Photo by University of Tennessee Athletics (@Vol_Football)
By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn — The college football season has already reached its halfway mark. At this point, fans have a sense of who their team is and have adjusted their expectations based on the first six games or so.
The SEC was a conference full of parity on the front end of 2023. These are my adjusted expectations for each SEC team as we enter the back end of the regular season.
ALABAMA- Current Record: 5-1 Floor: 10-2 Ceiling: 11-1
The Tide is not winning with the ease it did in the years between Jalen Hurts and Bryce Young, but that does not mean the expectations should be lowered in Tuscaloosa. The Tide has a free space against Chattanooga, and it faces a struggling Arkansas team next week. Tennessee and LSU both come to town in the next month, but a loss to either of those two seems far-fetched. To suggest an Alabama loss to Kentucky is football blasphemy, and Auburn does not have the offensive dimension to pull off an upset.
ARKANSAS- Current Record: 2-4 Floor: 3-9 Ceiling: 5-7
Life has turned grim for Arkansas as close losses are souring the Sam Pittman era. The two guarantees left for the Hogs are a loss at Alabama and a win over Florida International. The other four contests are swing games against Mississippi State, Auburn, Missouri, and Florida. The Hogs have never won in Gainesville, and Auburn and Missouri both look like improved squads.
AUBURN- Current Record: 3-2 Floor: 6-6 Ceiling: 8-4
The offense on the plains has been ugly at times this year, but Auburn is on track to get back to a bowl. LSU and Alabama look like the only definite losses at this point, and Mississippi State, New Mexico State, and a trip to Vanderbilt all look like wins. Ole Miss has looked better than the Tigers, but the Rebels have had issues on the plains historically. The other swing game will be on the road against an Arkansas team much maligned by close finishes.
FLORIDA- Current Record: 4-2 Floor: 5-7 Ceiling: 7-5
Based on what remains for Florida, a bowl appearance could be a stretch. Georgia, Florida State, and a trip to play LSU in Baton Rouge all look like losses. The trip to Missouri does not appear as friendly as it did before the season began. The Gators’ games at South Carolina and against Arkansas seem like their best opportunities to win. Arkansas has not won in the Swamp, and South Carolina has not had an easy start to its season. Still, neither Arkansas nor South Carolina are guaranteed.
GEORGIA- Current Record: 6-0 Floor: 11-1 Ceiling: 12-0
Aside from last week’s game against Kentucky, the Bulldogs have not gotten off to a fast start against any opponent. The trips to Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, and Jacksonville to play Florida look like givens. If the Bulldogs were to drop one, it would be in the stretch of Missouri, Ole Miss, and the trip to Tennessee, but even suggesting Georgia could drop one feels like ridiculous.
KENTUCKY- Current Record: 5-1 Floor: 6-6 Ceiling: 9-3
Kentucky has a wide range of possibilities for its destiny in 2023, but it is past the cupcakes now. History is not on the side of the Wildcats when they play Alabama or Tennessee. They have played well against Missouri since it joined the SEC, but the Tigers have had an energetic start to 2023. There is a good chance for the Wildcats to win two of their last three road games this year, but it is a question of which two games it will be. Mississippi State and South Carolina appear most winnable on paper, but the Wildcats have not won in Starkville in 15 years. Louisville looks like the most losable of the three, but the Wildcats have not fallen to the Cardinals since 2017.
LSU- Current Record: 4-2 Floor: 9-3 Ceiling 10-2
A win for LSU over Alabama is improbable, but not unrealistic given the way the Tigers play offense. Alabama aside, the Tigers will have to try if they want to lose more than three games this season. Outside of the trip to Tuscaloosa, the Tigers do not leave the friendly confines of Death Valley for the rest of the season. Army and Georgia State are the two non-conference games remaining for the Tigers, both of which should be wins. Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M all have terrible track records in Baton Rouge in the last 10 seasons.
MISSISSIPPI STATE- Current Record: 3-3 Floor: 4-8 Ceiling: 7-5
The start to Mississippi State’s season suggests a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs. However, the Bulldogs’ trips to Auburn and Texas A&M are the only games left where chances of a win are slim. The Bulldogs should take care of business against Southern Miss the second to last week of the season. Even though the Arkansas game is in Fayetteville, the Hogs have had many shortcomings this year. Kentucky and Ole Miss are definitely better than the Bulldogs on paper, but it has been a while since Kentucky won in Davis Wade, and for lack of a better explanation, the Egg Bowl is the Egg Bowl.
MISSOURI- Current Record: 5-1 Floor: 8-4 Ceiling: 9-3
Talk of Missouri winning eight games before the season would have been ridiculous, but there is a good chance the Tigers can pull it off. Eli Drinkwitz is unbeaten against South Carolina, and many of the collapses of Florida and Arkansas in the last decade have involved losses to Missouri. The games at Kentucky and Georgia and at home against Tennessee will be challenging. The Tigers have been miserable against Kentucky and Georgia since joining the SEC, and the next time the Tigers stop a Josh Heupel offense will be the first. Still, a win against one of those three is not impossible.
OLE MISS- Current Record: 5-1 Floor: 8-4 Ceiling: 10-2
There appears to be three certainties on the remainder of Ole Miss’ schedule: a loss at Georgia and wins over Vanderbilt and ULM. The Rebels should get a win at Mississippi State, but weird things happen in the Egg Bowl. The games at Auburn and against Texas A&M will probably be split. The Rebels are less than stellar against Auburn historically, and Texas A&M will be a physical battle in Oxford.
SOUTH CAROLINA- Current Record: 2-3 Floor: 4-8 Ceiling: 6-6
The first portion of the schedule has been brutal for South Carolina, and a bowl appearance involves a serious uphill climb. Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt should be wins, but the Gamecocks have not performed well against Texas A&M or Missouri in the Drinkwitz era. Judging by the way the Gamecocks defend the run, Kentucky is probably a loss too. Florida and Clemson are the two swing games left on the schedule, and the Gamecocks will likely have to win both if they want to go to a bowl.
TENNESSEE- Current Record: 4-1 Floor: 8-4 Ceiling: 9-3
Aside from the loss to Florida, Tennessee has started its season on a good note. The games at Alabama and against Georgia are the only two that are probable losses. Texas A&M and Missouri could be swing games, but the Vols are more than capable of winning both of those games. The Vols will not lose at home against Connecticut or Vanderbilt, and history heavily favors the Vols no matter where they play Kentucky.
TEXAS A&M- Current Record: 4-2 Floor: 7-5 Ceiling: 8-4
Texas A&M has outperformed what they did a season ago at the midway point, and it has bought Jimbo Fisher at least another year in College Station. The Aggies have a free space against Abilene Christian the second to last week of the season, and neither South Carolina nor Mississippi State have looked good enough to get a win at Kyle Field. The tricky part of the rest of 2023 is the road games at Tennessee, Ole Miss, and LSU. The Aggies have not won in Baton Rouge since joining the SEC, so if they win one of those three it will likely be in Oxford or Knoxville.
VANDERBILT- Current Record: 2-5 Floor: 2-10 Ceiling: 2-10
Yes, the ceiling is the floor for Vanderbilt. The Commodores are two losses away from missing a bowl for the fifth year in a row, and it has not reached the meat of its schedule. Georgia, Ole Miss, and Tennessee are all ranked, and two of those three are on the road. The Commodores have not beaten South Carolina in over a decade, and Auburn looks tougher than it did last year.