SEC Football Power Rankings: Week 13
Rivalry week in the SEC gave us the most entertaining college football game of the season: a seven-overtime Texas A&M win over LSU in the highest-scoring game in FBS history.
It's a good thing that was a Saturday night game because it would have been an impossible act to follow.
Alabama and Georgia took care of business in big ways against their biggest rivals, Florida trounced Florida State and Kentucky pummeled Louisville.
Vanderbilt beat Tennessee for the third consecutive season to get bowl-eligible, and the Vols will go home for the holidays for the second year in a row. Ole Miss fired its defensive coordinator after Mississippi State exacted Egg Bowl revenge, and Missouri dismantled hapless Arkansas.
Needless to say, it was an eventful weekend in the SEC, even if there wasn't but one good game.
Alabama held firm at the top, but the rest of the rankings were basically put in a cup, shaken up and turned upside down.
So how did they fall out? There are major changes in perhaps the biggest shakeup in the middle we've seen all year. Let's take a look.
14. Arkansas Razorbacks
If Chad Morris is going to survive for long in Fayetteville, he's got to get a full buy-in from his Arkansas Razorbacks players.
It's questionable right now whether the end of the season displayed that is happening.
After showing signs of life against LSU a couple of weeks ago in a single-digit loss, the Hogs rolled over and played dead in lopsided losses to Mississippi State and Missouri the past couple of weeks. To be fair, the Bulldogs and Tigers are the two hottest teams in the league outside of Alabama and Georgia.
But it wasn't pretty for Arkansas.
On Friday, Mizzou did what it wanted to in a 38-0 win that was poor on both sides of the ball for the Hogs. Now, they have to go into the offseason with a 2-10 record, needing an overhaul on both sides of the ball.
Morris needs to recruit well, and he needs to take some of the nice puzzle pieces he found this year and build the roster. One of the quarterbacks—Ty Storey, Cole Kelley or Connor Noland—has to take a leadership role. The Razorbacks need a running back who can carry the load too.
Defensively, John Chavis must find some playmakers that simply didn't exist in 2018.
A lot of work is there to be done, and there aren't a whole lot of positives from the season. But the good news is the year is over, and Arkansas can now focus on getting better.
13. Ole Miss Rebels
One-sided Egg Bowl losses don't go over well in Mississippi. After winning last year's rivalry matchup, which Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald left early with an injury, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke gets to deal with the residual fallout from Thanksgiving's 35-3 beatdown.
The dominoes already are falling in Oxford, as Luke fired defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff on Friday. The Rebels allowed 36.2 points per game, fourth-worst among Power Five programs.
"Despite the challenges his unit faced this season, we can be better on that side of the ball, and I determined new leadership is needed," Luke said in a release.
Is offensive coordinator Phil Longo safe? Ole Miss' offense was strong at times this year, but it was also inconsistent and bogged down in the red zone. Is Luke just buying time by making changes, or is he the man to lead the Rebels in the post-NCAA sanctions era?
He doesn't appear to be in any immediate danger, but a 5-7 record with one SEC win isn't good enough. Now, senior quarterback Jordan Ta'amu is out of eligibility, star receiver D.K. Metcalf has already declared for the NFL draft and A.J. Brown should follow.
The Matt Corral era is about to begin with some new faces, and the results need to be better, or Luke may not last long.
12. Tennessee Volunteers
All Tennessee had to do was beat Vanderbilt and the Vols would go bowling in the first season of the Jeremy Pruitt era. All the consternation by the fans would be forgotten, and a big building block for Pruitt's program would be in place.
That didn't happen.
The Commodores continued their recent ownership of Tennessee with a 38-13 whipping of UT in Nashville in a game where they built a 17-0 lead and never looked back. The only sign of life the Vols showed was a 75-yard touchdown run by Ty Chandler to open the second half.
The running back had just two touches after that as embattled UT offensive coordinator Tyson Helton continued to have trouble calling plays. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano struggled too.
When you toss that in with a defense that couldn't do anything to slow down a senior quarterback for the second straight week, you have a recipe for disaster for the Vols.
This year's Tennessee team was perhaps the least talented of the past decade, and given the program's recent struggles, that's saying something. Pruitt needs to recruit and get things going in the right direction, but Saturday was not a warm-and-fuzzy feeling for UT fans.
Plenty of question marks remain, but Tennessee looked like a disinterested football team to close the year, and that's a major problem.
