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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 11: A clear No. 1

After another week of confusing SEC football, The Hustler takes a look at where each team stands.
Arianna Santiago
CB Jeremy Lucien and DB Jaylen Mahoney celebrate in the rain at First Bank Stadium, captured on Sept. 10, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Arianna Santiago)

Many have considered this year to be a down year for the SEC. Sure, the heavyweights in the conference have been dominant as usual, but there’s a significant drop-off for the middle-of-the-pack teams compared to years past. Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas were all ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll earlier in the season. Now, all three have sub-.500 records in SEC play. Auburn fired their head coach. Vanderbilt remains winless in the conference. The SEC has just five teams in the AP top 25, its lowest total in years. Let’s take a look at how each team stacks up heading into Week 11.

1. Georgia (9-0)

The AP Poll has not given Georgia the respect they deserve and the Bulldogs made sure to clearly establish their status as the best team in the country last week in their 27-13 beating against then-No. 1 Tennessee. Georgia absolutely stifled the No. 1-ranked offense, holding them without a touchdown until a garbage score late in the fourth quarter. The ‘Dawgs picked off Hendon Hooker once and forced two fumbles, recovering one, further wreaking havoc on Tennessee. Georgia’s offense recovered well after a Daijun Edwards fumble on the opening drive, converting three of its first-half drives into touchdowns and a fourth into a field goal. Stetson Bennett put on an efficiency clinic once again, completing 17 of his 25 attempts for 257 yards and 2 touchdowns while also running for a 13-yard touchdown. Bennett and the Georgia offense coasted through the second half only getting in field goal range once. Georgia will triumphantly march into Starkville this Saturday, Nov. 12, as they square off against Mississippi State. 

2. LSU (7-2)

THE TIGERS ARE BACK. LSU pulled off an electric overtime victory against Alabama, winning 32-31. It was a competitive, back-and-forth game with six total lead changes in regular time. Alabama scored a touchdown in a methodical, seven-play drive only to be matched instantly by a 25-yard scamper by Jayden on LSU’s first play. Then, Brian Kelly made his season-defining decision. He rode the momentum of his offense and successfully went for two after the touchdown. Kelly ran the same play in 2014 when his No 4. Notre Dame squad lost to No. 2 FSU, except the play was called as an offensive pass interference and the Fighting Irish went on to lose the game. Kelly was certain the OPI would not be called again, and his instinct led the Tigers to their biggest win of the season. The Tigers were led by the versatile Jayden Daniels, throwing for 182 yards and a pair of scores, while also adding 95 yards and a score on the ground. LSU heads to Arkansas next Saturday for what should be the first of three wins to close the season. 

3. Tennessee (8-1)

Reality finally struck the Tennessee Volunteers. The entire country had the privilege of watching the Vols get dominated 27-13 in a marquee matchup against Georgia, proving to everyone that they are not even in the same stratosphere as the Bulldogs. Tennessee’s alleged best offense in the country was completely lost against the Bulldogs, only getting in the end zone once in a meaningless drive at the end of the game. Hooker struggled only throwing for a measly 195 yards and an interception, and Tennessee was inefficient on the ground gaining 94 yards on 2.2 yards per carry. Coming into the game, Tennessee was incapable of slowing Georgia’s offense and their only path to victory would have been winning in a Tennessee-Alabama-esque shootout. Their offensive shortcomings prevented all hope of that outcome. Luckily for Tennessee, their final three games of the season are against three of the bottom four teams in the conference: Mizzou, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Assuming smooth sailing, Tennessee should remain a favorite to be in the College Football Playoff field.  

4. Alabama (7-2)

Alabama is finding itself in very unfamiliar territory. Alabama has won the SEC three of the past four seasons but are now essentially eliminated from contention in the conference, let alone the CFP, after their devastating 32-31 overtime loss against LSU. This season will likely only be the second time Alabama will miss the CFP since its inception. Alabama was nothing special on either side of the football in its loss, despite some lofty stats at first glance. Bryce Young managed to throw for 328 yards, a touchdown and a pick, but did so on less than 50% completion. This game was the first of the season where Young displayed such inaccuracy. His interception was incredibly demoralizing, thrown in the end zone at the end of an otherwise masterful 76-yard drive. Alabama managed to pull ahead at the end of the third quarter, but its defense allowed scores on both of LSU’s possessions in the fourth. Alabama’s offense also missed a two-point conversion after Young’s lone touchdown to Ja’Corey Brooks, completely altering the trajectory of the game. Alabama for once looks sloppy, and they will look to reverse the (crimson) tide this week on the road against No. 11 Ole Miss.

