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 Eight: Down goes Bama

After a thrilling weekend of SEC action, there’s a shakeup at the top.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Anfernee Orji playing against Alabama on Sept. 24, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

What a weekend of football. Seven weeks into the season, two undefeated teams sit atop the SEC following an instant-classic between Tennessee and Alabama. Ole Miss continued their blazing start, remaining undefeated and solidifying themselves as a true national title contender. Towards the middle of the pack, LSU and Arkansas were both able to pull out convincing victories, while Florida and Mississippi State’s struggles continued. With four more SEC matchups on tap for Week Eight, let’s take a look where each team stands heading into the weekend.

1. Georgia (7-0)

What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? Georgia is a machine. The Bulldogs pulverized Vanderbilt in their 55-0 victory, displaying perfect execution on both sides of the ball. While their defense (10.7 points allowed per game, 2nd in the nation) gets the spotlight, criminally underrated quarterback Stetson Bennett is the most important player on the roster. Last year’s national championship hero has ascended to new levels of efficiency this year, completing 70.7% of his passes for 2,033 yards (10th in the nation) with just 1 interception. Against Vanderbilt’s struggling defense, Bennett moved the Bulldogs offense at will as the Bulldogs scored on 9 out of 10 possible drives. It’s worth mentioning that the Bulldogs haven’t faced very tough competition this season, with their only victory against a ranked opponent happening in Week One against Oregon. Georgia should have another relatively easy matchup next week against Florida, but all eyes will be on the ‘Dawgs when No. 3 Tennessee travels to Athens in Week 10.

2. Tennessee (7-0)

This is a tough pill to swallow: After defeating Alabama in the highest-stakes college football game of the season thus far, Tennessee is undeniably a top 2 team in the SEC this season. Head Coach Josh Heupel has completely transformed a program that sputtered to a 3-7 record just two seasons ago, and the team seems to only get better by the week. Against Alabama, the Volunteers’ high-octane offense proved too explosive for the Crimson Tide to slow down, totaling 52 points and 567 yards of total offense. New Heisman favorite Hendon Hooker might be the most fun player to watch in college football right now, and it was hard to root against him during his 385 yard, 5 touchdown masterclass versus Bama. Wide Receiver Jalin Hyatt staked his claim as one of the best offensive players in the country, reeling in all 5 of those touchdowns and putting up 200 receiving yards to boot. The playoff dream is alive and well in Knoxville, and the Vols have a clear path towards No. 1 in the country with a win against Georgia. 

3. Alabama (6-1)

Coming out on the wrong end of the Tennessee-Alabama showdown were the Crimson Tide, who fell out of the top 2 of the our SEC power rankings for the first time this season. Alabama’s offense looked as sharp as ever against the Volunteers, but the defense simply could not get a stop when they needed to. For my money, Bryce Young is still the best player in college football, quarterback or otherwise. Last year’s Heisman trophy winner threw for 455 yards and 2 touchdowns against Tennessee, and has dominated once again this season with a completely different group of wide receivers. Their issue is clearly the defense, which head coach Nick Saban described as “too soft” in the loss to Tennessee. College football’s evil empire faces a difficult road to the college football playoff, but they’ve been here before. For now, let’s just celebrate a rare disappointment for the Crimson Tide. After all, when Alabama loses, America wins. 

4. Ole Miss (7-0)

Raise your hand if you predicted Ole Miss would be 7-0 and the No. 7 ranked team in the country after losing star quarterback Matt Corral to the NFL draft. Anyone? No? The Rebels started at 7th in our preseason SEC power rankings, but have gradually climbed into the top four and have a legitimate chance to make the college football playoff this season. Lane Kiffin has remodeled his traditionally pass-heavy offense into the most efficient rushing offense in the SEC behind a dynamite pair of backs in Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans. Judkins is 2nd in the SEC in rushing yards (720) and first in touchdowns (10), while Evans is 4th in the SEC in rushing yards (605) and 2nd in touchdowns (7). The Rebels face a brutal five-game stretch to close out the regular season, including consecutive games against Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi State. If they can make it through that gauntlet unscathed, the Rebs will have a chance to compete for their first SEC championship in 54 years. 

