No matter how the games shake out, college football’s opening weekend produces overreaction, without fail.
Teams tend to play sloppy, jittery and rusty in Week 1. It happens.
That doesn’t mean we need to sugarcoat an affirmatively awful first taste of 2016 SEC football.
Alabama steamrolled every Trojan in sight. Georgia showed promise against a ranked North Carolina squad. Not much else has fallen into the “good” category since Thursday night.
It started at the top, with LSU inexplicably losing to an inferior Wisconsin team. The chain reaction sprung forth from there.
Let’s dig into this week’s SEC bowl projections and survey the damage, shall we?
|Peach (Dec. 31, Atlanta) — CFP||#1 Ohio St.||#4 Stanford||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Fiesta (Dec. 31, Glendale) — CFP||#2 Florida St.||#3 Alabama||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Orange (Dec. 30, Miami) — NY6||Clemson||Georgia||ACC #1 vs Big Ten/SEC/ND|
|Sugar (Jan. 2, New Orleans) — NY6||Texas A&M||Oklahoma||SEC #1 vs Big 12 #1|
|Cotton (Jan. 2, Arlington) — NY6||TCU||Houston||At-large vs auto-qualifier|
|Rose (Jan. 2, Pasadena) — NY6||Michigan||Washington||Big Ten #1 vs Pac-12 #1|
|Citrus (Dec. 31, Orlando)||Tennessee||Mich St.||SEC #2 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Outback (Jan. 2, Tampa)||LSU||Nebraska||SEC#3-8 vs Big Ten #2-4|
|TaxSlayer (Dec. 31, Jacksonville)||Florida||Miami||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville)||Ole Miss||Wisconsin||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Liberty (Dec. 30, Memphis)||Auburn||West Virginia||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #5|
|Belk (Dec. 29, Charlotte)||South Carolina||Pittsburgh||SEC #3-8 vs ACC #3-6|
|Texas (Dec. 28, Houston)||Mississippi St.||Baylor||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #4|
|Birmingham (Dec. 29, Birmingham)||Georgia Tech||East Carolina||SEC #9** vs American|
|Independence (Dec. 26, Shreveport)||Connecticut||NC State||SEC #10** vs ACC|
|No bowls: Arkansas, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Kentucky||**Replaced by fill-in|
Finding the median
Last week, I wrote: “I’m likely to look dumb for leaving Alabama out of the Playoff.” Sure enough, the Crimson Tide embarrassed Southern California in Jerry World — and with a freshman quarterback no less.
Conversely, LSU — the team so many predicted finally would take that big step forward — was done in by maligned quarterback Brandon Harris, who looked like his old, unreliable self against a Badgers defense selling out to stop the run.
Is Alabama really this good? Will the same problems keep thwarting LSU? The answer to both questions might be “yes.” But that doesn’t mean one goes undefeated and the other goes into the gutter.
Many games remain, and maybe an LSU or a Tennessee gets its act together and becomes the Crimson Tide’s kryptonite. Alabama’s schedule has some tricky road games. As the book on Jalen Hurts grows, other teams will find weaknesses to attack.
For now, however, we have no good reason to bet against Alabama after two of its biggest playoff threats — LSU and Tennessee — served up a pair of Week 1 stinkers. In a troubling world of Mississippi States losing to South Alabamas, Nick Saban’s dynasty is the safe constant, and preseason delusions shouldn’t allow us to forget that.
I take solace in not putting Oklahoma in the Playoff. Besides LSU, that field remains the same.
New Year’s party
The Clemson-Georgia rivalry is storied; the 2013-14 revival was pure entertainment. The Bulldogs — riding Kirby Smart’s defense and the amazing Nick Chubb to a Week 1 victory — look as good as anyone in the SEC East.
Clemson appeared human on The Plains, contained by an underrated Auburn defense, so I’m sticking with the Seminoles as the ACC Playoff rep.
And how about Texas A&M? It’s easy to peg the Aggies for nearly blowing a 15-point lead and needing overtime fortune to knock off UCLA. This might be the worst game Josh Rosen plays all season. But the elements of a much-improved defense — credit to John Chavis — were everywhere to be found in Kyle Field on Saturday.
Whether A&M lasts past midseason always will be the question until Kevin Sumlin proves otherwise. After the way last season ended, though, the Aggies absolutely can build off a game like this. They’re thin in spots, but their talent rivals LSU and Alabama at others.
Best of the rest
Nobody will defend Tennessee’s offense, which showed its ugly side against Appalachian State. But the Vols are better than that and have a couple more weeks to regroup before the meat of their SEC schedule. After a brutal four-game stretch of Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida, the slate is a breeze. They’ll be in it until the end.
LSU still can be a 10-win team. If anything, we know the defense will be a strength — Dave Aranda looked good enough in his Tigers debut — and the ground game will carry a heavy load, assuming Leonard Fournette is healthy. Even if Harris holds steady or regresses, LSU won nine games last year with that caliber of quarterback play. All is not lost in Baton Rouge, even if it feels like that.
Ole Miss has not played Florida State yet. Obviously, any fallout from that game will be reflected in next week’s projections. For now, Florida State looks the part of a national title contender. The Rebels have an overhauled offensive line that’s not been battle-tested. How that group fares and whether the Robert Nkemdiche-less defense looks more like the 2014 Landshark group will determine a lot in Orlando.
Lastly, South Carolina and Mississippi State had problems in their openers. Both still can make bowls, too.
The Gamecocks defeated a decent Vanderbilt squad in Nashville, Tenn., and the Bulldogs lost to South Alabama at home. But they benefit from soft schedules and should jell more when SEC play arrives. As my colleague Alex Smith explains, Mississippi State won’t be a contender, but the team’s not that bad. South Carolina is youthful everywhere and looks poised for a nice step forward in 2017.
Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Missouri were expected to dwell in the SEC East’s nether regions. Week 1 only confirmed the suspicions many had about these programs. Georgia, Florida and Tennessee might not clean sweep them, but it won’t be pretty.
How much Arkansas lost on offense was apparent in Saturday’s 1-point win against Louisiana Tech. Austin Allen was intercepted twice — expected growing pains, but an inauspicious start regardless — and the Hogs averaged 2.7 yards per rush.
In fairness, their C-USA foes did have a top-15 rushing defense last season. But this is Arkansas’ bread and butter. The team needs to get better quickly. With slow starts becoming a theme in Fayetteville, who’s to say that actually happens?
Projected SEC standings entering Week 2
|SEC WEST||SEC EAST|
|Alabama (11-1, 7-1)**||Georgia (10-2, 6-2)|
|Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2)||Tennessee (9-3, 5-3)|
|LSU (9-3, 6-2)||Florida (8-4, 5-3)|
|Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2)||South Carolina (6-6, 3-5)|
|Auburn (6-6, 3-5)||Missouri (5-7, 2-6)|
|Mississippi St (6-6, 3-5)||Vanderbilt (4-8, 0-8)|
|Arkansas (5-7, 2-6)||Kentucky (3-9, 1-7)|
|** = SEC champion|
Past projections: Week 1