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SEC Power Rankings 1.2

We got an appetizer’s load of conference games to kick off the SEC season. Who were the biggest winners and losers?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Tulane at Ole Miss Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

SEC play has (sort of) began! A top 15 showdown saw Alabama escape with a win in the Swamp while Auburn fell short in an SEC-Big Ten matchup in Happy Valley, but it may have helped their stock. Let’s get to it.

14. Vanderbilt Commodores

NCAA Football: Stanford at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 41-23 loss vs. Stanford
Record: 1-2
Last Week’s Ranking: 14 (-)

*sighs* Another week, another loss. Vanderbilt is a staple to the bottom of this list much like Alabama is to the top, and there’s no change in sight. They stayed in the game with Stanford for about a quarter, but Stanford rattled off 20 unanswered points and the rout was on.

There were some positives here. Rocko Griffin cracked the 100 yard barrier on the ground as Vandy totaled over 350 yards of total offense for the first time this year. It may just be time to give the quarterback duties to Mike Wright, however. Ken Seals has been amongst the worst college quarterbacks this season, ranking 105 out of 109 qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt. Wright has looked vastly better in his 12 passing attempts, and at this point, what could it possibly hurt? Another blowout is on the horizon for the Commodores.

Next Game: 9/25 vs. 2 Georgia

13. South Carolina Gamecocks

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 40-13 loss @ 2 Georgia
Record: 2-1 (0-1)
Last Week’s Ranking: 13 (-)

South Carolina entered as heavy underdogs, and the result was exactly as expected. Despite Georgia’s iffy quarterback situation the entire week heading into the game, it made no difference. The Gamecock defense got gashed on all three first-half touchdowns. The first was a 23-yard touchdown run by James Cook where South Carolina got one hand in total on him. The second came off of bad coverage by Cam Smith, allowing Jermaine Burton to run right by him en route to a 43-yard touchdown from JT Daniels. Lastly, the third touchdown once again came off of poor man-to-man coverage as Darius Rush got torched by Adonai Mitchell, and JT Daniels hit him perfectly in stride for a 38-yard score.

To boot a bad night in Athens, folk hero Zeb Noland went down with a hand injury after his throwing hand got stepped on. Coach Shane Beamer was not optimistic about the injury, so South Carolina could be sticking with Luke Doty for the time being. Doty did not look great coming in for Noland, but it was against Georgia’s vaunted defense, so we’ll get a good, long look at him as the Gamecocks welcome Kentucky into Colombia.

Next Game: 9/25 vs. Kentucky

12. Tennessee Volunteers

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Last Game: 56-0 win vs. Tennessee Tech
Record: 2-1
Last Week’s Ranking: 12 (-)

Though Tennessee isn’t moving up at all and Tennessee Tech isn’t exactly stellar competition, there were a lot of promising signs here. Hendon Hooker started in place for an injured Joe Milton, and he looked mostly pretty good. He went 17/25 for 199 yards and three touchdowns to go with another 64 yards on the ground and another score. He had much better ball placement in this game, still far from perfect, and aside from his lost fumble, he played a clean game. His pocket presence still needs to improve. He almost slammed his hand into his lineman’s helmet on a handful of throws.

The defense heard the complaints from a week ago and answered the call in this one. Again, Tech isn’t close to the level of Pitt, but this defense swarmed to the ball, playing more aggressively and creating turnovers. They turned Tech over four times, including this pick-six by Solon Page III.

It was a much-needed recharge for the Vols as they prepare to enter The Swamp. Florida’s defense will be a much greater challenge than anything Tennessee has faced this year, so it’ll be interesting to see how Hooker or Milton take it on.

Next Game: 9/25 @ 11 Florida

11. Mississippi State Bulldogs

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 31-29 loss @ Memphis
Record: 2-1
Last Week’s Ranking: 11 (-)

This one’s going to sting for a while. This game was all Mississippi State. Outside of a scoop-and-score on a bad fumble between Will Rogers and Jo’quavious Marks, the Bulldogs dominated for the entire first half and even into the third quarter. This was capped off by an Emmanuel Forbes interception that set up State inside the 15. This, however, is when things began to turn.

Mike Leach is a gambler. It bit him hard in this game. Electing to go for it on fourth-and-goal, Memphis forced an incompletion following a bad snap, and the score remained 17-7. Now, I do agree with Leach’s decision to go for it here, regardless of the result. A 10 point lead or a 13 point lead, Memphis was going to need two touchdowns to take the lead, but a 17 point lead would’ve put this game into overdrive for Mississippi State. Quite frankly, not punching it in the first three tries from three yards out, and why they can’t run the ball effectively in short-yardage situations is what should be called into question here. A fumble and now a turnover-on-downs directly resulted in Memphis’ 14 points as the Tigers drove 98 yards to cut the lead to 17-14.

