Mike Leach has his detractors. By now, you’ve probably heard the refrains.

He doesn’t recruit well enough to win at a high level. He doesn’t care enough about balance and the running game. As a CEO of a program, he doesn’t focus enough on defense. He’s not a good cultural fit in the SEC.

Can we put these to bed now, please?

The Bulldogs aren’t just winning at a high level — they are No. 16 in the country and climbing in the toughest division in the sport. A 2-game road trip to No. 22 Kentucky and No. 3 Alabama await, but with a split, Leach will have navigated two-thirds of the nation’s tougest schedule (the Bulldogs play the SEC West, plus Kentucky and Georgia!) at 6-2. At the center of all this is Will Rogers III, the latest masterful Leach quarterback. The SEC’s leading passer is on pace for over 4,000 yards in the air this season, and a huge reason even with games against 4 ranked opponents remaining, a New Year’s Day bowl (or more) is legitimately possible in Starkville.

Rogers III also advances in this week’s list of the best 10 players in America’s best conference. He’s also joined by a teammate on this week’s list, a testament to the fact that Leach does, in fact, want to prevent the opposing team from scoring.

Last week’s list is here. Remember, there are only 2 honorable mentions per school, so while you’ll undoubtedly think my list is completely wrong, SDS does encourage you to make your own list under similar constraints, post it, and sit back while everyone tells you how terrible it is. That’s always fun — but not as much fun as being on the list.

Honorable Mention: Jahmyr Gibbs, Playmaker (Alabama); Bryce Young, QB (Alabama); Beaux Limmer, OG (Arkansas); Raheim Sanders, RB (Arkansas); Derick Hall, DE (Auburn); Ventrell Miller, LB (Florida); Austin Barber, OT (Florida); Christopher Smith, S (Georgia); Jamon Dumas-Johnson, LB (Georgia); Jordan Wright, LB/Edge (Kentucky); DeAndre Square, LB (Kentucky);  BJ Ojulari, Edge (LSU); Mekhi Garner, CB (LSU); Jett Johnson, LB (Mississippi State); Caleb Ducking, WR (Mississippi State); Isaiah McGuire, DE (Missouri); Nick Broeker, OL (Ole Miss); Jonathan Mingo, WR (Ole Miss); Jaheim Bell, TE (South Carolina); Jordan Burch, Edge (South Carolina); Chris Russell Jr., LB (Texas A&M); Layden Robinson OT (Texas A&M); Cedric Tillman, WR (Tennessee); Cooper Mays, C (Tennessee); Anfernee Orji, LB (Vanderbilt); Will Sheppard, WR (Vanderbilt).

10. MarShawn Lloyd, RB (South Carolina)

The Gamecocks’ running back enters the list after a 110-yard performance with a touchdown in South Carolina’s upset win over No. 13 Kentucky. Lloyd ranks among the SEC leaders in rushing yards this season with 434, and over 200 of those have come after contact. Lloyd is simply masterful at breaking big runs with little space, as he did in the fourth quarter against Kentucky.

Lloyd also slots in at 2nd in the SEC in rushing touchdowns, trailing only fellow listee Quinshon Judkins of Ole Miss. Lloyd has 9 touchdowns overall, as he’s dynamic in the passing game, collecting 15 receptions this season to go along with his run game credentials. He’s South Carolina’s best football player, and a big reason the Gamecocks are in a good place at 4-2 as the season hits the midway point.

9. Stetson Bennett, QB (Georgia)

Bennett isn’t doing anything wrong. He’s winning games, and last Saturday, won another rivalry game convincingly. He also made this tremendous house call on a draw in the 4th quarter that iced the game for Georgia.

Bennett also hasn’t quite put up the numbers to compete with the higher-end players on this list. Most of that, if not all of it, has to do with the ruthless effectiveness of Georgia’s red-zone run game, which continues to convert in the red zone. Georgia scored on long and short runs Saturday, but with 6 rushing touchdowns, Bennett’s services weren’t needed too much in the passing game, though he did throw for 208 yards, albeit on a pedestrian 6.5 yards per attempt. WIth bigger games ahead, Bennett should rise again on this list. For now, he slips to ninth, but what matters is Georgia remains unbeaten.

8. Emmanuel Forbes, DB (Mississippi State)

Forbes, the SEC leader in interceptions with 4, broke up 2 more passes and nearly added another interception in State’s 40-17 rout of Arkansas on Saturday afternoon. The junior also had a season-high 6 tackles, showing his ability in run support on the boundary. Pro Football Focus rates Forbes as the SEC’s 2nd-best corner on the season, behind Brian Branch of Alabama. Forbes has steadied a Bulldogs defense that ranks an impressive 19th in the country in pass efficiency defense on the season. See — Mike Leach loves defense!!

