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 12: The Samford Air Raid Offense

The FCS Samford Bulldogs drop 52 in a loss against the stumbling Gators.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Elijah McAllister celebrates his first career interception against Florida on Oct. 9, 2021. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Naturally, the two best teams in college football, let alone the SEC, sit atop our power rankings but the rest of the spots are up for grabs. Right when  it seemed that Texas A&M had secured their spot as number three, Ole Miss defeated the Aggies and claimed their top three spot in the rankings. Elsewhere, in wake of the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma in route to becoming the college superconference, the Samford Bulldogs are making their case to join after an impressive offensive performance against Florida that included 52 more points on the board than Vanderbilt managed to put up.

1. Georgia : 10-0

The most dominant team in college football demonstrated yet again that they are second to none after stomping Tennessee 41-17 in Knoxville. However, despite the lopsided final score, the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs found themselves trailing by their biggest margin of the season after the Volunteers scored a touchdown on the opening drive. Tennessee pulled off an impressive feat and were even able to hold onto a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. But any hopes of upsetting the Bulldogs faded after Georgia scored 17 points unanswered in the second quarter, part of their 27-0 run that went into the fourth quarter. The Georgia Bulldogs completed a sweep of their SEC schedule for the first time since 1982. For a bit of perspective of how good this Georgia team is, their current margin of victory is 31.1 points per game and 31.9 in SEC play. Both margins are the highest of any SEC team in the BCS era—yes, better than the 2019 LSU Tigers and the 2008 Florida Gators. Georgia is positioned as the favorite to win the national championship and have shown no signs of slowing down. Georgia will be facing Charleston Southern University at home next Saturday. 

2. Alabama: 9-1

The Tide predictably destroyed New Mexico State on Saturday afternoon, winning 59-3. Heisman favorite Bryce Young had an ultra-efficient day, completing over 90 percent of his passes and tossing five touchdowns. Wide receiver Jameson Williams had a big day as well, as he was on the receiving end of three of Young’s touchdown passes. Alabama has had another spectacular season thus far, and their sole loss to Mississippi State looks less egregious by the week, as the Bulldogs have gone on to beat formidable opponents and have a strong campaign of their own. SEC fans are in for a treat on Dec. 4, as the Tide are on a collision course with No. 1 Georgia to meet in the SEC Championship. Alabama plays next against No. 21 Arkansas this Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

3. Ole Miss: 8-2

The No. 15 Ole Miss Rebels are coming off their most impressive victory of the season, after defeating the No. 11 Texas A&M Aggies 29-19 in Oxford. Lane Kiffin and the Rebels’ high-octane offense led by Heisman candidate Matt Corral has been their key to success throughout this season, but the Ole Miss defense helped put away the Aggies early. Texas A&M had zero points and 89 yards of total offense through the first half while also giving up a safety on an Isaiah Spiller rush; Ole Miss was up 15-0 at the end of the first half. Ole Miss intercepted the Aggies on back-to-back possessions, including a pick-six by free safety AJ Finley, that ultimately put away the Aggies. Corral threw for 248 yards while being complimented by a strong performance on the ground by Jerrion Ealy, who racked up 150 yards on 23 carries. While Ole Miss is highly unlikely to overthrow Alabama as the leader of the SEC West, they are poised to be one of the strongest teams outside the College Football Playoff—especially if their defense can continue this level of play. Next week, the red-hot Rebels will host the beloved Vanderbilt Commodores. 

4. Texas A&M: 7-3

Well, after being high on Texas A&M all week, they disappointed those who had their faith in them to take the next step, losing to Ole Miss 29-19. It was a disappointing outing for Zach Calzada, as he completed just over 50 percent of his passes and threw zero touchdowns to two interceptions. The Aggies turned things around offensively in the second half, scoring all 19 of their points in the last two frames. Despite this, they could not recover from a lethargic start, and were essentially beaten in every facet of the game by Ole Miss. Thus, the fluctuations and shifts of the middle of the SEC continue, as yet another team that looked like it could take the next step has been knocked down a peg. Texas A&M will have a get back on track game against Prairie View on Saturday at home.

