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 Three: Stetson Bennett IV Heisman

Is Nick Saban washed? People are asking.
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Mattigan Kelly
Georgia defeated Vanderbilt 62-0 behind eight touchdowns and over 500 yards of total offense. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly)

Last weekend’s SEC action left much to be desired on behalf of pretty much everyone—not you, Kentucky, you did great. Georgia decided to shut it down after halftime; Alabama made us think for a second that Texas was back; Texas A&M did its best Iowa impression; and, least surprisingly, Missouri pulled a…Missouri. 

With a very strong middle tier and a majority of the action left to go, expect the SEC to provide another quality year of television.

1. Georgia (2-0)

We’ve had Georgia at No. 1 since the season started, and not for no reason. The Bulldogs followed up their humiliation of Oregon and former defensive coordinator Dan Lanning with a somewhat modest performance against another squad of bulldogs: Samford. Stetson Bennett IV has started the season with consecutive 300-yard performances—the only such streak of his career—and, despite being a walk-on, looks infinitely better than anyone head coach Jimbo Fisher has had at Texas A&M. Even better than Bennett is Georgia’s defense, which has so far only allowed three points on the season. That’s a full touchdown better than the next best teams, none of whom have played anyone resembling the roster quality of Oregon.

2. Alabama (2-0)

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Nick Saban is washed. Last year’s losses to Texas A&M and Georgia showed the world that he could, in fact, lose to former assistants. Since then, he’s won as many championships as the recently-fired Scott Frost. Think about it: They’re basically the same coach.

All that aside, Alabama’s one-point victory over Texas shows that an elite yet beatable Crimson Tide is here to stay. They won’t be able to just dog-walk the rest of the SEC West this year unless they find some five-star receivers wandering around Tuscaloosa. The defense and reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young both look solid, but Steve Sarkisian and a quarter of Quinn Ewers almost stretched them to their breaking point in only Week Two. Alabama will have to play other teams of the same caliber as Texas several times before the end of the season. They will rightfully be favored in each of those games, but it’s no longer impossible to see a loss on the horizon. 

3. Kentucky (2-0)

Kentucky is now a football school. Nobody is more upset by this than Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari, but at least football head coach Mark Stoops has lived up to his recruiting classes. Their current ranking of No. 9 is the highest they’ve been positioned in the AP Top 25 in the last 15 years. Could this be their season of destiny? Probably not. The Wildcats are still significantly behind Georgia and Alabama in terms of talent, and a Will Levis No. 1 draft pick argument is still far-fetched. With that being said, their 10-point victory against Florida in the swamp is impressive, and they won’t face another genuine challenge until Oct. 1 at Ole Miss. The defense is probably the most imposing aspect of Stoops’ squad—they’re currently top five in the SEC in yards against, pass yards against and points against. Stoops over Saban?

4. Tennessee (2-0)

Hendon Hooker is that guy. The former Virginia Tech Hokie has 35 touchdowns and 3 interceptions since transferring to Knoxville, during which the Vols are 9-6. That record is probably an underperformance relative to the quality of his play, but it’s attributable to still-relevant questions about the team’s defense. Holding formerly-ranked Pittsburgh to 27 points is a step in the right direction, and Josh Heupel’s staff will have a week off against Akron before they’ve got to bring their A-game again. That’s when the schedule becomes difficult: Florida at home, bye week, at LSU and their yearly loss to Alabama. Anthony Richardson, Jayden Daniels and Bryce Young will face nothing resembling resistance from the Volunteers’ defense in those games, so it’ll all come down to Hooker once again. 

5. Arkansas (2-0)

Hot take: This team will be exposed. It won’t happen this week against disgraced former coach Bobby Petrino and top-10 FCS squad Missouri State. It might not even happen the following week against the ghost of Haynes King and Texas A&M. But, sooner or later, the Razorbacks will play a team with a competent deep passing attack, and they will pay brutally. Sam Pittman’s defense has allowed an average of 350.5 passing yards through their first two games—the third worst in the country, ahead of only Ohio and Central Michigan. Their offense might also find itself on shaky footing soon, as running 242-pound KJ Jefferson 18.5 times a game is probably not the most conducive to his health. I could rant about this team quite literally all day. The Cincinnati win happened because Ben Bryant couldn’t stop overthrowing his receivers in the first half; allowing Spencer Rattler to drop 30 points should send alarms all through Fayetteville. Do not be surprised if they let Will Rogers drop 400 yards and 4 touchdowns on Oct. 8.

