One of the most exciting weekends of college football in recent memory is nearly over, and the mighty SEC leaves in pieces.
Defending national champion Alabama is looking like the best team in the world, but the rest of the conference has major issues. In all, five SEC teams lost nonconference games the first week of the season, including three that were favored. (It could be six if Ole Miss loses to Florida State on Monday.) The SEC now has losses to the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Conference USA and Sun Belt.
After the weekend that was, there is plenty of bad to point out. Here is the SEC’s worst of Week 1.
Cameron Sutton might be the best punt returner in college football. But that was hard to remember after Sutton muffed his first punt of the season. Appalachian State leveraged the mistake into an early 7-0 lead. Sutton’s miscue set the tone for the weekend.
In its game at Vanderbilt, South Carolina stepped out of the end zone before stepping back in for a touchback. Later, the Gamecocks muffed a punt of their own. It was quite a start to the Will Muschamp era, but the Gamecocks eventually pulled off the come-from-behind win.
South Carolina has so far:
1) tried to step out of the end zone then kneel
2) had 4 penalties
3) muffed a punt
They have played 6 mins
— Robby Kalland (@RKalland) September 2, 2016
The worst came when Mississippi State kicker Westin Graves missed a 28-yard field goal, which clinched a loss against lowly South Alabama.
Look on the bright side, Mississppi State fans: You set a new world record for simultaneous Surrender Cobras:
— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) September 3, 2016
Funnily enough, the team with perhaps the best special teams was Florida, and that was a most welcome sight after the Gators endured Austin Hardin’s kicking woes in 2015. New kicker Eddy Pineiro — a former soccer standout from Miami — had never kicked a field goal in a game of any significance. But Pineiro lived up to the hype and nailed field goals of 40, 48 and 49 yards to help put away UMass.
Multiple SEC teams had questions at quarterback going into the year. Vanderbilt and Missouri named starters early, but both teams made bizarre decisions to pull their quarterbacks at crucial points of their respective openers.
Commodores coach Derek Mason defended his move and said it had nothing to do with the 13-10 loss to South Carolina — though many refuted that claim.
"We needed to see Wade Freebeck make some good decisions" – Derek Mason, apparently forgetting Tennessee State is on the schedule
— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) September 2, 2016
Missouri brought in backup Marvin Zanders for an apparent change of pace. Zanders is a dual threat, while Drew Lock is a traditional pocket passer. However, the move messed with Lock’s confidence and ruined what had been a productive second quarter.
Trying to figure out why Lock was pulled for Marvin Zanders like pic.twitter.com/G0ubmZrL7r
— Mark Kim (@MarkJKim_) September 3, 2016
Auburn also made several strange quarterback substitutions throughout its loss to No. 2 Clemson, but that was a little more expected.
For those who picked Tennessee and LSU to win their respective divisions (myself included), this weekend was a cold dose of reality.
The Volunteers should have lost to Appalachian State, but they eventually grinded out a victory thanks to their depth. LSU actually lost to Wisconsin. Though the Badgers could be improved, much more was expected of the No. 5 team in the nation. The Tigers could fall 10 spots in the AP poll.
In addition to the favorites, several players fell short of expectations. The apparently reinvented Brandon Harris looked pretty darn similar to the old Brandon Harris, throwing a game-sealing interception with under a minute left. The aforementioned Dobbs nearly cost Tennessee the game with a fumble at the goal line. So, to answer this Fox Sports station’s question: No. Josh Dobbs is not better than Vince Young.
— Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan) September 2, 2016
Luckily, Georgia freshman Jacob Eason and Alabama freshman Jalen Hurts were excellent, or the media might have quit and gone home in shame. And by media, I mean me.
Teams not named Alabama, Georgia
Alabama demolished Southern Cal 52-6. Georgia needed some late heroics but pulled away against a talented North Carolina team. Virtually every other team had an embarrassing performance in its opener. We can sort many of them into four subcategories.
- Kentucky (44-35 loss to Southern Miss)
- LSU (16-14 loss to Wisconsin)
- Mississippi State (21-20 loss to South Alabama)
Considering Les Miles and Mark Stoops are on the hot seat, these games were devastating performances. The Wildcats blew a 35-10 lead in the second half against a Conference USA team. LSU barely brought back Miles after a 3-game skid last season, and losing to an unranked team won’t help his case. However, Mississippi State’s loss might have been the worst. ESPN’s FPI gave the Bulldogs a 97 percent chance to beat South Alabama, but the Bulldogs were embarrassingly bad on both sides of the ball. These games certainly will come up throughout the season when job security is brought up.
Did a great thing but made it look bad
- Auburn (19-13 loss to Clemson)
- South Carolina (13-10 win over Vanderbilt)
- Texas A&M (31-24 win over UCLA)
If you told Auburn fans that their team would have a shot to beat No. 2 Clemson, they would have taken that every time. Same would be true of the Aggies hosting No. 16 UCLA in the opener. However, the Aggies blew a 15-point lead in the last four minutes and had to clinch in overtime. South Carolina had mental errors early but still did enough to win. All three of these teams should still be pleased with their performances.
- Arkansas (21-20 win over Louisiana Tech)
- Florida (24-7 win over UMass)
- Tennessee (20-13 OT win over Appalachian State)
Arkansas and Tennessee should have lost their games. The Razorbacks needed a late touchdown pass from Austin Allen — it was nearly batted down — to beat the Bulldogs. Tennessee was the beneficiary of one of the luckiest plays of the weekend, as the Volunteers recovered a Dobbs fumble in the end zone to score in overtime. Florida’s win didn’t come down to the wire, but the Gators looked completely unimpressive on offense against lowly UMass.
Same old issues
- Missouri (26-11 loss to West Virginia)
- Vanderbilt (13-10 loss to South Carolina)
Missouri was expected to lose its opening game to WVU in Morgantown, W.Va., but the loss exposed many of the same issues the Tigers dealt with last season on offense. QB Drew Lock found new targets in Chris Black and J’Mon Moore, but the Tigers failed to punch chances into the end zone. The Commodores were rolling early and took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter but couldn’t keep it going. Both teams must improve to contend for bowl games.