SEC Power Rankings Week Six: Bama’s back, tell a friend

Ole Miss climbs, Kentucky falls and Auburn reaches a new low in this week’s edition of our SEC rankings.

Ray+Davis+ran+for+17+yards+in+Vanderbilts+55-3+loss+to+Alabama+on+Sep.+24%2C+2022.+%28Vanderbilt+Athletics%29

Vanderbilt Athletics

Ray Davis ran for 17 yards in Vanderbilt’s 55-3 loss to Alabama on Sep. 24, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Aiden Rutman and Frankie Sheehy

Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and the SEC dominating the AP Top 25 rankings. While Texas A&M and Arkansas dropped out of the rankings, the old, but familiar face of No. 25 LSU reappeared, rounding out seven teams from the SEC making the top 25. The Hustler takes a look at where each team stands going into a busy weekend, with seven in-conference matchups on the docket. 

1. Alabama (5-0)

Alabama returns to the top spot after recording their most impressive win so far, a 49-26 win over Arkansas. The bad news for the Crimson Tide was that they lost star quarterback Bryce Young, who left in the second quarter due to a shoulder strain but is day-to-day. Luckily for Bama, the tremendous amount of depth built under Nick Saban means that one injury like this just isn’t enough to derail the Tide, even against ranked teams. Jalen Milroe was very good in relief, and a couple of 70-plus yard runs by him and Jahmyr Gibbs helped to bury the Razorbacks in a 21-3 fourth quarter. Next up for Alabama is a tilt against Texas A&M before a run of four straight games against ranked SEC opponents.

2. Georgia (5-0)

Georgia slips to number two in this week’s rankings despite winning a road SEC game. The caveat? It was against Missouri, and while the Bulldogs left Faurot Field with a 26-22 victory, the performance left much to be desired. They entered the game as heavy favorites, and perhaps everyone in the nation—aside from maybe a delusional Missouri fan—expected Stetson Bennett to lead Georgia to a lopsided victory over the Tigers. If there was ever such a thing as a bad win, this is it. Fortunately for them, Georgia is still elite on both sides of the ball. On offense, they average 521.4 yards per game, the third-best mark in the SEC. The defense might be even better. They are allowing a measly 10.8 points per game and 264.4 yards per game to opposing offenses. They’ll look to get back on track as they return home this week for a favorable matchup against Auburn.

3. Ole Miss (5-0)

Ole Miss’s 22-19 win over Kentucky in their first real test of the fall was enough to see them move up to No. 9 in the AP poll and into the top three in our (far more prestigious) rankings. The Rebels defense which was not convincing in the first half won them this one. Defensive end Tavius Robinson sacked future NFL quarterback Will Levis for a safety in the second quarter. With the game on the line in the fourth, the defense forced two fumbles from Levis, including one after Kentucky thought they’d scored the winning touchdown, only for it to be waved off by a penalty. The Wildcats made a lot of mistakes that we’ll get to in a couple blurbs, but we must credit the Rebels for taking advantage. Ole Miss now faces Vanderbilt and Auburn in back-to-back weeks—two very beatable teams. If the Rebels can come out of that stretch 7-0, their Nov. 12 clash against Alabama looks much more optimistic.

4. Tennessee (4-0)

Is it painful to see Tennessee undefeated in football? Yes. Is this a surprise? No. We’ve had a suspicious feeling that Tennessee was going to be much improved after getting their train back on the tracks last season. While it’s hard to contribute an entire team’s success to one player, quarterback Hendon Hooker is making a case for it. We’ve been screaming it from the mountains since he took over for Joe Milton last season: Hendon Hooker is the truth. He’s gotten it done through the air with eight passing touchdowns and on the ground with three rushing touchdowns. He’s taken care of the ball too, with no turnovers committed. The Volunteers sit atop the SEC with 559.3 yards per game and 48.5 points per game. Their defense ranks towards the bottom of the conference, but with an offense this hot, it might not matter. Tennessee will travel to Baton Rouge to face No. 25 LSU as they look to defeat their third ranked team this season.

5. Kentucky (4-1)

Kentucky had a big chance to shut down the “basketball school” jokes this weekend, and they really blew it. With scouts from half the NFL in the crowd, Levis fumbled twice in the red zone in the fourth quarter, with an illegal motion penalty thrown in the middle. While those were the headlines, they were far from the only miscues that cost Kentucky this game. Matt Ruffalo missed a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter, and the Wildcats came up short on a two-point conversion. Kentucky just made too many mistakes at bad times against a top-tier team. They shall remain a basketball school until proven otherwise. The Wildcats get to beat up South Carolina this Saturday night to regain some confidence before their next big test against Mississippi State.

6. Arkansas (3-2)

Is it time to press the panic button in Fayetteville? The answer, at least for now, is still no. The Razorbacks started the season 3-0, including a quality win against No. 24 Cincinnati. They followed up their blown lead against Texas A&M with a blowout loss at home against No. 1 Alabama. After Alabama took a 28-point lead, Arkansas clawed back within five points before imploding in the fourth quarter and losing 49-26. The good news for Arkansas is that the talent is there. Quarterback KJ Jefferson has had an excellent season, with nine passing touchdowns to just one interception. He’s added four scores on the ground. Running back Raheim Sanders is putting together a dominant season on the ground, leading the SEC with 609 rushing yards. Arkansas will have a chance to prove themselves this week on the road against No. 23 Mississippi State. 

