SEC Power Rankings Week 10: Clash of the Titans

Let’s see where the SEC heavyweights stand in The Hustler’s power rankings heading into a massive weekend featuring Tennessee-Georgia and Alabama-LSU.

TEs+Ben+Bresnahan+and+Gavin+Schoenwald+discuss+the+play+at+First+Bank+Stadium%2C+as+captured+on+Sept.+3%2C+2022.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FNikita+Rohila%29

Nikita Rohila

TEs Ben Bresnahan and Gavin Schoenwald discuss the play at First Bank Stadium, as captured on Sept. 3, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

Frankie Sheehy and Brett Needelman

Finally, the week we have been waiting for all season. Tennessee vs. Georgia. Two juggernauts going head to head in a matchup that has major ramifications for the College Football Playoffs and the nearly as competitive SEC East. 

1. Georgia (8-0)

Georgia remains undefeated, thanks to a 42-20 victory over Florida last weekend. with a 42-20 win surviving a third-quarter comeback by their rivals Florida. The team dedicated the win to 25-year former coach Vince Dooley, who passed away last week. The Bulldogs have survived a few scares now this season, but their offense remains dominant. Even with Heisman candidate Stetson Bennett throwing two interceptions, Georgia put up 555 total yards in the win. The AP put Georgia at No. 1, the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings have them at No. 3 and of course our pre-eminent rankings have the Bulldogs on top. This weekend’s matchup against Tennessee will settle the debate about who the top SEC team is at the moment.

2. Tennessee (8-0)

Unlike the cowards in the AP poll who put Tennessee tied for No. 2 with Ohio State, we believe at The Hustler that actually ranking the teams is our sacred duty. We put Tennessee behind Georgia based on a very valid factor: petty bitterness. The Volunteers gave an allegedly good Kentucky team a 44-6 beatdown on Saturday. Hendon Hooker could be the best quarterback in the country, and the defense picked off Will Levis three times. Tennessee’s battle with Georgia could be the game of the year, likely deciding the winner of the SEC East and even a spot in the playoff. While it certainly didn’t look like it against Kentucky, the biggest liability for the Vols is still their defense. Whether Hooker will be able to overpower Bennett may be the decisive factor this Saturday.

3. Alabama (7-1)

I’m personally not a big-fan of the “must-win game” cliche, but Bama’s game this weekend against LSU is a must-win game. The Tide had a bye week in which they learned that they’re outside of the CFP top four and looking in for now. While that’s probably not a surprise, it speaks to the reality that the rest of the college football elite have caught up. The national title is no longer Nick Saban’s to lose. With the Tennessee loss now squarely in the rearview mirror, Alabama has two big tests in a row against SEC West rivals LSU and Ole Miss. To secure a spot in the SEC Championship game, the Crimson Tide will need to beat LSU and Ole Miss. Alabama has been in the SEC Championship six of the past eight years. While Bryce Young’s prowess and Nick Saban’s experience has kept Bama alive, a two-loss team that doesn’t win its conference title has no shot of making the final four.

4. LSU (6-2)

Alabama’s peril is LSU’s opportunity. While the No. 10 Tigers have certainly had an awkward year, they keep climbing up the rankings by continuing to beat good teams. LSU goes into their matchup with the Crimson Tide as 13.5-point underdogs, even though LSU will be playing at home. It hasn’t always been pretty, but wins over Mississippi State, Florida and Ole Miss have given the Tigers a real chance at pulling something out of thin air. If LSU pulls off the upset on Saturday (and that’s a big if), they’d be the clear favorite to make the SEC Championship game—and the SEC Champion is probably making the College Football Playoff. It’s a longshot, and Brian Kelly doesn’t always instill confidence, but it’s been a weird year of upsets. Why not one more?

