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 One: Matchup previews

With the first week of the season ready to kickoff, the SEC looks to dominate across the board.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Clark Lee addresses the team after Vanderbilt’s battle with South Carolina. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

With most of the SEC ready to dive into Week 1 of their seasons, the Hustler kicked off our second edition of the SEC power rankings, determining where each team falls within the league’s hierarchy at the outset of the season.

1. Georgia

Withstanding their incredible losses on both sides of the ball that led to a record 15 players getting drafted, this No. 3 Georgia team is loaded on both sides of the ball. They will host the No. 11 Oregon Ducks, a team headed by former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, the mind behind Georgia’s historic defense of yesteryear. Oregon’s starting quarterback has not been named yet, but whether it’s Auburn transfer Bo Nix or redshirt freshman and five-star recruit Ty Thompson, this Bulldogs front nine spearheaded by defensive tackle Jalen Carter should give either one nightmares. 

Georgia’s quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, after winning the QB battle against J.T. Daniels last year, will have to deal with the pressure from second overall linebacker prospect for the 2023 NFL Draft, Noah Sewell. The Ducks are a formidable football team, so the fact that UGA is still favored by over two scores (-16.5) is a testament to the team’s expectations and talent level this year. 

2. Alabama

The reigning SEC champs come into this matchup as 42.5-point favorites at home against Utah State on Saturday. Utah State went 11-3 and won the Mountain West Conference last year; however, they are coming off a Week 0 scare against a bad UConn team. Watch out for the matchup between Aggies wide receiver Xavier Williams and the ‘Bama secondary. Williams was an offseason transfer out of Tuscaloosa and one of ‘Bama’s rare losses in the transfer portal. It is also worth mentioning that Utah State is returning eight starters from one of the more prominent offenses in the nation last year, which could keep Heisman-hopeful Will Anderson Jr. busy. Yet, if this matchup is anything close to a competitive ballgame, it will be a surprise. 

No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia are relatively interchangeable, but without any results to go off of, the Crimson Tide have to stay put at two.

3. Texas A&M 

Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies and their top recruiting class in the nation play host against the FCS champs Sam Houston State. The Bearkats are strong, coming off an 11-1 season where they put up 35 points in all but 2 games. With that being said, they will have their hands full on the other side of the ball with Aggies’ running back Devon Achae, who led the SEC in yards per attempt (YPA) last year. 

The Aggies will also have sophomore Haynes King under center. King was named the Week One starter on Aug. 27. Texas A&M handed Alabama their only regular season loss last year, and they only got stronger this offseason, which is reflected in their No. 6 ranking in the AP Poll. Under the play calling of Fisher, this should be a team to fear.

4. Tennessee

There is a lot of buzz in Knoxville this year. The hype behind head coach Josh Heupel and the Volunteers has continued to grow, ultimately leading to their opening showdown with Ball State on Sept. 1. Regardless of Tennessee being favored by 35.5 points, the Vols look to continue their momentum from last season where they finished third in the SEC East. Headlined by quarterback Hendon Hooker and wide receiver Cedric Tillman, the Vols’ offense should be able to repeat last year’s success. 

On the other hand, the Cardinals had to reshape their roster after a rough 6-7 campaign in 2021. They added seven new defensive starters and redshirt junior John Paddock at quarterback. However, the fact Paddock is making his first collegiate start should be favorable to the Vols’ defense, as they look to prevent the struggles they faced last year. The defensive side has the possibility to improve due to the fact they return important starters like Byron Young and James Banks, the two defenders who tied for the team lead in sacks the year before. Between that trio and other experienced players, Tennessee could be more of a complete team going forward. 

5. Arkansas

Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks will play in one of only three ranked matchups in Week One, as they will host No. 23 Cincinnati. They face a Bearcats team one year removed from being the first non-Power Five team to reach the College Football Playoff. 

Yet, with sizable losses in the secondary, this Cincy team will face the challenge of playing against the Hogs’ signal caller KJ Jefferson. The team is suffering from the loss of receiver Treylon Burks, who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in April. He accounted for 32% of the target share last year and was fourth in the SEC in receiving yards. 

