With the season suddenly more than halfway gone, the Southeastern Conference is dividing into clear categories of contenders, pretenders, other and Vanderbilt — but it's not too late to jump up or fall down between those tiers. The conference has several teams heading into byes this week; but after that, it's pedal to the metal the rest of the way as the conference will race to the finish line in their last campaign before accepting some exciting new members. Let's recap some of the action from Week 7 and establish some power rankings going forward.
1. Georgia (7-0)
I've said it time and time again: Georgia has to be in this top spot — and in the AP Top 25 Poll — until it loses a game, as not only the defending national champion but also the only undefeated team in the SEC. But after an impressive win over Kentucky, they went right back to where they were before and put in a very unconvincing performance against easily the worst team in the conference,
There's absolutely no cause for panic, as Georgia outgained Vanderbilt 552 yards to 219. But they once again came out flat, allowing Vandy to score on its opening drive; and then, instead of responding with a score to match, Georgia lost a fumble. Carson Beck also threw what could have been a very costly pick in a closer game, as it set the Commodores up on the 1-yard line for an easy touchdown. Perhaps most importantly, Georgia lost star tight end Brock Bowers to an injury, and it's looking as if he might be done for the year — adding a wrinkle of uncertainty in the Bulldogs' offense.
Ultimately, this was a fine outing from the Bulldogs, but they have to be more consistent around the margins. A 10-point fourth-quarter lead over Vanderbilt, when you've outgained them by over 300 yards, is fairly unacceptable for a title contender. Georgia will have a bye this week, and then it finally launches into a mildly challenging stretch, starting with Florida before the 'Dawgs hit three consecutive ranked games.
2. Alabama (6-1)
I don't like to move teams down after a win, but Alabama made me think about it. It was saved in large part by the fact that Ole Miss was inactive and couldn't make a statement of its own. The Crimson Tide only won by three against a very middling Arkansas team, and this wasn't a backdoor cover of any sort; it was a three-point game for approximately the last 11 minutes of action.
Yes, the Tide led 24-6 until the end of the third quarter — and they never trailed after gaining their first lead of the day — but this was not the kind of home performance head coach Nick Saban was hoping for. After a Tuscaloosa loss to Texas and this mediocre performance, it's fair to wonder if Bryant-Denny Stadium is the fortress it used to be.
That theory will be immediately put to the test as No. 17 Tennessee comes to town, a major test for No. 11 Alabama. We'll talk more about them in their section, but the Volunteers are a top 40 team in both offensive and defensive EPA (expected points added), making them one of the most well-rounded challengers Saban's bunch will see all year.
3. Ole Miss (5-1)
Ole Miss was inactive this week and, as such, they will not be moving in these rankings due to the lack of any truly eye-opening results across the league. The AP finally agreed with me on this matter, as the Rebels still sit in 13th in that poll.
There's obviously nothing to break down from this past weekend, except that their wins over Arkansas and LSU continue to look better and better as those squads each put in an impressive shift in their own way this past weekend.
Let's look forward to the home stretch for this team. The back half of the schedule is likely going to be easier in many ways, with the exception of a presumed loss at Georgia. This coming weekend, they'll visit Auburn, which hasn't been outstanding overall; but its stout defense will be a fascinating test for the versatile and productive Ole Miss offense.
4. LSU (5-2)
It's going to be a bit hard for LSU to keep moving up in these rankings at this point, as they lost to the team directly above them. But they'll have their chance to jump back into the SEC's top tier soon enough when they take a trip to Alabama in early November.
After a rough start to the season, LSU continues to make a case for being one of the top teams in this conference. They followed up a thrilling win over Missouri with an absolute domination of Auburn — hanging 48 points on what has generally been a really good defense and limiting Payton Thorne and the offense to just 18. The yardage gap was just about as lopsided, as this one was a thorough domination — and another edition of the Jayden Daniels show as the signal-caller excelled through both air and ground once more.