5. Arkansas: 7-3

“Such a hard-fought game. It was ugly, beautiful and all in between,” were the words Arkansas coach Sam Pittman had to say after grinding out a 16-13 double overtime victory against the LSU Tigers. The No. 25 Arkansas Razorbacks were outgained on offense by the Tigers but forced three turnovers total while not committing any of their own. Arkansas cornerback Montaric Brown forced a crucial interception on a fade pass during the first overtime. The Razorbacks converted on a field goal to seal the game during the subsequent overtime period. In a game that only featured one touchdown per team, special teams were of the utmost importance. Freshman kicker Cam Little delivered for the Razorbacks, nailing all three of his field goal attempts, including the game winner. The Razorbacks have a daunting task next week as they travel to Tuscaloosa to face No. 2 Alabama. 

6. Kentucky: 7-3

Kentucky snapped their three-game skid on Saturday in Nashville, beating Vanderbilt 34-17. The Wildcats got out to an early lead and never looked back. Quarterback Will Levis was not overly impressive, only completing 14 of 22 passes for less than 200 yards, but it was enough to get the job done. Chris Rodriguez dominated on the ground, averaging over 7 yards a carry, and star receiver Wan’Dale Robinson found the end zone yet again. After the win, head coach Mark Stoops was rewarded in the form of a contract extension through June 2027. Although this was not the conclusion Kentucky pictured to their season after their 6-0 start, seven wins and counting is nothing to sneeze at. Kentucky will wrap up their season with two nonconference games, with the first this Saturday against New Mexico State.

7. Mississippi State: 6-4

Mississippi State continues to rise to the level of their competition, as their 43-34 victory on the road against No. 17 Auburn marks their third win against a ranked SEC opponent this season. The Bulldogs were getting annihilated as they were down the infamous score of 28-3 midway through the second quarter. Mississippi State had no answer for the Box Nix-led Auburn offense. However, the Bulldogs remained resilient and scored 40(!) points unanswered to close the game. The comeback was led by quarterback Will Rogers who threw for 415 yards and six touchdowns, five of which came in the second half. Despite a disastrous first half for the Mississippi State defense, Bulldogs defensive coordinator Zach Arnett made some critical halftime adjustments and only allowed one touchdown in the second half. Mississippi State improved to 6-4 and will host Tennessee State this Saturday. 

8. Auburn: 6-4

It’s been a tough stretch for the Tigers. They fell out of the national ranks after being upset by Mississippi State at home. They jumped out to a commanding 18-point lead heading into the locker room, but were outscored by a jaw-dropping 33-6 in the second half. It was a relatively sloppy game for Auburn as they committed nine penalties for 86 yards and also lost a fumble. To make matters worse, quarterback Bo Nix suffered a broken ankle in the defeat. The last two weeks have certainly cast a shadow over what had been a strong first season for head coach Bryan Harsin. Back-to-back losses to in-conference rivals may prove that Auburn is not quite ready to rise to the upper tier of the SEC, despite looking formidable early on. The Tigers will look to right the ship against South Carolina on Saturday night on the road.

9. Tennessee:  5-5

The Tennessee Volunteers played about as well as they could have against the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs losing 41-17. The Volunteers held the biggest lead any team has had over Georgia all season when they scored the opening touchdown, and even managed to hold on to a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Fifteen minutes of winning football against Georgia is more than any other Bulldog opponent can boast. No team this season has scored more points against Georgia than the Volunteers. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker had one of his worst outings of the season, throwing a tied for season-low one touchdown while also throwing an interception out of his three all season. Tennessee should be seeking redemption next week as they host the South Alabama Jaguars.