With that being said, the Razorbacks should control the pace of this game and force Cincinnati into testing their new starting quarterback Evan Prater. No. 19 Arkansas can send a message here to the rest of the SEC that they should not be taken lightly this year.

6. Kentucky

The No. 20 Wildcats, who are coming off a 10-3 season, are 16.5-point favorites at home against the Miami Redhawks. The QB battle in this game should be one of the best in the country this week, as senior QB Will Levis will clash against Redhawks QB Brett Gabbert. Levis was a key factor in the Wildcats’ success last year, putting up 2,826 yards,24 touchdowns, and a 148.3 passer rating. It will be interesting to see Gabbert, the reigning passing yards leader in the MAC, go up against UK’s questionable secondary. Cornerbacks Carrington Valentine and Ole Miss transfer Keidron Smith will need to show up against the Redhawks to flip that narrative. 

This matchup is relatively unfavorable and could spell trouble for a team hoping to build on an impressive season. Yet, Kentucky should still win this game.

7. Ole Miss

No. 21 Ole Miss is hoping to replicate last year’s success, although not without some hurdles. They lost star quarterback Matt Corral to the draft and are hoping that either USC transfer Jaxson Dart or sophomore Luke Altmyer can pick up where Corral left off. Speaking of transfers, the Rebels’ offensive firepower will largely rely on their transfers: running back Zach Evans from TCU and wide receiver Michael Trigger from USC. 

The Troy Trojans, the Rebels’ opponents this weekend, are an experienced football team with a formidable front-nine. It will be exciting to see this new-look Rebels offense go up against the stingy Troy defense. The Trojan defense is anchored by four-time All-Sun Belt linebacker Carlton Martial Jr. and sophomore Javon Solomon. 

Ole Miss will likely have more firepower than the Trojans can handle. The Rebels’ ranking on this list emphasizes how deep the SEC will be this season. 

8. Florida

The first month for the Billy Napier regime is set to be an uphill battle with the initial challenge being the defending Pac-12 champions, No. 7 Utah coming to The Swamp. Utah provides a true test to whether this Gators squad can compete with top teams in the nation. Nine of their defensive starters are returning this season, and Florida’s offense is rebuilt to fit a run-first style of play. This emphasis on running the football is reinforced by their deep backfield which includes Nay’Quan Wright, Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne.  

With that being said, the Gators have only lost two home games in the past three seasons. This game is a pivotal moment for redshirt sophomore Anthony Richardson to prove his worth in the starting role. He is a dual-threat weapon at quarterback who has shown flashes of greatness in his past. Especially with an offense that is still finding its identity, Richardson is vital to Florida coming out on top on Saturday. With Utah only being favored by two and a half points though, anything could happen in Gainesville.

9. South Carolina

South Carolina is going to be one of the most exciting teams to watch this week, taking on the Georgia State Panthers to begin their season. Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler will be under center for the first time since getting benched for USC’s current QB1 Caleb Williams. The dual-threat QB will have plenty of weapons from which to choose. Wide receivers Jaheim Burks, Corey Rucker and Jalen Brooks are a few of many talented wideouts on this potentially electric offense. They will have to outpace an experienced Panther offense, including returning quarterback Darren Grainger and running backs Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams. These players were all key pieces in the Georgia State lineup last year. 

The Gamecocks come into this game as 12.5-point favorites but should be on upset alert, as Rattler’s inconsistency could spell trouble against a poised Panthers team. Yet, the South Carolina secondary led the SEC last year; don’t be surprised if they lock down Georgia State’s offensive weapons on Saturday. 

10. Mississippi State

Mississippi State will welcome the Memphis Tigers on Saturday. Mike Leach’s squad had one of the premier defenses in college football last year but they’ll need more from their pass rush (27.5 sacks) to compete in the SEC this year. Quarterback Will Rogers emerged as a force on the field and on the stat sheet, throwing for an SEC record 4,739 yards and 36 touchdowns. 

