Power Rankings Week Five: The Inevitable

COVID-19 has started to take its toll on the Southeastern Conference schedule, wreaking havoc on teams across the conference.

Vanderbilt+loses+to+Kentucky+in+football+on+Saturday%2C+October+20%2C+2018+in+Lexington.+The+final+score+was+7-14.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FClaire+Barnett%29

Claire Barnett

Vanderbilt loses to Kentucky in football on Saturday, October 20, 2018 in Lexington. The final score was 7-14. (Hustler Multimedia/Claire Barnett)

Brett Needelman

It was wishful thinking that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) would play an uninterrupted conference-only schedule this season. Week Four’s action was missing two games due to COVID-19 quarantines; this past week, both Vanderbilt and Florida saw a spike in positive tests, postponing their games against Missouri and LSU, respectively. 

However, the other ten teams in the SEC still played, and the matchups continued the trend of utter unpredictability. The biggest upsets featured South Carolina pushing their win streak to two over tenth-ranked Auburn and Kentucky taking a commanding victory against 18th-ranked Tennessee on the road. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, had its first week without a loss—and its first week without a game—since the season began.

 

1. Alabama 

Seeing the Alabama Crimson Tide atop the power rankings is certainly not a surprise to anyone who has watched even a minute of SEC football this season. Head coach Nick Saban tested positive for COVID-19 this past Wednesday. But, after testing  negative in three subsequent tests, the initial result was deemed a false positive, allowing him to coach on Saturday. They faced the only other undefeated team in the conference in the fourth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in a Saturday night primetime game. 

The Crimson Tide were definitely challenged by Georgia, as they were down 24-20 at halftime. But in typical Nick Saban fashion, Alabama made halftime adjustments which led to a 21-0 run in the second half, as they ultimately defeated Georgia 41-24. Quarterback Mac Jones threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns, including a 90-yard score to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who posted 161 yards on the day. Najee Harris added 152 yards and a touchdown on the ground, contributing to a well-balanced and dangerous Alabama offense. Alabama will look to continue their dominant season as they head to Knoxville to face off against the Tennessee Volunteers.

 

2. Georgia 

The Georgia Bulldogs have done a great job proving one thing this season: they are, by a landslide, the second-best team in the SEC. They were fantastic through their first three games of the season, and when faced with the challenge of competing with second-ranked Alabama, the Bulldogs were able to produce one great half of football. 

At the end of the day though, the Stetson Bennett-led offense aided by Georgia’s four-headed running back committee was not able to keep pace with a Crimson Tide squad that has at least three players in the Heisman conversation, as they lost 41-24. After throwing an interception on the opening drive, Bennett was able to protect the football throughout the first half until throwing back-to-back picks, which both led to Alabama touchdown drives. He finished with 269 yards and two touchdowns, but the turnovers proved to be costly in a game where you can not afford many mistakes. Georgia has two weeks until their next game, as they will go to Kentucky to play the Wildcats on Halloween. 

3. Texas A&M 

The seventh-ranked Texas A&M Aggies are a much better football team than they were to start the season. Two ugly games to start the season had everyone questioning head coach Jimbo Fisher and his Aggies team, but Texas A&M has since been very impressive. The Aggies followed up their win against Florida by beating the Mississippi State Bulldogs 28-14 in a game. The Aggies were in full control of the game not having spent a single minute trailing to the Bulldogs. Texas A&M’s defense was firing on all cylinders in the victory, as they only allowed 217 yards total, including a mere -2 rushing yards on 20 attempts to the Bulldogs. While also stopping the run entirely, Texas A&M had a strong pass rush, as they piled up six sacks on the day, while also forcing an interception and a strip-sack fumble as well. The Aggies defense only allowed seven points, which came in the fourth quarter, as the other Mississippi State touchdown was scored on an interception. Texas A&M heads into a bye week and will resume action on Oct. 31 when they host Arkansas.

 

4. Florida

A COVID-19 outbreak among the Florida Gators locker room prevented them from hosting LSU this past weekend. Several players tested positive last week, forcing the game to be postponed. As of Tuesday, there are a reported 25 positive cases in the active roster. In addition to those positive cases, head coach Dan Mullen tested positive after stating that he wants to pack “The Swamp” with 90,000 fans.

