SEC Power Rankings Week Nine: Calm before the storm

With another week of SEC football in the books, let’s take a look at where each team stands heading into the stretch.

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Vanderbilt Athletics

Anfernee Orji playing against Missouri on Oct. 22, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Anish Mago and Brett Needelman

And then there were two. After a blazing start to the season, the Ole Miss Rebels suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday, leaving Georgia and Tennessee as the two remaining unbeaten teams in the SEC. A bye week for Georgia and decisive wins from the Crimson Tide and Tennessee leave the top-three of our rankings unchanged. South Carolina and LSU continued to ascend, while Vanderbilt suffered another loss that has our heads shaking. Let’s take a look at where each team stands heading into Week Nine. 

1. Georgia (7-0)

Undefeated, reigning champions, and now fresh off a bye, this already unstoppable Georgia Bulldogs team is looking to pick up right where it left off two weeks ago after its 55-0 thrashing at The Bank. The stout, second-ranked scoring defense (9.1 points per game) complemented by the Stetson Bennett led, eighth-ranked scoring offense (41.7 points per game) have allowed Georgia to be a more well rounded team this year, utterly dominating on both sides of the football. Georgia’s impenetrable defense has been the focal point of their identity the past few seasons, but its much improved offense may look to change that narrative. This week, the struggling Florida Gators are leaving the swamp and are coming to Athens for what should be a tune up game before the Bulldogs’ marquee matchup next week when they host No. 3 Tennessee. 

2. Tennessee (7-0)

Only in the SEC can you be undefeated, beat Alabama, have the highest strength of record according to ESPN and still firmly be the second best team in the conference. No. 3 Tennessee is coming off of a commanding 65-24 victory over FCS No. 14 UT Martin, marking the finish of their non-conference play this season. Sure, we know about the soon to be 25-years-old Heisman candidate Hendon Hooker and the best offense in the nation (50.1 points per game, 571.7 yards per game), but the star of this past Saturday was none other than tight end Princeton Fant. The sixth-year red shirt senior from Nashville who is somehow still younger than Hooker threw Jalin Hyatt a dot for a 66-yard score. Fant then completed the hatrick and scored twice on the ground in his lone two attempts. This week, the Vols are hosting the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats, hopefully giving them another quality win before the clash of the titans next week. 

3. Alabama (7-1)

Alabama being third on the rankings still feels strange, but here we are. After letting the flood gates open against Tennessee two weeks ago, the Crimson Tide defense was on a mission last week in their decisive 30-6 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Alabama nearly pitched a shutout if it were not a meaningless Jo’quavious Marks rushing touchdown as time expired in the fourth quarter. While Alabama’s defense held themselves accountable this week, Bryce Young and it’s offense were somehow outgained by the Bulldogs. The Crimson Tide could not get anything going in the run game gaining 29 yards in 27 attempts, and Young had an above average but average-for-him showing, tossing for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns. 

Alabama is on a much needed bye this week after not playing complete games of football in their previous two showings. The Crimson Tide have a tough two-game stretch after the break, playing in consecutive road games against No. 18 LSU and No. 15 Ole Miss. 

4. LSU (6-2)

The Tigers are back. After a blocked extra point for the tie forced them to drop Brian Kelly’s debut against Florida State, confidence was fleeting in Death Valley. Those same emotions of fear and angst were felt by Tiger Nation after going down 17-3 just seconds into the second quarter before fighting back and defeating the then-undefeated Ole Miss Rebels, 45-20. 

Jayden Daniels has been on an absolute tear as of late and only added to his highlight reel last Saturday. Daniels was a one man show against the Rebels throwing for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushing for 121 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is instant offense for the Tigers and has been the catalyst for their resurgence. LSU had one of their best performances in their most significant game of the season to date and are riding high into the bye week. But have no fear, the SEC schedule is putting the Tigers back to the test immediately as they will host No. 6 Alabama in a battle for the throne of the SEC West.

