Power ranking the top 10 SEC players through Rivalry Week
The SEC flexed its muscle during Rivalry Week, going 3-1 in its nonconference rivalry battles with the ACC. (We’re looking and shaking our heads at you, Billy Napier and Florida!)
The 3-1 mark was filled with tremendous individual performances, from Spencer Rattler’s 369-yard, 2-touchdown effort to take down No. 8 Clemson, ending the nation’s longest home winning streak at 40, to Jordan Lovett’s monster day on defense for Kentucky in its win over No. 25 Louisville. The SEC has now won 9-of-12 in these 4 SEC-ACC rivalry week games, a reminder that not only does it “mean more” in the SEC, the league just plays better football.
Within the SEC, Alabama won the Iron Bowl, thanks to another gargantuan game from Bryce Young. Mississippi State won an Epic Egg Bowl, overcoming a Will Rogers III fumble at the goalline an ensuing 99-yard Rebels touchdown drive by stopping this 2-point conversion to win the game.
Mississippi State denies an Ole Miss two-point try and holds on to win the Egg Bowl. pic.twitter.com/WfTQvzvk75
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) November 25, 2022
Georgia rallied to beat Georgia Tech, dominating the second half to deny the Yellow Jackets a bowl invite. And before we forget, Tennessee defiantly rebuked Kirk Herbstreit’s prediction of doom, routing Vanderbilt 56-0 in Nashville, to the delight of Vols fans everywhere.
Kirk Herbstreit faces the blowtorch of Vol Twitter as Tennessee fans remind him of upset pick https://t.co/oQvbohw81c
— SEC Football News (@SECfootball) November 27, 2022
The league now turns its eyes to Atlanta, where No. 1 Georgia awaits an LSU team coming off a stunning loss to Jimbo Fisher’s hapless Texas A&M. Was the Aggies’ win a case of LSU looking ahead? A case of “anything can happen in a rivalry game?” Or was it a sign that for all of LSU’s improvement in Year 1 under Brian Kelly, there is still plenty of work to do in Baton Rouge. We’ll find out Saturday, I suppose, but as my colleague at SDS, Les East, wrote Monday, the truth tends to be somewhere in between the two polar alternatives.
LSU’s loss has big implications. It changed the College Football Playoff picture, all but assuring that the field is essentially set, barring a USC loss in the Pac-12 Championship. It also changed “The List,” with the LSU defense’s ho-hum first half marking the first true adversity Harold Perkins Jr and this group have faced since the Alabama game.
What does that mean for The List? Find out below.
Last week’s list is here. Honorable mentions, as always come first and are limited to 2 per program. Hendon Hooker, who played 11 games this season for Tennessee, remains in the list due to the body of his work, despite the fact his Volunteers career is over.
Honorable Mention: Darrian Dalcourt, C (Alabama); Jahmyr Gibbs, RB (Alabama); Ricky Stromberg, C (Arkansas); Raheim Sanders, RB (Arkansas); Tank Bigsby, RB (Auburn); Owen Pappoe, LB (Auburn); O’Cyrus Torrence, OG (Florida); Trevor Etienne, RB (Florida); Stetson Bennett IV, QB (Georgia); Brock Bowers, TE (Georgia); Keidron Smith, CB (Kentucky); Jordan Wright, LB/Edge (Kentucky); Mekhi Wingo, DT (LSU); Jayden Daniels, QB (LSU); Will Rogers III, QB (Mississippi State); Jett Johnson, LB (Mississippi State); Kris Abrams-Draine, DB (Missouri); Ty’Ron Hopper, LB (Missouri); Nick Broeker, OL (Ole Miss); Malik Heath, WR (Ole Miss); Cam Smith, CB (South Carolina); Zacch Pickens, DL (South Carolina); Devon Achane, RB (Texas A&M); Antonio Johnson, S (Texas A&M); Jalin Hyatt, WR (Tennessee); Cooper Mays, C (Tennessee); Anfernee Orji, LB (Vanderbilt); Ray Davis, RB (Vanderbilt).
10. Antwane Wells Jr., WR (South Carolina)
The Gamecocks don’t end their 7-game losing streak to archrival Clemson without Wells’ 9-reception, 131-yard, 2-touchdown performance. The James Madison transfer finished the year on a heater, with 20 receptions for 308 yards in South Carolina’s wins over No. 5 Tennessee and No. 8 Clemson to close the season.
#SouthCarolina WR Antwane Wells was one of the biggest transfers in the offseason from James Madison, and has carved up Tennessee and Clemson in consecutive weeks.
If he returns to school he will be one of the top senior wideouts in the country.pic.twitter.com/v4PpfjEja6
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) November 26, 2022
Wells concludes the regular season 2nd in the SEC in receiving, but he was far better down the stretch than honorable mention receiver Jalin Hyatt, whose production dropped off beginning with then-No. 1 Tennessee’s loss at Georgia. As a result of his late-season work in enormous wins, including one over the Vols, Wells finds himself in the list for the first time.
9. Jalen Carter, DL (Georgia)
Carter had a quiet afternoon against Georgia Tech, registering just 2 tackles in Georgia’s 37-14 win in Athens. It was also his lowest grade in a game since returning from injury against Florida in the Cocktail Party. Expect the big fellow to play better as the Bulldogs chase their first SEC Championship since 2017 on Saturday in Atlanta.