11. Vanderbilt Commodores
Kyle Shurmur may not wind up a Vanderbilt legend, but there is one thing the senior can have beside his name in the Commodores program for years to come:
The four-year starter was dominant against Tennessee each of the past three seasons, and the Vols had no answers for him Saturday. He was nearly perfect, going 31-of-35 for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
As good as Drew Lock was against UT last week, Shurmur was even better.
Star running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn left the game in the first half after a couple of vicious hits, but the Commodores didn't need him in a dominant performance.
If you want a full effort, VU had it. Tennessee couldn't sustain drives throughout the game and never was a threat against the Commodores. Coach Derek Mason's team continued its recent dominance over UT, a thing which people in the Volunteer State probably never thought they would hear.
According to Newsweek's Jason Hall, VU defensive back Joejuan Williams (who chose the Commodores over Tennessee) shouted, "They said I'd never beat Tennessee, but I'm 3-0," as he walked through the tunnel to the locker room after the win.
The Vols handled Vanderbilt with relative ease for nearly a century, but that's not the case anymore. VU has beaten the Vols three consecutive times for the first time since winning six straight from 1920 to 1926, the latter of which was the first season Robert Neyland coached the Vols.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks
When you lose by three touchdowns to a hated rival, it's hard to find moral victories.
But South Carolina junior quarterback Jake Bentley was phenomenal in a 56-35 loss to No. 2-ranked Clemson on Saturday night, routinely finding holes in the vaunted Tigers defense and finishing with five touchdowns against one of the best units in the country.
Unfortunately for coach Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks, the same old defensive issues that have plagued the team all year were rampant in the loss.
Just how bad was South Carolina's defense? Clemson racked up 744 yards and 38 first downs. Freshman star quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 393 yards, and the Tigers used six different runners to pile up 351 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Even so, the way Carolina hung with one of the top teams in the nation for nearly three quarters was encouraging to some of the players.
"It's happening," linebacker T.J. Brunson told The State's Ben Breiner of the culture change. "I don't know about the outside. I don't really care honestly. But from when I was first here, my freshman year to now, the culture change has been night and day. We've got guys who want to win, who are hungry, who are willing to put in the work. It takes time. It definitely takes time. But it's coming."
Regardless of the hard-fought loss Saturday, this hasn't been the kind of season Muschamp and Co. expected, and they need to have a better year in Bentley's senior season. But the offensive emergence was impressive.
9. Auburn Tigers
For a half, it looked like Auburn would be throwing out its mediocre season record again and giving Alabama all it wanted in the Iron Bowl.
Then the Crimson Tide came back to reality.
In the second half, the Tigers had no answer for Tua Tagovailoa and a Tide offense that is among the nation's best. From a 17-14 halftime lead, Alabama scored two quick-strike third-quarter touchdowns in the first five minutes, churning out 144 yards in the process.
Alabama reeled off a 35-point second half to embarrass a proud Auburn defense in a 52-21 laugher. In the process, the Tide issued a little payback for last year's Iron Bowl loss on the Plains that knocked them out of the SEC Championship Game.
Saturday's half of good football will do nothing to quiet the grumbles that surround Gus Malzahn after the Tigers gave him a big raise and contract extension last year when Arkansas was interested. This season, AU saw defections, locker room turmoil and mediocrity on the field.
Now, the Tigers will go to a mid-tier bowl game that wasn't in their preseason plans, especially after they opened the season with a thorough victory over Washington in Atlanta.
Auburn is still a good program that has endured some frustrating setbacks, but it has a long way to go to sustain the type of success its fans expect. It would have taken a perfect effort to beat 'Bama on Saturday, but the Tigers need to work on their own issues this offseason.
Or next year may be Malzahn's final one on the Plains.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
Want a cure for all that ails a football team? Play Louisville.
The Cardinals look like they quit on the season a long time ago, and coach Bobby Petrino got fired. Now, it's just a matter of whether they can land top target Jeff Brohm of Purdue or not.
Saturday night's rivalry game against Kentucky was a mere footnote, and the Wildcats made it look like one, taking care of business with a dominant 56-10 win.
Quarterback Terry Wilson has been up-and-down all season, but he was exciting against the Cardinals, torching a hapless defense. Wilson completed 17 of 23 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, and he added 79 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries to power UK to the Governor's Cup.
"He was awesome tonight, wow," tight end C.J. Conrad told reporters. "He was slinging that thing. That's what I was telling everybody on the sideline. … He just feels like as the season goes on he's getting more and more confident, and you saw that tonight."
While losing to Georgia cost the Wildcats a spot in the SEC title game, it was still a massive step forward for Mark Stoops' program this year. They went 9-3 and 5-3 in the league.