Memphis took the lead halfway through the fourth quarter on a screen pass to Calvin Austin III. And then, it happened.

When it rains, it pours. This play on the surface is insane and perfectly summed up how the second half went for Mississippi State, but then everyone began dissecting it, and we all soon realized that it shouldn’t have even counted. This was the SEC official announcement of all that went wrong:

This game just felt like a repeated punch to the gut, and to see this after the fact is demoralizing. Mississippi State’s defense played a very good game, only allowing 246 total yards of offense and holding Memphis to 2-12 on third down. Losing a game when your defense plays like that is rough. The Bulldogs have to pick themselves up and get ready to respond when they welcome LSU into town this Saturday.

Next Game: 9/25 vs. LSU

10. Missouri Tigers

Last Game: 59-28 win vs. Southeast Missouri State
Record: 2-1 (0-1)
Last Week’s Ranking: 9 (↓1)

A tune-up win following a tough loss is always a good remedy for morale, and that’s just what the doctor ordered for Mizzou. Though they’re moving down a slot here, that’s more to do with LSU than anything. There’s not much to look at here. SEMO is a winless FCS team, and Missouri handled them how they should. Connor Bazelak is winning me over more and more each week. Up next is an SEC-ACC matchup against an untested Boston College team.

Next Game: 9/25 @ Boston College

9. LSU Tigers

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Louisiana State The Advertiser-USA TODAY NETWORK

Last Game: 49-21 win vs. Central Michigan
Record: 2-1
Last Week’s Ranking: 10 (↑1)

As Dr. Frankenstein once said, “It’s alive!” LSU discovered they had a pulse in this absolute beatdown of Central Michigan.

It was nice to see a performance like this from LSU. They’ve felt so lifeless really since the National Championship win in the 2019 season, but this was a step in the right direction. Max Johnson is very good and is the perfect leader for this team. He threw for 372 yards in this one with five touchdowns including this one where Deion Smith completely Mosses the defensive back.

Johnson’s lone mistake in this one was a pick-six well after this game was wrapped up.

The biggest winner for this team was the defense. Their run defense is much improved after they got sliced up by UCLA in week one, and the Tigers pass rush was, once again, dominant. They predominantly rush four, but they consistently get a combo of wins on the outside or coverage sacks. They tallied five sacks, including 2.5 from BJ Ojulari, who was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. LSU leads the nation in sacks as this defense continues to impress.

Top draft prospect Derek Stingley Jr. forced a fumble that was recovered and taken to the house by Andre Anthony as LSU forced a pair of turnovers on the Chippewas’ first two drives.

LSU looks much improved and things are starting to head in an upward trajectory for Coach O’s squad.

Next Game: 9/25 @ Mississippi State

8. Auburn Tigers

NCAA Football: Auburn at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 28-20 loss @ Penn State
Record: 2-1
AP Top 25: 23 (↓1)
Last Week’s Ranking: 8 (-)

Auburn had a huge chance to climb way up the power rankings this week, but they are who we thought they were. This was a very competitive game, but Auburn never led after the second quarter, playing catch-up most of the game. Auburn’s defense shut down Penn State’s ground attack, but Sean Clifford played perhaps his best game as a Penn State QB, throwing for 280 yards and a touchdown, completing 87.5% of his passes for almost nine yards an attempt.

Bo Nix, as we’ve all known, is not the answer. He’s never been the answer for Auburn. Nix went 21/37 for 185 yards, good for a measly 5.0 yards per attempt, with no touchdowns. Tank Bigsby accounted for both of Auburn’s touchdowns. Nix wasn’t remotely a difference-maker in this game when Auburn needed him the most, and he almost had a pick-six on that stat line had Brandon Smith held onto it.

A failed trick play to start the second half resulted in a Kobe Hudson fumble, setting Penn State up inside the red zone. The Nittany Lions would subsequently score, and Auburn would never recover from this. They cut the lead to one, but they were unable to score in the final ten minutes of the game as Penn State won by eight.

This was the exact game I was expecting, and though Auburn is not the eighth-best team in the SEC, they are better than that, the lack of trust they continue to build with basically everyone in big games is why I have them this low. They have to prove me wrong.

Next Game: 9/25 vs. Georgia State

7. Kentucky Wildcats

NCAA Football: Chattanooga at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 28-23 win vs. Chattanooga
Record: 3-0 (1-0)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4 (↓3)

Back down to earth come the Wildcats. Perhaps it’s more to do with me overrating them a bit, but the Kentucky team we saw the first two weeks is not what was on the field against Chattanooga Saturday. Will Levis looked very shaky pretty much most of the game; the team overall just felt out of sorts. Coach Mark Stoops said the team was very “unfocused” in the first half.

