The first weekend of college football is over, and most of the things we “knew” about the SEC were called into question during an exciting slate of games.
We’re not exactly back at square one here, but there is a whole new set of questions we want answers to. Here are the most pressing mysteries:
1. Is Jalen Hurts or Blake Barnett the man in Alabama?
Despite a four-touchdown night from Hurts, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told reporters that the Alabama quarterback competition still is open. That’s because Barnett — a redshirt freshman who underwhelmed in the first quarter — has a laser arm and looks like he could be the best passer Saban has ever coached.
This week, Alabama gets Western Kentucky at home, so we’ll get a chance to see how both players perform against lesser competition — and whether or not junior Cooper Bateman can do anything to get himself back in the picture.
2. Was Tennessee-Appalachian State a fluke?
Make no mistake: the Mountaineers are a good team. Perhaps a better team than several SEC cellar dwellers. But Tennessee is supposed to be one of the country’s most talented and powerful squads in 2016. No matter the opponent at home, they need to take care of business.
Last Thursday was much too close for comfort, and if the offense struggles again vs. Virginia Tech on Saturday night, Volunteers fans will be much more nervous about that Sept. 24 date with Florida.
3. Is this it for Les Miles?
If it’s true that LSU nearly canned Miles last December, imagine how Tigers boosters feel after their No. 5-ranked program fell to unranked Wisconsin on Saturday at Lambeau Field.
The pressure is on for a huge rebound against Jacksonville State this week, and then rival Mississippi State comes to Baton Rouge on Sept. 17 for a game that should give us a better idea of LSU’s “contender or pretender” status. More than ever, it appears that the Alabama game in early November will decide Miles’ fate… if he’s still around to coach it.
4. What is Georgia doing at quarterback?
Nick Chubb’s sensational day at the Georgia Dome (222 rushing yards after returning from knee surgery) overshadowed the fact that the Bulldogs are still a little unsettled under center.
There’s no question freshman Jacob Eason is the future, but we’re talking about September 2016, when Georgia will go on back-to-back trips to Missouri and Ole Miss — both of which have the defensive talent to shut down strong offenses. Will Kirby Smart simply hand Eason the keys, or keep mixing in fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert to help the Dawgs through a tough stretch?
5. Where does Texas A&M go from here?
Since Kevin Sumlin arrived in 2012, the Aggies have been a strong early-season team. Texas A&M — a winner against UCLA in a Saturday nail-biter — now holds a 19-2 record in the first five games of the season during Sumlin’s tenure.
But even when Johnny Manziel was in town, the Aggies struggled to stay in the national championship race down the stretch. Could a strong pass rush and an explosive offense help A&M get it done this fall? Trevor Knight, Myles Garrett and Co. will get another big test Sept. 17 at Auburn.
6. Is Arkansas ready for the spotlight?
There were so many other exciting games last weekend that Arkansas’ 21-20 win against Louisiana Tech seemed to slip under the radar. The Razorbacks have plenty of talent this season, but fans surely were upset by Saturday’s close call.
There won’t be anywhere to hide on Saturday, as Arkansas-TCU will be one of Week 2’s marquee games. Can Bret Bielema’s team shape up against the Horned Frogs in Arlington, Texas? TCU is ranked No. 15, but found itself in a shootout with FCS team South Dakota State at home in Week 1.
7. Will the real Chad Kelly please stand up?
We saw the full spectrum of Kelly’s scouting report on Monday night: He helped Ole Miss out to a 22-point first-half lead against No. 4 Florida State, but committed four total turnovers in the eventual loss.
His Heisman campaign is not in the toilet yet, but Rebels fans will need to see “good” Chad at home against Wofford this weekend in order to feel confident for a Sept. 17 slugfest with No. 1 Alabama at Vaught-Hemingway.
8. What’s the plan at Auburn?
Saturday’s 19-13 loss to No. 2 Clemson was agonizing for the home crowd, which booed Auburn — lustily — twice before the first quarter was through. The reason? Gus Malzahn’s ineffective quarterback carousel, which featured bizarre substitutions and general turmoil.
The Tigers’ three-headed approach did not work against Clemson, and will prevent Malzahn from developing a solid starter as the season goes on. So… what’ll it be, Gus? Sean White? Jeremy Johnson? John Franklin? Another day of indecision could lead to a seat-scorching loss vs. Arkansas State this weekend.
9. Is ‘The Battle at Bristol’ going to work?
“150,000 fans at a racetrack for a football game” was a great pitch. But will the execution be there? Bristol will host this weekend’s most intriguing game — both on and off the field — and while we can count on a memorable spectacle, we can’t necessarily count on a good television experience.
That latter category will likely determine whether or not NASCAR venues and college football continue to partner up in the coming years.
Did you somehow miss Week 1? Get caught up with our likes and dislikes from the weekend here.