Power Rankings Week Six: Byes and Blowouts

Only eight teams competed in a quiet week of SEC football that featured no ranked matchups and just one close game.

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Truman McDaniel

Commodore Nation celebrates Vanderbilt’s upset win over the 22nd-ranked Tigers. (Photo by Hunter Long)

Jonah Crist and Jeremy Roseman

In the aftermath of several COVID-19 outbreaks within Southeastern Conference (SEC) locker rooms, schedules were shifted, games were postponed and ultimately, only four games were played in Week Five. Georgia, Florida, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Mississippi State all had the week off. 

Of the games that were played, three were won comfortably: Alabama dominated Tennessee, as expected; LSU took care of South Carolina handedly, despite struggling so far in 2020; and Missouri was in full control against Kentucky in a low-scoring game. The fourth game saw Auburn defeat Ole Miss 35-28.

 

1. Alabama

The Alabama Crimson Tide remain the team to beat in the SEC. This past weekend, Alabama handled the Tennessee Volunteers with ease in a 48-17 victory. Mac Jones continued to impress, throwing for 387 yards on an efficient 25/31 passing day, while Najee Harris stuffed the stat sheet, rushing for 96 yards and three touchdowns. However, Saturday wasn’t all great for Alabama. On the opening kick return, star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle broke his right ankle and is expected to miss the remainder of the season; he will eventually enter the NFL Draft. 

While Alabama will surely miss Waddle’s talents, they do not lack wide receiver depth. DeVonta Smith, Slade Bolden and John Metchie are all talented in their own right, and the trio accounted for 318 of Jones’ 387 passing yards after Waddle’s early exit. Regardless of the injury, the Crimson Tide still sit comfortably atop the SEC top rankings and are title contenders once again. Alabama will look to stay unbeaten as they face off against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Tuscaloosa. 

 

2. Georgia

The Georgia Bulldogs got to think about their Week Four loss to Alabama a little more than they would have liked. As a result of coronavirus outbreaks, the SEC shifted some games around. Georgia received a week off following the loss to the Crimson Tide, in a game where the Bulldogs led at halftime 24-20. However, Alabama shut out the Bulldogs 21-0 thereafter, as Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett threw for a total of three interceptions (two in the second half). Head coach Kirby Smart indicated he is sticking with Bennett at quarterback, although many believe the talented transfer from USC, J.T. Daniels, deserves a shot.

Regardless of who leads the offense, it is Georgia’s stellar defense that puts them in a tier of their own, just behind Alabama, in the SEC. Smart is one of the greatest defensive minds in college football, and his defense has shown it. After an unexpected week off, Georgia will take a step down in competition. The Bulldogs hope to get back on track as they head to Lexington to play the Kentucky Wildcats. 

 

3. Texas A&M

The Texas A&M Aggies entered their bye week feeling good, sitting on a 3-1 record—and their only loss was to Alabama. Their win against Mississippi State prior to the bye week was their most impressive of all. The Aggies defense completely shut down the run, allowing a total of seven points, and the team never trailed. 

The Aggies may see wideout Hezekiah Jones and nickelback Erick Young return from injury in the coming games. Jones is a deep threat who has speed to stretch the field. Young was a four-star cornerback prospect before he moved to safety and then nickelback. The Aggies lost four experienced receivers from last year–two to the NFL Draft, one position switch to running back and the other opting out for COVID-19 concerns. So Jones’ return would lighten the load on younger guys. Young would bring some much-needed help in covering dangerous slot receivers. 

Texas A&M will match up against the Arkansas Razorbacks in College Station on Saturday. Since they are allowing 25 percent capacity in a stadium that can hold 110,000 people, Texas A&M enjoys a rare home-field advantage in times like these. 

