Not so fast, SEC haters.
That was the early vibe Monday night when Chad Kelly and 11th-ranked Ole Miss ripped through No. 4 Florida State for a 28-6 lead with three minutes to go in the first half. Kelly looked like he was launching a Heisman campaign and the Rebels seemed to be salvaging a sorry opening weekend for the conference with a stunning primetime beatdown.
Not so fast, SEC fans.
Week 1 really was that bad for the league that loves to claim college football dominance. Kelly melted down and the Seminoles heated up. Florida State reeled off 33 unanswered points to roar back for a 45-34 victory that punctuated a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weekend for the SEC.
After all 14 teams played their opener, only three emerged with much to brag about. Alabama throttled Southern California, Georgia handled North Carolina and Texas A&M upset UCLA, all ranked opponents. But there was far more stink than shine for the SEC.
LSU wet the bed against Wisconsin. South Alabama stunned Mississippi State. Kentucky blew a 25-point lead and lost to Southern Miss. Tennessee needed overtime to beat Appalachian State. Arkansas survived Louisiana Tech by a single point. Florida led Massachusetts 10-7 in the fourth quarter before pulling away.
And then Ole Miss pulled the rug out from under a league in need of a narrative-changing win.
Kelly started out slinging darts against Florida State, completing 14 of 23 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. He drove the Seminoles mad with his feet, too, rushing seven times for 52 yards to help build that big early lead.
Even after a gruesome leg injury to starting cornerback Ken Webster – who left the field on a cart, sobbing and screaming to his teammates to finish the job – the Rebels initially, improbably, looked faster and more athletic than the Seminoles. Ole Miss ran by them and through them, blowing up anything FSU tried on offense.
It looked like Hugh Freeze had somehow seamlessly reloaded after the loss of three first-round NFL draft picks. Not so fast, Hugh.
Something clicked for the Seminoles’ freshman quarterback, the hyped Deondre Francois, who directed a nine-play, 75-yard drive just before halftime to give FSU hope. Then Kelly threw his second interception – to be fair, it was off tight end Evan Engram’s hands – and the ‘Noles turned that it into another touchdown. The snowball gathered speed.
Kelly was sacked and fumbled. Another Florida State touchdown and, suddenly, the lead. Three-and-out for Ole Miss, featuring another sack, setting up another Seminoles touchdown. “This is men against boys,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said as the Tunsil-less Rebels offensive line wilted.
The entire third quarter passed and Ole Miss didn’t manage a first down.
Kelly briefly regrouped, tossed another touchdown to get within five points with 12 minutes to go, but then overshot a wide-open receiver deep down the sideline and took another barrage of sacks – the Rebels surrendered five of those total.
Kelly’s third interception with 2:21 to go – he also passed for 312 yards and four scores – sealed the defeat. Meanwhile, Francois lit up Ole Miss for 479 total yards in his first college game and star running back Dalvin Cook went for 192 rushing and receiving.
In the end, the ACC flexed its muscles on the SEC. As did the Big Ten, Conference USA and Sun Belt. Have at it, SEC haters.
* Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleTucker_AJC. Reach him at Kyle.Tucker@ajc.com.