Week 5 brought us seven all-SEC matchups, and they did not disappoint. Auburn gave Georgia a scare, Alabama reminded us that they're not going anywhere, Kentucky announced themselves as the No. 2 in the SEC East, and — last but not least — LSU and Ole Miss duked it out in a shootout for the ages.
With a couple of ranked matchups in the conference next week, let's dig into some SEC power rankings as the teams approach the halfway points of their seasons.
1. Georgia (5-0)
In Georgia's quest for a three-peat, nobody really expected to challenge the Bulldogs in the early weeks of the season, but Auburn gave them a run for their money this past weekend. The Tigers held the defending champs to a tie at halftime after going up 10-0 early; they then took a lead in the third quarter and, after surrendering that lead, tied the game again with just over six minutes left in the game before the Bulldogs eventually won, 27-20.
Last week's game saw a surprisingly competitive effort by UAB, and, before that, just a 10-point victory over South Carolina. That means Georgia's only convincing wins are against Group of 5 teams and even Football Championship Subdivision-level competition. The voters in the AP Poll have taken notice; the Bulldogs held 60 of the 63 votes in the preseason AP poll, but this week they received just 35. That's still by far the most of any team; the remaining votes are mostly split between Michigan and Texas, with a couple for Florida State and Ohio State. But Georgia's lead over the field is visibly dwindling.
Carson Beck has not looked the part at quarterback, showing just how valuable Stetson Bennett really was to this team. Next week, Georgia and Beck will finally face a ranked team as they host Kentucky, so we'll see if they really do deserve their spot as the undisputed No. 1.
2. Alabama (4-1)
Unlike Georgia, Alabama had one of its most convincing wins of the season this past week. Yes, it was against Mississippi State, whom we will talk about in just a bit; but comfortable wins over lower-tier opposition are an important part of running the season-long race, and not always a given — just ask Georgia.
Jalen Milroe wasn't asked to do too much this time out, but he was effective and efficient. The Alabama defense allowed its first passing touchdown to Mississippi State in nearly a decade, but it was mostly its usual, stifling self — one of the very best units in the nation.
After a historic loss to Texas and a very unconvincing win over the University of South Florida, Alabama has quietly put together an excellent two-game stretch. Their shutdown of the Ole Miss offense had them looking more and more impressive. And with a more relaxed couple of weeks coming up, the Crimson Tide is set up nicely to roll into the back half of the season as a national contender.
3. Ole Miss (4-1)
After going through a tough matchup against Alabama, the Ole Miss Rebels responded in brilliant fashion by winning the SEC game of the year so far against LSU. Jaxson Dart, Quinshon Judkins and company had been held to 10 points by an elite Tide defense. But they fought through adversity and exploded for 55 in a shootout win over LSU.
This performance showed that the Rebels' offense is multifaceted, well-balanced and one of the very best in the conference — if not the very best. The team, however, is not as balanced overall, as the defense definitely has a long way to go and probably cannot be part of a true national contender.
That being said, the Rebels are entering an easier stretch of their schedule; they should be favored in every game up until a meeting with Georgia. They have a great chance to finish the regular season with 10 wins, which would put them in position to be selected for a pretty prestigious bowl, so let's see if they're able to maintain consistency and take care of business.
4. LSU (3-2)
LSU is one of the better two-loss teams in the country, so we're not going to drop them too far in these rankings. They can only be a notch below the Ole Miss team they came so close to beating in what would have been an excellent road win.
The Tigers are led by probably the best quarterback in the SEC, as Jayden Daniels has surged back to his Heisman-tier form. But the defense is just not up to par when it comes to facing the best teams. We saw it against Florida State and then against Ole Miss: When LSU needed stops, they just could not get it.
The defense has plenty of high-end talent — with names such as Maason Smith and Harold Perkins in the lineup — but they simply have not put it together in any capacity this year. It's hard to know exactly what coach Brian Kelly needs to do to get the most out of his defense, but they're running out of time to figure it out before this becomes a lost season.
5. Kentucky (5-0)
After coasting through their first five games of the year, Kentucky finally faced a team that stood a real chance at beating them as they hosted the Florida Gators. They passed the test with flying colors. Quarterback Devin Leary was once again shaky and inconsistent, but the rushing offense was explosive enough that it did not matter.
Ray Davis led the way with 280 yards and three scores on the ground as his squad shattered a solid Gator defense to stay undefeated. But they have a much bigger test coming up: Georgia. Going on the road to visit Athens is about the toughest game any college team can have these days; and if Kentucky plays a competitive game or even wins, we'll know for sure that they're for real.
The experience of clashing with the Bulldogs should be a valuable one, win or lose, as Kentucky's life doesn't get all that easy after this week. They'll face ranked opponents Missouri, Tennessee and Alabama over the next month, so they'll need to learn and grow as much as they can from the Georgia game and put together a stretch of great performances.
6. Missouri (5-0)
Once again, Missouri had a relatively lethargic week as they took down Vanderbilt, and they haven't accomplished too much this season outside of a win over Kansas State. Quarterback Brady Cook made some history in the process of securing a 38-21 win: He set an SEC record with his 326th-consecutive pass without an interception, proving that he has mastered one of the most important aspects of quarterback play by taking care of the ball.
Cook is quietly one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and wideout Luther Burden has been phenomenal as well. But this defense absolutely needs to take a step up if they're going to stay undefeated, or even above water, in the SEC East alongside Georgia, Kentucky and Florida. They'll play two of those teams, Kentucky and Georgia, before too long. But they'll face LSU first, so we'll learn much more about the Tigers over the next month or so.
