SEC Football Power Rankings: Week 12November 20, 2018
SEC Football Power Rankings: Week 12
While most of the SEC teams scheduled cupcakes prior to next weekend's regular-season finale chock-full of rivalries, there was a handful of league matchups.
Vanderbilt needed a highly controversial overturn of an Ole Miss overtime touchdown to beat the Rebels, which sets up a virtual winner-take-bowl playoff game in Nashville against Tennessee next week. The Volunteers were dominated at home by Missouri.
Mississippi State whipped Arkansas, and, yeah…that was it for SEC play. Everything else was a cakewalk through the cupcakes.
So, next week may involve some SEC shuffling, but there wasn't a lot this week unless it was toward the bottom of the power rankings. There's still a lot left to shake out for one week, but the top three appear to be set unless something wacky happens.
This is college football, though. Wacky is the new normal every week. Let's take a look at Week 12's rankings after a topsy-turvy season has made everything south of No. 1 Alabama be all over the place.
Welcome to the SEC, where beating up on one another is our middle names.
14. Arkansas Razorbacks
At this point of the season, it's hard for Arkansas head coach Chad Morris to defend the way his team is playing.
On Saturday, the Razorbacks looked about as lackluster as they have all season. In Week 11, they played LSU within a score after a fourth-quarter comeback, but the Hogs took two huge steps backward in a 52-6 loss to Mississippi State.
They allowed the Bulldogs to run all over them (287 yards), and it was surprising MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald's cleat marks weren't on Arkansas defenders' backs after the game. The Hogs finished with just 219 total yards.
It was a complete debacle, and Morris was finished sugarcoating things.
"This is completely unacceptable," Morris told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "Unacceptable in all areas. Unacceptable coaching, unacceptable playing, unacceptable at all levels. This is not what this program is about—not what it's going to be built on. We're in major gut-check time."
It's been a bit of a throwaway season in Fayetteville, as Morris' way is totally different than former head coach Bret Bielema's. It is disheartening for the Hogs to have this sort of showing at this point of the year, and they need something good to happen to build on through the offseason.
13. Ole Miss Rebels
When Jordan Ta'amu dropped back on 3rd-and-6 and found A.J. Brown in overtime, it looked like the Rebels had a touchdown and would be going into another session against the Commodores.
But SEC officials reviewed the play for several minutes before ruling Brown didn't maintain possession through the catch, and the Rebels couldn't get the necessary yardage on the next play.
It was a tough loss for Ole Miss to stomach, but it was yet another chapter in what has been a frustrating season.
"I really feel like I gained control of the ball," Brown told the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger's Nick Suss. "Two feet in. Two feet down. Knee down. I just thought I had control of it. It could go either-or. But I really feel like I had control of that ball. Two feet down. Knee down. I got control still. I tucked it. Brought it back out. How much more control do I need?"
Added Rebels head coach Matt Luke: "It looked like he had possession and he was down. That's what it looked like from what I saw."
Instead, the game goes down as a 36-29 Vanderbilt win that keeps the Commodores' bowl hopes alive. For the Rebels, it was yet another explosive offensive performance that went for naught.
Ta'amu threw for 457 yards but also tossed a pair of interceptions, and Ole Miss needs to beat Mississippi State to get to .500 and salvage some positivity this year.
12. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt mentioned in his postgame radio show on the Vol Network that his team was flat-out "outcoached" in Saturday's loss to Missouri.
The Vols were also outclassed in every facet of the game.
A week after a resounding win over Kentucky got them to five wins and within striking distance of bowl-eligibility, UT played as badly as it has all season. It didn't help matters that the Vols' atrocious offensive line allowed quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to get knocked out of the game early in the first quarter.
Backup signal-caller and former Stanford transfer Keller Chryst (7-of-19 for 173 yards) was ineffective, and so was UT's rushing game (82 yards). The team never could sustain drives against a Mizzou defense that's struggled.
On the other side of the ball, the Vols were picked apart by quarterback Drew Lock and the Tigers running backs, and two major miscues at pivotal points took UT points off the board and added to Missouri's tally.
All that equalled a 50-17 loss to a Mizzou team that is looking strong at the right time. For the Vols, it sets up a must-win against Vanderbilt, and the Commodores are looking to beat their rivals for the third consecutive time for the first time since the 1920s.
