Power Ranking the top 10 players in the SEC after Rivalry Week
Rivalry Week has come and gone, but not without leaving an indelible mark.
Is there a better place to start than The Plains, where Auburn and Alabama treated us to one of the best Iron Bowls ever? If you had Alabama driving 97 yards for its first touchdown — and the tying score — with 0 timeouts and 92 seconds left in the football game — please take me to Vegas with you soon. The new overtime rules (which are terrible) favor the better offense, and that’s who won, eventually. Should Bryan Harsin have gone for 2 in the first overtime? I think so, but I don’t think Harsin deserved to be put on blast by Finebaum the way he was on Monday.
Elsewhere, Eli Drinkwitz might want to think twice about ripping Arkansas at SEC Media Days next summer. If you are going to talk about how long it’s been since a team beat you, it’s important to keep winning.
Jimbo Fisher now has 2 fewer wins than Kevin Sumlin did in his first 4 seasons in College Station. One less Heisman winner, too, but Fisher is a quarterback whisperer, I’m told. I’m sure another top-7 recruiting class won’t also finish 9-3 or 8-4 in 2022.
Florida beat FSU in a slopfest for the ages that featured the worst onside kick attempt in college football history.
FSU with the worst onside kick attempt ever. pic.twitter.com/5QwO2jXtK9
— Will Manso (@WillManso) November 27, 2021
Credit FSU with an awesome tribute to Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, however.
Tennessee finished 7-5 and, by virtue of its win over Kentucky, 3rd in the SEC East in Year 1 under Josh Heupel after routing Vanderbilt. Buy low in Knoxville and do it fast, especially if Spencer Rattler is headed that way.
Finally, Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach coached a terrific Egg Bowl that saw Ole Miss lock up a New Year’s 6 bowl game. More important, how great was it to have the Egg Bowl back on Thanksgiving night? That’s a tradition we should never surrender.
As for the list, we head into SEC Championship week undecided about who will win but confident that the top 4 are the right top 4. Everything after that remains fluid, to be determined by bowl season.
Last week’s list is here. Remember, only 2 honorable mentions per school. And yes, I enjoy all your holiday greetings in the comments about how stupid I am and how terrible this list is. I look forward to you writing your own top 10 list and getting it exactly right every week next season.
Honorable mentions: Evan Neal, OT (Alabama); Jameson Williams, WR (Alabama); Grant Morgan, LB (Arkansas); KJ Jefferson, QB (Arkansas); Zakoby McClain, LB (Auburn); TD Moultry, DL (Auburn); Dameon Pierce, RB (Florida); Zachary Carter, DE (Florida); Brock Bowers, TE (Georgia); Stetson Bennett IV, QB (Georgia); Darian Kinnard, OT (Kentucky); Josh Paschal, DL (Kentucky); Micah Baskerville, LB (LSU); BJ Ojulari, Edge (LSU); Jett Johnson, LB (Mississippi State); Will Rogers III, QB (Mississippi State); Blaze Alldredge, LB (Missouri); Michael Maietti, C (Missouri); Chance Campbell, LB (Ole Miss); Sam Williams, DE (Ole Miss); Jaylan Foster, DB (South Carolina); Kingsley Enagbare, DE (South Carolina); Jeremy Banks, LB (Tennessee); Hendon Hooker, QB (Tennessee); DeMarvin Leal, DL (Texas A&M); Antonio Johnson, CB (Texas A&M); Will Sheppard, WR (Vanderbilt).
10. Roger McCreary, CB (Auburn)
McCreary was sensational against Alabama, defending 4 passes, collecting 7 tackles, and helping Auburn contain one of the nation’s most prolific vertical passing games. McCreary grades out as the best corner in the country, per Pro Football Focus, and he played like it on Saturday in the Iron Bowl. A bowl game, and then the Senior Bowl in his hometown, await the Auburn star, who is a shoe-in to be an All-American.
9. Matt Corral, QB (Ole Miss)
Corral capped a splendid final regular season in Oxford with a victory in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving. Corral wasn’t spectacular, throwing for 234 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but he did appear healthy for the first time in several weeks, running the ball more than in recent weeks. This touchdown run late in the game encapsulates his toughness and will to win.
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MATT CORRAL. SPIN MOVE 🌪 pic.twitter.com/lOUwwsbcr1
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 26, 2021
Corral said he’ll play the bowl game, and he should: Sugar Bowls and Peach Bowls don’t come around often.
8. Tyler Badie, RB (Missouri)
The SEC’s leading rusher did all he could Friday against Arkansas, pounding the Razorbacks again and again for 219 yards on a season-high 41 carries. Badie added a touchdown and a reception, touching the football on 42 of Missouri’s 76 plays from scrimmage. It’s hard to think of a player more valuable to his football team than Badie, and Eli Drinkwitz’s second season in CoMo certainly ends without a bowl game but for the senior running back.
Given Badie’s absurdly high usage rate, it will be interesting to see if he plays the bowl game. (He broke Mizzou’s single-season rushing record in the regular-season finale.) He’s a nice NFL prospect because of his ability to catch passes, speed and toughness, but NFL teams have backed off high-usage backs in recent seasons, at least on draft day.
7. Damone Clark, LB (LSU)
The SEC’s leading tackler was marvelous in LSU’s upset win over No. 15 Texas A&M Saturday night in Baton Rouge. Clark tallied his usual team-high in tackles, with 10, but it was his playmaking ability that helped LSU steal the win. Clark had 4 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and added 5 quarterback pressures. This was an LSU defense left for dead in the middle of the season. Thanks to Clark, LSU closed the year by holding their final 4 opponents to 24 points or less in a brutal slate that included games against Alabama, Arkansas and A&M. All-American honors should be next for the LSU linebacker.