The Cats will take that every year, and they continue to prove they aren't just a basketball school anymore. It remains to be seen what direction the program takes without running back Benny Snell Jr. next year, but first, a good bowl game awaits.
7. Missouri Tigers
How will Missouri fare in the post-Drew Lock era next year? That will go a long way toward determining coach Barry Odom's long-term future with the program.
One thing is certain: The Tigers have thrived in the second half of the past two seasons with the Mizzou legend behind center. They again are surging at the right time this year, having won four consecutive games following the controversial "extra-play" loss to Kentucky.
If that bad call didn't go against Mizzou, it would be on a six-game winning streak. This team could be 10-2 if not for that play against the Wildcats and a loss in a driving rainstorm at South Carolina.
The past two weeks, Lock and Co. beat up on Arkansas and Tennessee, embarrassing both teams. Before that was a closer-than-expected home win over Vanderbilt, which followed the Tigers' dismantling of Florida.
Odom's team is 8-4 and should be looking at a strong bowl berth. Who wouldn't want a team this hot if its fans will travel?
We all know what the offense can do, and after swallowing up the Vols in Neyland Stadium last week, the Mizzou defense pitched its first shutout of an FBS team since joining the SEC and had five sacks in the win over Arkansas.
"The defensive performance was as solid as we've had," Odom told reporters. "It was good to see them do that with tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback hurries. … I think we're getting close to playing our best ball."
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
It hasn't been a perfect season for Mississippi State, but coach Joe Moorhead's first season in Starkville has gone just fine, thank you very much.
If not for a two-game early-season stretch where they lost back-to-back games to Kentucky and Florida, the Bulldogs would be an even bigger part of the national picture. Instead, they are 8-4 and 4-4 in the SEC, throttling Ole Miss in Thursday's Egg Bowl to reach .500 in the league.
The Bulldogs aren't as good as Alabama and LSU, but they've proved they can hang with anybody else.
After that midseason swoon, questions arose about whether Moorhead should pull the plug on the Nick Fitzgerald era due to his inability to advance the ball downfield. But Fitzgerald was still brilliant running the ball, and the SEC's all-time rushing leader for signal-callers finished the year strong.
Now, he will play in his bowl game and give way to Keytaon Thompson. But the program is in good hands thanks to how well he performed after Dak Prescott left.
The defense has been brilliant all season as first-year coordinator Bob Shoop has led a unit that is first nationally in scoring, 10th against the run, sixth against the pass and third overall.
That's consistently dominant.
Even though the Bulldogs lose a lot of players, there are reasons for optimism in Starkville.
5. LSU Tigers
LSU is going to look back on Saturday night in College Station as a miraculous game it was a part of. But that sentiment will come several years down the line. Right now, it just hurts that the Tigers lost a 74-72 game for the ages.
They had every opportunity to win. When Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond threw an interception near the end of regulation, they thought they had won. They even gave head coach Ed Orgeron a Gatorade bath.
But replays showed Mond's knee was down before he ever threw the pick, meaning it didn't happen. What happened after that is college football history, as both teams traded haymakers and the Aggies' final one landed via Kendrick Rogers' two-point conversion.
After the non-interception, Mond completed a couple of passes and then ran up to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball. Though the clock said no time remained, the play was reviewed, and officials added a second, much to Orgeron's consternation.
"I just [feel] bad for those young men," Orgeron told reporters. "That second shouldn't have been put on the clock, and I'm sticking to that."
Regardless, the Tigers had countless opportunities to stop A&M afterward and failed on defense, which is the strongest side of the ball for Orgeron's team.
Quarterback Joe Burrow was exceptional with his feet and arm, completing 25 of 38 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns and adding 100 yards and three more scores on the ground on 29 carries.
All that wasn't enough, and now any hope LSU had of sneaking into the College Football Playoff is gone. It still may go to a New Year's Six bowl game, but the Tigers are probably up against Florida for that, and the Gators won their head-to-head meeting.
So not only was it a huge loss for the Orgeron era, it could also have major ramifications on where LSU goes this postseason. It won't fall further than the Citrus Bowl, but now that looks like the most likely destination.
4. Texas A&M Aggies
Yes, Texas A&M finished with an 8-4 record, which is a game worse than LSU, but it's hard not to give the nod to the Aggies in the power rankings when they had the same SEC record and won the head-to-head battle.
The victory was coach Jimbo Fisher's signature win in his first season in College Station, and it helped the Aggies finish the season on a high note. He changed the mentality of that program in a year, which is not an easy thing to do.