5. Ole Miss (7-1)

Deflated. Demoralized. Dejected. Ole Miss suffered a gut punch of a loss last Saturday, losing 45-20 to the LSU Tigers. The Rebels were in the midst of a “too good to be true” season behind their run-heavy offense led by stud running back Quinshon Judkins. He still continued his elite level of play (25 carries for 111 yards, 2 touchdowns), but the Rebels hopes of an undefeated season indeed were too good to be true. After going up 17-3 early in the second quarter, the Ole Miss offense came to a complete halt, only scoring one more field goal later in the quarter and being shut out in the second half. Ole Miss’s defense was annihilated, yielding 500 total yards and allowing the most points of any game this season. Losing even one conference game makes your path to the College Football Playoff much muddier, and the overall outlook for the Rebels is grim. No. 15 Ole Miss will stay on the road as they head to College Station looking for a bounce back win against Texas A&M.  

6. Kentucky (5-2)

NFL scouts, Twitter and the rest of the world need to stop drooling over Will Levis so we can realize that Kentucky is not the fantastic football team everyone thought they were. Their only wins against ranked opponents, Florida and Mississippi State, are appearing weaker and weaker as the season progresses. Last week, the Wildcats were on a bye and, hopefully, they were able to carry some positive momentum from their 27-17 victory over the pedestrian Mississippi State Bulldogs. The bye is coming at a good time for the rested No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats, as they prepare to play No. 3 Tennessee on the road this Saturday. The Wildcats have not shown the offensive prowess to keep up with Hendon Hooker and the best offense in the country, so I believe that getting running back Chris Rodrigues Jr. going early will allow the Wildcats to control the clock and have a shot at winning the game. The remainder of Kentucky’s SEC play can be described as peaks and valleys with Tennessee, Mizzou, Vanderbilt and Georgia on the schedule these next four weeks. 

7. Mississippi State (5-3)

The Mississippi State Bulldogs may be the most average team in the conference. They have performed well against the bottom half of the SEC while struggling mightily against the top half. Last week, the Bulldogs had a rough outing in Tuscaloosa, losing 30-6. Mike Leach’s revolutionary air raid offense was on full display last week, averaging 3.3 yards per pass while only adding 62 rushing yards. Leach was disgusted with his team’s performance, stating after the game, “You want to scare some of the guys on our team, put an Alabama jersey on. It’ll scare the hell out of them.” Leach dropped to 16-16 in his tenure at Mississippi and seems to be on pace to maintain a .500 record. I do not believe that mediocrity is the goal for either Leach or Mississippi State, which begs the question of whether a change should be coming soon. This week Miss State is on bye and, the following week, they will host Auburn in hopes of getting a much needed confidence booster. 

8. South Carolina (5-2)

The Gamecocks are rolling. After winning their fourth consecutive game on Saturday in a 30-24 win over Texas A&M, South Carolina checked in at No. 25 in this week’s AP Poll. It’s the first time they’ve been ranked since Week Two of the 2018 season. The Gamecocks have begun to find their identity as a run-first offense, with tailback Marshawn Lloyd accounting for over 100 total yards and 2 touchdowns in the win. Despite quarterback Spencer Rattler’s struggles early in the season, the Oklahoma transfer has settled into his role and taken better care of the football in recent weeks. If the Gamecocks want to continue ascending, Rattler continuing to play efficient and turnover-free football will be paramount. Fortunately for South Carolina, its schedule lightens up over the next month, as they’ll take on Missouri, Vanderbilt and Florida in three highly-winnable games. Unfortunately for South Carolina, they’ll finish the season with matchups against No. 3 Tennessee and No. 5 Clemson. Either way, the Gamecocks turnaround has been fun to watch, and we should be seeing them in a competitive bowl game by the end of the season. 

9. Arkansas (4-3)

Despite a rough stretch in their schedule that blemished a strong start, the Arkansas Razorbacks were able to show their quality before their bye week in a 52-35 road victory over BYU. With quarterback KJ Jefferson (367 yards, 5 touchdowns) back in the fold, the Razorbacks’ offense looked nearly unstoppable in the win, accumulating 644 yards. Now, the key for the Razorbacks will be finding the consistency that got them off to a 3-0 start and included wins over now-No. 20 Cincinnati and now-No. 25 South Carolina. The bye week should help with that goal, as Jefferson will be able to get back up to speed following a head injury which sidelined the junior for two weeks. Arkansas will take on Auburn and Liberty in the coming weeks, before finishing the season facing off against No. 18 LSU, No. 15 Mississippi and Missouri. It’s been an up-and-down season for Arkansas so far, but the Razorbacks look like they’re putting it all together at the right time. 