7. Texas A&M (4-1)
With quarterback Conner Weigman out for the year, backup Max Johnson put in another solid performance as the Aggies did their job and cruised past Arkansas with relative ease. A&M gave up as many points as they have in any game, other than the debacle against Miami. But they also put up a performance against Arkansas similar to what LSU did, so the game was a mixed bag but the very definition of "good enough."
The Aggies have three more ranked matchups in their next four games, so they're about to get a full dose of reality. Have they fixed anything since the Miami game, or is it just a mirage due to a stretch of weaker opponents? We'll learn very soon, and the answer will be very important when it comes to head coach Jimbo Fisher's future — with or without Weigman, he needs results to save his job.
8. Florida (3-2)
Florida's losses have been to some solid teams, but they've both been pretty ugly ones. Kentucky exposed the Gators on both sides of the ball, most notably by absolutely gashing their run defense. They also found a way around the solid system that has been put in place around new transfer quarterback Graham Mertz on offense, as he was still relatively efficient but was completely unable to get the ball downfield.
This game was viewed by many as a measuring stick for the Gators, and it's safe to say that they did not measure up as a true contender. They'll get a couple of chances to tinker with their strategies against Vanderbilt and South Carolina — but there are no free wins, especially against the Gamecocks, as Georgia showed us. Florida will need to take these games seriously but also take advantage of them as opportunities to improve before facing a cluster of ranked opponents toward the end of their schedule.
9. Tennessee (4-1)
Tennessee picked up a comfortable win against South Carolina and will be even more comfortable this weekend as it has a bye week before hitting the home stretch of its schedule. The Volunteers were able to coast by virtue of their overall talent level, but quarterback Joe Milton was once again too inaccurate as he threw a pair of interceptions.
The Volunteers' defense still has yet to turn in a solid, full-game performance against SEC competition, as they let Florida hang nearly 30 points on them as well. They did a good job limiting Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler, who threw an interception and no touchdowns. But with much better offensive lines in their near future, the Tennessee pass rush needs to rest up over this bye and come out firing the rest of the year.
10. Auburn (4-1)
Auburn didn't win, so it's hard to move them up and over teams that did. But there's no way we're about to drop them down after they put up a really strong challenge against the defending champions. The Tigers extended their losing streak to two games; but after coming out flat against Texas A&M, this one felt extremely different as they fought tough all game long against the most successful team of the past two seasons.
Quarterback Payton Thorne actually ran for more yards than he threw for, in a performance that can be described as full of heart but also an indicator of his limitations against top competition. The Auburn defense held up all game long but committed the cardinal sin of losing track of superstar tight end Brock Bowers as he scored a late touchdown. The Tigers were very close to getting the job done against the No. 1 team in the country, and hopefully they've learned enough to turn their season around and rise through these rankings.
11. South Carolina (2-3)
South Carolina showed up early on against Tennessee — but when the offense slowed down, the defense showed absolutely no ability to keep the team in the game. This was the second week in a row where coach Clayton White's unit was shaky, in the wake of a great performance against Georgia.
Spencer Rattler was pressured on over 40% of his drop-backs, a continuation of a very troubling trend for this team. If they want to right the ship and finish the year with anything that closely resembles a winning record, they'll need to protect him much better going forward. There are winnable games on the schedule — most notably Vanderbilt and Jacksonville State — but after their bye next week, most games will be upset bids for the Gamecocks. They'll need to pull off one or two to secure bowl eligibility.
12. Arkansas (2-3)
After suffering a few close-call losses against BYU and LSU, Arkansas didn't come close to beating LSU as they were outgained by a measure of 414 yards to 174. Quarterback KJ Jefferson was unable to flash his talent in this one as he was completely stifled, but he still generated most of the Razorbacks' offense — once again showing his immense value to the squad.
Arkansas is running into an absolute gauntlet, with trips to Ole Miss and Alabama looming in the next two weeks. The schedule will lighten up a bit after that, but nearly half of the Hogs' remaining games are against ranked opposition. This game against A&M was a solid opportunity to catch an opponent in a rough spot and make an upset bid, but they failed entirely to do so or even come close. Hopefully, the next two matchups will sharpen this team a bit, especially the defense, and help them have some more success down the stretch.
13. Mississippi State (2-3)
Thanks to an early start to their conference schedule, the Bulldogs are now the only SEC team to own an 0-3 record in conference play. After missing a golden opportunity to steal a win against South Carolina, Mississippi State was no match for Alabama. Their defense was completely uncompetitive. And while Will Rogers became the first Bulldogs quarterback since Dak Prescott to throw for a touchdown against Alabama, his day held few other positives; he picked up just 107 yards and registered three interceptions.
State has the dubious honor of participating in the SEC West, notoriously one of the toughest divisions in all of football, so opportunities for further wins will be very few and far between. Luckily, a couple of them are coming right up, with October matchups against Western Michigan and Arkansas on either side of their bye, so the Bulldogs will need to recover quickly and take advantage of the opportunities ahead of them.
14. Vanderbilt (2-4)
Having played a Week 0 matchup, the Commodores are officially halfway through their season. Unfortunately, they might be all the way through their wins, as their finishing schedule is extremely challenging. Had Florida beaten Kentucky, the upcoming game might be a letdown spot for the Gators; but after a tough loss, Billy Napier's squad will be coming in hot, so Vandy could be in for a long day.
This past week was a tough loss against Missouri, as their efficient quarterback Brady Cook set a career high with 395 passing yards. Banner days offensively for Vanderbilt opponents have been a trend this season, one they'll surely want to snap if they're going to get into the win column again at any point.
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