Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop in-season shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you’ve been stewing over all weekend. SEC Country has been stewing, too, and what we’re cooking up for you every Monday morning is a tasty medley of the conference’s highlights, lowlights and every #ItJustMeansMore commercial in between.
You’ve heard the storyline way too many times by now.
On a weekend chock-full of big-time upsets across the sport, the internet media collective concluded the story du jour of Saturday was this: The SEC looked terrible, and Alabama is carrying the dead weight of an overrated conference.
That’s right. One down week in Dixie gave the haters their opening, and they pounced in full force.
- SEC football has Alabama. Anything else? (USA Today)
- Mighty SEC not so mighty in underwhelming Week 1 (Sporting News)
- Ranking the SEC’s saddest Week 1 showings, and the 25 other CFB things to know (SB Nation)
- Winners and Losers: SEC struggles on opening weekend (Yahoo Sports)
I’m not afraid to call this what it was: a sloppy weekend for most of the conference.
Tennessee’s offense looked listless and scared against App State. Brandon Harris still is infuriating LSU fans by the thousands. Dan Mullen’s shorts lost to South Alabama, Missouri was not competitive against West Virginia, Kentucky stinks and Gus Malzahn shot Auburn in the foot.
There was a lot of “bad football pie” force-fed to the fans, sure.
But since when did opening weekend determine the course of a season?
Here’s some of what happened in Week 1 of 2015: South Carolina (3-9) defeated North Carolina (11-3) on the road, 17-13. Auburn ran for 190 yards and defeated Louisville, 31-24. Texas A&M cruised past Arizona State, 38-17. Arkansas steamrolled UTEP, 48-13.
And here’s what happened one week later: South Carolina lost to Kentucky. Auburn needed overtime to beat Jacksonville State. Arkansas lost to Toledo. Florida defeated East Carolina by 7 points.
I’m going to bold this sentence because it’s so dang important: The sample size is too small for us to draw any real conclusions.
And just so we’re clear, the SEC wasn’t alone this weekend.
ACC: Clemson should have stomped Auburn but didn’t. North Carolina lost to Georgia. Georgia Tech and Boston College forced confused Irish people to watch abysmal football. Virginia lost to Richmond. Wake Forest beat Tulane by 4 points.
Big 12: Front-runner Oklahoma lost to Houston. Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa. Also, the conference is a mess politically.
Big Ten: Michigan State struggled against Furman. Northwestern lost to Western Michigan.
Pac-12: Oregon State lost to Minnesota. USC got obliterated by Alabama. Washington State lost to Eastern Washington. Arizona lost to BYU.
This is Week 1. Upsets happen everywhere. Nerves get in the way. Superior teams lose focus.
The difference is that nobody cares if the Pac-12 had a horrible weekend. People get so riled up talking about the SEC because it dominates the conversation, and that’s because people do care.
Tennessee did not forget how to play offense. Wisconsin was a tough matchup for LSU, especially considering Dave Aranda built most of that defense himself. Ole Miss hasn’t played yet and may buck the bad trend for all we know.
What is certain: The SEC is not in a downward spiral. Not by a long shot.
Alabama is really, really, ridiculously good-looking
Derek Zoolander couldn’t have said it better himself. For Nick Saban, though, there’s always more to life than looking good.
The Crimson Tide dominated another nonconference opponent; the result was more predictable than Saban’s eating habits. But even after his No. 1 Alabama team looked unstoppable in its 52-6 beatdown of USC, the longtime head coach was quick to pinpoint flaws, inconsistencies and areas that need fine-tuning.
“If you want to know the truth about it, I wasn’t pleased with the way we played,” Saban said. “And, again, you know, if you look at your internal scoreboard rather than the external scoreboard and you say, ‘What do we need to do to improve? What do we need to do to get better?’ ”
It’s that perfectionist mentality — that absolute fear of failure — that sets Saban apart from his colleagues. Compare his stance to what Butch Jones said after Tennessee got lucky in outlasting Appalachian State: “I’m never going to apologize for a win.”
Can you imagine Saban saying such a thing?
If Alabama repeats, you can (for the millionth time) credit Saban’s ability to indoctrinate in his players this relentless obsession with self-improvement.
“We don’t like to have a mediocre game and win and be happy about it,” offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman said, per ESPN’s Alex Scarborough.
Like I said, indoctrination.