10. LSU: 4-6

LSU lost to Arkansas on an overtime field goal, 16-13. Running back phenom Tyrion Davis-Price rumbled for 106 yards, continuing his impressive season. The Tigers have had one of the most disappointing seasons based on preseason expectations, but they again showed flashes of their competence against a fierce SEC opponent. In the last three weeks, they lost by two scores to Ole Miss, one score to Alabama and took Arkansas to overtime. The Tigers may be 4-6, but they have proved they can make it interesting against nationally ranked opponents. It will definitely be intriguing to see how this historic program progresses after this season, as they will part ways with head coach Ed Ogeron just two years after winning the National Championship. LSU will have an easier task on Saturday as they take on Louisiana-Monroe in Baton Rouge.

11. Missouri: 5-5

The Missouri Tigers escaped with a narrow victory over SEC West rival South Carolina, with a final score of 31-28. Mizzou running back Tyler Badie was the man of the day for the Tigers as he ran all over the Gamecock defense for a whopping 209 yards while also adding a rushing touchdown. Despite a close finish, Missouri outgained South Carolina 438 to 250 and even went up 31-14 early in the fourth quarter. On top of Badie’s score, Mizzou quarterback Connor Bazelak added two touchdowns through the air and Columbia native and defensive captain cornerback Martez Manuel forced a fumble in the end zone. The fumble was recovered by defensive lineman Trajan Jeffcoat for a touchdown. The game appeared to be wrapped up if it were not for a Mookie Cooper fumble and a Connor Bazelak interception that both led to South Carolina touchdowns. Despite the late-game adversity, six carries by Badie on the final drive let Mizzou run down the clock for the win. The Tigers will host the Florida Gators next week in a divisional battle of .500 teams. 

12. South Carolina: 5-5

Just a week after a big win over Florida, the Gamecocks dropped a close one to Missouri, losing 31-28. South Carolina put up a valiant effort, specifically in the fourth quarter when they scored 14 points, but could not overcome three costly turnovers. Among many problems with this team, South Carolina’s run defense has been horrendous, almost consistently giving up more yards to backs than their season averages. This program still has a long way to go before they can be classified as a contender in the SEC. They will look to steal one on Saturday night when they host a struggling Auburn squad.

13. Florida: 5-5 

The Florida Gators basketball—sorry, football—team beat the Samford Bulldogs at home, 70-52. This game felt like a Madden game onArcade mode, as there was virtually no defense being played whatsoever. The Gators covered the over on the game (68.5) by themselves. Florida racked up 717 total yards, led by quarterback Emory Jones, who threw for 464 yards and six touchdowns while also being the Gators’ leading rusher with 86 yards and a touchdown. Gator running back Dameon Pierce added two touchdowns on the ground as well. As great as the Gators offense looked, the defense gave up 529 yards of offense to a Samford team facing their first and only Power Five opponent on their schedule. While Florida coach Dan Mullen must be impressed with the offensive showcase the Gators put on, he must be equally outraged by the performance of his defense, or lack thereof. The lackluster season for the Gators continues as they prepare to march to Columbia to face the Missouri Tigers this Saturday. 

14. Vanderbilt: 2-8

The Commodores were topped by Kentucky, 34-17. Starting quarterback Ken Seals went down with an injury, and backup Mike Wright impressed yet again, completing an efficient 7 of 11 of his passes and slinging two touchdowns. At the end of the day, Vanderbilt is just not ready to truly challenge a team like Kentucky, but they continue to make positive strides week after week. Something big for the Commodores this offseason will be figuring out their quarterback situation, as it’s hard to create a winning culture with the instability they have right now under center. Vanderbilt will travel to Ole Miss this weekend to take on the No. 10 Rebels.

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About the Contributors
Brett Needelman
Brett Needelman, Former Staff Writer
Brett Needelman ('23) is studying human and organizational development, economics and business in Peabody College. Brett is from a suburb of Chicago and is an avid believer that the Bulls will make the playoffs next season. You can reach him at [email protected].
Jonah Barbin
Jonah Barbin, Senior Staff Writer
Jonah Barbin (‘25) is majoring in human and organizational development and cinema and media studies. In addition to writing about sports, you can catch him acting, scouring the fantasy football waiver wire, playing golf and fantasizing about what Odell Beckham Jr.’s career would have been if the Giants never traded him. You can reach him at [email protected].
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