Although Mississippi State does not run the ball often, they will need ground support from lead back Dillon Johnson. The Tigers are a team that also did not run the ball a lot last year, but new offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey looks to change that dynamic. Mississippi State is a 16.5-point favorite for a reason, as the Memphis defense, which has been historically weak, shows few signs of any significant progress.

11. LSU

The Tigers are slight 3.5-point favorites against a Florida State team coming off a rout of Duquesne. LSU will be a fun team to follow this year after some serious off-season turmoil that kickstarted a historic coaching carousel. Former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, now the Tigers’ head coach, has yet to publicly name his Week One starter. Whether it be Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels or redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier, this team is hoping for a clean slate after having a losing record in Coach O’s last season. 

The Tigers will have to quell a run game headlined by the Seminoles’ dual-threat QB Jordan Travis, who helped their ground game rack up over 400 yards last week. LSU could struggle this week and may continue to struggle as they attempt to rebuild this year in spite of their brutal schedule.

12. Auburn

After a massive implosion during the back half of the 2021 season, the Tigers look to regain their footing within the fiercely competitive SEC. From top to bottom, their roster is solid. T.J. Finley was officially named the starting quarterback for the Tigers, beating out both Robby Ashford and Zach Calzada for the job. Thousand-yard rusher Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter make up a one-two combo at the running back position, meaning the ground attack may have to make up for a lackluster receiving group. Linebacker duo Derick Hall and Owen Pappoe anchor Auburn’s gritty defense, one that is bolstered by depth in terms of pass rushers. 

Auburn looks to slow down No. 23 Mercer. The Bears are coming off from a commanding 50-point domination of Morehead State last week, with the offensive attack putting up a whopping 625 yards. Yet, the daunting challenge of facing an SEC team awaits, as they’ll step into Jordan-Hare Stadium as major underdogs. If anything can save Bryan Harsin from the hot seat for now, it’ll be a solid start Saturday night.

13. Vanderbilt

Vandy marched into Honolulu and took the Rainbow Warriors to the woodshed in Week Zero, going on a 63-3 run to come out on top 63-10. Junior quarterback Mike Wright looked phenomenal, accounting for 309 yards and 4 TDs—two in the air and two on the ground. The highlight of his performance was an electrifying 87–yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The defense was rock solid and found the endzone twice themselves. 

You could take Vanderbilt’s performance with a grain of salt given Hawaii’s lack of experience; however, it is the highest margin of victory from Vandy since 2012. They are set to host the FCS Elon Phoenix at 6 p.m. CDT in a rare game where Vanderbilt should overmatch their opponents, both physically and talent-wise. Yet, as we learned last year from the embarrassing 23-3 loss to ETSU, no game is decided before the opening kickoff. Even following their Week Zero dominance, putting Vandy anywhere above No. 13 would be a stretch.

14. Missouri

Missouri will host the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, headed by new head coach Sonny Cumbie. LA Tech operates under an air raid offense, which could spell some trouble for a Tigers defense that ranked No. 109 in the country last year at limiting explosive plays. Yet, the Bulldogs have TCU transfer and redshirt junior Matthew Downing under center which could do what. Even so, Downing has less than 50 passing attempts in his career, adding to the team’s inexperience. Facing a new coach and QB, the Missouri defense is primed for success this Thursday night. 

On the other side of the ball, redshirt sophomore and captain Brady Cook will get the start at quarterback for Mizzou after a promising start in the Armed Forces Bowl last year. Watch out for his top target, five-star freshman Luther Burden III, who is predicted to be one of the most electric players in the country this year. The Cook-Burden duo is a big part why the Tigers are favored by 20.5 points over LA Tech. Expect a blowout here, but without anything to go on before this game, Mizzou has to stay in the cellar for now.

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About the Contributors
David Hernandez
David Hernandez, Lead Sports Analyst
David Hernandez (‘26) is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences double majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in communication studies. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can find him playing basketball, catching up on his favorite shows and mourning the tragedy that is New York sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
Noah Roslin, Former Staff Writer
Noah Roslin ('26) is planning to double major in human and organizational development and economics in Peabody College. When not writing for The Hustler, you can usually find Noah at the hockey rink, at the tennis courts or at home looking for new Soundcloud remixes.
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