Several rising Southeastern Conference teams got their first major test this weekend, and the results were decidedly mixed. LSU took down Missouri in a ranked matchup; Alabama edged out Texas A&M on the road; and Georgia dealt Kentucky its first loss in emphatic fashion, re-establishing the order in the SEC East. Week 7 doesn't look like a particularly loaded slate; but in the SEC, there's always the potential for some madness. So let's take a look at the SEC power rankings as the teams enter the second half of the season.
1. Georgia (6-0)
If there was any question about who runs the SEC East, it has been answered with Georgia's borderline brutal win over Kentucky. After receiving a season-low 35 first-place votes in last week's AP poll, the Bulldogs are back up to 50 this week after their 51-13 win over Kentucky, although No. 2 Michigan didn't lose any share and previously No. 3 Texas was always going to surrender its 10 first-place votes after a bad loss to Oklahoma.
The Bulldogs absolutely heard the talk all week, after another shaky in-conference win. There was no hint of "sleepwalking" around the team as they flew around the field for really their first four-quarter effort of the season. The 'Dawgs scored the first 21 points and headed into halftime with a 34-7 lead, which they widened by winning the second half 21-7.
Carson Beck had easily his best game as a Bulldog as he completed 80% of his passes for almost 400 yards and four touchdown passes. There's always easy throws available in Georgia's offense, but he made a few eye-catching tosses as well. If he can continue commanding the offense like that, this team is going to be a nearly impossible beat.
2. Alabama (5-1)
It wasn't pretty, but the Tide rolled into College Station and picked up a major road win in perhaps the best SEC game of the weekend. The bright side is that quarterback Jalen Milroe had one of his more prolific days against an actual SEC defense, completing 21 of 33 passes for 321 yards and three passing scores, and coughing up only one interception.
Milroe forged a serious connection with wideout Jermaine Burton, who caught nine of those passes for a whopping 197 yards and two of the three scores. If this is a true breakout game for Burton — and if that pairing can keep linking up for big numbers — it completely changes the nature of this Tide offense going forward.
As for the defense, limiting Texas A&M to 306 yards and four for 12 on third down is a pretty solid performance. The pass rush, led by defensive lineman Justin Eboigbe, did a good job by registering five sacks. It was a performance the Tide will need to replicate as they face off against tougher SEC teams down the road.
3. Ole Miss (5-1)
If the team below Ole Miss was anyone other than the team they beat just a week ago in the SEC game of the year to date, they'd probably be moving down against a very shaky showing against Arkansas. The Rebels won by a touchdown essentially because they won the turnover battle; and while it's good to take care of the football on offense, relying on takeaways is not a sustainable strategy whatsoever.
Jaxson Dart was fine and relatively efficient but not at his best, and he was unable to rip off the big throws we saw him make against LSU. Running back Quinshon Judkins also had far from his best performance. But running back Ulysses Bentley IV was able to record a second straight game of 90-plus yards and a touchdown, as he continues to carve out a role for himself in this crowded backfield.
The Rebels once again showed a great command of late-game situations as they scored 10 points in the final eight minutes to secure a comeback win. But against a squad like Arkansas, they really should not have needed the full 60 minutes to tuck away this game. After a bye, Ole Miss will visit Auburn's legendary Jordan-Hare Stadium, and they'll need to put together a much more complete effort to find the win.
4. LSU (4-2)
After the two teams' relative performances this year, it's taking everything in me not to put LSU over Ole Miss, but the head-to-head result between the two teams is absolutely definitive for the moment. LSU dealt Missouri its first loss of the year in a classic SEC battle of the "Tigers," as the defense once again failed to show up. But quarterback Jayden Daniels and the offense were in full swing, and this time were rewarded for the win.
It was a back-and-forth affair as Missouri built an early lead of 22-7 and led by four as late as three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. But it eventually turned into another shootout, and that's going to favor LSU more often than not. Daniels completed over 70% of his passes for 259 yards and three air touchdowns, while also running for 130 yards and another score.
