There wasn't much of a Week 8 shakeup in the Southeastern Conference, with several teams on bye and most games playing out predictably, but there's always a calm before the storm. In the next few weeks, the conference's top teams will duke it out for spots in the SEC Championship Game and perhaps the College Football Playoff, so the best is yet to come. For now, let's dig into some SEC power rankings and see who might end up on top this year.
1. Georgia (7-0)
Georgia was on bye this past weekend, so they're not going to be on the move. It's never particularly likely that the Bulldogs will move down the rankings this season, and they're clearly not going any farther up. The defending national champions were dealt a major blow, however, as star tight end Brock Bowers got some bad injury news. He'll definitely miss some time after having ankle surgery, and he should be out at least through the rest of regular season if not the entire year.
This is a pretty bad time for Georgia to lose Bowers, although presumably coach Kirby Smart has used the bye week to reimagine the offense without its biggest playmaker. Next week, the Bulldogs play a major rivalry game against Florida and will then play three consecutive ranked matchups, so it's fair to say that this is where their season really begins. With Georgia idle, Ohio State picked up another top 10 win, and Michigan won a conference game 49-0. So the pressure is still on at the top of the polls; it's hard to retain a title, and now the Bulldogs will have to do it without their best offensive player.
2. Alabama (7-1)
This Alabama team just won't go away. After its loss to Texas, many were prognosticating the end of the Nick Saban era of dominance. But now, the Tide are four games away from the end of the regular season with just one loss, and they're back in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 Poll. This past week was yet another one where people were proclaiming that the end was near for Saban and his squad, but they were able to pull off a nice comeback win over Tennessee after going into halftime facing a 20-7 deficit.
The first half featured some questionable defensive play-calling; but the Alabama coaching staff did some great stuff in the locker room to make adjustments, and the Crimson Tide defense had a tremendous second half as they completely blanked the Volunteers after their hot start. The holes are still showing — compared with the best Alabama teams we've seen — but the team keeps winning and has as clear of a path as ever to the College Football Playoff.
That path will reach its biggest hurdle very soon, after the Tide's upcoming bye week. Texas was a big test, but winning the SEC is always going to be a ticket into the playoff. And with Georgia looking as vulnerable as it has at any point in the last few seasons, Alabama might have a real shot — but it must get there first. After the bye week, Alabama will host a red-hot LSU offense in a game that will likely decide the SEC West, so this will need to be a very productive week of rest and preparation.
3. Ole Miss (6-1)
Once again, the Rebels just about did their job this weekend, as their win over Auburn was their third straight victory by a single touchdown. This one was not quite as close as the final score made it appear, as Auburn scored with a minute left to make the final deficit much more respectable, so it was a very positive performance for the Rebels' defense. They completely stifled Payton Thorne — who threw for just 100 yards and turned the ball over — and the rest of the Auburn offense in a real signature performance.
On offense, Jaxson Dart had far from his most prolific day through the air against a stout Auburn defense. But running back Quinshon Judkins led the way with 124 yards and a score, and Dart chipped in with 44 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. It wasn't a masterpiece from coach Lane Kiffin's offense, but you don't apologize for wins in the SEC, especially a road win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
For the most part, the toughest stretch of schedule is a thing of the past for the Rebels. They've already had their bye, but a home matchup with Vanderbilt is up next, and that's the next-best thing. After that, Texas A&M, Louisiana Monroe and Mississippi State should all be wins; so when factoring in a likely loss at Georgia, Ole Miss is looking at a very nice 10-2 season with an outside chance at an SEC West title — although it's a serious issue that they have to play Georgia, while Alabama and LSU do not.
4. LSU (6-2)
Yes, LSU absolutely shellacked Army with a 62-0 performance, but we can't move the Tigers up for a game played against a squad that's now 2-5 after also losing to Boston College and being shut out by Troy. That being said, AP did move them up to No. 15, ranking them as the second-best two-loss squad in the country.