The Crimson Tide have two incredibly talented young quarterbacks who should see the field against Western Kentucky this week. You already can see the big potential sleeping inside Jalen Hurts — he went 6 of 11 for 118 yards and 4 total touchdowns, but committed 2 turnovers — while starter Blake Barnett was a crisp 5-of-6 passing himself.
The scary part? Alabama’s running game didn’t entirely click on Saturday. Bo Scarbrough averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Damien Harris hit a 73-yarder that accounted for about half his yardage. What happens when that unit does, inevitably, hit its stride?
The offense will get better. The defense already is playing at a high level. There are some huge games left on the schedule — at Ole Miss, at Tennessee, at LSU — but for all we know, Alabama still could be favored in all three contests.
Where art thou, linemen?
Speaking of Ole Miss, there’s still one giant Week 1 game left to be played.
The Rebels clash with Florida State on Monday night in Orlando, Fla., and they’ll do so without any of their Big Three 2013 signees. Gone are Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell to the NFL, leaving senior Chad Kelly to do much more weekly lifting for Ole Miss.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, return most key components from last year’s 10-win squad, including stalwart running back Dalvin Cook. They will have a redshirt freshman at quarterback — Deondre Francois, a 4-star dual threat from the Sunshine State — but let’s not forget their last young passer captured a Heisman.
Bigger still: Florida State will provide Ole Miss with a huge early test in the trenches. On offense, Jimbo Fisher’s squad features five starting linemen heavier than 300 pounds. The onus will be on defensive ends Marquis Haynes (222 pounds) and Fadol Brown (273 pounds) to set the edge and contain Cook, and for the interior to take advantage of the center if true freshman Andrew Boselli is forced to start in place of Alec Eberle (migraines).
On the other end, four new starters will suit up for Ole Miss on the offensive line, including three sophomores. Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker, Josh Sweat and Derrick Nnadi could have a field day if the unit doesn’t settle in early.
Ultimately, I see the Seminoles winning by 10 to 14 points. Ole Miss’ best shot at making the Playoff was last season; the Henry Heave likely will haunt Hugh Freeze for a long time.
Change the name, same old game
Offseason outlook on SEC quarterback play was not especially confident, but Week 1 didn’t necessarily feed those doubts.
Yes, 23 quarterbacks will have attempted at least 1 pass for SEC teams, if you count Kelly, and seven teams used multiple quarterbacks. Collectively, they threw for 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But a couple of teams (Auburn, LSU, Missouri) muddied a mostly promising picture, especially when you factor in youngsters like Hurts, Drew Barker and Jacob Eason.
Still, there’s a lot of settling left to do at several schools. These are the backups most likely to make a run at the starting job during the next few weeks:
Jacob Eason, Georgia: He’s probably the Week 2 starter over Greyson Lambert. Eason’s arm offers more, and the offense is the Nick Chubb show, anyway.
Jalen Hurts, Alabama: He and Blake Barnett probably will duke it out for a few more games, but there’s no question that Hurts already looks special.
Marvin Zanders, Missouri: Drew Lock chucked the pigskin 51 times against West Virginia, and the result was a 45 percent completion rate and 5.5 yards per attempt. Zanders’ passing skills are sort of a black box right now, but we know he can run it (7 carries, 47 yards). If Lock doesn’t have it, new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel might feel tempted to harness that athleticism.
Brandon McIlwain, South Carolina: Perry Orth may not be the flashiest guy at quarterback, but for now, he gives the Gamecocks their best shot at winning. McIlwain will get his chance down the line.
Woody Barrett, Auburn: I’m half-joking, but if you were forced to watch Auburn’s three-headed quarterback disaster on Saturday night, you’d understand. Barrett is no threat to start any time soon — Gus Malzahn would be wise to stick with Sean White for now — but if the Tigers find themselves listing by late October, don’t necessarily rule this out.