Daniels' top skill players also had an outstanding day, as Logan Diggs ran for 134 yards and a touchdown while Malik Nabers reeled in six catches for 146 yards. The defense was porous for the most part but impressively forced Mizzou quarterback Brady Cook — who had previously been in the midst of an SEC-record interception-free streak — into a pair of picks. LSU will have another tough test this week as Auburn comes to town, which could make things interesting as this is not likely to be another fast-paced shootout.
5. Missouri (5-1)
It was a tough loss for Missouri's Tigers, who crumbled down the stretch after coming out of the gate roaring. Brady Cook made some awesome plays, but he was a bit less consistent than usual as he threw those two picks and put up a completion percentage in the low 60s, much lower than his season average. Running back Cody Schrader had a big game as he doubled his season touchdown total with three on the day.
The big question for Mizzou coming into this game was how the defense would fare against the best offense by far it's faced thus far, and the answer to that question was not the one they would have hoped for. The Missouri defense wasted a great performance by the offense as they gave up 533 yards of offense to LSU, a remarkable 274 of which were on the ground. They couldn't find a way to contain Daniels as a runner, which ultimately proved to be a major deciding factor in this one.
Things aren't going to get easy anytime soon, as Missouri will travel to face Kentucky for their next game. The Wildcats will be looking for a bounce back as well after getting run off the field by Georgia, and running back Ray Davis will be the next huge test for this defense. If Mizzou loses again, the promising 5-0 start will become a distant memory with Georgia, Tennessee and Florida looming.
6. Kentucky (5-1)
You'd think that Kentucky would move down more after the shellacking it received from Georgia, but a lot of teams in this third tier of the SEC had similar results this week. Many of these teams also suffered defeat at home, while Kentucky's game went down in Athens, a notoriously challenging place to play.
Almost everything went wrong for Kentucky in its trip to the Peach State. Running back Ray Davis slowed down to almost a halt; Devin Leary completed 38% of his passes, although he threw two touchdowns and stayed turnover-free; and the defense fully imploded to allow 51 points from the Bulldogs.
Of course, there's absolutely no shame in losing to Georgia, which has beaten quite literally everyone in the SEC and beyond over the last two years, but this was a pretty poor showing. Next week's game against Missouri is an absolutely huge one for both sides, and Kentucky will look to prove that its hot start to the year was no fluke and that it is a legitimate force to be reckoned with that just happened to run into a higher power at the wrong time.
7. Texas A&M (4-2)
Give credit where credit's due for A&M. It gave Alabama just about all they could handle and even took a lead into halftime. But that elite 'Bama defense stepped up in the second half and limited the Aggies to just a field goal. The offense does not seem to have missed a beat under quarterback Max Johnson, but the unit was never going to be up to the task of scoring enough points to stay in that game against the Crimson Tide's defense.
A&M has spent a few weeks rebuilding its value after the Miami loss, and the Alabama game shouldn't be a setback, as they performed pretty well. That being said, the next game is a huge one: a road trip to No. 19 Tennessee. We'll see if the Aggies' defense has progressed enough to limit an offense that has adapted relatively well after some key personnel losses, or if they're going to have to settle for another season of near-.500 mediocrity.
8. Florida (4-2)
No, we're not moving Florida up a spot, because Texas A&M's competitive effort against Alabama genuinely showed more than Florida's home win over a hapless Vanderbilt squad. Of course, you can only play the games in front of you and should never apologize for wins; but to move up on this list the Gators will need to put up some good performances against good teams, and they'll surely have that chance soon.
Next week won't be a particularly tough test against South Carolina, but it's a great opportunity to grab a win; and the next three weeks after that one will include games against Georgia and LSU. It's hard to imagine the Florida offense scoring on Georgia, or its defense holding up against LSU's high-powered attack. But if they're able to compete in these games, they should feel great about the rest of their contests.
9. Tennessee (4-1)
Unless something drastic happens above or below, I try not to make a habit of moving around teams that were on their bye, which the Vols were in Week 6. The Associated Press does not share that sentiment, however, as Tennessee enjoyed a three-spot boost in the poll due to some losses higher up in the rankings, placing it back inside the top 20.