5. Kentucky (5-2)

We’ve officially exited the tier of teams with credible postseason aspirations, which is a shame because Kentucky has been a really exciting team this season. The Wildcats dropped a highly winnable game against Ole Miss and lost to South Carolina while QB Will Levis was out with injury, but have otherwise looked extremely impressive. Levis has lived up to the hype as a top NFL prospect with 9.9 yards per passing attempt (4th in the nation) and 13 passing touchdowns. He will have an extra week to heal from foot and shoulder injuries while Kentucky is on bye. When Kentucky returns to the field in Week Nine, they will take on one of the most dangerous teams in the country in Tennessee. 

6. LSU (5-2)

Perhaps no other SEC team has outperformed expectations more than LSU, who began the Brian Kelly era by bringing in 15 new players via the transfer portal. The Tigers started the season at 11th in our preseason power rankings, with few people expecting such a dramatic turnaround. Quarterback Jayden Daniels has quietly been one of the better signal callers in the nation, putting up 10 passing touchdowns to only 1 interception and tacking on an additional 403 rushing yards. With the dynamic transfer from Arizona State under center, the Tigers have pulled off impressive upset wins over Mississippi State and Florida. But the road ahead doesn’t get any easier: LSU will travel to Ole Miss and Alabama in consecutive weeks to play two of the best teams in college football on the road. If they can steal one of those games, the Tigers will be well positioned for recognition in the AP poll and a respectable bowl game. 

7. Mississippi State (5-2)

Mississippi State just can’t seem to figure it out. The Bulldogs seemed poised for a breakthrough after decisive wins over ranked Texas A&M and Arkansas, only to drop a winnable game against banged-up Kentucky. Mississippi State now sits at 4th in the SEC West after their losses to Kentucky and LSU. Quarterback Will Rogers looked like a Heisman candidate prior to the matchup with Kentucky, but struggled with only 203 passing yards and an interception in the loss. Even so, the Bulldogs still boast one of the strongest passing offenses in the country and are currently 2nd in the SEC in passing yards per game and 5th in total points. Next week could get ugly as the Bulldogs travel to Tuscaloosa to play a hungry Alabama team looking to avenge last week’s loss.  

8. Arkansas (4-3)

Coming off of a tough loss to Mississippi State without starting quarterback KJ Jefferson, the Razorbacks responded with a convincing 52-35 victory over a well-rounded BYU team. In his return, Jefferson threw for 367 passing yards and 5 touchdowns, leading his offense to 52 points. But it isn’t the offensive side of the ball where the Razorbacks have struggled this year. Following Week Seven, the Razorbacks are averaging 32.6 points allowed per game this season, a figure that is second-worst in the conference. Arkansas has struggled to find consistency this year, but perhaps this road victory can help build some momentum for the Razorbacks. Arkansas has a favorable stretch of games following their bye week, facing Auburn, Liberty and LSU before a matchup at No. 7 Ole Miss. If things go right for the Razorbacks, we may be talking about a squad that heads into that matchup at 7-3 and in position to play in a respectable bowl game.

9. Florida (4-3)

Week in and week out, the Gators are the most confusing team to rank in the SEC. That confusion starts with quarterback Anthony Richardson, who performed extremely well on Saturday in a 294-yard and two-touchdown performance. Despite this performance, the Gators still were not able to pull out a victory and extend their winning streak to three. The Gators have managed to pair their inconsistent offense with a flat-out bad defense—one that ranks 77th in scoring defense in the country and 106th in total defense. For a team that was ranked highly in the AP Poll in the season’s opening weeks, their unraveling has been shocking to see. Things won’t get any better on the other side of their bye week, as the Gators will travel to Athens to face the No. 1 Bulldogs. 

10. Texas A&M (3-3)

The Aggies were off over the weekend following two straight losses to Mississippi State and Alabama in a nail-biter finish. After a quick start to the season that featured wins over Miami and Arkansas, A&M’s problems on offense have really begun to catch up. For six games, the Aggies have been the worst team in the SEC in terms of points and yards per game. With the news announced that they will be without starting quarterback Max Johnson for the remainder of the season, the Aggies will have to turn elsewhere to replace his production. Despite their shortcomings on offense, the Aggies have remained in games late all season, and it would be surprising to see them not remain competitive even with backup quarterback Haynes King under center. The Aggies will face a surging South Carolina team next week. 