6. Treylon Burks, WR (Arkansas)
The Arkansas junior caught 7 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in the Razorbacks’ 17-point win over Missouri. He might be the best wide receiver in the country at getting separation on the boundary, thanks to clean route running and a special second burst.
Treylon Burks route running is so explosive and underrated pic.twitter.com/h2ekOVGSdz
— eugene. (@JOEYHAUSERHATER) November 27, 2021
On the season, he ranks 3rd in the SEC in receiving yards, 3rd in yards per reception (minimum 25 catches), and he’s done all of that in the most run-heavy offense in the SEC.
5. Wan’Dale Robinson, WR (Kentucky)
The SEC’s most complete wide receiver, Robinson capped an impressive regular season with a 9-reception, 97-yard effort in Kentucky’s 52-21 rout of rival Louisville. He was a willing perimeter blocker, as usual, in the Kentucky run game, which steamrolled the Cardinals for 362 yards. Robinson finished the regular season 2nd in the SEC in receptions (94) and yards receiving (1,164) and he grades out as the best wide receiver in the SEC and a top 5 wide receiver in all of college football, per Pro Football Focus. The big question now is whether the Rondale Moore clone is just a 1-year rental or if he’ll return for an encore in Lexington in 2022.
4. Bryce Young, QB (Alabama)
Young is considered a Heisman front-runner after Alabama’s stirring 24-22 comeback win in the Iron Bowl and why not? The 12-play, 97-yard, no timeouts and 92 seconds to work with drive he led will go down in Alabama lore. It’s the type of thing famed Alabama artist Daniel Moore might paint about and sell for decades in galleries around the state.
I don’t want to take anything away from Young, truly. But he wasn’t very good until the 4th quarter Saturday afternoon. Yes, plenty of that had to do with TD Moultry and the Auburn defensive line playing the best football of their lives. More of it had to do with Roger McCreary and the Auburn secondary playing their best game of the season. And yes, Jameson Williams making a silly decision and getting ejected for targeting in the first quarter didn’t help. But Young was 25-for-51 on the afternoon, threw a pick, averaged only 6.2 yards per attempt and was shutout for 3 quarters.
He’s still the best quarterback in the SEC, a likely All-American, and he still led an incredible drive to tie the game. He’s been terrific this year.
But he’s not even the best player on his team, or a top 3 player in his conference. Hopefully, Heisman voters care about that, but they likely will not.
3. Nakobe Dean, LB (Georgia)
The love given to Will Anderson Jr. is warranted, and yes, the Alabama edge defender should be a Heisman finalist, at a minimum.
But Nakobe Dean, who plays a different position and is asked to do different things, is just as dominant. He eats perimeter run plays alive:
Nakobe Dean 2021. Part 2 of 2. pic.twitter.com/jYmj3jpPIN
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) November 22, 2021
He is the best linebacker in the country in coverage:
🚨 NAKOBE DEAN PICK SIX 🚨
It was 3-0 two minutes ago. Now it’s 24-0 🔥🔥🔥pic.twitter.com/9tSy3dzG6O
— 247Sports (@247Sports) October 30, 2021
And against rival Georgia Tech, he was the best football player on the field, collecting 6 tackles, a sack and 4 quarterback pressures. Dean was on my first-team All-American ballot and he’s a problem Bill O’Brien and Alabama will need to account for Saturday in Atlanta.
2. Jordan Davis, DT (Georgia)
Will the battle for No. 1 on this list come down to the SEC Championship Game? It very well may. Davis was quiet Saturday against Georgia Tech, at least on the stat sheet, collecting just 1 tackle. That doesn’t change his impact on a football game. Just ask Nick Saban:
Coach Nick Saban on Jordan Davis: "I think the guy is one of the most dominant defensive linemen in college football….He's about as good a player as I've seen as an inside defensive linemen as I've seen in a long time."
— Anthony Dasher (@AnthonyDasher1) November 28, 2021
1. Will Anderson Jr., Edge (Alabama)
Heisman politics and history, along with an assortment of voters who don’t even work in the college football industry, will prevent Anderson from winning the Heisman Trophy. But the Heisman Trust should invite him to the ceremony. He’s been too good this season, and he’s the best player on an 11-1 Alabama team that will play for another SEC Championship on Saturday evening.
How dominant has he been?
Through 12 games, he leads the nation in sacks, with 14.5, a single-season high for any Alabama player in the Saban era and twice as many as any current teammate. He leads the nation in tackles for loss, with 29.5, the most by a power-conference player in more than a decade and nearly twice as many as any other current SEC player. (Kentucky’s Josh Paschal and LSU’s Damone Clark are tied for second at 15.5 apiece.)
Against Auburn, he had 3 tackles for loss, a great day for most anyone — and that only slightly bettered his season average of 2.5 tackles for loss a game.
This is the type of statistical output Heisman voters would do back flips over if Anderson played quarterback or running back. Why aren’t they treating Anderson the same way? They should be, especially because fellow candidates like CJ Stroud of Ohio State or Anderson’s teammate Bryce Young aren’t keeping up with traditional Heisman numbers.
That Anderson is in a dogfight with 2 Georgia defenders to determine who is the best player in the SEC is more a testament to how good Georgia is than a knock on Anderson.
He’s been sensational. And he has a great chance at a closing statement, for anyone paying attention, this weekend.