8. Drew Sanders, LB (Arkansas)
Sanders will share the SEC season sack title with his former roommate, Will Anderson Jr. (below), finishing his first campaign in Fayetteville with 10 sacks. The Razorbacks’ defense struggled this season, but it wasn’t on account of Sanders, who finished 3rd in the SEC in tackles, tied for No. 1 in sacks, 3rd in quarterback pressures and 4th in tackles for loss. Sanders was his usual wrecking ball self in the team’s Black Friday loss at Missouri, collecting 7 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and 2 pass deflections in a losing effort.
7. Quinshon Judkins, RB (Ole Miss)
The SEC’s best newcomer on the offensive side, Judkins fought for 91 yards in his first Egg Bowl, but it was not enough to lift Ole Miss to a 9th victory on the season. The Rebels’ running back did claim the regular season SEC rushing title, with 1,476 yards rushing enough to edge Arkansas sophomore Rocket Sanders. Not bad for a 3-star recruit with 1 SEC offer, right?
6. Will Anderson Jr., Edge (Alabama)
Anderson went out in style in his final Iron Bowl. He terrorized Robby Ashford, registering 7 pressures, 2 sacks and collecting 5 tackles in Alabama’s victory.
Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. vs. Auburn
? 21 pass-rushing snaps
? 2 sacks
? 1 hit
? 4 hurries pic.twitter.com/BJTqPqI3LD
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 27, 2022
Anderson’s 52 pressures on the season led the country — again — and over 20 of those pressures came down the stretch, in Alabama’s final 4 games. In other words, the Alabama superstar saved his best football for last, helping the Crimson Tide to 10 wins and assuring them of a New Year’s 6 bowl appearance next month.
5. Harold Perkins Jr., LB (LSU)
The SEC’s best freshman didn’t have his best night Saturday at Texas A&M, collecting just 2 tackles and missing multiple tackles for the first time in his career in LSU’s shocking loss. LSU’s Playoff died in College Station, but Perkins remains the star of a defense that is over 40 spots better in total defense, success rate and yards allowed per play than last year’s unit. This Perkins-fueled defense is good enough to give the Tigers a fighting chance to beat No. 1 Georgia on Saturday and help LSU capture its second SEC Championship in 4 years.
4. Emmanuel Forbes, CB (Mississippi State)
The biggest news related to Forbes, aside from Ole Miss not completing a single pass in 1-on-1 coverage against him in the Egg Bowl (0-3), was the Miss State senior being left out of the Jim Thorpe Award finalist list.
Here’s how Forbes, now the only player in the history of the sport to have 6 interceptions returned for touchdowns in his career, stacks up against the 3 Thorpe finalists:
Complete stat comparison between Emmanuel Forbes and the three Thorpe Finalists: pic.twitter.com/NKSTtbxEni
— Elizabeth Keen (@elizabethfkeen) November 29, 2022
It seems like the Thorpe committee has some explaining to do.
Forbes absolutely belongs among the finalist, even if you think Clark Phillips III of Utah, who like Forbes is so good he typically isn’t targeted in single coverage (just 26 targets, to Forbes’ 22) has a legitimate argument as the nation’s top corner this season.
What Forbes is, when you watch him play, is a guy who shuts down a third of the field, impacting the opponent’s scheme simply by lining up. Throw in his penchant for the massive play and well, you get an idea of why Mike Leach’s team finally broke through in an Egg Bowl and why State will find itself in a premier bowl game next month.
3. Bryce Young, QB (Alabama)
Speaking of signing off in style, if Saturday was Bryce Young’s final Iron Bowl (it was), he did it the right way, throwing for 343 yards and 3 touchdowns in Alabama’s 49-27 win. It won’t get any better than last year’s Iron Bowl and Heisman campaign for Young, and that drive is worth one more look, for posterity’s sake.
In last year's Iron Bowl, Alabama was faced with a 4th & 7 with :43 seconds remaining.
Bryce Young still managed to crack a smile in the midst of the chaos. The rest is history. What a finish. pic.twitter.com/vcZLd11oXP
— Touchdown Alabama (@TDAlabamaMag) November 24, 2022
But as Young waved goodbye to the Alabama fans on the Capstone this past weekend, it was, well, hard not to feel like you needed to dust your TV room a little bit. Young also became the first Alabama quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons in the game, a record that may stand a while, even in what has become a pass to set up the run Alabama offense.
2. Hendon Hooker, QB (Tennessee)
Hooker, named a finalist for the Maxwell Award, honoring the nation’s top college football player, should be invited to New York City for the Heisman ceremony. Even if USC’s Caleb Williams — who has less impressive numbers against a less difficult schedule — wins, Hooker has earned, in our view, the right to be there.
His 175.51 passer efficiency rating ranks 2nd among Power 5 quarterbacks and he leads the nation with 9.53 yards per attempt, and did so playing the 7th-most difficult schedule in the country. What a year for the super senior, who threw for 3,135 yards and 27 TDs against just 2 interceptions.
1. Christopher Smith, S (Georgia)
The Bulldogs’ captain collected 3 tackles against Georgia Tech and was perfect in 1-on-1 coverage, allowing 0 completions in 4 Georgia Tech targets. Smith’s leadership is the biggest contribution he makes– which is saying something considering he’s universally regarded as the top safety prospect in April’s NFL Draft.
“We wouldn’t be unbeaten without him,” a Georgia assistant texted me Monday. “He’s the one guy we simply cannot replace.”
A finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award, an award given to the best defensive player in college football, Smith has made 47 tackles (4th on the team), 4 TFLs, 1 QB sack, 2 interceptions, 5 pass breakups and 1 fumble recovery during the 2022 season.