Week 1 is in the books, and it was a mixed bag for the SEC. Here’s a look at what we learned:
1. Power at the top: No. 4-ranked LSU struck a huge victory for the SEC with its runaway 40-27 victory against No. 3-ranked Oregon and probably deserves to be ranked No. 1 this week. The Tigers were missing three offensive starters, dealing with all sorts of off-the-field distractions and playing away from home. Even so, they were extremely impressive, holding Oregon to 95 rushing yards on 28 attempts and making just enough big plays on offense to send the Ducks packing. It’s safe to say that LSU is legit. Until further notice, we’ll put Alabama in that same category, and Arkansas belongs there, too. Don’t sleep on Mississippi State, either. The jury is still out on South Carolina, especially with how sloppy the Gamecocks played to open their 56-37 shootout victory against East Carolina. As for Georgia, Ole Miss and Auburn, it wasn’t exactly a show of power. The Bulldogs were thoroughly outplayed in their own backyard by Boise State. The Rebels melted down in the fourth quarter at home against BYU, and Auburn needed a perfect bounce on an onside kick to beat Utah State at home. In short, there’s certainly power at the top, but maybe the league isn’t as strong top to bottom this season.
2. Playing without Jefferson: Everybody wondered before the opener what kind of impact starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s suspension would have on LSU. When you survey the Tigers’ convincing 40-27 victory against Oregon on Saturday, that impact (at least on the field) was minimal. Senior Jarrett Lee went the whole way at quarterback, and we didn’t see Zach Mettenberger. Even though Lee only passed for 98 yards, he made key throws when he had to and didn’t turn the ball over. More importantly, the Tigers were able to keep the ball away from the Ducks’ high-powered offense by running the ball 48 times for 175 yards. Spencer Ware (99 yards) and Michael Ford (96 yards) were both knocking on the door of the 100-yard mark. The Tigers can still get a lot better on offense and probably will. They were aided by takeaways on defense and special teams. But when you’re as good as this team is going to be this season on the defensive side of the ball, why take a lot of unnecessary chances on offense? Run the ball. Take care of the ball, and make the plays when they’re there.
3. Do-or-die for Georgia: It never really comes down to just one game in college football, but try telling that to Georgia after its 35-21 loss to Boise State on Saturday in the opener. The Bulldogs return home this coming weekend to face South Carolina in a game that might very well hold the future of this program in its hands. If the Bulldogs can recover and win, they take the lead in the Eastern Division race and can still make this a big season. If they lose, it’s going to be a miserable time to be a football player (or a coach) in Athens. An 0-2 start would ratchet up the heat on Georgia coach Mark Richt like never before, ushering in what could be the beginning of the end of his tenure at Georgia. At one point, this program was the essence of consistency under Richt. The Bulldogs started off 24-11 against nationally ranked teams under Richt and won a pair of SEC championships. They’ve lost nine of their past 11 games against ranked foes since those days, and this program has also lost its elite status in the SEC.
4. Gators get aggressive: Everybody in Gator Land is raving about Chris Rainey and how explosive the Florida offense was in its season-opening 41-3 rout of Florida Atlantic, but let’s talk defense for a minute. Granted, it was just the first game, but this was a different Florida defense than we saw a year ago. The Gators were more aggressive in their front seven, and even without Sharrif Floyd, looked faster and more athletic. Floyd was declared ineligible prior to the game, and Florida is working with the NCAA to have him reinstated. Once he gets back, this front seven will really be a nightmare for opposing offenses. The Gators opened the game by forcing four consecutive three-and-outs and were dominant up front. With all the youth in the Gators’ front seven, it’s a unit that truly has a chance to be special. They didn’t have to show much on defense, either, against Florida Atlantic, including many 3-4 looks.
5. Adams or Wright?: Who’s more explosive? Joe Adams or Jarius Wright? It’s a question that’s difficult to answer right now, but it’s a great question for Arkansas to have. Adams returned a pair of punts for touchdowns in the Hogs’ 51-7 victory against Missouri State and totaled 174 yards in punt returns. He’s only the seventh player in SEC history to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game. Wright caught a pair of touchdown passes and totaled 108 receiving yards. They’re one of the best one-two punches in the country with their speed and moves in the open field, and the best thing for the Hogs is that they have several more of those guys. Greg Childs and Cobi Hamilton are equally capable of taking over games, and freshman Marquel Wade looks like he will be the next one to join Arkansas’ quick-strike club. When it comes to speedy playmakers, nobody in the SEC is deeper than the Hogs.