7. O’Cyrus Torrence, OL (Florida)

Torrence remains the highest-rated offensive lineman in the country, per Pro Football Focus, after Florida’s 24-17 victory over Missouri. He’s also the nation’s best run blocker, with a grade of 91.2. The Gators bullied a very good Missouri defensive front Saturday, rushing for 231 yards at an impressive 7.2 yards per carry. The Gators only ran 46 offensive plays in the win, so they needed every one of Torrence’s 4 pancake blocks that paved the way for their run game production. With Torrence leading the way, only Alabama and TCU average more yards per carry than the Gators, who are at an outstanding 6.4 yards per rush this season.

6. Drew Sanders, LB (Arkansas)

The Razorbacks were carved up by Leach and Miss State on Saturday, but it wasn’t because Sanders failed to show up. The Alabama transfer registered a team-high 16 tackles. He also broke up a pass and added 3 quarterback pressures. In other words, Sanders was one of the few Arkansas players who came to play Saturday in Starkville. Sanders ranks 3rd in the SEC in tackles on the season and continues to lead the league in sacks with 6.5, despite coming up empty in that department Saturday.

5. Quinshon Judkins, RB (Ole Miss)

The freshman continues to dominate football games. Saturday, in Ole Miss’ comeback win over Vanderbilt, Judkins scored 2 more touchdowns, taking the SEC lead with 8 rushing scores.

Judkins is the leader of an Ole Miss run game that ranks 1st in the country in rushing yardage and 5th in my success rate metric (the number of times a run play is successful in gaining a set number of yards from a down and distance standpoint to keep the chains moving or the offense “on schedule” to move the chains). His 581 yards rank 2nd in the SEC, his 197 yards after contact rank 2nd, and his 6.1 yards per rush rank 8th, putting him in the top 10 in every potential run game category. What a special year for the freshman in Oxford.

4. Brock Bowers, TE (Georgia)

A rare quiet afternoon for Bowers in Georgia’s rout of rival Auburn. The nation’s best tight end caught just 2 passes, gaining 36 yards. On the season, Bowers has 5 touchdowns and has gained 460 yards from scrimmage. He’s also a schematic nightmare, opening things up for every other playmaker on the field because defenses need to account for where he is — and often double-team him — on every play. This is one of the best football players in the country.

3. Will Rogers III, QB (Mississippi State)

Stop it with the “system” quarterback stuff. Rogers III is a playmaker and a dominant one. The SEC Player of the Week isn’t just doing it in a “system.” He’s making plays, like this one where he buys a ton of extra time moving around in the pocket, to produce touchdowns.


One week after strafing Texas A&M, Rogers tossed 3 touchdown passes and tallied 395 yards in Miss State’s big win over Arkansas. Over the past 2 weeks, Rogers has completed 62-of-93 passes for 724 yards, 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. The Bulldogs have won both games by double digits over teams picked to finish ahead of them in the SEC West by the media this summer. With Rogers playing great football, a split over Miss State’s next 2 games would put the Bulldogs in position to make a New Year’s Day bowl game with a 3-1 finish down the stretch. Impressive stuff.

2. Hendon Hooker, QB (Tennessee)

Hooker fumbled twice but otherwise eviscerated LSU in Baton Rouge. He threw for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 56 yards, helping Tennessee to a 27-point victory at Tiger Stadium, one of the largest margins of victories in the history of the LSU-Tennessee series. The Vols led 37-7 after 3 quarters, and emptied out Tiger Stadium early, setting their sights on this weekend’s showdown with Alabama in Knoxville. Win, and Hooker is probably the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and perhaps more important (kidding), back to the top of this list.

1. Will Anderson Jr., Edge (Alabama)

If you watched Saturday night’s narrow Alabama escape over Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M, you know the Crimson Tide only won because No. 31 in crimson and white plays for Alabama. Anderson Jr. had a ridiculous 8 quarterback hurries and 11 quarterback pressures, leading all defenders in the country this week in both categories. Anderson now ranks 2nd nationally in pressures this season, which is astonishing considering he is double-teamed or triple-teamed on many plays.

Much like Nakobe Dean was clearly Georgia’s best player a season ago, it doesn’t really matter whether Bryce Young gets back to New York City or another SEC player wins the Heisman Trophy. Anderson is the best football player I’ve seen this season (narrowly over Hooker, to be fair), and he’s why the Tide will be unbeaten Saturday when they arrive on Rocky Top.

There’s just no way, without video, to explain his impact, but as you can see above, Anderson constantly made life brutally hard on Haynes King, and often, his pressures came on key plays in terms of down and distance. If he can do that Saturday in Knoxville, the Tide should win. But doing it against a good Tennessee offensive line and the best quarterback in America this season? That’s a taller order. But it’s why we love this sport.