5. Ole Miss (8-1)

Ole Miss is fresh off a bye and is looking to be the next SEC team to leapfrog No. 9 Alabama in a home matchup this Saturday. Ole Miss recently has not performed well against Alabama, losing six games consecutively. Coach Lane Kiffin, formerly Saban’s offensive coordinator, is doing everything he can to try and create a mental edge going into the game, including reading Nick Saban’s book about leadership and posting it on his infamous Twitter. Ole Miss is entering the game as a steep underdog and will need to follow the game plan to a tee if they want to be competitive against the Crimson Tide. Although Alabama has been struggling, they still have the talent and coaching to compete against anybody short of Georgia. If the Rebels want to win on Saturday, they need to put the ball in the hands of star running back Quinshon Judkins as much as possible. When they don’t give the ball to Judkins, they need to hand the ball off to Zach Evans instead. Ole Miss does not have the defensive capabilities to slow down Bryce Young and the rest of the Alabama offense, so winning the time of possession battle and letting its defense be as fresh as possible every series will be integral to success.

6. Kentucky (6-3)

Kentucky may be the least-liked team in the SEC within The Hustler newsroom this season. The Will Levis hype is still out of control, and Kentucky realistically pulled out a miracle with some questionable officiating in their 21-17 win against Mizzou last week. In one of the more bizarre plays of the season, with 2:32 left in the game, Kentucky long snapper Drew Perry airmailed the snap over the head of punter Colin Goodfellow. Goodfellow sprinted to the ball and picked it up within their own five, turned around and managed to get a punt off. The Mizzou punt block team also rushed to the ball and made an instinctual football play, attempting to tackle the punter when the ball was in his hands. But, since Goodfellow still managed to get the punt off, albeit 35 yards behind the line of scrimmage, a roughing the punter call was made and the game was effectively over. Kentucky only amassed 249 yards of total offense, though Levis was an efficient 12-for-18 for 160 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Wildcat defense was able to limit the pedestrian Missouri offense the majority of the game but still found itself down 17-14 early in the fourth after a Brady Cook rushing touchdown. Nothing impressive from the Wildcats this weekend, but a win is a win. This week, the Wildcats are on upset watch as the Vanderbilt Commodores come to Lexington.

7. Mississippi State (6-3)

Echoing my previous statements, the Mississippi State Bulldogs narrowly defeated SEC doormat Auburn in a 39-33 overtime finish. Miss State was up by as much as three touchdowns against Auburn and up 24-6 heading into the half. The first domino toward destruction was Mississippi State not converting (and losing 11 yards) on fourth-and-6 on a bold play call, given they were on their own 27-yard line. Auburn responded quickly and scored a touchdown but failed the two-point conversion. Mississippi State allowed Auburn to score 22 unanswered points and found themselves down 25-24 after a Tank Bigsby rushing touchdown. The Bulldog defense had no answer for Auburn’s ground attack, being gashed for 256 yards and 4 scores. Fortunately for them, Mississippi State locked in during overtime and was able to score a touchdown after an Auburn missed field goal to seal the game. Will Rogers threw for an eye-popping 357 yards and 3 touchdowns while throwing one interception as well. Miss State only ran for 13 yards against the Tigers, contributing to their issues of playing with a lead and winding down the clock. Mississippi State will not be able to afford these same mistakes this week as they host No. 1 Georgia.

8. Florida (5-4)

Last week, Florida beat up an incredibly weak Texas A&M team. A flu outbreak struck the Aggies in the latter half of the week and kept several key starters out. That being said, Florida obliterated A&M, outsourcing them 21-0 in the second half. Quarterback Anthony Richardson did it all, throwing for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns while adding another 78 yards and 2 more touchdowns on the ground. Richardson is an electric athlete, but the sophomore has shown that he has a long way to go, especially with playing clean football. There are signs of optimism, though. After struggling all season with protecting the football (seven interceptions in his first six games), Richardson has played three straight turnover-less games for the Gators. The Gators are just one game away from bowl eligibility, and they’ll have a juicy matchup against South Carolina in the swamp this week to get there.

9. Texas A&M (3-6)

It’s hard to be too skeptical about the Aggies’ recent loss to Florida due to the aforementioned flu outbreak that handicapped them. That being said, we’ve seen enough from the Aggies this season to conclude that they are not a good football team. The defense, which was supposed to be one of the best in the nation, is allowing 388.7 yards per game, ninth in the SEC. The offense is averaging 22.8 points per game, dead last in the conference. Quarterback play has certainly hindered them severely. Haynes King has seven touchdowns to go with six interceptions on the season. Max Johnson got benched after throwing for just three touchdowns through his first four games. Runningback Devon Achane has been a bright spot—the junior has rushed for 887 yards and 6 touchdowns, adding another 196 yards and 3 touchdowns as a pass catcher. The Aggies will look to get back on track this weekend on the road against a struggling Auburn team.