Their next opportunity to move on up will be against Texas A&M, with tough road trips to Alabama and Kentucky. These will likely be the two toughest defenses Tennessee has faced yet, but they'll need a lot more out of quarterback Joe Milton than the two-interception performance he had against South Carolina. The Vols' defense has been a positive so far, but we'll see how they fare against these two potent ground attacks, as rush defense has been a relative weak point.
10. Auburn (3-2)
Just like Tennessee, Auburn did not play this weekend, so we're not going to do anything to their positioning in these rankings. Instead, we'll look forward to next weekend, when they'll visit LSU for what will be a huge inflection point in their season.
There's a world of difference between 3-3 and 4-2; it's the gap between scrapping for bowl eligibility and contending in your division. Auburn has put in some strong performances, especially defensively, but LSU will provide a different type of challenge.
Of course, the Georgia offense is an elite one in its own right, and Auburn did very well in that contest. But LSU's is a much quicker-paced attack; they take almost three fewer seconds per snap than Georgia. The LSU defense is pretty ineffective, though, so if Auburn's offense can keep pace, they'll have a real shot in this SEC battle of the "Tigers."
11. South Carolina (2-3)
South Carolina was yet another SEC team that was not in action this past weekend, so we're more or less forced to keep them where they are as well. Their next game will be a home clash with Florida, and it's going to be an uphill climb to pick up any more wins in the conference other than the matchup with Vanderbilt. But a good showing against the Gators would go a long way to launch the Gamecocks into the second half of the season.
The matchup against Florida isn't the worst for South Carolina, and they could really make a run at staying competitive in this one. South Carolina has a top 50 offense by EPA (expected points added) per play, roughly equivalent to the same zone as Florida's defense. And while the South Carolina defense has been a liability, the Florida offense can be prone to stalling out; and the Gamecocks put in a great defensive shift against a much better Georgia team, so we do know it can happen.
12. Arkansas (2-4)
Arkansas was competitive against Ole Miss, putting in a good defensive shift, but the offense ultimately was too sloppy to take full advantage of a vulnerable Rebels defense. Quarterback KJ Jefferson has the ability to be a major playmaker, but his two interceptions were backbreakers — one led to a touchdown, and the other was on a potential game-tying final drive.
Other than the touchdown from the post-interception drive that started on the Arkansas 3-yard line, the Razorbacks only allowed 20 points against an Ole Miss offense that had just hung 55 on LSU. That's a real positive from the performance. And with a matchup against Alabama's ground-based offense and elite defense coming up next week, we'll see if the Hogs can hang in there again by making sure it's a low-scoring grind for both sides.
13. Mississippi State (3-3)
Mississippi State moved to .500 by taking down Mid-American Conference opponent Western Michigan, but they did not look nearly sharp enough against a team that isn't even that competitive within their own Group of Five conference. The Broncos have allowed 48, 41 and 49 points to Syracuse, Iowa (of all teams) and Toledo, respectively, so 41 was a relatively low total for the Bulldogs. And Mississippi State's defense also disappointed, as Western hung 28 points on the board, compared to the seven and 10 allowed by Syracuse and Iowa, respectively.
The Bulldogs have a bye week to figure out exactly what on earth is happening on either side of the football, before a couple of tough road trips to Arkansas and Auburn. With half the season gone, the Bulldogs will need to pick up at least one win in those two contests to have any chance at securing three wins and bowl eligibility.
14. Vanderbilt (2-5)
Vanderbilt wasn't necessarily that disappointing against Florida, as they came a touchdown away from covering their spread of +17.5. It was just another not-close loss that has become par for the course for this team in what was never going to be anything other than a lost season. It's great that Vandy took home wins in the first two games of their year — because with each passing week, it looks more and more like that's going to be all that they're going to get.
Georgia, Ole Miss and even Auburn should absolutely roll the Commodores over the next three games; and South Carolina is no juggernaut, but going on the road puts Vandy at a disadvantage in that spot. The season finale at Tennessee will also be a tough one for the Commodores, so any more victories at all would be a triumph for this squad.
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