 

4. Florida

The Florida Gators have now had two weeks off due to COVID-19 related complications. The original outbreak had a reported 25 players on roster contract the virus. As a result, the game versus LSU was postponed. Just days later, Florida’s Week Five game against Missouri was postponed as well. There were less than 50 scholarship players available due to contact tracing. It was reported that Florida returned to practice on Monday for the first time since Oct. 13. Coach Dan Mullen, who tested positive himself, is out of quarantine. Mullen would not detail how many players they will have on Saturday but said he is confident they will have the 53-man minimum. 

Prior to the two-week hiatus, quarterback Kyle Trask was on a tear. He was fifth in the nation with a passer rating of 195.99 and second in the nation with 14 passing touchdowns, not to mention the thousand yards in three games. The nation’s tenth-ranked team will finally return to action this week as they take on Missouri in Gainesville. 

 

5. Auburn

The Auburn Tigers bounced back from their Week Four loss to South Carolina, beating Ole Miss 35-28. It was a back-and-forth game until one play late in the game was the deciding factor. Controversy arose with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter; just after an Ole Miss score put the Rebels up 28-27, the kickoff appeared to have skimmed the finger of Auburn’s Shaun Shivers before being recovered by Ole Miss in the end zone. However, the officials ruled it a touchback, and a quick second look confirmed the call in the eyes of the referees. After back-to-back three-and-outs by both sides, Bo Nix and the Tigers had one last shot with 2:25 left in the game. Nix connected with Seth Williams for a 42-yard touchdown, as well as the two-point conversion, giving Auburn a 35-28 lead. Ole Miss’s final drive brought them all the way to Auburn’s 29-yard line before a last-chance toss-up. However, Auburn caught their second interception of the day and sealed the victory. 

Bo Nix threw for 238 yards and a touchdown and added another 52 yards and a score with his feet. Auburn had their way in the run game, too, as Tank Bigsby rushed for 129 yards and two scores, while Shivers tacked on another 60 yards and a touchdown. Auburn will host the Tiger Bowl this week against LSU.

 

6. Missouri

Due to the delay of Missouri’s matchup against Florida, the Tigers took on the Kentucky Wildcats this past week. Missouri earned a 20-10 victory in a superb defensive effort. The Tigers forced a fumble and held the Wildcats to a total of 145 yards and just eight first downs. Connor Bazelak did his job, throwing for 201 yards with no turnovers. Larry Rountree III tallied 126 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries.

 However, it won’t be so easy for the Tigers this week. This could be a tough game for Missouri, as they head to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators. 

 

7. Arkansas

The Razorbacks had a much-needed bye week to get healthy and recover from a close loss against Auburn. The defense of Arkansas has been the reason for much of their success this year. They held Mississippi State to 14 points, Ole Miss to 21 points and Auburn to 30, with ten coming off a blocked punt and a debatable incomplete pass that likely should have been a fumble recovery. Had things gone the other way, Arkansas may have jumped into the top 25. 

The Razorbacks are off to College Station to face Texas A&M, a team they have lost eight straight games to. However, Arkansas has lost by a touchdown or less in five of the last six. Arkansas has the ability to compete with the Aggies, and a win would be monumental for the Hogs.

 

8. LSU

The Tigers’ redemption tour may just have begun last Saturday, as LSU trounced the South Carolina Gamecocks 52-24.  The LSU offense was firing on all cylinders, as running back Tyrion Davis-Price went for 135 yards on 22 carries alongside a phenomenal showing from first-time starter and true freshman quarterback TJ Finley, who filled in for the injured quarterback Miles Brennan. Brennan’s injury, as well as the loss of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow to the NFL Draft, has led to more turnover than expected at the quarterback position. Finley’s poise against a quality opponent in the Gamecocks is a welcome sight for the future of the program. On the defensive end, LSU finally held a non-Vanderbilt opponent to under 40 points, even adding a defensive score via a momentum-shifting pick-six by cornerback Eli Ricks. 

Head coach Ed Orgeron has to be relieved that his team finally put up the kind of effort expected of a champion. LSU will need to build on this improvement and choose a quarterback before their Halloween face-off with Auburn. 

