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 Four: Who invited Auburn?

Georgia and Tennessee are still good and Auburn takes a big tumble in our SEC rankings.
Nikita Rohila
Will Sheppard runs a route against Elon on September 3, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

With only Mississippi State and Auburn taking losses over the weekend, the state of play in the SEC hasn’t changed all that much since the last edition of our weekly power rankings. That said, The Hustler still has plenty of  hot takes to level at every team from top to bottom. Oh, and Nick Saban might not be washed after all.

1. Georgia (3-0)

This is the best defense in the country—and the most complete team in the sport—by a country mile. The Bulldogs thrashed the Gamecocks for fifty-nine minutes in this week’s contest before surrendering their first touchdown of the year with 53 seconds left on the clock. That brings Georgia to 130 points scored for and 10 points against on the season. The offense is chugging along just as efficiently as last season, with quarterback Stetson Bennett IV going for 284 yards through the air and leading the team in rushing, all despite not playing the last quarter and a half. This week they’ll take the field against Kent State as a 42.5-point favorite and should wrap up the game by the end of the first quarter. In all likelihood, it will be the end of October—or even next year—before Georgia gets tested in any meaningful way.

2. Alabama (3-0)

Questions about Alabama stemming from their opening week nailbiter against Texas were slowed down by the Crimson Tide’s 63-7 drubbing of Louisiana-Monroe. Obviously, we should expect SEC West powerhouses to have no problems against the Sun Belt (still looking at you, A&M). Nevertheless, Alabama put on a show highlighted by linebacker Will Anderson’s pick-six. Quarterback Bryce Young somehow threw two interceptions to the Warhawks, but otherwise looked good with 236 passing yards and three touchdowns. The Alabama defense recorded four sacks in order to hold the visitors to just 91 yards passing and 78 on the ground. The Crimson Tide are surely shaking in their boots this week ahead of Saturday’s clash against 3-1 Vanderbilt, but they still might just be the favorites to repeat as SEC West champions.

3. Kentucky (3-0)

We didn’t learn anything new about the Wildcats after their 31-0 shutout of Youngstown State over the weekend. Will Levis is good but not great, the defense is solid and Mark Stoops’ is still winning his blood feud with John Calipari. All that said, Levis will probably need to step it up once conference play begins in earnest—a 3:2 touchdown-interception ratio won’t cut it against the likes of Georgia and Tennessee. Their next matchup against Northern Illinois should be a wash given how Nashville legend AJ Swann cut them up last week; then again, Swann never threw two interceptions against a team nicknamed the “Penguins.” An Oct. 1 showdown with Ole Miss will be Kentucky’s next big test and, potentially, their second College Gameday appearance in the last decade.

4. Tennessee (3-0)

In last week’s rankings, my esteemed colleague referred to Tennessee’s game against Akron as a “week off”. That prophecy came true, as the Volunteers scored nine touchdowns on their way to a 63-7 victory. Tennessee’s offense combined for a respectable 676 yards in their largest win yet, completing the state of Tennessee’s SEC teams’ sweep over the MAC. Quarterback Hendon Hooker was again fantastic, and Joe Milton III and Tayven Jackson also got snaps under center. As they move up to No. 11 in the AP rankings, everyone’s wondering: is Tennessee legit? We’ll probably know soon. Aside from a bye in week five, the Volunteers are facing Florida, LSU, and Alabama all in a row. If Josh Heupel’s team can be at least 5-1 at the end of that stretch, Tennessee just might enter the conversation as a dark horse contender.

5. Arkansas (3-0)

Hot take: This team got exposed. Despite pulling out a win in Fayetteville on Saturday night, trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter to FCS Missouri State—whose head coach was infamously fired by Arkansas for lying about an affair with a student—was not a good look. The pass defense continues to look atrocious. After allowing 350.5 passing yards per game through their first two contests, the Razorbacks found a way to get even worse and allowed 357 to the Bears. That means they’re allowing the most passing yards per game of any team in the country. Literally the whole country. The Bowling Green Falcons are the eighth best team in the state of Ohio and allow seven fewer passing yards per game. Because Arkansas is the luckiest team on the planet, they get to play their first game away from home against Max Johnson and the pitiful Texas A&M offense this Saturday. Expect Bryce Young to exorcize some demons against this squad in a few weeks.