That would be embarrassing for UT, which looks like it could be facing a bad matchup against the hot Commodores. If the Vols lose, they are going to end 2018 with a bad taste, which would be frustrating considering the strides the team made against Kentucky and Auburn in Pruitt's first season.
11. Vanderbilt Commodores
After the game and the fallout from the overruled Ole Miss touchdown, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason was fired up.
He talked about how his players didn't do all the right things in the victory, and he was obviously frustrated the Commodores were flagged for three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties following touchdown celebrations. But in a postgame interview on SEC Network, he said he was ecstatic they played for "40-plus minutes."
Now, if the Commodores can just get through Tennessee next weekend in Nashville, they'll go to a bowl. They'd probably go even if they were 5-7, but they'll want to make it the old-fashioned way.
Beating the Vols again would be sweet too.
But Saturday night's win was all about Rebels receiver A.J. Brown's catch/no catch.
"I didn't think it was a catch," Mason said, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "With the rule in play now, we're talking about you got to possess the ball through the catch. He didn't possess it through the catch. In fact, I'm not sure we didn't have an interception."
That's a stretch, without a doubt. But you can't blame Mason for being excited and emotional.
Next week, he'll need the same kind of effort from running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn (127 yards) and a stellar performance from senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur. A big reward will await the Commodores if they beat the Vols for the third straight year.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina got bowl-eligible with Saturday's 49-9 win over FCS foe Chattanooga.
Next week will be a bit different.
That's when the Gamecocks go on the road to take on No. 2-ranked Clemson, and they'll be big underdogs without question. But there is still time for Carolina to finish with a strong season.
Of course, if head coach Will Muschamp's team can somehow end the Tigers' undefeated season, it would be extra special. But another game awaits after that one. Akron will replace an early-season game against Marshall that was cancelled because of Hurricane Florence.
So, seven or even eight wins are possible.
On Saturday, quarterback Jake Bentley threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns to help South Carolina get a final tune-up before next week's emotional game.
With a strong offense full of playmakers and a young defense they hoped would continue to grow, the Gamecocks were supposed to contend with Georgia for the SEC East this year. It didn't turn out that way. Last week's collapse at Florida left a sour taste too.
But the Gamecocks did what they were supposed to in Week 12, and if they can harness those emotions into a massive win next Saturday, all will be forgiven.
9. Auburn Tigers
The Auburn Tigers (7-4) are another team that has fallen woefully short of expectations this season, but they put all of that behind them for a few days with a dominant win over Liberty on Saturday.
The Tigers got an efficient effort from quarterback Jarrett Stidham (12-of-18 for 178 yards) and a 100-yard performance from Kam Martin to carry the offense. Defensively, they played as close to a spotless game as you could hope for as they blanked the Flames 53-0.
Now, much like South Carolina, the Tigers have a daunting foe next week.
Of course, that would be No. 1-ranked Alabama, a team they handled fairly easily at Auburn a year ago to go to the SEC Championship Game. Though they handed the Crimson Tide their first and only loss of the year, Bama went to the College Football Playoff and won the national championship.
The Tigers, meanwhile, were thumped by Georgia in Atlanta and then lost to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl. Head coach Gus Malzahn's tenure hasn't been the same since.
Auburn would have to play an almost-perfect game in Week 13 to beat Alabama, which didn't look as invincible as normal in Saturday's sleepwalking win over The Citadel. But the Tide are still the nation's top team, and AU has been embattled much of the year.
All of that would be forgotten if they can handle the Tide, much like South Carolina against Clemson.
That's not going to be an easy task.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
A week ago, Kentucky was walking off Shields-Watkins Field at Neyland Stadium and wondering how things went so wrong after such a strong start to the year. Head coach Mark Stoops answered the tough questions and pointed a finger at himself.
After back-to-back losses to Georgia and Tennessee, though, Kentucky got back to its winning ways against Middle Tennessee.
The Blue Raiders are a seven-win team that is led by senior quarterback Brent Stockstill, but they couldn't get the offense going quickly enough against the Wildcats, who held off a late flurry to win 34-23.
Even so, Stockstill was masterful, going 30-of-33 for 293 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Thankfully for Kentucky, its powerful defense did just enough. Mike Edwards grabbed a couple of early turnovers that the Wildcats parlayed into touchdowns. Late in the game, when MTSU was trying to storm back, future NFL top draft pick Josh Allen made his presence felt.
