SEC Power Rankings Week 6: Unequal Footing

With a 42-21 Alabama victory over Ole Miss and a 37-0 Georgia walloping of Arkansas, there’s a massive disparity between the top two teams in the SEC and everyone else.

Vanderbilt+against+Georgia

Mattigan Kelly

Vanderbilt and Georgia compete in a game on Sept. 25, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly)

Jayce Pollard and Jesse Goldman

By no means is the rest of the SEC performing poorly. There are seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25; South Carolina and Vanderbilt took care of business in the only non-conference games of last week; and 12 out of 14 teams have a record above .500. However, there is a significant jump—in fact, a 37-point one—between the teams at No. 2 and No. 3 in this week’s SEC Power Rankings.

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Alabama and Georgia to the rest of the conference. Not only are they the top two teams in the SEC, but they’re the top two teams in the entire sport. Alabama is averaging the third-most points per game (45.6) in the FBS. Georgia is allowing the fewest yards (177.8) and points per game (4.6) in the country. There’s a reason these two programs are the only ones with No. 1 votes in the last five AP polls—and it’s not because everyone else is bad.

T-1. Alabama: 5-0 & Georgia: 5-0 

Alabama was beating 12th-ranked Ole Miss 28-0 at halftime. Georgia shutout eighth-ranked Arkansas 37-0. These scores are supposed to come against cupcake opponents, not the third and fifth highest ranked teams in the conference at the time. Until further notice, Alabama and Georgia should occupy the top spot in our power rankings together. They seem to be playing in a league of their own. If they continue to blow out legitimate opponents it will be hard to tell who is truly the best team in the SEC. It seems we may see the national championship played twice, once in the SEC title game and once in the College Football Playoff. 

3. Arkansas: 4-1

The honeymoon is over. With a 37-0 shutout loss to Georgia, the Razorbacks suffered their first loss in what has thus far been a magical season. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Razorbacks have faced the most difficult schedule of anyone in the country so far—and still have to brace for the fifth-hardest remaining schedule. Whatever level of success Arkansas has going forward will be contingent upon the strength of its defense and the health of starting quarterback KJ Jefferson, who came into last week’s game with questionable health but left having played the majority of snaps. Sam Pittman’s squad will go on the road this week to play No. 17 Ole Miss, a team that is also coming off its first loss of the season. Hopefully they’re able to score a point. 

4. Kentucky: 5-0 

Kentucky is on fire! Mark Stoops’ squad has won three straight SEC games, including last week’s takedown of the 10th-ranked Florida Gators. The defense has been incredible throughout the season, most recently holding Florida to their lowest point total of the season so far (against a schedule that includes Alabama). Penn State transfer Will Levis, who primarily was a running quarterback during his time in Happy Valley, has proven to be the quarterback Kentucky needed, adding a little bit more passing ability to what has always been a run-dominant offense. Now all of this could be irrelevant in two weeks when they travel to play Georgia, but for now, let us regale the Wildcats with cheers and praise for their play so far.

5. Florida: 3-2

Emory Jones giveth. Emory Jones taketh away. More specifically, quarterback Emory Jones threw a very untimely fourth quarter interception to seal the deal on a blown lead against No. 16 Kentucky. Although Florida’s only losses are to undefeated and ranked SEC teams, it is fair to say that the fanbase is not thrilled by allowing Kentucky to capture a win against the Gators in Lexington for the first time since 1986. Though a 1-2 conference record likely puts Florida out of the race for the SEC title, Dan Mullen will need to keep his squad motivated and fighting for something if it hopes to make it through the remainder of a grueling schedule. However, that struggle can pick up after this week when the Gators play Vanderbilt in Gainesville.

6. Ole Miss: 3-1 

Ole Miss slips slightly in the rankings this week after a drubbing at the hands of Alabama. However, there is reason to believe they could still be the third-best team in the SEC by the end of the season. That ascent starts next week when Arkansas travels to Oxford. This battle between two badly-beaten teams feels like one of the first significant loser-leaves-town matches of the year in college football. I, for one, will not be counting Ole Miss out quite yet behind one of the best offensive minds in the sport and a quarterback who has played himself to the top of NFL Draft boards. Even last week Matt Corral was able to complete 72 percent of his throws and avoid interceptions.

7. Auburn: 4-1 

Bryan Harsin has gotten his team to perform admirably in his first season at Auburn, but even at 4-1 the Tigers do not feel like they are a top-tier team in the SEC. Perhaps if they snuck out of Penn State with a win this would be a completely different conversation, but they did not. Bo Nix is one of the most recognizable names in the sport, and certainly has the profile to back it up. However, against common opinion, he is the reason Auburn’s ceiling is lower than many think. He has the million-dollar face with the catchy name, and makes some unbelievable plays as he did last weekend when seemingly the entire LSU front had a chance to tackle him before he threw a touchdown. What he cannot escape is his inefficiency. He is now in the midst of his third straight season with a completion percentage under 60 percent with a yards per attempt of 6.7. He may just not be that good, but do not tell War Eagle that.