6. Ole Miss (3-0)

Ole Miss continues to be the most forgettable undefeated team in the SEC after trouncing Georgia Tech 42-0. The Rebels don’t have an SEC opponent on their schedule until October, but their backloaded calendar shouldn’t obscure a relatively impressive performance against the Yellow Jackets. The Ole Miss defense held the hosts to just 53 rushing yards and sacked Jeff Sims 7 times. In terms of the quarterback dilemma, Jaxson Dart featured more heavily this week, but Lane Kiffin again split the snaps between Dart, Luke Altmyer, and Kinkead Dent. Luckily, the Rebels still have two more weeks to figure it out before their SEC opener against Kentucky. Ole Miss is the big favorite in their final non conference game this Saturday against Tulsa.

7. Texas A&M (2-1)

Despite making a change at quarterback to former LSU underperformer Max Johnson, the Aggies are still managing to average only 17 points per game against FBS opponents. They’ll continue to win games as long as the defense remains in form, but College Station has to be hearing grumblings of a coaching change at this point. Maybe it’s unreasonable to fire a coach that’s never finished worse than 8-4. Then again, maybe the Aggies faithful have higher aspirations than being perennial Gator Bowl contenders. This week’s matchup against Arkansas and their beyond-horrendous pass defense presents A&M with a golden opportunity to gain some offensive confidence. They’ll follow up their AT&T Stadium rivalry matchup with a trip to Starkville before the much-awaited rematch with Bryce Young and Alabama. Another win against Nick Saban could initiate the beginning of Jimbo Fisher’s Gus Malzahn arc—the ballad of a coach perpetually on the hot seat for offensive underperformance only saved by occasionally beating the Crimson Tide.

8. Florida (2-1)

We’re keeping the Gators in the 8-spot this week, but I’m more concerned about Florida than I was before. Florida just edged out South Florida, 31-28, in a game in which the Bulls missed a 49-yard field goal that would have sent it to overtime. Quarterback Anthony Richardson nearly cost them again, completing just 10 of 18 passes with two interceptions. Florida has gone three straight games now without a touchdown pass. Meanwhile, the Gators run defense was underwhelming, allowing 286 rushing yards. Whatever in-state rivalry points you want to attach to this game, Florida made it way too close and still look like a total wild card. Saturday’s clash against Tennessee in Knoxville will be the Gators’ third ranked opponent in their first four games, and will hopefully lend more clarity to who Florida really is this fall.

9. LSU (2-1)

Jayden Daniels tearing it up against Mississippi State probably wasn’t what got his former coach Herm Edwards fired over the weekend, but it certainly didn’t help. It did, however, bequeath to Brian Kelly his first SEC win as a Tiger. With an average of 260.3 total yards per game and rushing touchdowns in the last two contests, Daniels legitimately looks like one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in an SEC filled to the brim with multi-dimensional talent. LSU’s defense also continued to look solid against the Bulldogs and quarterback Will Rogers. The homestate hero, who torched both Memphis and Arizona for a combined 10 touchdowns, was held to season lows in completion rate, passing yards and scoring. Kelly’s squad won’t have to keep up the same level of intensity this weekend against New Mexico, or the following Saturday at Auburn, but an Oct. 8 matchup against Tennessee and Hendon Hooker will provide another serious test for a team that genuinely has the talent to finish second in the SEC West.