Regardless, Florida has suspended all football activities and will be forced to dwell on their narrow 41-38 loss to Texas A&M from Week Four until next weekend—hopefully—when they are scheduled to host Missouri. Quarterback Kyle Trask and his teammates will look to get back on the field as soon as possible. Trask has been one of the best players in college football to this point, totaling 996 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and only one interception across three games.

5. Kentucky

After a shaky start to the season, the Kentucky Wildcats have won their last two games by a combined score of 58-9 and won their most recent game on the road against the previously-ranked Tennessee Volunteers, 34-7. Kentucky’s defense jumpstarted the team’s scoring, as they held Tennessee scoreless through the first quarter, punting twice and fumbling once on their first three possessions. In the beginning of the second quarter, defensive back Kelvin Joseph picked off Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and ran it back for a touchdown to break the scoring seal for the game. On the very next possession for the Volunteers, linebacker Jamin Davis followed in Joseph’s footsteps and intercepted Guarantano, running the pass back for a touchdown. To add insult to injury, Guarantano was benched on the next drive for quarterback J.T. Shrout, who on his first throw, threw an interception leading to a Kentucky field goal. 

The Wildcats never looked back from their 17-0 scoring run in the second as they proceeded to slaughter the Volunteers. Kentucky will look to push the win streak to three as at Missouri this weekend. 

6. South Carolina

The South Carolina Gamecocks were not intimidated by a visit from the then 15th-ranked Auburn Tigers team as they forced an upset victory, beating the Tigers 30-22. The Gamecocks were trailing for the majority of the game, as they did not see their first lead until midway through the third quarter. Their defense stepped up during the second half, only allowing six points to the Auburn offense. South Carolina’s offense was nothing special but was still enough to win the game, led by running back Kevin Harris who had a pair of touchdown runs on 104 scrimmage yards. 

South Carolina has now won its last two games, bringing them to 2-2 on the season. The Gamecocks have had one of the most difficult schedules in the SEC to this point as they have faced three ranked opponents;so sitting at .500 for a team that many thought would be sitting at the bottom of the standings is impressive. Next week they will be traveling to Baton Rouge to battle the struggling LSU Tigers. 

7. Arkansas

The Arkansas Razorbacks squad that picked up their first SEC win since 2017 this season added a second win to their resumé, handling the Ole Miss Rebels by a score of 33-21. The Razorbacks gashed the Rebels in the first half, going up 20-0, highlighted by a pick-six from defensive back Jalen Catalon.

Like many of their SEC contemporaries, defense also carried this Razorback team, as they were able to pick off Rebel quarterback Matt Corral a whopping six times while also forcing a fumble – seven turnovers! If a team is forcing seven turnovers in a game, it is borderline impossible to find a way to lose. Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks also had a strong showing, bringing in 11 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown. Arkansas is not playing in Week Five and will resume action on the road against a tough Texas A&M team. 

8. Auburn

Auburn has been one of the most underwhelming teams in the SEC this season. Many anticipated true sophomore quarterback Bo Nix to take a step forward after starting as a freshman, but those improvements have yet to be seen. The underperformance has spread throughout the rest of the team, as the Auburn Tigers fell to 2-2 after a 30-22 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Tigers were able to establish the run against South Carolina, led by Tank Bigsky running for 110 yards and a score, contributing to the 209-yard team rushing performance. But Nix threw three interceptions and the Auburn Tigers left a lot of points on the field, only capitalizing on two of five trips to the red zone. 

In a game that was decided by a single score, those lost points could have changed the outlook of the entire game. After a sloppy performance, the Tigers will look to redeem themselves on the road against Ole Miss this weekend. 

9. Tennessee

Back-to-back pick-sixes, back-to-back-to-back interceptions. That was the tragic story for the Tennessee Volunteers, as they were thrashed by Kentucky 34-7. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano looked lost as he gave the Wildcats 14 easy points in the second quarter of a game where points were hard to come by. Backup quarterback J.T. Shrout threw a pick on the next drive in his only attempt of the day. Needless to say, the passing game was not working for the Volunteers. Running back Eric Gray still managed to have a nice performance, rushing for 128 yards on 24 carries. 