8. Mississippi State: 3-2 

Mississippi State is a surprising 3-2 in the second year of the Mike Leach era. Sophomore Will Rogers has played quite well at quarterback, amassing 1,862 yards, 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions over the Bulldogs’ five games. Commodore fans saw Rogers play last season in a mediocre performance, and I personally am surprised to see him faring this well after watching what was Vanderbilt’s best chance at a win during the 2020 season. Perhaps a year in the weight room and a full offseason learning Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense made the difference for the Mississippi native. This is most likely the highest they will be in our rankings for a few weeks however, as they have a bye this weekend and then welcome Alabama the week after. 

9. Texas A&M: 3-2 

After three straight years of top-10 recruiting classes, there was plenty of optimism to go around in College Station heading into the season. A loss at 16th-ranked Arkansas? Defensible. A loss at home to unranked Mississippi State? Inexcusable. Say what you want about the rest of this Aggies roster, gone are the days in the SEC of winning through defense and a decent running game. Texas A&M’s season starts, and now seemingly has ended, at the quarterback position. Taking the place of injured Haynes King, Zach Calzada has yet to complete more than 20 passes in a start and has only topped 200 passing yards once. Unless the quarterback play improves, this season for Texas A&M could be remembered as a waste of a top roster. 

10. LSU: 3-2

As of this writing, Ed Ogeron still has a job. That may very well change by the next time these rankings are published. Through two SEC games, the Tigers are 1-1 with a nearly-blown lead against Mississippi State and an actually-blown lead against Auburn. Last week’s loss to Auburn, in which LSU was up 19-10 heading into the fourth quarter, came from an inability to generate any answer to an opposing mobile quarterback. Auburn’s Bo Nix, by no means the most athletic passer in the SEC, threw and ran for a combined 329 yards and two touchdowns. That inability also proved to be a factor in a Week 1 loss to UCLA and will likely hinder their future performance against the likes of Florida and Arkansas. This week, the Tigers will be fighting for a positive SEC record—and Ogeron’s job—against No. 16 Kentucky.

11. Tennessee: 3-2

It’s alive! With a 62-24 win against Missouri in Week 5, the Volunteers tallied their highest single-game point total since 2016 and obtained their first Power 5 victory of the year. Tennessee’s dominance last week came largely on account of its rushing game, which boasted 458 yards on 59 carries—three touchdowns and 156 yards of which came from junior running back Tiyon Evans. Even quarterback Hendon Hooker, limited as he was to 19 passing attempts, got in on the ground game with 15 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown. Expect the Volunteers and their offense—ranked second in the SEC in rushing yards per game—to pound the rock to another victory this week against lowly South Carolina.

12. Missouri: 2-3

How Missouri managed to lose to a Hendon Hooker-led Tennessee team by 40 will go down as one of the biggest questions of this football season. Not only did Missouri’s defense allow the Volunteers to score a season-high 62 points, it allowed significantly more total yards—683—than previous Tennessee opponents Tennessee Tech or Bowling Green. This is not a one-week occurrence: Missouri’s defense is currently second-to-last in the Power 5 in points per game allowed. The Tiger’s offense, thanks to quarterback Connor Bazelak, has been able to keep pace this season by boasting a solid 465.6 total and 324 passing yards per game. Missouri should be able to coast to victory this week against Conference USA foe North Texas; however, the remainder of the schedule will constitute a much less easy pill to swallow.

13. South Carolina: 3-2

The football world was taken by surprise last December when Shane Beamer, an assistant head coach at Oklahoma, was announced as South Carolina’s next head coach. Five weeks into the season, absolutely no one is surprised by how the unorthodox hire is turning out. The Gamecocks have failed to score more than two touchdowns against an FBS opponent, and are second-to-last in the SEC in yards and points per game. Last week, Beamer’s squad scored fewer points against a woeful Troy team than Louisiana-Monroe did a week prior. This week, South Carolina will turn its attention to newly-rejuvenated Tennessee as a 10.5-point underdog in Knoxville. Maybe the Gamecocks will have better luck during the baseball season…

14. Vanderbilt: 2-3

Sweet victory! With a 30-28 nail-biting victory over UConn in Week 5, the Commodores have exhausted their non-conference schedule and look forward to a slate of solely SEC opponents from here on out. The key to success during that period will be whether Vanderbilt’s defense can get its act together. The Commodores allowed UConn to score 28 points—tied for the latter’s highest this season—and net 523 total yards—almost double the amount allowed by FCS Holy Cross. Vanderbilt’s offense did rack up a season-high 30 points; however, it cannot be overstated that that was against an 0-6 UConn team that allowed Army to score 52 points on three passes. Vanderbilt will go on the road for just the second time this season when it takes on quarterback Emory Jones and No. 20 Florida this weekend.