10. Mississippi State (2-1)

Mississippi State drops out of the top half after blowing a 13-point lead to lose 31-16 to LSU. Mike Leach’s team looked like a real problem for LSU in the first quarter, when the Bulldogs cruised down the field for a touchdown in their first possession, and the “air raid” offense looked strong. Mississippi State led for nearly the whole game, but could never put it away. Miscues on offense, special teams mistakes, and costly penalties left the door open, and the Tigers scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback. On the whole, quarterback Will Rogers was average, completing 24 of 42 passes and earning a quarterback ranking (QBR) of 41.1, while getting sacked 4 times. The Bulldogs are going to need to find more consistency as they turn to Saturday’s early-window game against Bowling Green.

11. South Carolina (1-2)

The Gamecocks may have gotten annihilated by Georgia’s menagerie of NFL talent, but there’s really no reason to drop the former any spots when everybody else in the conference is likely to suffer a similar fate. They’re also the only team in the SEC with a sub-.500 record, yet it’s not as if they’ve looked particularly bad in any outing. Both of their losses came to squads in the top 10 of the AP Poll, their win against Georgia State was by a much larger margin than North Carolina’s and they scored more against Arkansas than recent playoff team Cincinnati could. All of that said, their defense allows the most total yards and points per game of any in the SEC, and their offense isn’t much further away from conference’s bottom. Upcoming games against Charlotte and South Carolina State will help to pad those stats and get the Gamecocks back above water. 

12. Vanderbilt (3-1)

In a typical case of jealousy-infused media bias, Vanderbilt is the only three-win team outside the top half. The big story from the Commodores’ 38-28 win over Northern Illinois was the surprise start of A.J. Swann at quarterback over Mike Wright. In a decision that coach Clark Lea claims was made during the week of practices before Saturday, the change represents a fundamental announcement that Vanderbilt football is entering a new era. The decision  has paid off so far with an offense that looks more dynamic than we’ve seen it in recent memory. Swann threw for 255 yards and 4 touchdowns, with two being to wide receiver Will Sheppard. Sheppard leads the SEC with 374 receiving yards in the young season. The problem on West End is that the Vanderbilt defense is so vulnerable that the offense needs to be brilliant every week. The Commodores have allowed 104 points over their last three games. If the defense isn’t able to sharpen up, Saturday’s game at Alabama could dampen a lot of the optimism circulating around Nashville.

13. Auburn (2-1)

Brian Harsin is so incredibly lucky for his brethren in the northern wilderlands of Missouri. If not for the incompetence that occurs every weekend in Columbia, Auburn would find itself in the unenviable position of worst Tigers in the SEC. They do, somehow, score fewer points per game than Missouri despite having opened against Mercer and San José State. Their most recent matchup against Penn State—who is transitively worse than Syracuse—made apparent the fundamental problem with this team: turnovers. In three games, Auburn has given up eight turnovers while forcing zero from their opponents. Their four turnovers against the Nittany Lions stalled out their offense despite totalling 415 yards. Only scoring 12 points while putting up that many yards and leading their opponent in first downs and fourth-down conversions was genuinely impressive. Perhaps this weekend they’ll do something even more impressive and lose to Missouri. Wait, they play Mizzou this weekend? Somebody crown this the Bottom 25 Game of the Century of the Week.

14. Missouri (2-1)

Missouri technically won last weekend against Abilene Christian, 34-17. In what was supposed to be the Tigers’ bounce-back, feel good trouncing of an FCS team before their SEC opener, Missouri was tremendously underwhelming. SEC teams should run for more than 200 yards against average FCS schools, but the Tigers don’t have the line to do it. Brady Cook threw for 297 yards and 3 touchdowns, which is fine. However, Texas and Oklahoma technically aren’t in the SEC yet, so we have to keep Mizzou in the top 14 for now. Missouri will face Auburn, Georgia and Florida over the next three weeks in what will be a really difficult stretch.

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About the Contributors
Frankie Sheehy, Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) writes for The Hustler Sports section and is a student in the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He's 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, Assistant 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.
Nikita Rohila, Deputy Social Media Director
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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