The future is bright too; Kellen Mond has two years of eligibility left, and running back Trayveon Williams heads into his senior season as the league's most under-appreciated running back. There's plenty more talent on both sides of the ball, and Fisher always recruits well.
It looks like getting him was money well spent, at least for now.
"I don't know if it's a catalyst win," Fisher told the Dallas Morning News' Ben Baby. "You still gotta go play the next game and you gotta do it. But at least it's a hump that they got over and learned to overcome and fight back through it."
For the past few years under coach Kevin Sumlin, the Aggies faltered down the stretch. That happened to Sumlin's new team too as Arizona blew a big lead Saturday night against rival Arizona State, knocking it out of a bowl game.
It didn't happen in College Station, where A&M found hero after hero and came away with one of the biggest wins of the college football season. Depending on what happens from here, it may be one of the biggest victories in program history too. But the Aggies have to capitalize on the momentum.
3. Florida Gators
A couple of weeks ago, after lopsided losses to Georgia and Missouri, it looked like Florida might be reaching the limitations of its talent in 2018.
But first-year coach Dan Mullen found a way to squeeze more out of the Gators down the stretch, as evidenced by a huge comeback home win over South Carolina. Then Saturday, they snapped a five-game losing streak against hated rival Florida State with a resounding 41-14 win.
The victory knocked the Seminoles out of a bowl game for the first time since 1982 and helped the Gators move to 9-3 on the season in what is a massive rebound year and a big first step for the program under Mullen.
When he left Starkville for Gainesville, Mullen thought he had a big task on his hands turning around a 4-7 program. But the Gators responded to his style of coaching, and they improved as the year went on.
Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi has carried Mullen's water all year, and he wrote Saturday that the Gators made a better hire than Florida State did in fellow first-year coach Willie Taggart.
"You cannot deny the eye test this season, which has shown us Mullen's team has played much better than the sum of its parts while Taggart's has played much worse," Bianchi wrote.
There aren't a lot of differences on the roster from the team that got Jim McElwain fired and the one that looked like one of the SEC's best this year. Mullen deserves a lot of credit, and the future is bright in the Swamp.
2. Georgia Bulldogs
You've got to hand it to Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs: The 2018 season has progressed exactly like you'd hoped it would if you were a Dawgs fan.
The Bulldogs basically had a roster flip after more than 30 seniors graduated from last year's national championship runner-up team, so you knew they weren't going to look like a championship contender early in the year.
But with all the star talent Smart recruited to Athens, the hope was they'd grow and mature. "Veterans" like sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm and sophomore running back D'Andre Swift would carry the load while the youngsters learned the lay of the SEC land.
After pummeling Georgia Tech on Saturday, it's obvious that's happening. Now, the 11-1 Bulldogs set their sights on Alabama and exacting revenge for last year's national championship overtime win by the Crimson Tide.
The SEC Championship Game is setting up to be a good one. Alabama looks invincible, having beaten every one of its opponents by more than 20 points, but it's possible Georgia is the second-best team in the country. It's at least right up there with Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Georgia has the kind of offense that could give the Tide's young defense some anxiety, but the question is whether Tua Tagovailoa and Co. will put too much pressure on the young Georgia defense.
We've known for several weeks this is going to be the matchup, and now it's here. Hopefully, it will be just as good a game as last year's.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
When Alabama led 17-14 at halftime of the Iron Bowl, you may have let yourself think for a minute that maybe, just maybe, the Crimson Tide were beatable.
Then the second half happened.
Tua Tagovailoa completed 11 of 12 second-half passes, and Alabama exploded for 35 second-half points in a 52-21 Iron Bowl domination of its rival. As SI.com's Ross Dellenger wrote, it shows yet again that you only get one shot at Alabama.
Even that may not be enough.
"If one small crack in its crimson armor is exposed, we criticize, sometimes unfairly," Dellenger wrote. "We are nitpicking here, understand? We are looking for a reason that this team won't run roughshod over its next three opponents to cruise to a 15–0 finish and a national championship."
But no matter how hard you look, Alabama keeps destroying everybody in its path. Last week, it was tied 10-all with FCS opponent The Citadel at halftime, but the Crimson Tide dominated that second half too.
They've got an offense that can be quick-strike or grind-it-out, and there's so much speed and talent orchestrated by future Heisman Trophy winner Tagovailoa that nobody can stop it. Georgia just has to hope it slows them enough and has a breakout game on offense.
Alabama's defense is young but talented, and it has experienced issues at times this year. But it also rose to the occasion in the Tide's two toughest games, shutout wins over LSU and Mississippi State.
Can Georgia play a perfect game and beat Alabama? Maybe so, but the Tide still look too tough to topple.