Following week five and the first Saturday of October, the state of the SEC can essentially be broken down into three tiers. The top four — five if you consider Florida a legitimate contender with a healthy Luke Del Rio — have proven worth of being a top 15-20 team in the NCAA. The middle of the pack in the SEC consists of talented teams with reasons to be intrigued, but have enough flaws to doubt them as serious threats. For the bottom four teams, the first five weeks have unfortunately provided little optimism and this is as lightly as I can put it: Your team sucks.
Here are the rankings of the SEC teams through Week five.
No. 1: Alabama (5-0 2-0 SEC)
Another year, another display of Nick Saban’s dominance. After struggling against Ole Miss in recent years, a 48-43 victory in Oxford earlier this year sets the Crimson Tide up nicely for another trip to Atlanta and potentially beyond. Through four games, Bama was amongst the top in the NCAA in points per game (44) and points allowed (13). Saturday’s SEC matchup against Kentucky was a similar story, especially defensively, as the Wildcats were only able to manage six points and 161 total yards in the Crimson Tide’s 34-6 victory. Defensively, the unit as a whole is arguably Saban’s best of his tenure. Lead by Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson up front, the trio offers a nightmare matchup for opponents. The three have collected 10 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries combined over the first five weeks. Outside of these three, Rueben Foster is arguably the best linebacker in the country, while cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Eddie Jackson provide the secondary with elite play.
The offense is led by the services of stud wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but the offense overall is an inexperienced group. Nevertheless, it has produced, leading the SEC in points per game. While the backfield doesn’t have the Heisman-caliber running back of year’s past, the trio of Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs and quarterback Jalen Hurts have combined for over 900 yards on the ground through the first five games. Hurts provides a dual-threat look at quarterback not typically seen by a Nick Saban team, but the true freshman has led the offense efficiently through the first chunk of the season.
Next Week: at No. 16 Arkansas
No. 2: Texas A&M (5-0 3-0 SEC)
Regarded as one of the surprise teams of the season, Texas A&M is one of the nation’s most talented teams. With wins over UCLA, Auburn and Arkansas already, Kevin Sumlin’s squad has taken the college football world by storm and are worthy of their No. 8 ranking in the AP Poll. Graduate transfer quarterback Trevor Knight has been a steal for the Aggies. His ability to win games with both his arm and legs—along with his leadership—is a pivotal reason why Texas A&M is 5-0 for the third-consecutive season. But perhaps the most impressive units for the Aggies are the most improved. In the backfield, freshman running back Trayveon Williams is averaging nearly 100 rushing yards per game on nine yards per carry. Led by the dominant Myles Garrett off the edge, the defense ranks inside the top-20 in points allowed.
Next Week: vs. No. 9 Tennessee
No. 3: Tennessee (5-0 2-0 SEC)
Are times changing in Knoxville? The last 20 seconds of Saturday’s matchup with Georgia had everything. After giving up a go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds remaining, Vol fans were left crushed and assured this was another classic Tennessee heartbreak. One Hail Mary from Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jenning later and the Vols sit at 5-0 for the first time since 1998. Sure, there are reasons for concern. While showing glimpses of dominance, the defense has yet to put together a complete performance. The same can be said for the offense. While Dobbs has improved from last season’s inconsistencies, he and the offense continue to commit mental gaffes during the first halves of games. Luckily for Tennessee, the mistakes haven’t cost them yet, but with Texas A&M and Alabama on the horizon, the Orange and White must learn to limit their mistakes. However, wins over Florida and Georgia put the Vols in the SEC East driver’s seat.
Next Week: at No. 8 Texas A&M
No. 4: Ole Miss (3-2 1-1 SEC)
Is this the most talented two loss team in the country? With a brutal beginning to the schedule, including losses to the likes of Florida State and Alabama in the first three weeks, a 3-2 start doesn’t disregard the fact that Ole Miss is still a top-15 team. Ironically, they held leads of 21+ points against both the Seminoles and Crimson Tide, but costly mistakes and poor defensive performances erased those leads. Senior quarterback Chad Kelly is the best quarterback in the SEC and his go-to weapon, tight end Evan Engram, is a versatile weapon who deserves to be recognized as one of the nation’s premier tight ends. Aside from a dominant showing against the Bulldogs, the Rebel defense hasn’t impressed, allowing opponents to average nearly 500 yards per game.
Next Week: Bye
No. 5: Florida (4-1 2-1 SEC)
Another week without quarterback Luke Del Rio, another underwhelming performance for the offense, granted Vandy’s defense is impressive. Fortunately, Florida was able to rely on their stout defense and managed to pull out a 13-6 victory in Nashville. It will be interesting to see how a healthy Del Rio looks against an SEC defense not named Kentucky. For a team with so many studs on the defensive side of the ball, if Del Rio can stay healthy and the Gator offense provides support around him, Florida is set for a potential double-digit win season.
