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SEC Power Rankings: Week One

A promising start for some...not so much for others

NCAA Football: Virginia at Tennessee Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Starting this season, I want to run a weekly power ranking of the SEC. Obviously this isn’t some groundbreaking idea, but coverage overall of the conference and especially taking a glance at how the Vols stack up against the rest of the SEC is always a great gauge from week to week.

Now, for precursor, these were my preseason power rankings (with overall rank in all of FBS in parentheses):

1. Georgia: 3.9428 points (#1 overall)
2. Alabama: 3.4303 points (#4)
3. LSU: 2.9053 points (#5)
4. Tennessee: 2.7928 points (#6)
5. Ole Miss: 2.3428 points (#16)
6. Texas A&M: 2.2678 points (#17)
7. Arkansas: 1.7803 points (#23)
8. Auburn: 1.6803 points (#24)
9. Kentucky: 1.6428 points (#25)
10. Florida: 1.4678 points (#28)
11. Mississippi State: 1.3678 points (#30)
12. South Carolina: 1.1678 points (#32)
13. Missouri: 1.0053 points (#36)
14. Vanderbilt: -0.9572 points (#84)

So, the points. The weight system to put together my algorithm for preseason rankings was determined by returning starters/portal gains, lost production (draftees, graduates, portal losses), SP+, strength of schedule, and the conference a team plays in. With the last one, every team in the SEC is naturally on an even playing field, so it played almost no factor here. Of course, with any preseason ranking, there are glaring overrated teams, and teams that fly under the radar. Personally, the teams that I found the algorithm overrated were Auburn and Florida while I thought Arkansas drew a short stick and are vastly better than their ranking. Preseason weights will be eliminated after week four. That allows the results to stabilize as teams begin to show their identities. That being said, after week one, how much did the SEC shake up?

1. Georgia Bulldogs (1-0): 4.0128 points (#1)

UT Martin v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Week One: 48-7 W vs. UT Martin
Movement: —

With the Stetson Bennett era over, it was Carson Beck’s first start under center for Georgia. Considering the opponent, it was a slower than usual start for the Bulldogs, but with roster turnover, especially under center, that’s to be expected. With the always stout defense against a vastly overmatched UT Martin offense, Beck was allowed the chance to work through his lumps, and he responded well in the second half, finding Mekhi Mews for a 54-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.

Not a ton to touch on here. It’s Georgia against an FCS school. The Dawgs will probably have a death grip on this top spot.

Kirby and co. get Ball State next week before welcoming South Carolina to Athens on September 16.

What to watch for: Who becomes Beck’s primary target outside of Brock Bowers?

2. Alabama Crimson Tide (1-0): 3.7438 points (#4)

Middle Tennessee v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Week One: 56-7 W vs. Middle Tennessee State
Movement: —

Alabama asserted their five star will against MTSU as Jalen Milroe got the start at quarterback after an offseason of competition with Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson. Milroe was precise throwing the ball, attacking down the field more than anticipated with a pair of 40+ yard touchdown passes, both against poor zone coverage by the safeties. Isaiah Bond and Jermaine Burton looked like viable threats on the outside being on the receiving ends of the 40-yard bombs. The Tide were more than content grinding on the ground, rushing for 205 yards as a team for five touchdowns from four different players, three of which were from each of the three quarterbacks.

With Texas on the horizon, we’re going to find out a lot about this Alabama defense, a unit I had pegged to be among the very best in the nation coming into the season.

What to watch for: How will Milroe handle Texas’s more aggressive, talented defense in week two?

3. Tennessee Volunteers (1-0): 3.28555 points (#6)

Syndication: The Tennessean Caitie McMekin / News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Week One: 49-13 W vs. Virginia
Movement: ↑1

Like the previous two teams above the Vols here, it was a rocky start in Nashville for the offense. Milton was sailing throws, the running game was boom or bust, the line was missing assignments, there were turnovers on special teams. Then, towards the end of the first half with the Vols up just 7-0, the dam broke for the offense, and the Vols rolled the rest of the way.

The offense took its time to get going, having drives stall early, but when they got clicking, especially on the ground, Virginia had no answer. The Vols rushed for 287 yards on the day with five scores, three of which came from Dylan Sampson and the other two came from Milton.

Defensively is where this team shined, particularly up front. Sophomore James Pearce Jr. shined, tallying two sacks and five QB hurries as the defense suffocated Virginia’s offense all day long, holding the Cavaliers to 201 total yards of offense. The Vols will host Austin Peay on Saturday before heading to The Swamp.

