After months and months of waiting, the season is finally underway. The following are some thoughts from week one of the season:
Arkansas: We all knew that it was going to be a tough year for the Hogs, but unless things improve from week one, it may be a much tougher year than we expected. Western Illinois is a mediocre Division 1-AA team -- they lost last year to North Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Youngstown State, and were absolutely annihilated by Northern Iowa -- yet Arkansas needed to rally from 10 points down in the final stanza to just edge by the Leathernecks in the closing seconds. Again, if things continue, it could be a long year for the Hogs. Unless things drastically improve, they are looking to be on the wrong end of several blowouts, and if they play again this week like they did in the opener, Louisiana-Monroe may very well get its second SEC upset in the past nine months. Either way, one thing is clear for Petrino: He has much work to do.
Auburn: The predicted SEC West Champions didn't exactly set the world on fire against the aforementioned Louisiana-Monroe, but nevertheless they pulled off a 34-0 victory in a game in which they were never seriously challenged. Considering what the Warhawks did to us a year ago, no one should be looking down on that. With Auburn, though, the big thing is that the way the schedule works out easy enough on the front end that they should go into the LSU game 3-0 either way, and we'll all find out what they are made of then.
Florida: Hawai'i put up a nice fight early on, but the Gators were just too much, and rolled to an easy victory. Miami looms next with a tougher test, but frankly the Gators should win that one with relative ease as well. Say what you will about Florida, but the truth is that they are just so loaded with that talent that there is no reason why they shouldn't reel off a ton of wins. The thought coming into week one was that anything worse than an undefeated record going into the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party would be a disappointment, and nothing we saw in week one changed that consensus.
Georgia: It was a bit of a middling performance by the Dawgs against Georgia Southern, but I wouldn't read anything into it. They were never seriously challenged, and frankly we all knew that the first two games for them would be mere warm-ups for the brutal schedule that is to follow. However, Jeff Owens did go down with a torn ACL, and as a result injuries concerns continue to mount. As tough of a slate as this squad faces, they simply cannot afford some bad injury luck and still expect to legitimately contend for a national championship, but I'm afraid the football gods are not cooperating.
Kentucky: One of the surprises of week one was the Kentucky Wildcats' dominating performance against in-state rival Louisville. Now granted I feel that a lot of that had to do with a Louisville program that is seemingly getting worse by the day with head coach Steve Kragthorpe, nevertheless it was a dominating victory, on the road, in a game that I fully expected them to lose. The Wildcats still have plenty of problems, but you have to think that they have a great chance at a bowl game. They've got one win in the bag already, and three more victories should follow with the cupcake OOC schedule they have. And then they also get both Mississippi State and Vandy. If they can just win those games, they are at least 6-6 and bowl eligible. One way or the other, though the bowl talk may be a bit premature, at least one thing is certain: I obviously didn't know what in the hell I was talking about when I predicted them to go 4-8.
LSU: As wrong as I was about Kentucky, I was just as right about the LSU v. Appalachian State game. I said it time-after-time for months on end... the Michigan game a year ago was a complete fluke against a mediocre-at-best team in a bad conference that was wholly unprepared, and that we would see nothing near a repeat against a squad like LSU. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I nailed that one. LSU won with ease, and just to be quite frank, they could have named the score. But what does all of that mean for LSU? Not much, frankly. As I said back in March, regardless of how good or how bad this team really is, they'll go into the Auburn game at 3-0 and we'll all have to wait until then to find out more.
Mississippi State: I think we can safely say that the Pythagorean projections nailed another one with MSU. They weren't anywhere near an 8-5 team last year, they were looking at regression, and that is what we saw in Ruston. They couldn't protect the football, the offense was still middling-at-best, special teams was terrible, and the defense wasn't as good as a year ago. And making matters even worse, starting senior middle linebacker Jamar Cheney will now miss the season with a broken leg. All I can say is that the Bullies better enjoy this week against Southeastern Louisiana, because it's going to get ugly from there. I do think that Croom has them heading in the right direction, but MSU fans who were expecting the results of 2007 to be the norm were simply putting the cart before the horse. I know patience is the last thing a fan base wants to hear when they have struggled for so many years like MSU has, but the harsh truth of the matter is that this program still has a long way to go. And for now, they are just going to fight it out with Arkansas for dead last in the West while they endure yet another losing season.
Ole Miss: In one of their better performances in the post-Eli Manning era -- which isn't really saying that much -- the Rebels won easily over Memphis, 41-24. Jevon Snead didn't exactly look all of that great, but the "Wild Rebel" formation yielded plenty of points. Defensively, though, the concerns proved to be well-founded, as Memphis did rack up 24 points and over 450 yards of offense, almost 200 of which came on the ground. I think coming into the season we all expected Ole Miss to be a relatively decent squad that would use a pretty good offense to compensate for a pretty bad defense, and at the end of the day they could put it all together and contend for a bowl game. Their performance against Memphis, I believe, essentially confirmed the preseason consensus. Stay tuned on Johnny Reb, though, because the match-up this week against Wake Forest is probably the biggest game they've played since the 2004 Cotton Bowl. A win here and you can almost bank on them to make a return to the bowl scene.
South Carolina: I think you all know how I've found humor in the notion that Steve Spurrier is still regarded as an offensive genius despite all of the indications to the contrary, but this past week proved that even more. He was clearly behind Tommy Beecher, but of course Beecher went out and averaged barely five yards per attempt, was picked off four times, and was sacked five times before getting benched. Chris Smelley can in later and looked decent, and at this point it's hard to say that the decision by Spurrier to start Beecher wasn't a pretty dumb one. The thing of it is, though, that the Gamecocks defense is very stout, and with good quarterback play they could be looking at a New Year's Day game, but without that it will all go for not. We'll see how things develop in the next few weeks. Don't sleep on Vanderbilt this week, though. They spanked South Carolina a year ago, and they looked impressive in their debut against Miami (Ohio).
Tennessee: I don't mean to begin another "I told you so," but I'm going to. The Vols were nowhere near that good last year -- in reality, they were along the lines of a 7-5 team that somehow fluked into a 10-2 season -- and it was obvious that a regression was coming. So what do they do? Go to LA and get beat by a mediocre Pac-10 team with a first-year head coach, a third-string quarterback, and a back-up tailback. And now they sit at 0-1 with Florida, Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina looming. Mark it down... that's probably going to be 7-5 at best by the time we get to December. Either way, though it might not come this year, the end is near for that fat bastard.
Vanderbilt: The 'Dores were a bit of a mild surprise in the opening weekend, as they beat a Miami (Ohio) team with no problems, and actually beat them worse than they did the year before in Nashville. Vandy fans shouldn't be getting any bowl plans lined up, but they could very well be decent and be in bowl contention yet again if Chris Nickson can continue to play like he did on Saturday. And to be sure, there are plenty of very winnable games still left on the schedule, like Rice, Mississippi State, Duke, and Kentucky. I have a feeling that the 'Dores will again come this close to being bowl eligible yet again, but I could see them making a run at a bowl berth.