Next Week: vs. LSU
No. 6: Arkansas (4-1 0-1 SEC)
Arkansas is a weird team to figure out through five weeks. Although a road win in overtime over TCU was impressive, a 21- point home loss to Texas A&M was disappointing for a team hoping to prove its worth in the SEC West race. Not much about this team really stands out aside from stud defensive end Deatrich Wise, one of the best pass rushers in the country. For the rest of the squad, running back Rawleigh Williams has enjoyed the lead role following the departure of Alex Collins by averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Austin Allen is enjoying a talented cast to spread the ball around to.
Next Week: vs. No 1 Alabama
No. 7: LSU (3-2 2-1 SEC)
This season for LSU is thus far defined by the firing of head coach Les Miles. However, don’t overlook the talent that remains in Baton Rouge. The quarterback situation still remains up in the air, but the depth at running back is the Tigers’ strongest asset on offense. Everyone focuses on—and rightfully so—on Leonard Fournette, but backup sophomore Derrius Guice has filled in nicely while Fournette nurses injuries. Per usual, the defense is littered with NFL talent, but their efforts have been squandered by poor offensive play.
Next week: at No. 18 Florida
No. 8: Georgia (3-2 1-2 SEC)
Georgia started the season with an impressive win over North Carolina, but immediately proceeded to struggle against Nicholls State and Missouri before dropping back-to-back games against Ole Miss and Tennessee. Having a healthy Nick Chubb for the remaining stretch is crucial, as well as mistake-free football from freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. In addition, the defense has been porous, but fortunately for them, the back-half of the Bulldogs’ schedule features a number of underwhelming offenses.
Next Week: at South Carolina
No. 9: Auburn (3-2 1-1 SEC)
Is Auburn ever going to find a quarterback? The Tigers have failed to score 20 points in each of their three game against Power Five conference opponents. Fortunately, the defense has been surprisingly effective, surrendering less than 17 points per game. But if Auburn wants to remain competitive in the SEC, then the offense must provide support for the defense.
Next Week: at Mississippi State
No. 10: Missouri (2-3 0-2 SEC)
Falling to 0-2 in SEC play isn’t the start Mizzou fans were looking for, but that’s where the Tigers stand after suffering a beatdown against LSU. The passing game has been a bright spot. Quarterback Drew Lock is averaging over 300 yards and nearly three touchdowns per game. However, the defense has allowed nearly 500 yards per game and is certainly the area that needs the most improvement.
Next Week: Bye
No. 11: Mississippi State (2-2 1-1 SEC)
This season is proving just how valuable Dak Prescott was to this Mississippi State team. Nick Fitzgerald has done his best impersonation, rushing for over 100 yards in two of three starts, but his struggles are evident. The loss to South Alabama was a shocker and proves what direction the program is heading. To make matters worse, the Bulldogs finish off the season against Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. If Mississippi State wants to be bowl eligible, they best take care of business over the next four games.
Next Week: vs. Auburn
No. 12: South Carolina (2-3 1-3 SEC)
There’s a common theme amongst the bottom tier SEC teams: They possess an above average defense. Unfortunately, a limited offense is holding the Gamecocks from contention under first-year head coach Will Muschamp. Following a win over Vanderbilt, South Carolina was unable to win two winnable games against Kentucky and Mississippi State. Offensively, they’ve scored 20 points only once.
Next Week: vs. Georgia
No. 13: Vanderbilt (2-3 0-2 SEC)
Like Mississippi State and South Carolina, poor play offensively causes Vanderbilt to struggle on a weekly basis. Averaging only 20 and 300 yards of offense per game, it should serve as no surprise Vandy has managed only 16 combined points in their two SEC matchups. Defensively, outside linebacker Zack Cunningham is one of the best in the nation at his position, and is the clear leader on an otherwise average unit overall.
Next Week: at Kentucky
No. 14: Kentucky (2-3 1-2 SEC)
There’s little to like with this Kentucky team, even following a morale victory of keeping it close with Alabama for a half, only to lose 34-6. Sure, they managed to win a conference game in a home game against South Carolina, but the Wildcats offense has scored averaged 10 points in their three conference matchups. Running back Stanley Williams has enjoyed a nice season, averaging 132 yards on the ground per game. However, Kentucky has arguably the worst defense in the entire conference and will only continue to struggle as their dive further into SEC play.
Next Week: vs. Vanderbilt
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by the Auburn Alumni Association