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 Week 13 Power Rankings: Bowl Eligibility and Revolving Doors

While the top teams in the conference continue to roll, the programs at the middle and bottom of the pack are fighting for bowl games and searching for new leadership.
Will+Sheppard+against+Florida
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt receiver Will Sheppard runs after a catch against Florida on Oct. 9, 2021. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

It has been an up and down year for every team in the SEC not named Georgia or Alabama. There has been confusion, struggles and setbacks almost every step of the way for the majority of the squads in this conference. 

Despite bad upsets, coaching changes and large falls from grace, many SEC teams finished the week with the classification of “bowl eligible,” an undoubted success in the progression of the college football season. With two teams most likely headed to the College Football Playoff, a slew of teams earning bowl eligibility and rebuilding programs showing promise for the future, the competitiveness of the conference going forward is looking as fierce as ever.

1. Georgia: 11-0

The best team in the nation and one that is starting to solidify themselves in the record books as one of the best to ever take the field, predictably cruised to a win over Charleston Southern, 56-7. Stetson Bennett again retained the starting job, with JT Daniels entering later when the game was already completely out of reach. This game was less about actual competition for the Bulldogs, especially after the first quarter, and more about enjoying the last game played in Sanford Stadium for the many graduating and NFL-bound players on the roster. Heisman candidate Jordan Davis was back at it again, dominating on the line and picking up a rushing touchdown in the process. This has been a special team to watch this season. They’ll attempt to cap off an undefeated season against rival Georgia Tech on Saturday before their SEC championship showdown against Alabama on Dec. 4.

2. Alabama: 10-1

The Tide won a close one over the Arkansas Razorbacks, 42-35. It was definitely a more competitive game than Alabama is used to, but it is both notable that the Razorbacks picked up a late touchdown to make the final score look closer and that they are a ranked opponent. This narrow win paired with a dominant Ohio State victory over Michigan State caused Alabama to slip to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 poll. Despite this switch, both Georgia and Alabama seem to be safely in the College Playoff picture, as long as nothing completely unpredictable happens in the next two weeks. It was another amazing outing for Heisman hopeful Bryce Young, as he threw for 559 yards and five touchdowns. Jameson Williams added a huge day on the receiving end of things, going for 190 yards and finding paydirt three times. Alabama will cap off the season with the Iron Bowl against Auburn before heading to Atlanta to take on Georgia in what will be the most anticipated game of the year.

3. Ole Miss: 9-2

The No. 8 Rebels won their third in a row, beating Vanderbilt 31-17. It was not a particularly impressive showing for a team coming off a huge win over Texas A&M a week before. Ole Miss was an atrocious 1 for 8 on third down, and failed their only attempt at a conversion on fourth down. Despite picking up another win, Matt Corral, the player at the top of NFL QB draft boards, was reportedly furious with his squad. Corral said after the game that they would be “blown out” if the team played the same way this week in the Egg Bowl. While this criticism is warranted, and is the mark of a leader of a good team, the game was never particularly close, and Corral tossed for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. It’s been a great campaign to this point for the Rebels, who will look to enter double-digit wins on Thanksgiving night at Mississippi State.

4. Texas A&M: 8-3

The Aggies cruised against Prairie View A&M, winning 52-3. Zach Calzada was ultra-efficient, picking up 150 yards and two touchdowns through the air on only 14 passing attempts. Texas A&M’s rushing game has been unparalleled all season, and it was no different in this game. The Aggies’ running back committee rumbled for 279 yards and four touchdowns. With the win, Texas A&M moved up to an impressive No. 14 in the nation. The Aggies will most likely be rewarded for their strong 2021 with the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando. Possible opponents are Iowa and Michigan State. Before the Aggies get to that, they will have to take care of business against LSU. They will face the Tigers on Saturday night in Baton Rouge.

5. Arkansas: 7-4

Arkansas played a surprisingly competitive game against Alabama, losing by a mere touchdown. With the exception of a costly fumble, quarterback KJ Jefferson put together a stellar performance under center, passing for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Treylon Burks lit up the stat sheet with 179 yards and two touchdowns before being injured and helped off the field in the closing minutes of the game. Indications from the Razorbacks are that the junior wide receiver should be good to go as the bowl games approach. Arkansas also notably played a clean game of football, only accruing 25 penalty yards and completing all three of their fourth down attempts. The Razorbacks will look to stay in the Top 25 when they host Missouri in the final game of their regular season on Friday afternoon.

6. Mississippi State: 7-4

The Bulldogs trampled Tennessee State, winning 55-10 and scoring 49 unanswered points. Will Rogers was dominant, tossing for nearly 400 yards and five scores. Mississippi State had three receivers go for at least 75 yards and a touchdown, with Austin Williams finding the end zone on three different occasions. It was a complete obliteration at Davis Wade Stadium, as the Bulldogs nearly tripled the total yardage of the Tigers. It was also a significant day for Will Rogers when it comes to the Mississippi State record books. Rogers broke the single season passing touchdown and yardage record for the Bulldogs, surpassing former Mississippi State QB and current NFL superstar Dak Prescott. The Egg Bowl is up next for the Bulldogs, as they will have a stout test against Matt Corral and Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night. When head coach Mike Leach was asked about the success of both teams’ offenses this season, he said, “Quarterbacks are key to both.” Rogers versus Corral will be an additional treat for college football fans as they digest their Thanksgiving feasts. 

