After an entertaining Week 1 of the college football season, a week which included seven AP Top 25 losing to start the year, the A Lot of Sports Talk staff has a few takeaways from the debut of the latest season on the gridiron, as well as what to look forward to for Week 2.
1. SEC-ond Rate?
The SEC had its ups and downs in the first week of the season, but mostly, it wasn’t a great week. To sum up what didn’t necessarily go right with this past Saturday in the South, here’s one of our college football contributors, Evelyn Griffin of The Rebel Walk.
Ole Miss: Before the season began, I felt Chad Kelly, the SEC’s best quarterback, would have the Rebels squarely in the hunt for a trip to Atlanta in December. I still believe that can happen for Ole Miss—but it will have to be without two of the Rebels’ top 3 running backs. Redshirt freshman Eric Swinney is lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL in the season-opening loss to FSU. Potential starter Jordan Wilkins was ruled academically ineligible in fall camp—the result of an administrative error by an academic advisor. That leaves first-stringer Akeem Judd, originally penciled in to share time with Wilkins, as the lone back on the roster with any experience as the Rebels head into a brutal September schedule. (I’m not saying the academic advisor who made the mistake is the Steve Bartman of college football—but the error does put the Rebels’ in a tough spot.)
LSU: The rumors of LSU QB Brandon Harris’ improvement were vastly exaggerated. How did a Wisconsin team who lost its defensive coordinator to LSU in January hold Fournette and the Tigers to only one touchdown in the game? Harris’ longest drive was 49 yards—one reason this was the first non-conference, regular-season loss for Les Miles as an LSU coach. Miles had won all 42 such games in his 11-year tenure.
Tennessee: I thought the Vols might be a bit overrated, but had no idea their offense would look as bad as it did in a 20-13 OT win over Appalachian State, a team that was in the FCS just three years back. Were it not for a missed Mountaineers’ extra point in the second quarter, there might not have been an overtime at all.
Auburn: Before the season, I didn’t know which of Auburn’s three quarterbacks would end up as the starter, and following a 19-13 loss to Clemson, where none of the three were impressive, I still don’t know for sure—though I suspect it will be Sean White. He graded out the highest (64.5) by Pro Football Focus in game one, but that’s not saying much as John Franklin came in at 60.0 and Jeremy Johnson finished at 57.7. One thing, as an Auburn beat writer said, is certain: “This defense is way too good to have to play with this offense.”
2. Pac It Up?
Probably the biggest question among Pac-12 enthusiasts going into the 2016 season was whether the conference would be left out from the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive year. It looks like that question, especially after seeing what occurred last Saturday, is a very valid one.
The prohibitive favorite, Stanford, looked decent in its 26-13 victory over Kansas State in the opener, but definitely still left a whole lot to be desired. Remember, that’s the favorite to win the league.
The Los Angeles schools looked to be the two next best contenders behind Stanford for the Pac-12 throne, but both of them fell short last week. At least UCLA equipped themselves well on the road against Texas A&M and the 12th Man, where the Bruins were a dropped touchdown pass away from sending the game into a second overtime. USC, however, was six and a half touchdowns away from tying Alabama, an embarrassing performance that will already have people wondering if Clay Helton is the right man for the job as head coach. Oregon won against UC Davis, but allowed 28 points in the process and it will be a while before we know what football life in Eugene will be without former Eastern Washington star quarterback Vernon Adams, who played for the Ducks last year.
Speaking of Eastern Washington, they surprised Washington State in Pullman. Last season, the Cougars won nine games, their most wins in a season since 2003, and return then quarterback who spearheaded the Air Raid offense there, Luke Falk. To have all of those results on Saturday does not raise the football profile of the conference at all. Bad news for the Cardinal, if they want to make the Playoff.
Game (and underrated game) of the Week:
On the radar: Penn State at Pittsburgh, 12:00 PM ET, Saturday, ESPN: First of all, Penn State and Pitt are playing once again! Second of all, Pitt is looking to establish itself as an ACC sleeper, and do so at the expense of a team still looking to turn the corner in the James Franklin era. Finally, it’s a chance to see Panthers’ running back James Conner on national television. His return from Hodgkin lymphoma was complete last week, when he scored two touchdowns last week in the season-opening win for Pitt against Villanova. Even if you’re a neutral, there definitely will be a player to root for on Heinz Field, regardless of the color of uniform.
Under the radar: BYU at Utah, 7:30 PM ET, Saturday, FOX: The Holy War is back! Plus, BYU is coming off an impressive win against Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium last week.
[Cover photo (Max Browne & Alabama defense) courtesy of Tom Pennington/Getty Images]