 

9. Kentucky

The only silver lining in Kentucky’s loss to the Missouri Tigers was the heroic defensive effort of junior defensive back Yusuf Corker, with 18 tackles, a sack and two tackles for a loss. However, to call this game a defensive battle would be to cover up the offensive ineptitude of the Wildcats, as they achieved only four completions and less than 100 rushing yards. If Kentucky hopes to improve upon this dreadful outing, there needs to be a sense of urgency with respect to keeping their offense on the field. Not once out of their nine possessions did Kentucky have a drive lasting more than three and a half minutes. Missouri took this advantage in time of possession and ran the ball until the Kentucky defense snapped. 

In Week Six, the Wildcats must give their defense some rest, as the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs come off a bye week hungry for a win.

 

10. Tennessee

It was Alabama. While that may rationalize the defeat for most teams, the Volunteers must come away from this 48-17 loss with some lessons. Obviously, the Tennessee defense cannot afford to give up 417 passing yards and 48 points, but there were some positive takeaways. The defensive line came away with two sacks and five tackles for a loss. The rush defense held Alabama to under five yards per carry and no rushes of more than 20 yards, despite allowing five touchdowns. Offensively, Tennessee was largely stymied by Alabama, but the Volunteers were able to slip a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive past the suffocating Tide defense in the second quarter. Even considering the silver linings, this game was not pretty for the Volunteers. Next up: A bye week to handle the emotional trauma.

 

11. South Carolina

South Carolina got crushed by the weight of their mistakes against a resurgent LSU squad. Quarterback Collin Hill completed barely half of his passes and threw a pick-six, and the offense sputtered in the red zone. As South Carolina struggled to finish possessions, they turned to their kicker Parker White, who proceeded to miss three of his four attempts. On the defensive end, LSU’s true freshman quarterback, TJ Finley, picked apart the Carolina secondary in the first start of his career. Even on the line, South Carolina allowed 276 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Nothing about this game went well for the Gamecocks, and they must improve during their upcoming bye week if they expect to challenge a strong Texas A&M team in Week Seven.

 

12. Mississippi State

There were few teams that needed a bye week more than Mississippi State, as they have dropped three straight games to Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Head coach Mike Leach will look to guide his team back to the level that allowed them to upset the defending champion LSU Tigers on opening day. If the Bulldogs hope to stay in the thick of the SEC race, their offense has to improve. Mississippi State has failed to exceed 14 points in a game since scoring 44 in Week One, even throwing more interceptions (six) than points scored (two) against Kentucky. 

The Air-Raid passing attack has faltered after a hot start due to sloppy decision-making and quarterback inconsistency. With a matchup with Alabama looming, a win does not seem likely. But to be fair, neither did their upset against LSU.

 

13. Ole Miss

Following two straight losses to Alabama and Arkansas, respectively, Ole Miss put up another good fight against the Auburn Tigers in the closest margin of all SEC games played in Week Six. In tight games like these, the details are magnified and the smallest mistakes become difference-makers. The mistake here came in the play of the secondary, a missed tackle on the 58-yard catch-and-run by Seth Williams that pulled Auburn ahead with 1:13 to play. It may be tempting to place blame for a below-average performance on the Ole Miss passing attack, but the offense of the Rebels did not stagnate with 283 yards and three TDs on the ground. However, the early interception at the Auburn goal line, which the Tiger offense turned into a 95-yard touchdown drive, will surely be one that sticks in quarterback Matt Corral’s mind. 

On the horizon for Ole Miss is a matchup with the winless Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, setting up a desperate duel between two struggling programs.

 

14. Vanderbilt

The Commodores were off the field for a second straight week following the COVID-19 outbreak that cancelled last week’s game versus Missouri.

With seven games to play, it’s more important than ever to transfer this down-time into tangible improvement. Coach Derek Mason will have his chance to turn preparation into progress against an Ole Miss team looking for an ego boost this Saturday.