Jayden Daniels once again had a banner day, as he racked up 279 passing yards and three scores on just 15 throws, and added another score on the ground. Superstar wideout Malik Nabers added to his season tally with 121 yards and two scores. But less-hyped teammate Brian Thomas Jr. had an almost identical stat line, bringing his season touchdown count up to a team-high 11 receiving scores.
The Tigers have a bye coming up and then will travel to Tuscaloosa for a very challenging and season-defining matchup with Alabama. LSU should have no issue with Florida, Georgia State and Texas A&M, so the preseason scenario that was laid out for them to make the playoff would still be incredibly plausible if they beat Alabama, win the West and upset Georgia. Yes, they're saddled with two losses, but both were to top teams; and with an SEC title on their resume?, it's not hard to imagine them making history as the first multi-loss team to reach a semifinal.
5. Missouri (7-1)
After struggling to start the season, Missouri had its second-straight impressive defensive performance this past week. It absolutely wiped out South Carolina's offense, which had begun to pick up some momentum in recent weeks. It pressured quarterback Spencer Rattler, an absolute key against the Gamecocks, and sacked him six times.
Cody Schrader had another big game on the ground with 159 yards and two rushing scores, and star quarterback Brady Cook chipped in with 64 rushing yards and a ground touchdown on a day where he wasn't as prolific of a passer as usual. Chuck Hicks and Ty'Ron Hopper both were defensive anchors for the Tigers, as they each recorded a sack en route to 1.5 total tackles for loss.
The Tigers, who just moved up four spots in the AP poll to No. 16, are going on bye; then they'll have a chance to really define their season with a trip to Georgia and a home matchup with Tennessee. Lose both, and this will be just another nice, comfortably bowl-eligible season. But if they pull off one or two upsets — especially the unimaginable against Georgia — the Tigers have a shot to achieve something truly special this year.
6. Florida (5-2)
Florida was another SEC team that had the weekend off, and it almost marked the occasion by moving into the AP Top 25; the Gators were the top team in the "receiving votes" section. This upcoming week will be the toughest game all season, a neutral-site rivalry game against Georgia — the top team in these rankings and in the country.
If Florida is actually able to pull off an upset against the Bulldogs, then their season will take on a whole new life. Remember, one of their losses was an out-of-conference clash against Utah, so they're far from mathematically dead in the SEC. That being said, it's much more likely they get blown out unceremoniously. So with a brutal final stretch of road trips to LSU and Missouri and then a home matchup against Florida State, all attention will turn to a contest against Arkansas as a final chance to secure bowl eligibility after the Georgia game.
7. Tennessee (5-2)
Tennessee came out strong in Tuscaloosa, and it looked as if they were on their way to an impressive second-straight victory over the rival Crimson Tide. Joe Milton had one of those days — or at least halves — where he showed all of the talent that made him such a hyped prospect; he threw for both of his touchdowns in that first half, including one just as time was expiring in the second quarter.
However, as is so often the case for the Vols at Alabama, it wasn't meant to be this year, as the defense was simply not up to the task. As the offense imploded to the tune of a second-half shutout, so did the defense, which allowed 27 Alabama points in that second half, as Jase McClellan did pretty much whatever he wanted on the ground.
Next week, the Volunteers will face Kentucky — a squad that features a much stronger running back — so it will be an important test to see if they can bounce back in that regard. With two losses, both in league play, Tennessee is probably toast as for winning a division that includes Georgia, but it's not too late to pick up some statement victories this season.
8. Kentucky (5-2)
Kentucky is another team that did not play ball this weekend, as it got to rest up and prepare for the final stretch of this campaign. They'll kick off the home stretch by hosting Tennessee before rolling into one of the tamer stretches of schedule, other than a game against Alabama.
The Vols game will be followed by a road trip to Mississippi State, a great chance for the Wildcats to clinch bowl eligibility if they fail to do so at home this week. Another major storyline will be running back Ray Davis' push to lead the SEC in rushing yards; he's a bit behind Schrader, who has played an extra game, so some strong running in the next few weeks should be enough to make up the modest gap.