Josh Ali scored on an 11-yard touchdown run on the opening drive, and things looked as smooth as they had the first two games. The Wildcat defense surrendered a touchdown the following drive, but Kentucky scored again. Levis found budding star Wan’Dale Robinson for a deep 39-yard completion to set up a 20-yard touchdown from Levis to Isaiah Epps. All looked right in Lexington as Kentucky took a 14-7 lead just into the second quarter.

However, the wheels began to fall off. Kentucky would go interception, punt, fumble, punt on their final four drives of the half. Levis was looking for Josh Ali down the sideline, trying to force it in to convert a 3rd and 16. It was intercepted, and Chattanooga kicked a field goal to cut the lead to four going into the half.

Ailym Ford had a great game for Chattanooga, carrying the rock 21 times for 128 yards. Their offense predominantly went through him as the Kentucky secondary did a great job shutting down Cole Copeland and the Mocs’ passing game. Chattanooga added three on their first drive of the second half, cutting the lead to one. Levis followed that up with an interception, throwing behind Robinson on the sideline, allowing Rashun Freeman to step in and pick it off.

Kentucky found themselves trailing early in the fourth after the Mocs added another field goal, but they righted the ship and Levis turned it up on the following two possessions. Levis got it done with his legs, capitalizing on an open middle of the field and running for 21 yards. He capped the drive off by finding Izayah Cummings in the back of the end zone for a 31-yard strike to regain the lead, 21-16. Chattanooga put together a good drive, but Kentucky put the final nail in the coffin as Tyrell Ajian intercepted Copeland and took it back 95 yards for a touchdown. Kentucky fans could finally breathe as the Cats prevailed 28-23.

Kentucky came back down to earth in this one, but this game felt a bit fluky, and that they were unfocused. Levis was nowhere near as accurate as he’d been the prior two weeks, but this hopefully serves as a wake-up call as they hit the road for the first time this season this week.

One huge bright spot for Kentucky, as always, was Wan’Dale Robinson. The Nebraska transfer has shone brightly since coming home to Lexington, and the stats speak for themselves.

Robinson currently ranks top 15 in the nation in yards per game and is as explosive as any receiver in the country. His draft stock has gone from “who?” to potential day two selection, and as the season progresses, his stock will rise.

Kentucky heads to Colombia to take on a struggling South Carolina squad.

Next Game: 9/25 @ South Carolina

6. Florida Gators

Syndication: Gainesville Sun Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Last Game: 31-29 loss vs. 1 Alabama
Record: 2-1 (0-1)
AP Top 25: 11 (-)
Last Week’s Ranking: 7 (↑1)

Florida moves up a spot despite falling just short against Alabama at home. Early on, though, it looked like a much different story, and that Florida was just laying down in The Swamp and letting the Tide wash them away. Florida trailed 21-3 at the end of the first quarter. Their first four drives went field goal, interception, turnover on downs, punt, as they couldn’t get anything going offensively.

As big of a problem as the offense was in the first, the defense was just as much of an issue. They couldn’t stop anybody on the Tide. Three straight touchdown drives to start the game is certainly not ideal.

The Gators would get it together, however, as their talented front started generating pressure on Bryce Young, forcing the young QB to hurry up his process, and it paid dividends for Florida. The defense shut out Alabama the entire second quarter, and Florida’s offense would add six on a 26 yard Malik Davis touchdown run.

Chris Howard would miss the PAT, surely that wouldn’t come back to haunt Florida...Florida trailed 21-9 going into the half.

The Gators started the half exactly how they needed to. Emory Jones, who had his best game this season, led the Gators up the field, and they converted a 4th and 1 on the goal line in the form of a three-yard Dameon Pierce touchdown run. Alabama answered with a TD of their own, but Florida fired right back. Following a fumbled return that pinned Florida at its one-yard line, Emory Jones and more specifically Nay’Quan Wright, put together an impressive 11 play, 99-yard drive in just over four minutes, with Jones capping it off with a five-yard score.

Florida showed a great fight in the second half, and had it not been for the missed PAT earlier, they wouldn’t have had to go for two on their next touchdown, and a PAT would’ve tied it. Who knows where this game would’ve gone. However, it didn’t end that way, and Florida came up just short, falling to Alabama 31-29.

The absence of Anthony Richardson was a bit shocking, and though Mullen said he would be an “In case of an emergency situation,” Richardson was doing backflips on the field during warmups. Again, we can’t possibly know everything going on, but how Mullen has handled his QB controversy this year certainly raised eyebrows. DEFCON-3 stays steady.

Next Game: 9/25 vs. Tennessee

5. Arkansas Razorbacks

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 45-10 win vs. Georgia Southern
Record: 3-0
AP Top 25: 16 (↑4)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6 (↑1)

KJ Jefferson and Arkansas made the most of their tune-up game, dominating Georgia Southern 45-10. We’ve talked about how good the Hogs are in the trenches, but now there are stats to back it up.

