle. As conference-only play is approaching, both teams are desperate to win, as neither have won an SEC game yet. One team will progress to 1-1 in SEC play, while the other will fall to an abysmal 0-2. 

12. Tennessee: 2-2

The Volunteers looked really competitive for the first half against No. 10 Florida. Then, they didn’t. After leading 14-10 early in the second quarter, Tennessee allowed 28 straight points to close out their first conference game. The Volunteer defense looked particularly inept, allowing Florida quarterback Emory Jones to post a season high in both passing and rushing yards. A 423-yard and turnover-free performance from the offense is nothing to scoff at; however, given that 423 yards and zero turnovers translated into zero points, Josh Heupel and the coaching staff still have some soul searching to do. Hopefully that search ends more smoothly than the one that hired Greg Schiano. Otherwise, Tennessee might have a hard time this week as it faces competent SEC East opponent Missouri.

13. South Carolina: 2-2

Although an 0-2 start to SEC play might be disappointing to some fans, there is a bright side to the state of the Gamecocks’ program—they have the same record as in-state rival Clemson. Last week’s matchup against Kentucky marked a third consecutive game of 20 points or fewer from the South Carolina offense, something which will definitely need to improve if they seek to move beyond the bottom tier of the SEC East. The loss to the Wildcats wasn’t all bad. Sophomore quarterback Luke Doty showed signs of improvement from the week prior with 6.3 yards per pass, and the defense held Kentucky to a season-low 16 points. South Carolina will look to improve to 3-0 in non-conference games with a match against Troy this weekend.

14. Vanderbilt: 1-3

About last week…Vanderbilt did manage to hold Georgia to a mere three points in the second quarter. Unfortunately, that was after giving up 35 points in the first 15 minutes—the most in an SEC game in over 20 years. Sophomore linebacker Ethan Barr was able to snag his first career interception, so there was at least one bright spot in the Commodores’ performance. Outside of that, a pitiful 1.3 yards per pass and 1.9 yards per carry—compared to 10.4 yard per pass and 5 yards per carry allowed—on top of three turnovers translated into an early blowout in Nashville. Clark Lea and company will look to bounce back as a two-touchdown favorite this week against UConn. After the Huskies, it will be seven straight weeks of SEC opponents to finish out the season.

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman
Aiden Rutman, Sports Editor
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Jayce Pollard
Jayce Pollard, Non-revenue Sports Specialist
Jayce Pollard (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy and economics and minoring in data science and Spanish. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can catch Jayce trying to learn the rules of soccer, hating on the Arkansas Razorbacks and being chronically on Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected]
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