The Blue Raiders had no answers for the senior linebacker, who had a career-high 15 tackles and a pair of sacks. Kentucky wound up with seven sacks for the day, which made Stockstill's performance even better, even in a losing effort.
The Wildcats now face Louisville to close the regular season. It just so happens the Cardinals may be the worst Power Five team in the nation this year, but UK still can't snooze through its rivalry game.
7. Texas A&M Aggies
While there weren't many SEC-on-SEC battles and a lot of teams loaded up on easy opponents, Texas A&M played a sneaky-good squad. It was similar to the kind of test Kentucky faced in Middle Tennessee.
The Aggies welcomed UAB into Kyle Field, and the Blazers provided plenty of challenges.
In the end, Texas A&M wound up with a 41-20 win, but it didn't come without a fight. UAB quarterback Tyler Johnston III piled up 306 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the Blazers didn't really start scoring until most of A&M's starters were on the sideline.
It was a strong effort for the young Aggies, who hit a midseason lull but have regrouped nicely. If they win over LSU next weekend, head coach Jimbo Fisher's first season will be more than successful.
Saturday's game was again all about quarterback Kellen Mond and running back Trayveon Williams. Mond threw for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Williams continued to have a (quietly) brilliant season with 167 yards and two more scores.
It will be interesting to see just how much A&M has grown this year, and the measuring stick will come next weekend against the Bayou Bengals.
If the Aggies can pull off that win to get to 8-4, it's going to be a successful 2018 and first step in Fisher's program at College Station.
T-5. Florida Gators
If there's a team that has balanced its frustrating lack of talent with some glimmers of hope for the new regime, it's the Florida Gators.
Sure, Tennessee has done some nice things under Jeremy Pruitt, but the Vols may not make a bowl game. Texas A&M and Mississippi State are having strong years under first-year head coaches, but the cupboards weren't bare in those spots.
While Florida had some puzzle pieces, former head coach Jim McElwain did little with its players. The Gators didn't have a quarterback fit for new coach Dan Mullen's system, and there weren't a bunch of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.
Yet here the Gators are, sitting at 8-3 after pummeling Idaho at the Swamp on Saturday. The win wasn't about beating the Vandals but about positioning themselves for next week's rivalry against a Florida State team that has seen its share of struggles under first-year coach Willie Taggart.
The Gators won 63-10, and quarterback Feleipe Franks had no trouble with Idaho, throwing for three touchdowns and 274 yards.
Yes, there have been "what happened" moments, such as a Week 2 home loss to Kentucky before anybody knew the Wildcats would be a surprise and a thumping at the Swamp at the hands of Missouri. But eight wins with a chance for nine wildly exceeded expectations.
Once Mullen gets his players in there, Florida is going to keep getting better.
T-5. Missouri Tigers
Right now, nobody wants a part of Missouri.
The Tigers are catching fire at the end of the season, much the way they did in 2017. On Saturday in Knoxville, everything went right in one of their most complete efforts of the year.
They beat the Vols the way they beat the Gators on the road in Week 10: by dominating every phase and riding their senior star quarterback.
Drew Lock was brilliant and couldn't do any wrong. He got time to pass the ball and picked apart UT. Running backs Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett had no trouble finding holes in Tennessee's defensive front, and the receivers blew past the young secondary.
The Tigers also grabbed a couple of big plays. One was a second-quarter interception that turned a late-half drive that looked like it would result in points into a last-minute touchdown for Mizzou and a 26-10 halftime advantage. That was the play of the game.
But a third-quarter scoop-and-score ended any chance UT had of an upset.
Right now, Lock is playing at a high level, and his team is just two plays away from being 9-2 and one of the SEC's top stories. Instead, the Tigers are 7-4 but still red-hot. Look out for Lock, who is ending his college football career with a vengeance.
Head coach Barry Odom's team is a tough out right now. For anybody.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs
It may seem weird for a four-loss Mississippi State team to be this high in the power rankings.
Part of that is the inconsistency in the SEC outside of the top three, for sure. But a lot of these rankings are based on a "what have you done for me lately" eyeball test, and the Bulldogs just look good at this point.
Senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was absolutely awful in losses to LSU and Alabama, but those two defenses have made pretty much everybody look bad. Other than that, he's been great again. The SEC's all-time rushing leader for quarterbacks did it through the air in a blowout win over the Hogs on Saturday.
He threw four touchdown passes and ran for another one in a 52-6 thumping. He oversaw an offense that was strong running the ball, and senior Aeris Williams (104 yards) was a big part of that.
When you factor in the consistent excellency of coordinator Bob Shoop's No. 4-ranked defense, which continues to dominate everybody it plays, Mississippi State is strong and worthy of jumping a couple of teams to get into this spot.
A couple of weeks ago, the defense looked good even in a 24-0 loss Alabama, which averages 48.7 points per game. That's saying something. This is a good MSU team, and though it would have been more encouraging if the Bulldogs hadn't lost a couple of contests they should have won, if they beat Ole Miss next week, they'll have a good season.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
The only other SEC team to reach 60 points in Week 12 besides Florida was hated rival Georgia, which had little trouble against Massachusetts at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
More than anything, the game against the Minutemen was a perfect opportunity for everybody to get an extended look at elite freshman quarterback Justin Fields.
He did not disappoint, finishing the game 5-of-8 for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also had seven rushes for 100 yards and another score.
To be fair to Jake Fromm (who went 5-of-5 for 106 yards and a score himself), there was little resistance from the UMass defense in a 66-27 domination.
The only real frustration came with the 27 points allowed, highlighted by the nation's leading receiver, Andy Isabella. He came back from a disappointing effort against BYU in Week 11 to finish with 15 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He was a handful the entire game.
Georgia, meanwhile, continues to look like it's in championship form, and it will need to be next week. Rival Georgia Tech won its fourth in a row with a 30-27 victory over Virginia on Saturday. Though the Yellow Jackets will be heavy underdogs, it's never easy defending the option.
That game could be sneaky-close, and head coach Kirby Smart's team has a lot on its plate. The Bulldogs are gearing up for that matchup, the SEC Championship Game against Alabama and hopefully for another shot at the College Football Playoff.
2. LSU Tigers
LSU's offensive frustrations have run deep for much of the year, but the Tigers were able to unleash a little bit against Rice on Saturday in a 42-10 home win.
The Tigers don't look quite as polished as Georgia right now, but all they have to say is "scoreboard" to justify being ahead of them in the power rankings. LSU handled the Bulldogs 36-16 in Baton Rouge earlier this year, handing UGA its only loss of the season.
In Week 12, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow finally took care of business the way he was supposed to, finishing 20-of-28 passing for 307 yards and two touchdowns.
Rice mustered just three points in the first three quarters and tacked on a late touchdown to make things look a little more respectable. But the bottom line is the Owls are 1-11 and never were much of a threat to LSU, so the win does little to bolster the Tigers' chances for a CFP spot.
A convincing win over Texas A&M next week would be big in that regard.
"For the confidence of this offense, it was important for us to click tonight," Burrow told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We wanted to move the ball without any hesitation or road blocks. For the most part, I think we did that."
But what's it going to take to sway the committee?
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
There's no way to get around one of the most stunning facts about Saturday's slim slate of SEC games: Alabama was tied 10-all with FCS foe The Citadel at halftime.
The Bulldogs' option attack gave the Crimson Tide first-half fits, and though The Citadel was just 3-6 entering Saturday's game, the defense did its part to confuse the nation's top team.
Yes, Alabama regrouped and ran away with a 50-17 win with a 27-point third-quarter outburst, but it must have been due to some paint-peeling discussions at halftime. The Tide finally looked mortal before that.
"I don't really care who you're playing," UA head coach Nick Saban told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "Every team that comes here and plays us is going to give us their best shot. These guys have got everything to gain and nothing to lose, and we've got nothing but downside in the game."
Shaking off all the talk prior to the matchup about whether he should play on his hurt knee, Heisman Trophy frontrunner Tua Tagovailoa was terrific yet again, throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns. His outstanding third quarter helped the Tide pull away.
But the biggest question is: Was this just a UA team that hit the snooze button, or is this a sign that others are catching up to the Crimson Tide's style of play? Yeah, it's probably just the former, and Saban has done a great job in the past of using games like this as teaching points.
It may be just the jolt the Tide need as they embark on the homestretch, which includes the Iron Bowl next week, a showdown with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and CFBStats.com.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.