6. Ole Miss (2-0) 

The Landsharks bounced back from an underwhelming first week by trouncing FCS Central Arkansas, best known for being the random team Scottie Pippen played for in college. Jaxson Dart still doesn’t look awesome with a season stat line of 28 completions out of 42 attempts, 336 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. Backup Luke Altmyer throwing an interception in a sample size of only 13 passes is also not ideal, so Lane Kiffin may be facing an uncharacteristic quarterback problem. Ole Miss does have two weeks to figure it out, as they end the non-conference slate at Georgia Tech and against Tulsa. An early October matchup with Kentucky in Oxford will be the team’s first true test, so feel free to tune out until then. In the meantime, we can all wonder if Kiffin’s ceiling with this squad is really as high as second in the West or if a trademark porous defense will catch up with them as always. No matter what, the Egg Bowl should be entertaining this year.

7. Mississippi State (2-0)

Right now, Mike Leach is dead-even at 13-13 as the head coach of the second-best Bulldogs in the SEC. This week’s matchup at LSU could be an inflection point in both his tenure and the team’s season. If they win, they’ll have the inside path on a second-consecutive bowl appearance with two cupcakes—Bowling Green and ETSU—left on the schedule. A loss would force the Bulldogs to claim a victory against a currently-ranked team to reach the .500 mark. After beating Arizona by multiple touchdowns last week, the former is definitely possible. The Wildcats aren’t a particularly good PAC-12 team—they’ll probably lose to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State this week—but a double-digit win is a double-digit win. Will Rogers has the most passing yards, 763, and touchdowns, 9, of any quarterback in the SEC and the sixth and second most in the country, respectively. Regardless of what happens this weekend, Mississippi State will remain one of the most fun teams to watch in the conference this season. Oh, and they’re definitely exposing Arkansas.

8. Florida (1-1)

Florida lost their SEC opener to Kentucky in Gainesville on Saturday, causing them to drop out of the top half in our rankings. The Gators came down to reality after their upset win in Week One over Utah, but there’s still a lot of room for optimism in the Swamp. More concerningly, quarterback Anthony Richardson was held to just 143 passing yards and 4 rushing yards, with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Florida’s offense looked shaky all game long, while the defense seemed to wear down in the second half. Of course, this loss is more of a reality check for a relatively inexperienced team than a season-ending catastrophe. The Gators should try not to feel needled by Kentucky eating literal alligator in their team dinner after the game. Florida will look to rebound next weekend against their first unranked opponent, South Florida.

9. Texas A&M (1-1)

Texas A&M is in a tight contest for the worst loss of Week Two with Notre Dame and Nebraska—Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies lost 17-14 against the Sun Belt’s Appalachian State. Texas A&M has been suffering from some impostor syndrome for the last few years, and this loss brings into question how legitimate they are as an SEC contender. Quarterback Haynes King threw for less than 100 yards with no touchdowns, outmatched by App State’s Chase Brice. The Aggies were stale all game, and the spark they needed never came. Despite the Mountaineers’ traditional giant-slayer reputation, this really shouldn’t have happened and will cause Fisher to do a lot of re-evaluating of their offensive approach. The Aggies move on this weekend to the beginning of a brutal upcoming schedule, starting with Saturday’s clash against No. 13 Miami.

10. Auburn (2-0)

Auburn is the only undefeated team in the bottom half, but it probably won’t last much longer. The Tigers scraped across a 24-16 win against San Jose State, a Mountain West team that the SEC’s middle class should really be handling much more comfortably. The Spartans had a three-point lead at halftime before a Tank Bigsby 1-yard TD run gave the Tigers the lead for the last time in the third quarter. Auburn came no closer to resolving its quarterback situation, with T.J. Finley and Robby Ashford still sharing snaps. Finley seems to have a passing edge, but Ashford is much more of a threat on the ground.

Auburn faces its biggest test so far this weekend against No. 22 Penn State, and the Tigers are clear underdogs. The Nittany Lions go into Saturday’s matchup led by the combination of quarterback Sean Clifford and wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley, who will pose more problems for Auburn’s defense than either of the two teams they’ve faced so far.

11. South Carolina (1-1)

The Gamecocks lost 44-30 this week to Arkansas, keeping the game within reach but never looking like they would be able to upset the Razorbacks. Among Carolina’s many problems, the most glaring weakness was their run defense. After allowing 200 rushing yards in Week One against Georgia State, the Gamecocks allowed another 295 yards on the ground versus the Razorbacks. Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders could not be stopped, picking up 156 yards on 24 carries with 2 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks’ running game was held to under a hundred yards for the second straight week. Quarterback Spencer Rattler had a better performance this time out, but the SEC’s top tier will likely be able to contain him if the running game doesn’t improve. In even worse news for South Carolina, they host the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs next week in what could be another rude awakening for Shane Beamer’s team.

12. LSU (1-1)

LSU secured their first win of the season by beating Southern University 65-17. Did we drop LSU two spots even though they won by nearly 50? Yes. Did we do this because of this Brian Kelly press conference moment?

Maybe.

More seriously, this game was just the right kind of performance LSU needed ahead of their first SEC clash this weekend against Mississippi State. The Tigers scored five touchdowns in the first quarter against Southern, including two TD passes by Jayden Daniels and an 18-yard run by the Arizona State transfer quarterback, who was absolutely outstanding. As we alluded to earlier, this weekend’s game against Mississippi State will be a real test for both teams. If LSU can hold down the Bulldogs’ air raid offense, the Tigers will be in good shape going forward.

13. Vanderbilt (2-1)

The dream of an undefeated Vanderbilt season is over. The Commodores’ many first-half offensive mistakes cost them in Saturday’s 45-25 loss to Wake Forest. Vanderbilt gave up 21 points off turnovers including a brutal pick-six thrown by quarterback Mike Wright to give the Demon Deacons a 7-3 lead that they never again relinquished. The Commodore offense looked lost for the majority of the game, with Wright only completing 8 of 15 passes for a quarterback rating (QBR) of just 3.4. Things looked better for Vanderbilt when freshman A.J. Swann took over under center in the third quarter, throwing for 146 yards and 2 touchdown passes in his appearance. However, head coach Clark Lea confirmed that Wright will still be the starter in Tuesday’s press conference. The Commodores now turn to Saturday’s trip to Northern Illinois, a MAC program with a strong record of home success. The Huskies lost over the weekend to Tulsa despite quarterback Rocky Lombardi’s 259 passing yards and a late comeback that almost gave NIU the win.

14. Missouri (1-1)

Many members of The Hustler’s sports staff wanted Vanderbilt to stay at the bottom of the rankings this week, but I couldn’t allow this Missouri embarrassment to go ignored. Mizzou took a 40-12 beating against former Big 12 rival Kansas State, the biggest loss of any SEC team so far this fall. Missouri is a really tough watch right now. The Tigers’ offense committed eight penalties and four turnovers in a game that featured an hour-long lightning delay. Missouri may not be expecting much SEC success this fall, but this game was supposed to be a test of where the Tigers really stood, and the results were abysmal. The defense was solid enough through the third quarter to keep Mizzou within two possessions, but the offense never was able to figure it out. With one more non-conference tilt against Abilene Christian before Mizzou’s SEC opener, the Tigers will be looking for a fresh start to clean up their mistakes.

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About the Contributors
Frankie Sheehy
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. 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]
Miguel Beristain
Miguel Beristain, Senior Staff Photographer
Miguel Beristain (’24) is a philosophy and cellular and molecular biology double major in the College of Arts and Science from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When not shooting for The Hustler, he can usually be found playing Magic the Gathering, exploring new restaurants or practicing guitar. He can be reached at .
Mattigan Kelly
Mattigan Kelly, Former Deputy Multimedia Director
Mattigan Kelly ('22) was Deputy Multimedia Director for The Vanderbilt Hustler. She has been on the staff since her freshman year. Mattigan majored in chemical engineering in the School for Engineering. In addition to shooting for The Hustler, she was the Development Coordinator for Camp Kesem at Vanderbilt, works in a research lab on campus and plays Club Tennis.
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