10. Arkansas (5-4)

Don’t let the box score fool you—this game was lopsided. Arkansas fell into a 21-0 hole to Liberty halfway through the second quarter and, despite its best efforts, were unable to come back. While Liberty—now ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll—is no easy out, a home loss against a non-power five team is troubling. KJ Jefferson had the Razorbacks’ offense humming in the second half, just as he’s done all season. Arkansas is averaging 485.3 yards per game behind Jefferson and star running back Raheim Sanders. Sanders has 1,101 rushing yards to go with 7 touchdowns on the season. The problem for Arkansas clearly doesn’t lie in the offense. It’s the defense, which has allowed 442.7 yards and 30.7 points per game, thirteenth and twelfth in the SEC, respectively. They’ll have their work cut out for them this week against Daniels and No. 7 LSU.

11. Missouri (4-5)

Props to Missouri for keeping close to Kentucky this past weekend. Despite trailing by 11 at halftime, the Tigers battled all the way back to take a lead halfway through the fourth quarter. That didn’t last long as  Levis and the Wildcats marched right downfield to score a touchdown to take the lead and eventually win the game. Missouri’s defense has continued to put up stellar performances, as they are now fourth in the SEC in both points and yards allowed per game. The offense still has a long way to go, though. The Tigers rank towards the bottom of the SEC in both passing and running offenses. It’s a far cry from the Missouri Tigers of years past, whose trouble was not in moving the ball downfield, but in getting stops. The offense has shown flashes of brilliance, and with talented young players like wide receiver Luther Burden III, the future is bright in Columbia. The near future might not be as bright —the Tigers will travel to Knoxville to take on No. 5 Tennessee this weekend.

12. South Carolina (6-3)

South Carolina stays at No. 12 in this week’s rankings despite its win at Vanderbilt. Simply put, it was not a convincing win. Sure, they won by double digits, but they struggled all night to put the game away. Every time it felt like the Gamecocks were about to pull away, a costly flag (12 penalties for 115 yards) left the metaphorical door slightly ajar. The positive coming out of the game for the Gamecocks is that quarterback Spencer Rattler had his best game in 14 months, throwing for three touchdowns for the first time since September of 2021. Perhaps all he needed was a game against Vanderbilt to boost his confidence. Only time will tell for the junior signal caller. South Carolina should get an additional offensive boost now that running back Marshawn Lloyd—the true heart and soul of this offense—is healthy. Lloyd & Co. will travel to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators this weekend.

13. Auburn (3-6)

It was a heartbreaking weekend for Auburn, to say the least. After trailing 24-6 at halftime, Auburn battled all the way back to take Mississippi State to overtime—in Starkville. If a loss could ever be a team’s best performance, this would be it. In its first game since firing Bryan Harsin, the Tigers showed some hope. They still have a long way to go passing the football—Robby Ashford completed 7-of-22 passes for 75 yards—but they ran the ball very well, rushing for 256 yards and 3 touchdowns as a team. After a rough month-long stretch, Tank Bigsby has found his groove. The junior running back has run for 331 yards and 4 touchdowns through his last three games. The defense has struggled all season, allowing 30.9 points per game, second-to-last in the SEC. The Tigers will have every opportunity to get back on track this weekend with a juicy home matchup against a struggling Texas A&M offense.

14. Vanderbilt (3-6)

It’s been a tough month and a half for Commodore fans. Vanderbilt has dropped five straight games and finds itself at the bottom of the power rankings yet again. This week, they suffered a terrible loss at home against South Carolina. The Commodores were afforded every opportunity to get back into the game, and the offense played a solid game. Despite a first-half injury to quarterback AJ Swann, Vanderbilt was able to put up 28 points. Their first problem was not playing clean football. The Commodores turned the ball over four times and missed two field goals. It’s hard to win games when you make that many mistakes. The second problem was their defense—they made Spencer Rattler look like he was a four-star high school recruit again. The Commodores allowed nearly 500 total yards and could not get off of the field. Vanderbilt will travel to Lexington this weekend to take on the No. 24 Wildcats, yet again in the hopes of snapping their 26-game SEC losing streak.

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman
Aiden Rutman, Senior Staff Writer
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Brett Needelman
Brett Needelman, Former Staff Writer
Brett Needelman ('23) is studying human and organizational development, economics and business in Peabody College. Brett is from a suburb of Chicago and is an avid believer that the Bulls will make the playoffs next season. You can reach him at [email protected].
Arianna Santiago
Arianna Santiago, Senior Staff Photographer
Arianna Santiago ('24) is from Bremerton, Wash., and studying electrical and computer engineering in the School of Engineering. When not shooting for The Hustler or for freelance work, Arianna can be found leading campus tours, organizing events for University Catholic, attempting to study and procrastinating her lab reports. You can reach her at [email protected].
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