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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 Seven: The Three-Headed Monster

Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee all appear to be legitimate contenders to win it all: is the top of the SEC the most powerful it’s been in a long time?
Vanderbilt Athletics
AJ Swann playing against Ole Miss on Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics)

Four undefeated teams sit atop the SEC. While Ole Miss has been great this year, Georgia’s defense, Tennessee’s offense and Alabama’s greatness on both sides of the football have set these teams apart as true contenders on the national stage. Will Georgia make it back-to-back titles in Athens? Or will a different SEC team grab the reigns of both the conference and the country? This question could be closer to getting answered by the end of the weekend, as this week’s slate of matchups in the SEC is highlighted by a must-see battle between the Tide and the Vols at Rocky Top.

1. Georgia (6-0)

Georgia has returned to its rightful place atop our rankings, as the Bulldogs cruised to a victory over the sinking ship that is the Auburn Tigers. This team continues to amaze. Their scoring defense is fourth in the nation, allowing a miniscule average of 10.67 points per game. Combining Georgia’s once again historic defense with an offense that posts 39.5 points per game and a maturing leader in Stetson Bennett IV, the Bulldogs appear as if they could somehow be an even more formidable force than they were last year. Throw in what has been a scary rushing attack, last week led by Branson Robinson, and Georgia once again seems like far too much for the FBS to handle. Expect them to have an easy time with Vanderbilt despite the Commodores continued improvement.

2. Alabama (6-0)

If there were a few more seconds on the clock, we could be talking about Alabama dropping a regular season game to Texas A&M for the second year in a row. Yet, it’s hard to really count this almost upset against the Tide, as they were without star quarterback Bryce Young. Despite that, there is not a team in college football that seeks to embody the “next man up” mentality more than Alabama. Simply think of the transitions from Hurts to Tagovailoa, Tagovailoa to Jones and Jones to Young. Jalen Milroe was the next man up, with an opportunity to show Alabama and their fans a preview of what life could be like with him at the helm. The initial returns of Milroe as the starter aren’t great, as he threw an interception and fumbled three – yes, three – times en route to nearly losing to a team far weaker than the Tide. That being said, Alabama still picked up a win and remained undefeated. The bigger focus becomes this weekend: will Bryce Young be available for a battle of SEC powerhouses in Knoxville? This is a game you won’t want to miss.

3. Tennessee (5-0)

Tennessee is an offensive force. They average 46.8 points per game, second in the nation only to Ohio State. This past week, they crushed LSU. It was no doubt the Vols’ best showing of the season so far, as every part of the game was working for Tennessee. Quarterback Hendon Hooker made another pitch to the committee for his Heisman candidacy; he was sharp, efficient and made it all look easy. Jabari Small was nothing short of fantastic, as he posted 127 yards on the ground and found paydirt twice. Tennessee’s front seven, led by Byron Young, was also perhaps the best they’ve been up to this point, as they recorded five sacks and wreaked havoc on the Tigers all day. Someone has to lose when UTK takes on Alabama this week, and it seems a whole lot will depend if the starting quarterback for the Tide is wearing the name ‘Young’ or ‘Milroe’ on his back come game-time.

4. Ole Miss (6-0)

Really? Losing to Vanderbilt at halftime? Despite a slow start, Ole Miss took care of business against the Commodores in the second half, eventually cruising to a lopsided 52-28 victory. The Rebels’ defense found themselves again in the second half, holding Vanderbilt to a measly seven points while Ole Miss put up 35 of their own. The only aspect of this team that provides true pause is their somewhat streaky defense, who seemed to be finding a rhythm until this slight hiccup against Vanderbilt. Their run game, although not lighting up the stat column in terms of yardage, was again impressive and accounted for four of their touchdowns. The Rebels moved the ball through the air with ease, as star receiver Jonathan Mingo put up a jaw-dropping 247 yards, breaking a school record previously held by current New York Jet Elijah Moore. Ole Miss should have no trouble keeping things rolling against Auburn.

5. Mississippi State (5-1)

The Bulldogs wiped the floor with Arkansas. It is definitely a fair assertion that Mississippi State caught the Razorbacks at the right time, as they are in the midst of a brutal losing streak and are without their starting quarterback. This does not minimize their victory, though. The Bulldogs dominated the first quarter, possessing the ball for 10 minutes, rushing for the second most yards they’ve recorded in a quarter all season and scoring two touchdowns in the process. Dillon Johnson rushed for 100 yards, becoming the first running back to hit the yardage century mark under Mike Leach. Will Rogers added to his Heisman resume with his breaking of the SEC all-time completions record. He also posted a pretty gaudy statline in the process, completing 31 passes, racking up 395 yards and tossing 3 touchdown passes. The No. 16 Bulldogs will have a huge test this week as they take on No. 22 Kentucky on the road.