What to watch for: Joe Milton’s deep ball accuracy

4. LSU Tigers (1-0): 2.6428 points (#13)

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 45-24 L vs. Florida State
Movement: ↓1

LSU went into the locker room at halftime leading, having left at least two touchdowns on the field and came out in the second half and couldn’t find where they put them.

The story of the first half for LSU was missed opportunities. Their first drive was great, getting inside the five and then being gifted two extra downs due to a personal foul penalty. The Tigers ended up getting stuffed on six straight plays and turning the ball over on downs. FSU would give the Tigers 30 more yards on two other personal foul calls a couple drives later, but they were all for naught as Daniels would once again get stuffed on fourth and short, stalling another drive into FSU territory. Even a muffed punt by the Tigers was forgiven by FSU when Jordan Travis threw an interception the very next play.

The very next Florida State drive, deep inside the 10, LSU got to Travis and forced a wobbly floater, but it tipped off the hands of two Tigers and fell harmlessly to the ground. That would have set LSU up in the red zone. No dice.

LSU wound up leading this game 17-14 at half, and it really shouldn’t have been that close.

The second half was all Seminoles, however, and LSU got grinded to a pulp up front on both sides for the next thirty minutes, losing by three scores. Naturally, the takeaways from this game are all about Florida State, and rightfully so, but LSU is nowhere near as bad as the final score will indicate, but they sure have a lot of growing up to do.

What to watch for: Can LSU’s O-Line keep Jayden Daniels upright all season?

5. Texas A&M (1-0): 2.4648 points (#15)

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Texas A&M Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 52-10 W vs. New Mexico
Movement: ↑1

Bah gawd, Texas A&M has an offense structured from this century! Yes, it was New Mexico, yes they’re among the worst teams in the country, but seeing this team run an offense that attacks down the field was almost unrecognizable. Conner Weigman is beginning to string good throws together, and when he has the talent out wide that he does, it makes his job a little easier. Evan Stewart, one of the more underrated players in the SEC, hauled in eight passes for 115 yards and a pair of scores while Noah Thomas hauled in a trio of touchdowns.

Defensively, they’ll get tested more in week two against Miami. The hard part about games like this in week one is they don’t really show a ton. If the defense can prove to be better across all units than a season ago, this is going to be a tough team to beat in the SEC West.

What to watch for: A&M’s front seven against their first Power-5 opponent

6. Ole Miss (1-0): 2.4228 points (#16)

NCAA Football: Mercer at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 73-7 vs. Mercer
Movement: ↓1

Ole Miss rolled FCS Mercer with incredible ease on Saturday. Receiver Tre Harris broke the school record, catching four touchdowns, three of which came in the first four minutes of the game...yes, actually.

It was light work on both sides of the ball. Jaxson Dart played with confidence, trusting his ability to roll out and throw on the run while all-world running back, Quinshon Judkins, still added a pair of touchdowns on a lighter workload.

What to watch for: Is Jaxson Dart capable of this level of play at Tulane?

7. Arkansas (1-0): 1.8503 points (#22)

NCAA Football: Western Carolina at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 56-13 W vs. Western Carolina
Movement: —

After replacing both offensive and defensive coordinators, Arkansas sought after a breath of fresh air on both sides of the ball this season, and a 56-13 win over FCS Western Carolina gets them off to a good start.

Now, for those who are unaware, KJ Jefferson is really, really good. Dan Enos is back at Arkansas to call plays, and it appears theres a solid mix of RPO and a standard shotgun passing attack, something that will hopefully showcase Jefferson’s arm more than his running ability and keep him healthy, something he struggled with last season. Jefferson’s legs are weapons, but he hardly had to use them in this one, throwing for three touchdowns.

Defensively, much like many other SEC teams, we aren’t going to learn much from this game.

What to watch for: Can an Arkansas WR emerge as a legitimate playmaker?

8. Kentucky (1-0): 1.8383 points (#23)

NCAA Football: Ball State at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 44-14 W vs. Ball State
Movement: ↑1

One thing is for sure about this Kentucky offense: they’re going to be able to run the ball. Schematically, the tight sets and pro-style offense lean towards a rushing attack that the Wildcats can lean on, but it’s new transfer QB Devin Leary who had all the attention coming into the season. In his first game for Kentucky, Leary was mostly fine in this game, not spectacular, but outside of his interception, nothing glaringly bad. Leary certainly has weapons as sophomore Dane Key and Barion Brown are both capable for explosive plays. It’s simply about getting it to them in space, something this offense struggled to do in this game.