9. Texas A&M (4-3)
After a pretty brutal first stretch of the season, the Aggies were the beneficiaries of a bye week that couldn't have been placed better if they had planned it themselves. Reeling from consecutive losses to Alabama and Tennessee, they get to rest and recover ahead of a must-win game against South Carolina.
A tough Ole Miss team is up next after the Gamecocks; so if the Aggies aren't able to take care of business this week, bowl eligibility will be in jeopardy. Abilene Christian should be a free win, and Mississippi State isn't a top-tier squad. But there are no givens with coach Jimbo Fisher and this group, so with a road trip to LSU looming in the final week, they'll want to pick up that sixth win sooner rather than later.
10. Auburn (3-4)
The Auburn defense did a good enough job against an Ole Miss offense that has routinely racked up far more points than it was able to this weekend, but the offense completely imploded against a fairly bad defense. Jarquez Hunter was efficient on the ground — but for everyone else, it was a complete failure to launch.
Suddenly, after a promising start, Auburn is 0-4 since starting conference play. Luckily, that streak should be ending soon with a home game against Mississippi State and then road trips to Vanderbilt and Arkansas, so the Tigers still should become bowl-eligible pretty soon. They also have a very late tuneup with New Mexico State, so their schedule will be pretty tame before they host Alabama for the Iron Bowl to wrap things up this regular season.
11. South Carolina (2-5)
After a promising showing against Florida, the South Carolina offense was completely absent against Missouri's defense. The offensive line went back to letting Spencer Rattler get absolutely crushed — after actually showing up a week ago — which effectively erased any chance they had to compete.
This week, they'll visit Texas A&M for a possible win against a floundering squad. The hunt for bowl eligibility is hanging on by a thread, but they could cling to some life with a win over the Aggies. That would be the Gamecocks' third win of the season; and with Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt coming to visit Columbia afterward, the path to 5-5 would be a straightforward one — although they'd still need an upset in one of the final two games against Kentucky and Clemson, both at home.
12. Mississippi State (4-3)
In a week of total stagnation, Mississippi State is the lone upward mover in these rankings after it beat the team that was previously directly above them — and in bizarre fashion, if I do say so. They knocked off Arkansas in a 7-3 "battle," an event that barely outscored the MLB playoff game that took place on the same day. Starting quarterback Will Rogers was hurt, and backup Mike Wright did what turned out to be just enough to win, with 85 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception on just 12 throws, although he did also run for a team-high 60 yards on the day.
It's difficult to determine what the takeaways should be after a game like that; but after picking up an SEC win, the Bulldogs could be going bowling. Auburn isn't an unwinnable game, nor is Texas A&M, and State should be able to find a win against Southern Miss in late November. If they're able to pull off a single upset in their remaining SEC schedule, this team should be in for some postseason competition.
13. Arkansas (2-6)
It's hard to know just what on Earth happened for this Arkansas team en route to a three-point performance against a Mississippi State defense that had previously surrendered 28 points to Western Michigan, 37 to South Carolina, 24 to Arizona, and even a touchdown against Southeast Louisiana. KJ Jefferson was at his absolute worst with just 97 yards on 31 passes, including an interception.
Arkansas is about to hit its bye week — and that couldn't be coming at a better time, because these Hogs clearly have a lot to figure out. They'll visit Florida next; and with no SEC wins yet and none on the horizon, they will challenge Vanderbilt for the bottom spot in these rankings — a flip that might have already happened if the Commodores had not been idle this weekend.
14. Vanderbilt (2-6)
Vandy had perhaps its best week yet since entering the SEC slate — with a bye. Jokes aside, some rest, recovery and prep were just what the doctor ordered following a plucky performance against Georgia's superteam.
The Commodores will lose next week at Ole Miss, but the Rebels' defense should allow AJ Swann and the offense to get some good reps in, especially if this thing trends toward garbage time. With middle-to-bottom-tier SEC games coming up against Auburn and South Carolina, this team could make a push to flip spots with Arkansas, which would be a relative triumph given preseason expectations.
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