6. Kentucky (4-2)

Oh boy. Sound the alarms. After a narrow and soul-crushing defeat at the hands of Ole Miss, the Wildcats were lobbed a get-right game against South Carolina. Unfortunately, they lost it. Sure, Will Levis was out. Regardless, this is a game that Kentucky would’ve liked to grab. Kaiya Sheron was the man who stepped in for Levis, and unfortunately he could not fill his shoes. It wasn’t a poor debut by any standard for Sheron, but taking some unnecessary sacks and tossing an interception proved to be too costly for the backup quarterback to propel his team to a win. Just when everything was seemingly going right for Kentucky, the team has now lost back-to-back games for the 45th consecutive season. How will the 2022 version of Kentucky respond to this adversity? Will they crumble, like so many other squads in the past? Or is this finally the year that this team, led by presumed first round pick Levis, takes the next step? It won’t get any easier for the now-No. 22 Wildcats, who host the surging Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday night.

7. Texas A&M (3-3)

Ah, if only college football games were a few seconds longer. The Aggies truly gave Alabama a run for their money, but came up just short, with the clock running out as A&M rapidly approached the goal line of the Tide. You have to walk away from that game impressed by the Aggies, who despite fatigue, injury and young players, were able to hang with the then No. 1 team in the country. It’s hard to believe that this was the performance A&M was able to turn in fresh off the news that they will likely be without starting quarterback Max Johnson for the remainder of the season due to a broken hand. Defensive lineman Fadil Diggs was nothing short of excellent. He recorded two strip sacks, leading to touchdowns for the Aggies on both occasions. Backup quarterback Haynes King’s stats didn’t light up the scoreboard, but he showed real moments of leadership, especially during the final drive of the game. The Aggies will have a bye week, which should allow King to further settle in as the leader of this offense before the team takes on South Carolina.

8. Florida (4-2)

Florida did not move up a spot from last week because they accomplished anything. Rather, while LSU was getting mauled by Tennessee, the Gators were getting tested by … Missouri. Anthony Richardson seems to have tricked everybody earlier in the season, as the potential draft prospect went a measly 8-for-14 for 66 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Tigers. The defense—by picking off opposing quarterback Brady Cook twice and returning one for a touchdown—is what kept the Gators ahead in that game, and will likely be what head coach Billy Napier leans on going forward. This weekend, they’ll play host to LSU in the swamp in a battle of two, albeit disappointing, 4-2 teams. Expect a low-scoring, run-heavy game between two squads just looking to get right on offense and secure the inside track on a bowl appearance. With the ascendance of some of the teams at the bottom of the SEC East, no game going forward should be considered a surefire win for the Gators.

9. LSU (4-2)

As mentioned above, LSU did not have a fun weekend. The Tigers got worked from start to finish by a dynamic Tennessee offense that scored in every quarter and never turned the ball over. LSU’s offense, on the other hand, looked rather shaky. That’s because the offense is literally just quarterback Jayden Daniels. Against the Volunteers, the team had 355 total yards. Daniels had 338 of those. That’s going to be a bigger and bigger problem as the Tigers progress further into SEC play, especially given that Daniels has yet to prove adept at deep throws. Without the kind of offensive dynamism that has characterized LSU’s best recent seasons, Brian Kelly’s squad might find itself scratching and clawing for a bowl game at the end of the year. Missing one entirely is probably out of the question considering Alabama-Birmingham is still on the schedule, but who out of Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M should they be expected to beat given the product on the field so far? Hopes for another championship on the bayou will definitely have to be put on hold.