11. South Carolina (4-2)

Because of their schedule, it’s been extremely hard to get a read on the Gamecocks this year. After starting the year off with a win over Georgia State, South Carolina lost by double digits to both Georgia and Arkansas. To follow those losses, the Gamecocks collected wins over lowly Charlotte and South Carolina State before taking down a No. 13 Kentucky squad that was missing star quarterback Will Levis. It’s been an up-and-down ride for the Gamecocks, and the play of transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler has not been all that convincing, either. The once highly-touted recruit has yet to settle in Columbia and frequently shows signs of the quarterback play that led to his benching in favor of Caleb Williams at Oklahoma last year. It’s been a weird season so far for the Gamecocks, but we should be able to make more sense of the team in the coming weeks. Before a gauntlet to finish the season that features matchups with No. 3 Tennessee and No. 5 Clemson, the Gamecocks will take on Texas A&M, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Florida. Those four matchups should provide plenty of clarity as to where USC should fall in these rankings, starting with a home date against the Aggies on Saturday. 

12. Auburn (3-4)

Though they’ve remained relatively competitive, the Tigers are struggling. After starting out the season with two non-conference wins, the Tigers have dropped four of their last five games. We’ll give credit where credit is due, however: the Tigers fought hard against No. 7 Ole Miss on Saturday and fell just short of what would have been a miraculous upset. Head coach Brian Harsin has been on the hot seat for a while, but it seems like he’ll at least get the opportunity to finish out the season after being spared from losing his job this week. Unfortunately for Harsin, the schedule for the Tigers doesn’t lighten up much in the coming weeks. Over the season’s last five weeks, Auburn will have to face Arkansas and Texas A&M, plus make road trips to face off against No. 6 Alabama and No. 24 Mississippi State. 

13. Missouri (2-4)

Following losses to Auburn and Georgia, the Tigers no longer find themselves as the only SEC team with a sub-.500 record. Despite an ugly 2-4 record, Mizzou should know that their record doesn’t necessarily reflect their team’s quality accurately. They’ve come up just short in their last three games, losing by a combined 14 points to Auburn, No. 1 Georgia and Florida. Still, Mizzou has struggled tremendously on the offensive side of the ball, led by an inconsistent Brady Cook. The sophomore quarterback is averaging just over 200 passing yards per game, and has thrown more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5) so far this season. Head coach Eliah Drinkwitz will need Cook and the offense to step up and match a great defense, which allows just 24.7 points per game, the fourth-least in the SEC. Luckily for the Tigers, their road to a bowl berth is still open, but they’ll need to perform well over their next three games and establish themselves. That stretch will start with Vanderbilt at home on Saturday. 

14. Vanderbilt (3-4)

After a truly brutal three-game stretch versus No. 6 Alabama, No. 7 Ole Miss and No.1 Georgia, the Commodores are finally out of the worst of it. It’s tough to take any positives from a 55-0 drubbing, but it seems like the Commodores have come across a gem in freshman QB AJ Swann. Despite Vanderbilt not being able to get on the board on Saturday, Swann’s offense is still averaging a respectable 28.4 points per game, a mark better than four other SEC squads. Despite the tough losses, Swann also has not thrown an interception, a remarkable feat considering the opposition the freshman has had to face in recent weeks. Moral victories aside, the Commodores have a huge chance to assess the team’s true progress since the start of Lea’s tenure two years ago in their matchup against Mizzou on Saturday.

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About the Contributors
Anish Mago
Anish Mago, Deputy Sports Editor
Anish Mago ('24) is from West Windsor, N.J., and is studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. He previously served as a staff writer for the Sports section. When not writing for The Hustler, Anish enjoys playing basketball and rooting for all Philly sports. He can be reached at .
Brandon Karp
Brandon Karp, Senior Staff Writer
Brandon Karp ('25) is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is studying human and organizational development and political science in Peabody College. You can reach him at [email protected].
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