Defensively, Kentucky created a ton of pressure, sacking Ball State quarterbacks three times and forcing eight tackles for loss to go with a pair of turnovers.

Kentucky’s offense won’t really get tested until the end of the month when they host Florida, but keep your eyes out for Vandy on September 23. We all saw how last season went.

What to watch for: Can the ‘Cats have success spreading the field on offense?

9. Auburn (1-0): 1.81255 points (#26)

Syndication: The Montgomery Advertiser Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK

Week One: 59-14 W vs. UMass
Movement: ↓1

Enter the Hugh Freeze era, and I’m still not too sure to make of this Auburn team after game one. Payton Thorne is the clear cut QB1 except when they get inside the red zone, then Robby Ashford comes in which is...something! UMass is certainly not going to test the defense. Cal could be an interestingly fun game for Auburn out west.

Overall thoughts: TBD

What to watch for: Is Payton Thorne going to play like it’s 2022 or 2023?

10. Mississippi State (1-0): 1.4378 points (#31)

NCAA Football: Southeastern Louisiana at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 48-7 W vs. SE Louisiana
Movement: ↑1

Zach Arnett’s debut with Mississippi State ended with an expected win. Things looked a lot more conventional on offense than year’s past, and Jo’Quavious Marks tallied 127 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.

What to watch for: Will State attack down the field this season?

11. Florida (0-1): 1.1726 points (#35)

NCAA Football: Florida at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 24-11 L @ Utah
Movement: ↓1

Salt Lake City is among the hardest places to win a game in college football. It’s even harder when you can’t do anything on offense. Florida’s new quarterback, Graham Mertz, a transfer from Wisconsin, should not be throwing the ball 44 times, regardless of score, and while it’s easy to talk about Mertz’s shortcomings as a passer, it was Florida’s offensive line and running game that let them down the most.

Mertz was sacked five times, Utah tallied seven tackles for loss, and Florida’s running backs combined for 11 carries for 34 yards. That is not ideal! Florida has some talent at wide receiver, but Mertz has never been the guy to push the ball down the field.

Florida’s defense was universally accepted to be their strength this season, and that was proven true in this game. They got gashed at times, but they held their own and kept this score respectable.

All in all, this is not going to be a fun season for Billy Napier.

What to watch for: Florida’s bowl eligibility

12. Missouri (1-0): 1.0553 points (#37)

NCAA Football: South Dakota at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 35-10 W vs. South Dakota
Movement: ↑1

This marks year four for Eli Drinkwitz at Mizzou, and it appears he finally has a breakout player on offense. Five star recruit, Luther Burden III hauled in seven passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in Missouri’s season opener while Cody Schrader rumbled for 138 yards on the ground.

What will make or break this Mizzou season is whether or not Brady Cook can play with the big boys this season. He’s been with Drinkwitz since year one, and while he’s flashed here and there, he’s never been consistent.

What to watch for: Can Brady Cook make a noticeable leap?

13. South Carolina (0-1): 0.94905 points (#42)

Week One: 31-17 L vs. North Carolina
Movement: ↓1


That’s the one word to sum up week one’s loss against North Carolina. The Gamecocks got trounced on the ground by UNC’s rushing attack, and their offensive line couldn’t keep the Tar Heels off of Spencer Rattler from the jump.

Rattler was sacked nine times as North Carolina racked up sixteen tackles for loss. Running backs Dakereon Joyner and Juju McDowell combined for 17 carries for 22 yards. Trying to find a positive, let’s go back to Rattler. Admittedly, I do think he created a few of his sacks, but to his defense, when you can’t run the ball and your line isn’t holding for longer than half a second, it’s hard not to look for that big play when you can. Rattler was extremely resilient, all things considered.

South Carolina has a week to figure things out against furman because it’s off to Athens in week three. If there’s a silver lining, this team struggled out of the gates last season before finishing strong.

What to watch for: Will the Gamecocks find anything in the running game this season?

14. Vanderbilt (2-0): -0.8912 points (#83)

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Week One: 47-13 W vs. Alabama A&M
Movement: —

Clark Lea has Vanderbilt off to a 2-0 start with wins against Hawaii and Alabama A&M to kick off the 2023 season.

The offense is capable of making things happen with Jayden McGowan and Will Sheppard out wide, but as this team heads to Wake Forest for week three, can they figure enough out defensively to pluck off an upset?

What to watch for: Can Vandy’s defensive front make life uncomfortable for Mitch Griffis?