7. Kentucky: 8-3

Kentucky took care of business against New Mexico State, topping the Aggies 56-16. Running back Chris Rodriguez continued a special junior season, rushing for 119 yards and a touchdown while averaging a jaw-dropping 7.4 yards per carry. Star receivers Wan’Dale Johnson and Josh Ali combined for 15 receptions, 345 yards and two touchdowns. Despite a mid-season skid, Kentucky has gotten the job done in their last two games, bringing their overall record to a very respectable 8-3. They will finish their season off with the annual Governor’s Cup against Louisville. The two teams resume the rivalry after not going head to head for their first time since 1994 last season due to COVID-19. Since ‘94, the Cards hold a 15-11 lead over the Cats. Kentucky will look to make a case to play in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 with a convincing win over Louisville.

8. Tennessee: 6-5

In yet another non-conference matchup for the SEC team, Tennessee expectedly beat the brakes off of South Alabama, prevailing over the Jaguars by a final tally of 60-14. Hendon Hooker made it look all too easy, completing 85 percent of his passes for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns. The Vols were amazingly efficient on third down, converting on eight of their 11 tries. By snagging their sixth win of the year, Tennessee has locked themselves in for bowl eligibility. The Vols have the potential to win eight games this season, a pinnacle they have only reached once since 2016. Tennessee will take their first step towards this goal when they host Vanderbilt on Saturday. Tennessee leads the in-state rivalry series over the Commodores 77-33-5.

9. Auburn: 6-5

It’s time to sound the panic alarm in the historic Jordan-Hare Stadium. A once-ranked, formidable Auburn team dropped its third straight on Saturday, this time losing to a South Carolina team that has been greatly unimpressive for the majority of the season. Not only were they ranked, but the Tigers were a team that took down Arkansas and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks in October. November has been an absolute nightmare for Auburn, especially after the Bo Nix injury. Things are even worse than they appear for the Tigers considering what South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer said after the game: “We talk about this being big-boy SEC football, and we literally lined up in the second half and ran the same two plays over and over and over.” The regular season finale won’t be any easier for the Tigers, as they host Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl.

10. LSU: 5-6

LSU won comfortably over Louisiana-Monroe at Tiger Stadium on Saturday. It was a big day for wide receiver Malik Nabers, as he posted 143 yards and a touchdown, which was by far his best outing of his freshman year to date. Tyrion Davis-Price added 82 yards on the ground. With this season being a wash for a program that is used to high achievement, much of the focus within the organization centers around picking Ed Ogeron’s replacement. The favorite for the job right now appears to be Baylor head coach Dave Aranda. Another possibility is Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Billy Napier, although LSU may have competition from Florida for Napier’s services. LSU will look to win their sixth and become bowl eligible on Saturday when they host a formidable foe in the form of No. 14 Texas A&M on Saturday night.

11. South Carolina: 6-5

The Gamecocks narrowly topped the skidding Auburn Tigers by a score of 21-17. Jason Brown only had to throw 15 times to deliver his three touchdown passes on the day. This was not an impressive win in any sense of the word for South Carolina. They were outgained in every single category, faced a team without their star quarterback and still almost coughed up another game at home. Furthermore, they were a dreadful 1 for 9 on third down conversion attempts. The best ways to describe the Gamecocks this season would be inconsistent and flawed, winning enough games to stay somewhat relevant but sometimes looking absolutely outmatched on the gridiron. Despite all this, South Carolina does have a winning record, and becomes bowl eligible with the victory. They will have a tough test on Saturday as they host Clemson in search of win number seven.

12. Missouri: 6-5

Missouri barely survived Florida at home, winning in overtime after converting a two-point conversion following a touchdown in overtime. Tyler Badie followed up his 200-yard rushing game against South Carolina with another beauty in this one, going for 146 yards and a touchdown. It’s been an amazing senior campaign for Badie, as this game brought him to nearly 1,400 yards on the season and 13 touchdowns. With their sixth win, the Tigers join the ranks of a slew of flawed SEC teams that have earned bowl eligibility. They travel to Arkansas on Friday to take on the No. 25 Razorbacks in an afternoon matinee.

13. Florida: 5-6

Florida lost to Missouri in an overtime heartbreaker by a score of 24-23. Head coach Dan Mullen lost his job following the loss. After a 3-1 start, with that one loss being to Alabama, things have completely unraveled for the Gators, with their latest disappointment coming on Saturday night. It is an even further fall from grace for Mullen and the program when looking at the team over the last few years, having won their bowl games in 2018 and 2019 and challenging Alabama for the SEC Championship in 2020. Mullen finishes his career at Florida with a record of 34-15. The Gators’ special teams coordinator and running backs coach Greg Knox will serve as the interim head coach as they host Florida State to finish the regular season on Saturday.

14. Vanderbilt: 2-9

The Commodores suffered their ninth loss of the season at the hands of Ole Miss. In his first game as the sole QB under center, Mike Wright only completed 50 percent of his passes and threw no touchdowns to one interception, but did add 61 yards on the ground. It was a big day for running back Rocko Griffin, as he turned 26 attempts into 117 yards and a touchdown. Fifth-year senior wide receiver Chris Pierce Jr. also had a nice day on the stat sheet, recording 10 receptions for 113 yards. Despite losing yet again, Vanderbilt managed to stay competitive late with a scorching hot opponent. Clark Lea and his squad are certainly making strides as the season draws to a close, and this was certainly clear on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Commodores will have one more chance to make a statement about the direction of their program when they travel to Knoxville to take on Tennessee on Saturday.

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About the Contributor
Jonah Barbin
Jonah Barbin, Sports Podcast Producer
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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