5. Ole Miss (8-1)

The Rebels just hung on to a 31-28 win over Texas A&M heading into their week ten bye. Lane Kiffin relied heavily on the run game, hitting the Aggies for 390 yards on the ground anchored by Quidson Jenkins and Zach Evins. With Alabama up next on Nov. 12, it will be interesting to see whether Kiffin continues with his ground-and-pound plan or switches it up to rely on Jaxson Dart, who threw for three touchdowns on Saturday. Meanwhile, a defense that has allowed at least 19 points in six straight games will have to find a way to deal with Bryce Young, or that matchup could be a blowout. While it’s less likely for the Rebels, what I said about LSU having an outside CFP prayer applies to them too. Ole Miss realistically needs to run the table to have a shot at the playoff. That’s definitely an uphill battle for a team that was just smoked by LSU two weeks ago, but hey, why not.

6. Kentucky (5-3)

Kentucky was absolutely obliterated last Saturday, losing 44-6 to No. 2 Tennessee. As mentioned in last week’s power rankings, nobody in the Hustler war room gave Kentucky the respect that Wildcat nation thinks they are owed, and rightfully so. “Pro style” quarterback Will Levis must have thought Halloween came early with all the ghosts he saw on the gridiron. The projected first round pick did not even eclipse the century mark in passing, throwing a measly 98 yards and three interceptions while also getting sacked four times. Chris Rodriguez rushed for a touchdown marking the Wildcats’ only touchdown of the day, nearly tying the game at 7-6 if it were not for a missed PAT. That missed kick may as well have been the first domino in Kentucky’s demise as they allowed Hooker and the Vols to score 37 unanswered points. Having now lost three out of their last four games, the Wildcats will need to do some major soul searching this week before their matchup this weekend on the road against the Missouri Tigers. After an electric start to the season, the Wildcats are desperate for a win and do not want the season to end in disappointment. 

7. Mississippi State (5-3)

Mississippi State is coming off a much needed bye, which followed back-to-back road losses against Kentucky and Alabama. This week, Mississippi State is looking for a major bounce back game, hosting arguably the biggest dumpster fire in the SEC in the Auburn Tigers. Bulldog quarterback Will Rogers is looking to continue his impressive campaign against a surprisingly formidable Auburn pass defense. Head coach Mike Leach’s offense has strengthed Rogers. The junior eads the conference in passing yards (2555), passing touchdowns (23), passing completions (258) and passing attempts (380). Rogers has thrown nearly 50% more passes than the second leading passer in the conference, Stetson Bennett. Though it would be a departure from their typical style of play, Mississippi State has the opportunity to take control of the game on the ground despite rushing for a league low 713 yards as a team. Auburn has a porous rush defense that Mississippi State should look to take advantage of. 

8. Arkansas (5-3) 

The win streak extended to two for the Arkansas Razorbacks after defeating the Auburn Tigers 41-27 and being the straw that broke the camel’s back of Bryan Harsin’s employment. The Razorbacks had a well rounded attack, led by sophomore standout running back Raheim Sanders, who racked up 171 rushing yards. KJ Jefferson threw for an efficient 234 passing yards and also added 45 rushing yards, while passing for one score and rushing for another two. After last week, Jefferson has thrown fifteen touchdowns and only one (!) interception. This is the second best touchdown to interception ratio in the conference, only behind Heisman candidate Hendon Hooker. This week, Arkansas has their final out of conference game, hosting No. 23 Liberty. Liberty is 7-1 and remains relatively untested thus far in the season, losing their only matchup against a power five opponent (Wake Forest). Arkansas will look to add a significant win to their resume with hopes of solidifying bowl eligibility. 

9. Texas A&M  (3-5)

Jimbo Fisher and the Texas A&M Aggies are looking to stop the bleeding, having now lost four consecutive games after losing narrowly to Ole Miss, 31-28. Texas A&M was leading going into halftime but ultimately had no match for freshman star runningback Quinshon Judkins, who rumbled for 205 yards and a score. Despite the losing skid and the blown lead, there were still some positives to take away from last week’s game. Texas A&M freshman quarterback Conner Weigman excelled in his first start, throwing for 338 yards and 4 touchdowns. Weigman is the Aggies’ third quarterback to take significant snaps this season and by far had the best single game performance from anyone in that quarterback room this season. Maybe Jimbo found his guy moving forward after finally gaining some momentum in the passing game. This Saturday, Texas A&M will look to reverse their misfortunes as they host the Florida Gators in a battle of SEC mediocrity. This is a must win game for the Aggies to avoid a losing season. 