10. South Carolina (4-2)

Credit has to be given to South Carolina for defeating Kentucky 24-14 on the road over the weekend. That said, opposing quarterback Will Levis missed the entire game with a finger injury, and the Gamecocks really haven’t defeated anybody else of note. Neither side of the ball seems to be significantly better than the other. The offense has looked good against Sun Belt, C-USA and FCS opponents, but quarterback Spencer Rattler still has three more interceptions than touchdowns on the year. The defense stepped up against a depleted Kentucky, but it remains bottom-four in the SEC in rushing yards and points allowed. Head coach Shane Beamer gets a week off to prepare his squad before hosting Texas A&M on Oct. 22 in a matchup that could be won by the first team to score 20 points. Missouri and Vanderbilt in the following weeks will give the Gamecocks the opportunity to clinch a bowl berth in back-to-back years. After that, South Carolina will have to brace a whirlwind final gauntlet of Florida, Tennessee and Clemson to end the season.

11. Arkansas (3-3)

It’s possible that we’re being too harsh on Arkansas for losing to Mississippi State without quarterback KJ Jefferson. In fact, the Razorbacks have even beaten the team directly ahead of them in these rankings as well as a ranked opponent in Cincinnati. However, head coach Sam Pittman’s squad has lost three consecutive games since barely holding on against FCS Missouri State and currently is in sole possession of last place in the SEC West. The good news is that Jefferson should be back for this weekend’s matchup against BYU. The bad news is that the ESPN Football Power Index only gives them a 36% chance of winning in Provo. Arkansas’ secondary has probably already faced its biggest challenges of the year in Bryce Young and Will Rogers, but a team that’s bottom-three in the SEC in passing yards allowed might struggle to ensure a bowl berth. Auburn, Liberty and Missouri remain on the schedule as get-right games, so not all hope should be lost. However, if Jefferson misses more time due to his strenuous workload as both passer and primary rusher, nothing is off the table.

12. Missouri (2-4)

Despite pulling off back-to-back moral victories against Georgia and Florida, Missouri finds itself as the only team in the SEC with a sub-.500 record. They gave Florida their all—for a half—and managed to cover the spread by three-and-a-half points. Time of possession, first downs and total yardage were all led comfortably by the Tigers. Brady Cook even looked better than Anthony Richardson! Hopefully all of this helps ease the pain that comes with losing three consecutive games by a combined 14 points. It should be noted that Missouri does contain one distinct advantage over most, if not all, of the rest of the conference: a relatively-easy remaining strength of schedule. Kentucky and Tennessee will be difficult for sure, but Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Arkansas should all be within the realm of possibility. New Mexico State remains in their non-conference schedule and is probably one of the five worst teams in the country, so that should—emphasis on should—guarantee a third win for the Tigers. No matter what, Missouri stands at 4-2 on the moral victory column, and that has to matter for something. Right?

13. Vanderbilt (3-3)

Who says Missouri is the only team with moral victories? Vanderbilt played some of the best football of the Clark Lea era in the first half against Ole Miss, leading the No. 9 team in the country by three points after 30 minutes. Unfortunately, college football has four quarters, and the Commodores’ talent deficiency showed in the second half against the Landsharks. Through six weeks, Vanderbilt is allowing the most total yards, passing yards and points out of any defense in the SEC. This week is not going to help them statistically, as they’ll head to Athens to play No. 1 Georgia and the best walk-on quarterback since Baker Mayfield. On the bright side, future Nashville legend AJ Swann has still not thrown an interception, and fellow freshman Jayden McGowan looked like an absolute monster against Ole Miss, with seven receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. That duo looks like it could provide solid, if not elite, offense for years to come; but, for now, we can just pretend like this weekend doesn’t exist and turn our attention to Missouri on Oct. 22. Get ready—that could be the first SEC victory for the Commodores since the same game three years ago.

14. Auburn (3-3) Oct. 8

Auburn had an opportunity to move up in the rankings this week if they could have mounted the same kind of moral victory against top-ranked Georgia that propelled Missouri in the last edition. As per usual under head coach Brian Harsin, the Tigers achieved no victory, moral or otherwise. Harsin has been on the hot seat pretty much since he first took over at Jordan-Hare; but, with a bye week to follow their almost certain loss to Ole Miss this weekend, we might genuinely be penning the final column of his SEC career. Even if he can survive a run-in with the Landsharks, the remaining conference opponents on the Tigers’ schedule may have something to say about the team’s ability to make another bowl game. Auburn will certainly be underdogs against Arkansas, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Alabama. The only remaining non-conference game is against Western Kentucky, which hasn’t dropped off that much since last year’s C-USA runner-up campaign. The Hilltoppers certainly have a better offense than Auburn, and that’s before the mass exodus of players that could follow the end of the Harsin tenure. Long story short: don’t bet on this team to win another game.

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About the Contributors
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].
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]
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