LSU will take one of three remaining weekends away from the conference schedule this week as they play Army in what should be a fairly comfortable win. That being said, it shouldn't be a lookahead spot, as the Tigers then have a bye before their meeting with Alabama. That game could put them back on track to reach the SEC title game — and reignite the slightest spark of hope that Brian Kelly and his team could make a run at the College Football Playoff.
5. Missouri (6-1)
After that tough loss to LSU, these Tigers roared right on back and put up a huge road performance to knock Kentucky out of the AP Top 25 Poll. Brady Cook didn't have nearly his best day, with 167 yards to go along with a touchdown and a pick. But the Mizzou defense flexed its muscles a bit more than usual and held Kentucky below 300 yards on the day.
Luther Burden also only racked up 15 receiving yards, so it's scary to imagine what this team can do when its top contributors really are chipping in at their usual level. Missouri didn't even do a particularly good job of turning Kentucky turnovers into points, so there's even more room to keep improving despite the solid result, which is always a good thing.
Mizzou will host South Carolina next week before a bye and then take a trip to Georgia to play the top team in the nation. If they're able to survive home matchups with Tennessee and Florida, this team could be looking at a 10-2 record, an excellent result after a 6-7 campaign in 2022 — and a real feather in the cap of head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who oversaw nothing but dead-even mediocrity across his first three seasons. In fact, Mizzou's next win — should they secure another — will set a new best mark in the Drinkwitz era.
6. Florida (5-2)
Florida picked up a very interesting win against South Carolina; a shootout victory, a style we do not usually associate with this Gators team. There are, of course, positives and negatives with most close wins, and this one is no exception. Florida allowed South Carolina's offense to get away with more poor offensive line play more than most squads do, and it allowed quarterback Spencer Rattler to shine for once.But it also lit up the scoreboard more than usual.
It took a frantic late comeback to take down the Gamecocks, so there's definitely some film study in Florida's future as they look to spend the bye week tweaking the defense and figuring out just what actually happened Saturday. Still, you have to imagine that Billy Napier and his staff are excited by what they saw from transfer quarterback Graham Mertz and his offense; things are starting to click the way they had envisioned when bringing the passer in from Wisconsin.
7. Tennessee (5-1)
It's going to be tough to bump Tennessee over a Florida team that beat the brakes off them just a few weeks ago. But they're making that case just about every week, and the AP thinks they should be higher, as the Vols sit at No. 17 in that poll while the Gators are unranked. Tennessee shook off a pair of early deficits and pulled away in the last few minutes of the game to sink a plucky Texas A&M team. Joe Milton floundered once more with 50% completion for just 100 yards, a score and a pick, but some solid defensive and special teams play — including a punt return touchdown — got the job done.
The rushing offense also had a nice day, as it put up 232 yards against a strong A&M defense. Jaylen Wright was the main man, as he racked up 136 on his own at a clip of 7.2 per carry on a real banner day. He's now fourth in the SEC with 571 ground yards, but his average of 7.1 is the best among those with at least 40 carries. He'll need to put together another big performance next weekend in Tuscaloosa, as Tennessee looks to repeat the result of last year's meeting with Alabama and pull off a big upset, for what would be just the second time since 2007.
8. Kentucky (5-2)
After a 5-0 start to the season, Kentucky has slid to two consecutive not particularly close losses against SEC East foes, so their bye week is coming at just the right time. Running back Ray Davis racked up a fairly efficient 128 yards on the ground, but overall, Devin Leary's continued poor play really sank the Wildcats. They went up 14-0 in the early going, but it was a 38-7 contest in the favor of Mizzou from that point on, as another two Leary interceptions really stalled out the Kentucky offense.
Suddenly, Kentucky's focus will shift from making the SEC championship game to making a bowl game; they only need one more win to do so, but three of their final five games are against ranked opposition, and the other two are road SEC games. Obviously, the Wildcats should be able to find a victory or two in there somewhere. But there's not a free win to be found on the remaining schedule, so they'll need to work hard during their bye and prepare for a tough challenge against Tennessee after the break.