10. Florida (4-4)

Anthony Richardson and the Gators kept it sort of close against Georgia, but Florida dropped to 1-4 in the SEC, sitting in second to last place in the East. It’s probably not the most fair time to judge the Georgia-Florida rivalry as a barometer for either side, but this year’s tilt in Jacksonville was at least entertaining. After being down 28-3 at halftime, Florida put up 17 unanswered points to start the third quarter to bring it within one possession. Georgia eventually regained control to stay undefeated with a 42-20 win. Florida keeps showing flashes of light, but the reality of this Gators season is bleak. They’ve still won just one game by more than 7 points, but will have another real test against the Aggies over the weekend.

11. Missouri (4-4)

Missouri is coming off their biggest win of the season, beating the then No. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks 23-10 in a road upset. This was Missouri’s first win against a ranked opponent all season, and even though South Carolina is about as Mickey Mouse of a ranked team as you can get, a win is a win. The Mizzou defense absolutely smothered South Carolina, limiting them to a mere 203 total yards. Defensive back Jaylon Carlies forced a fumble recovered by Daylan Carnell in the third quarter, which led to a brutal missed field goal from only 21 yards out. Freshman defensive back Dreyden Norwood added an interception late in the fourth quarter, taking away the slim chance the Gamecocks had of coming back. Missouri’s offense was very pedestrian last week, but they managed to protect the football and control the clock, having possession for 36:35 to South Carolina’s 23:25. Missouri looks to extend their win streak to three this Saturday when the sinking Kentucky Wildcats come to Columbia. 

12. South Carolina (5-3)

Well, that was fun while it lasted. South Carolina miraculously rose to No. 25 in the AP Poll last week, but wasted no time proving how foolish that decision was. The Gamecocks fell to a weak Missouri team, 23-10 at home. South Carolina’s offense was abysmal, led by Spencer Rattler throwing for 171 yards and an interception with the team only compiling 32 yards on 23 carries as well. This was South Carolina’s second worst scoring output of the season, only behind a justified seven point showing against the premier Georgia Bulldog defense earlier this season. Shane Beamer and the Gamecocks finally looked like they were turning the corner in transitioning South Carolina to a respectable program, but they suffered a major setback last week. This Saturday, South Carolina will be looking to take revenge at The Bank against Vanderbilt for what should be one of the Gamecocks’  last winnable games of the season.

13. Auburn (3-5)

Auburn’s 41-27 loss to Arkansas for their fourth straight defeat was enough for the Tigers to fire head coach Bryan Harsin on Monday. Harsin lasted less than two years and held a  9-12 overall record and 4-9 conference record during his tenure. Auburn’s only conference win so far this year came in overtime against Mizzou, and it’s not clear whether they’ll get a second one. While Harsin was always an odd fit coming out of Boise State, rumors of his replacement have generated far more buzz, including Lane Kiffin and Deion Sanders. Maybe Auburn will hire Steve Nash, Deion Sanders will go coach the Nets and Bryan Harsin will take over the Celtics.

14. Vanderbilt (3-5)

This is it. Before last week’s bye, the Commodores were the closest they have been to SEC glory all season, but fell short to Mizzou,17-14. Missouri appeared to be the easiest in-conference game on the schedule this season, until the Tigers’ upset victory on the road against South Carolina shifted that story. Now it is the visiting, the hilariously formerly ranked, South Carolina Gamecocks with targets on their backs. In last season’s matchup against South Carolina, Vanderbilt was up 20-14 with 1:30 left in the fourth only to let up a flawless two minute drill and fall short 21-20. While South Carolina may be seeking redemption from last week, the boys in black and gold are seeking redemption from last year. Missouri exposed both offensive and defensive flaws for the Gamecocks that the Commodores should look to capitalize on. Offensively, Vanderbilt cannot afford for freshman quarterback AJ Swann (if active) to only complete 50% of his passes and put the ball in Spencer Rattler’s hands more. They need to control the clock, get Ray Davis going and not make mistakes. Defensively, as Coach Lea always emphasizes, the team needs to embrace their identity and exert their dominance over the shaky Gamecock offense.