Tennessee has now lost two games in a row, falling out of the AP Top 25. Things do not seem to get any better for the Vols in the short term, as they host SEC powerhouse Alabama in their Week Five matchup. 

10. Missouri

The Missouri Tigers were scheduled to host the Vanderbilt Commodores this past weekend, but a COVID-19 breakout among Vanderbilt’s team postponed the game. Missouri was looking to win their second game of the season and extend its win streak to two, as the Tigers  finally seemed to put the pieces together in their last victory against LSU. Quarterback Connor Bazelak was finally able to get a firm grasp on the starting job as he was able to execute the Eliah Drinkwitz offense to perfection. 

The Tigers will have to wait for this favorable matchup against the Commodores until the end of the regular season. Instead, in their next game, they will be hosting the Kentucky Wildcats. 

11. Mississippi State

Most people, including the Hustler staff, thought that coach Mike Leach and his Mississippi State Bulldogs started the season with a major statement beating the LSU Tigers on the road by double digits. A few weeks removed from that “upset,” LSU turned out to be one of the worst teams in the SEC and Mississippi State only performing marginally better. Mississippi State lost to Texas A&M 28-14 at home this past week. Bulldogs quarterback KJ Costello, who threw for 623 yards and five touchdowns in the season debut, found himself benched during the second half for not being able to lead a drive resulting in a score against a team who had given up 90 points in its prior two games. On top of benching their quarterback, Mississippi State ran for -2 yards. 

Overall, the typically highly-touted Mike Leach offense was abysmal. The Bulldogs have now dropped their last three games heading into a bye week. They will come back to action being forced to play Alabama on the road. 

12. Ole Miss

The Ole Miss Rebels have enjoyed a great deal of offensive success leading up to their Week Four matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks, scoring an outstanding 125 points in three games. Their defense has been as bad as their offense is good, yielding 155 points. It is worth mentioning that their path has not been easy, as they have already had to play both Florida and Alabama. Ole Miss is coming out and challenging other teams to outscore them. That challenge is a lot easier to accomplish for opposing teams when the Rebels turn the ball over seven times, which they did against Arkansas last weekend, all by way of quarterback Matt Corral. Ole Miss lost to Arkansas 33-21 in a game that was never really competitive. 

This was the first time all season Ole Miss was held under 35 points, and it was against a defense that is not particularly special. The turnovers and lack of offensive firepower should be a huge concern for the Rebels since they have predicated their gameplay on a potent offense. They will look to revert back to their prior performances this weekend when they host the Auburn Tigers.

13. LSU

The LSU Tigers have been the biggest disappointment in the SEC and possibly all of college football this season. After one of the most dominant seasons in college football history saw them  earn a national championship, the Tigers now find themselves at 1-2 with their lone victory coming against Vanderbilt. They were scheduled to play in Gainesville against the Florida Gators this past weekend, but the game was postponed due to a substantial  COVID-19 outbreak on the Gators’ roster. This may be a blessing in disguise for the Tigers, as they will have time to regroup and gameplan against the Gamecocks for next week. 

LSU lost a record-tying 14 players to the NFL Draft, but elite college football programs pump out similar amounts of draftees each year and maintain their dominance. If Coach Orgeron wants to continue that type of program in Baton Rouge, LSU will need to make some adjustments to start winning more games. 

14. Vanderbilt

Sigh. The Vanderbilt Commodores are the only winless team in the SEC as the challenges just seem to stack upon one another. The Commodores only played with 56 scholarship players in their 41-7 loss last week to South Carolina. On the Monday following the game, Vanderbilt announced that they were not going to be able to reach the SEC’s 53 scholarship player minimum for their game against Missouri, forcing the game to be postponed. The preexisting season opt-outs, combined with the spread of COVID-19 on the roster, has not made life easy for coach Derek Mason and company. 

The Commodores are off this weekend and will hope to turn things around when they host Ole Miss on October 31st.