10. Texas A&M (3-4)

After starting the season at No. 6 in the AP Poll, it’s been quite the fall from grace for Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies. A&M dropped their third consecutive game on Saturday, coming up short in a 30-24 defeat at the hands of surging South Carolina. The matchup featured another questionable performance from QB Haynes King (188 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and an offense that now ranks dead-last in the SEC in terms of points per game. Struggling to put up points has been a common theme all season, but even the Aggies’ strong front seven was porous on Saturday afternoon. After starting the season with conference title aspirations, the Aggies need serious change to get back into even decent shape. Unfortunately for Aggies fans, that change definitely won’t come in the form of a new coach to replace Fisher. A&M will get another challenge next week in the form of No. 15 Ole Miss before a soft stretch in their schedule, where they’ll face off against Florida, Auburn and UMass. At this point, it’s a matter of how far they’ll keep falling. 

11. Florida (4-3)

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Gators, but perhaps their Week Eight bye will provide the team with a springing point for a strong finish. After starting out their season with a statement win over then-No. 7 Utah, it’s been a rocky ride for Anthony Richardson & Co. The Gators have failed to pair more than two wins together all season, and Richardson, now with six passing touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season, has raised questions about his ability to lead a proficient offense. Paired with a defense that ranks in the bottom three in the conference in total defense, the Gators have executed on a perfect formula for major week-to-week inconsistency. The wild ride won’t get any less bumpy this week, as Billy Napier’s squad will travel to Athens to take on No. 1 Georgia. After that, the Gators will finish the season with a relatively-favorable set of opponents in Texas A&M, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Florida State. That stretch will decide if Florida will earn a postseason berth in Napier’s first season. 

12. Auburn (3-4)

Of the teams in the lower tiers of our rankings, Auburn certainly has one of the best arguments to move into a higher spot. Make no mistake: It’s been a rough season for head coach Bryan Harsin and the Tigers. Auburn dropped their third straight in a hard-fought 34-48 loss to then-No. 9 Ole Miss before their bye week, and many are surprised that Harsin is still Auburn’s coach coming out of the break. Through seven games, the Tigers have struggled mightily, something best illustrated by the team ranking in the bottom-three of the conference in both points scored and points allowed. Not great. Yet, taking a look at their schedule shines a bit more light as to why they’ve struggled so much: a brutal set of opponents. While it’s fair to assert that none of Auburn’s wins have been particularly convincing, all four of Auburn’s losses have come against teams that enter Week Nine within the Top 18 of the AP Poll. Compared with their competition in these lower levels of the rankings, Auburn has had the toughest schedule by a wide margin. Luckily for the Tigers, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Before a finale in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers will face off against Arkansas, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Western Kentucky. With a good showing down the stretch, the Tigers may be able to save face and Harsin’s seat might cool down just a bit. 

13. Missouri (3-4)

Despite trying their hardest to lose, the Missouri Tigers were able to prevail over Vanderbilt on Saturday, snapping a three-game losing streak and earning their first SEC win of the season. Despite entering halftime with a 17-0 lead, the Tigers came out of the break looking extremely sluggish, allowing the Commodores to creep back into the game and pull within three. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very convincing win from Mizzou, but a win is a win. Despite extreme offensive struggles with Brady Cook under center, the Tigers’ defense actually profiles as one of the better defenses in a loaded SEC. Missouri’s schedule tightens up following the win, as they’ll take on three ranked opponents consecutively in South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. The Tigers should hold onto this spot for the rest of the season. 

14. Vanderbilt (3-5)

So close, yet so far. Despite extreme offensive struggles, the Commodores were nearly able to win their first SEC game since 2019 on Saturday afternoon. In the end, early mistakes proved too much to overcome, with the Commodores’ SEC losing streak extending to 26 games in a 17-14 loss to Missouri. Yikes. The usual script was flipped for the Commodores versus Missouri, as their offense struggled to do much of anything all afternoon long while their defense flew around and made spectacular plays. Their efforts were all for naught, however, as AJ Swann (13-of-30, 1 INT) and the offense were only able to score once versus a stout Tigers defense. 

Unfortunately for the Commodores, their chances at an SEC win may have come and gone with the loss. After their bye week, they’ll take on No. 25 South Carolina and No. 19 Kentucky before finishing the season with home dates versus Florida and No. 3 Tennessee. There’s always next year, right?