9. Texas A&M (4-3)
After oscillating between impressive performances and flirting with disaster to start the season, it's almost officially time to close the book on this campaign from Jimbo Fisher's squad. There are still meaningful games to be played; but after consecutive, heartbreaking one-score losses against Alabama and Tennessee, it's clear that this team is not going to be retroactively viewed as the class of the SEC or anything closely resembling it.
The bye week is coming at a very good time for the Aggies, who will need to take a serious jump to achieve any of their goals this season. Bowl eligibility feels like a lock with South Carolina, Mississippi State and Abilene Christian all on the docket. But with the two ranked road matchups against Ole Miss and LSU looming large, A&M will need to take a big step up if it wants to secure any marquee victories this year.
10. Auburn (3-3)
Will the real Auburn defense please stand up? After enduring 48 points and 563 yards of offense from LSU, the unit somehow still ranks 26th in the country in EPA per play. Even in losses, they were impressive against Texas A&M and especially Georgia. But this past weekend's showing was absolutely brutal. And this week, they'll face Ole Miss, a top 20 offense that went toe to toe with LSU in a shootout and even won.
That being said, whether or not the defense has a better day, the offense will need to chip in a bit more. Payton Thorne was dismal with barely 50% completion and 100 yards, and the ground game was borderline anemic as well. The Tigers had a promising 3-0 start to the season, but the reality of the SEC has quickly set in after a three-game slide. We'll see if they can right the ship over the final six contests — including a fairly soft run of games after the Ole Miss clash — or if the downward spiral is here to stay.
11. South Carolina (2-4)
At long last, South Carolina did a pretty decent job of protecting Spencer Rattler against a solid defense, as he was only sacked twice. The payoff was considerable, as he turned in one of his best games yet as a Gamecock with 313 yards, four touchdowns and one pick. The defense was ill-suited to handle Florida's efficient attack, but there are definite positives to how the offense was able to operate from start to finish.
Getting bowl-eligible is going to be an absolute war for the Gamecocks; Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt should be a nice couple of weeks in early November, but that would only leave South Carolina with four wins; they'll need to find two from trips to Missouri and Texas A&M and home games against Kentucky and in-state rival Clemson. It's definitely an uphill battle with the defense they're fielding, but this team showed against Florida that they can compete with respectable squads.
12. Arkansas (2-5)
Arkansas showed a lot of grit in its game with Alabama, as it surged late and had real opportunities to pull off what would have been an incredibly memorable win in Tuscaloosa. The Hogs weren't prolific enough on offense, but they didn't turn the ball over and made the most of their opportunities, as quarterback KJ Jefferson played essentially mistake-free football.
Unfortunately, their great effort went unrewarded, and they're going home with a five-game losing streak, mostly against ranked opposition. Bowl eligibility is basically a pipe dream at this point, but with four of the Razorbacks' final five games set to be home contests, you never know what these Hogs might pull off.
13. Mississippi State (3-3)
The Bulldogs got a weekend off after a win over Western Michigan, so they're not moving up or down on this list — not that they were particularly likely to do so regardless. Hopefully, they've rested up and prepared well for Arkansas in what will be a massive game for jockeying for position in this list.
If they do win, the Bulldogs have a semi-realistic shot at making a bowl. They should have one more relatively sure win against Conference USA squad Southern Miss, so that leaves four contests to pick up an additional victory: road trips to Auburn and A&M, a home matchup with Kentucky, and the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss at home in Starkville as well. The Bulldogs aren't likely to be favorites in any of those games but will still have more than a puncher's chance in most, especially at home.
14. Vanderbilt (2-6)
It wasn't a truly competitive football game, but the final score was respectable, and Vanderbilt showed some heart as they hosted the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs. Vandy actually scored first and then found two more scores in the fourth quarter, trimming the deficit to 10 with six minutes left and covered a massive spread with relative ease.
The Commodores' strong effort will be rewarded with a bye week, after which they will launch into what will all but certainly be the final four games of their season, barring an undefeated run through those contests. Last year, Vandy stole late-season games from Kentucky and Florida; so with some vulnerable teams coming up, we'll see if they're able to put an exclamation point on what has been a rough season so far.
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