7. Mississippi State (4-1)

MSU’s first conference win over Texas A&M was by far their most impressive performance of 2022 so far. A five-yard Will Rogers touchdown pass in the first quarter gave the Bulldogs a lead they never relinquished, and Rogers threw for two more later on. The main story here is Mississippi State’s defense, or perhaps the poorness of A&M’s offense. The Aggies coughed up the football four times, three inside the red zone. Mississippi State was a little shaky themselves, losing 138 yards on 13 penalties Mike Leach would regret. State moved into the AP Top 25 at No. 23 with the win and thus makes their prompt return to the top half of our rankings. With roughly even matchups coming up against Arkansas and Kentucky, we’ll have a lot more information coming up about the legitimacy of the Bulldogs in the tough SEC West.

8. LSU (4-1)

Is LSU…back? Definitely not. Yet. They had an abysmal 2021 season and have yet to recover from their national championship hangover from back in 2019. Since dropping their season opener to Florida State, LSU has strung together four straight wins, including an impressive double-digit victory against No. 23 Mississippi State. This past week, they bested bottom-feeder Auburn on the road, and while the quality of the opponent was not the best, an SEC road-win is impressive nonetheless. Head coach Brian Kelly has the Tigers playing hard and playing well. While it may take a few seasons, LSU is on the road to redemption. They’ll face their toughest test of the season this week, at home against No. 8 Tennessee. 

9. Florida (3-2)

Florida cruised past Eastern Washington in a 52-17 rout that was moved to Sunday due to Hurricane Ian. Believe it or not, this is Florida’s first win of the season by more than three points. The Gators have played three ranked teams so far, but this kind of dominant performance is probably what the doctor ordered to get Florida on track. Oddly, the Gators ran far fewer plays, recorded seven fewer first downs and had less time of possession than Eastern Washington, but that may be due to their reliance on quarterback Anthony Richardson throwing it deep. Richardson averaged 24 yards across his eight completions before being taken out on Sunday. Florida’s got potential—they rank fourth in the SEC in both total offense and rushing. We’ll see if the Gators can build on this performance with this Saturday’s game against those pesky Mizzou Tigers.

10. Texas A&M (3-2)

Texas A&M has been the most confusing team in the SEC—and perhaps all of FBS—this season. They’ve fallen seven spots since our preseason power rankings. Their offense ranks dead last in the SEC with 334.4 yards per game and 21.8 points per game. Their defense ranks towards the bottom of the pack in pretty much every major statistic. Sure, they have ranked wins against Miami and Arkansas, but they also lost to America’s darling, Appalachian State, at home. After their loss to Appalachian State, Texas A&M benched quarterback Haynes King and turned to Max Johnson. Johnson went down with a hand injury, and King subsequently came in, threw two interceptions and lost the Aggies the game. Johnson’s status remains up in the air, but they could certainly use his help in Tuscaloosa against No. 1 Alabama this weekend.  

11. Missouri (2-3)

No Mizzou-bashing this week. We’d never stoop to such low-grade shenanigans here at The Hustler. Our esteemed editor Bryce Smith noted that Missouri’s three-spot jump is probably the largest in history for a moral victory. But here are the new rules: any team that looks even a little bit competent against Georgia for even a part of the game gets to be above South Carolina. In all seriousness, taking a lead into halftime against the top team in the country is a tremendous accomplishment. The Mizzou defense frustrated Georgia in the first half, holding the Bulldogs to three punts and two lost fumbles out of their first five possessions. The offense wasn’t spectacular on its own, but five field goals against Georgia is at least four more than I would’ve spotted them beforehand. Mizzou has one more tuneup against Florida and a bye week before their monumental, season-deciding battle with Vanderbilt on Oct. 22.

12. South Carolina (3-2)

Oh, South Carolina. How tempting it was to put you at dead-last in the power rankings, as we have done in weeks prior. The Gamecocks have actually moved down since our last rankings, despite winning both games since. While a win is a win, the games were against Charlotte and South Carolina State, so they didn’t exactly face the best-of-the-best. Quarterback Spencer Rattler has left a lot—and we mean a lot—to be desired. The junior has thrown four touchdown passes to seven interceptions. He’s thrown two interceptions in three different games this season. He has also lost a fumble. Simply put, the Gamecock’s offense is anemic, and don’t let a couple 50-point thrashings of inferior opponents fool you. They’ll have a much tougher task at hand at No. 13 Kentucky this weekend as they look to extend their win-streak to three. 

13. Vanderbilt (3-2)

The Commodore defense had its best Saturday of the season in Week Five’s bye. Wait a minute, no cheap shots. Vanderbilt scheduled the past week off between the 55-3 drubbing by Alabama and upcoming tilts against Ole Miss and Georgia in the next two weeks. With that in mind, let’s look at some good numbers while we still can, shall we? Will Sheppard is still fantastic, and his 365 receiving yards are good for third in the SEC. Running back Ray Davis is still in the conference top four with 402 rushing yards, and linebacker Anfernee Orji leads the league with 52 tackles. The Swann-Davis-Sheppard era is here to stay in Nashville, and it will leave the Rebels quivering in their boots.

14. Auburn (3-2)

Welcome to the bottom, Auburn! As we discussed in our previous rankings, the only thing keeping the Tigers from this spot was Missouri’s incompetence, but the fight that the Tigers put up against No. 2 Georgia was enough to move the them up to the No. 12 spot. For those of you wondering how long it’s been since Auburn was ranked fourteenth in our rankings, it’s been long enough that we couldn’t find it in the archives. It’s been a tough start to the season for the Tigers. They rank second to last in the SEC in scoring, with 21.8 points per game. Quarterback Robby Ashford is completing a measly 54.1 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Despite all of their woes, we have a feeling that Auburn will find its way out of this hole and move back up a few spots once Missouri shows their true colors again. They draw a tough matchup at No. 2 Georgia this week, but as the Tigers showed last week, the Bulldogs are not invincible.