This comes to a head as Arkansas heads to Dallas to take on Texas A&M, beginning their upcoming schedule hell. Three straight top 15 games on the road and home against top-25 Auburn for four consecutive weeks sums up the SEC pretty well, and we’re going to see what Arkansas is made of as they face one of the best defenses in the nation against the Aggies. Strength on strength makes great matchups, and this one might be the most intriguing one this week.

Next Game: vs. 7 Texas A&M (at AT&T Stadium)

4. Texas A&M Aggies

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 34-0 win vs. New Mexico
Record: 3-0
AP Top 25: 7 (-)
Last Week’s Ranking: (↑1)

Like Arkansas, Texas A&M had a tune-up game heading into their collision in Dallas this coming Saturday. Unlike Arkansas, the Aggies had some proving to do. With no Haynes King for an undetermined period, Zach Calzada needed to prove he could step up and lead an elite Aggies team in his absence. While the Colorado game looked rough, Calzada showed a lot of promise this game, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns on 33 attempts. His inexperience shines through, and the ball placement isn’t always great, but this was a major confidence boost, regardless of the competition.

Now comes the test. Can Calzada do enough to protect the ball and lead the Aggies to a win against Arkansas? It’s one of the many questions surrounding this game that makes it a must-watch.

Next Game: 9/25 vs. 16 Arkansas (at AT&T Stadium)

3. Ole Miss Rebels

NCAA Football: Tulane at Mississippi Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 61-21 win vs. Tulane
Record: 3-0
AP Top 25: 13 (↑4)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3 (-)

Wow. Ole Miss dominated Tulane, and Matt Corral had his first Heisman highlight game. He totaled seven touchdowns, tying a school record, three through the air and four on the ground, en route to a huge win for the Rebels. The near two-hour delay didn’t mess with them at all as both sides of the ball were dominated by Ole Miss. Corral went 23/31 for 335 yards through the air and another 68 on the ground, and the aforementioned 7 total touchdowns, for a near-perfect QBR of 97.8.

The Rebels defense once again proved they can play, too, slowing down one of the nation’s more explosive group-of-five teams to the tune of 305 total yards of offense. For context, Tulane has averaged over 407 yards of total offense since the start of last season, and 21 points are their fewest since November 30, 2019, against SMU. So yeah, not too bad.

Lane Kiffin and Matt Corral are leading the number one total offense in the nation, and they finally have a defense that won’t lose them games entirely. This team is going to be a force down the stretch and may just find itself in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Next Game: 10/2 @ 1 Alabama

2. Georgia Bulldogs

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 40-13 win vs. South Carolina
Record: 3-0 (1-0)
AP Top 25: 2 (-)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2 (-)

Georgia opened up its SEC schedule with a resounding win over rival South Carolina, establishing what we all knew: this team can win a National Championship.

For years, Georgia has been capable of reaching the title game, and the one time they did, they had their hearts broken by Alabama, the team they’re always striving for but can’t reach. This year might be different. Though Georgia has been ranked behind Alabama all season, and I’ve had them at two behind them as well, the gap between one and two is closing so much that in a few weeks, it may be indistinguishable. UGA is finally getting good, consistent QB play, and that’s been their Achilles for so long.

JT Daniels was phenomenal in this game, going 23/31 for 303 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. The Dawgs also totaled 184 yards on the ground at nearly six yards a pop. Just overall domination on both sides of the ball.

Star linebacker Nolan Smith took home SEC Defensive Player of the Week, totaling 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles-for-loss. Georgia gets the SEC equivalent of a tune-up this week as they head to Vanderbilt before a pair of top 25 games against Arkansas and Auburn.

Next Game: 9/25 @ Vanderbilt

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

NCAA Football: Alabama at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last Game: 31-29 win @ 11 Florida
Record: 3-0 (1-0)
AP Top 25: 1 (-)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1 (-)

Alabama toughed out a road win at Florida as Bryce Young showed that despite his inexperience, The Swamp couldn’t phase him. Young went 22-of-35 for 240 yards and three touchdowns and once again, no turnovers. He led Alabama through a tough second half, squeezing out the clock late to ultimately come away victorious.

The Crimson Tide struggled on the ground which is very unlike them, but both Jace McClellan and Brian Robinson Jr. caught TD passes from Young as Florida’s corners struggled to tackle them out of the backfield all day.

Alabama’s pass rush only got home once, but playing against a quarterback who can move like Emory Jones, it’s more about containing him than anything. Where Alabama struggled was stopping Florida’s rushing attack. The Gators ran for 245 yards at 5.7 yards an attempt, gashing Alabama the entire second half and almost coming back to tie the game.

It was far from a complete game, but seeing how composed Bryce Young was in such a hostile environment blew me away. Though it was expected, he continues to blow past expectations and sits right atop the Heisman race.

Next Game: 9/25 vs. Southern Miss