Friends turned foes
The other common theme in Week 1’s big nonconference tilts: coordinators facing their former teams. Here’s how they fared:
Kevin Steele vs. Clemson: Steele’s head coach blew the game, but his defense looked light years better than the one Will Muschamp ran last year. Containing Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman is mighty impressive. Grade: Five angry Auburn fans
Dave Aranda vs. Wisconsin: Likewise, the LSU offense squandered a strong effort from their hotshot new defensive coordinator. Not that the Badgers offense is exactly dynamic. But the Tigers scored half their points on Tre’Davious White’s pick-six. Grade: Four Cam Cameron halfback dives
Noel Mazzone vs. UCLA: Texas A&M lost steam late and allowed the Bruins to force overtime, but Mazzone called a pretty good game overall. Playing to Trevor Knight’s strength as a scrambler on the goal line in overtime was the right move, and it paid off. Grade: Three Sadie Robertsons
Lane Kiffin vs. USC: Think there’s bad blood here? Rolling up 52 points had to feel pretty good after #3:14AM-LAX. If only Knox Kiffin knew the stuff his dad pulls. Grade: Five subtweets
Post game w the game ball!!! #3:14AM-LAX pic.twitter.com/cxQkJ89254
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) September 4, 2016
Headlines from around the league
- What on earth is Gus Malzahn doing? (shameless self-plug)
- Expect job security to be a theme throughout LSU’s season (Sam Spiegelman)
- USC player who stomped groin of Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick suspended, will write apology letter
- Get to know: Virginia Tech, bypassed football neighbor from the ACC (Mike Griffith)
- Florida WR Dre Massey is reportedly out for the season with injury
- No, Mississippi State isn’t going to be THAT bad this year (Alex Smith)
- Mark Stoops’ nightmare comes true in Kentucky opener (Kyle Tucker)
- Early Week 2 SEC betting lines
Reviewing the predictions
On Thursday, I published a column that featured “bold” predictions (are there any other kind of predictions?) for every SEC game. In an effort to keep myself accountable, here’s how I fared:
- Appalachian State at No. 9 Tennessee: App State beats the spread (Check)
- South Carolina at Vanderbilt: The Commodores hold the Gamecocks to 10 points or fewer (A last-minute field goal away)
- South Alabama at Mississippi State: Damian Williams plays more snaps than Nick Fitzgerald (This was true, although I certainly didn’t predict a loss to South Alabama)
- Missouri at West Virginia: The Tigers don’t record a sack (Correct, the Mountaineers ran the ball way too effectively)
- No. 5 LSU at Wisconsin: Leonard Fournette gets shut down (Although he did not score, this didn’t quite happen)
- No. 16 UCLA at Texas A&M: Trevor Knight throws 3 interceptions (Josh Rosen actually did this… football is weird)
- Louisiana Tech at Arkansas: Jeremy Sprinkle leads SEC tight ends in receiving (For as shaky as Arkansas looked, leading tight end Ethan Wolf recorded 40 yards receiving to Sprinkle’s 19)
- No. 22 UNC at No. 18 Georgia: “Starting” quarterback Greyson Lambert plays two or three drives (Lambert played a few more than that, but he and Jacob Eason split time evenly)
- UMass at No. 25 Florida: The Gators pull their starters at halftime (This felt like my safest prediction; amazingly, Florida never got to rest its starters)
- Southern Miss at Kentucky: The game will be decided by a last-minute score (Even here, the Wildcats got too much credit)
- No. 20 USC “at” No. 1 Alabama: Lane Kiffin fools everyone and unleashes Blake Barnett on the Trojans (This happened, and Hurts joined him)
- No. 2 Clemson at Auburn: The mercy rule is enforced (Auburn’s defense manned up in a big way, but the offense was another story)
- No. 11 Ole Miss at No. 4 Florida State: The Seminoles record 4 sacks (TBD)
What you need to know (besides football)
Do you like chicken? More specifically, do you like super-spicy, greasy fried chicken? Of course, you do.
In Nashville, they call it hot chicken, and it’s the “thing to eat if you’re cool” or whatever food hipsters call that these days. The Ringer published an excellent story on Nashville’s hot chicken scene (which you can read in full here) that features a foolish Brit — son of the duchess of Cornwall — trying to consume the “extra hot” chicken at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.
“The only thing willing me on is pure, pig-headed pride,” (Tom Parker) Bowles wrote. “Each mouthful becomes more and more painful and numbing until I’m uncertain as to whether I’m swallowing my saliva or just dribbling it out of my mouth.”
“He thought he was going to die,” (Tennessee state politician Bill) Purcell told me.
This sounds like an amazing experience, and I have since added “sampling Nashville hot chicken restaurants” to my list of stories to pitch to my editor. I mean, look at this stuff:
— Nashville Patch (@NashvillePatch) August 19, 2016
It’s bear season, and those little critters will eat anything. If you’re on a weekend mountain retreat, take note: