After a couple of down years in the conference, the SEC had as strong of a weekend as it has had in quite some time. With the exception of Tennessee and Kentucky, every team either blew out their opening season cupcake in impressive fashion, or won a big-time battle with a Power 5 opponent (I’ll let you all decide what category Alabama falls in). The SEC West alone claimed the scalps of the best team in the PAC-12, the odds-on favorite in the ACC Coastal, and a pair of middle of the road teams from the ACC Atlantic and Big 12. Not too shabby for a single division. Only one of those games was even closely competitive.
To the rankings:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide. No surprises here, the defending national champs looked every bit the part of it in their evisceration of the Louisville Cardinals. Honestly, the scary thing for the rest of college football is that the Tide looked even better than they did last season. Tua Tagovailoa is arguably the most talented quarterback Alabama has ever had. He is by far the best in the Saban Era, and this wide receiver corps is as well. Jerry Juedy, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle each looked fantastic Saturday night. Speaking of Waddle, he and Josh Jacobs tore it up in the return game, which is another element that Alabama had been missing for a few years now. The defense didn’t look like it missed a beat from last season, even with all of the turnover in the secondary. Deionte Thompson was everywhere. The defensive backfield will continue to be tested this year, as Alabama will play a number of high-powered passing attacks, but the early returns are promising for this young group. The front seven is still exactly what you would expect from a Nick Saban-coached team.
2. Georgia Bulldogs. The blowout win over Austin Peay didn’t really reveal much about the Bulldogs other than what we already know: they are an elite football team. Jake Fromm was as efficient as ever distributing the ball to Georgia’s emerging playmakers (Riley Ridley, Demetris Robertson, Mecole Hardman), D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield looked strong in the running game, and the defense did its thing. Five star freshman phenom Justin Fields got some time under center, and it seems that Kirby Smart may actually give Fields some significant snaps this year. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward.
3. Auburn Tigers. If anyone other than Alabama or Georgia is going to win the SEC this season, it’s going to be Gus Malzahn’s group. The rebuilt offensive line had a few glitches, but Jarrett Stidham looked good leading this group offensively, and I’m convinced JaTarvious Whitlow will end up being a stud in the running game. Kevin Steele’s defensive renaissance in Lee County is one of the most surprising developments of the decade. After constantly underperforming at previous stops in places like Clemson and LSU, it seems Steele has figured it out in Auburn. They’ve got some serious dudes on that side of the ball. The defensive line of Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe, T.D. Moultry, and Big Kat Bryant is nasty, and they are followed by a trio of senior linebackers. The secondary had some issues against Washington, but there is plenty of talent there as well.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs. The big takeaway from Joe Moorhead’s debut in Starkville is that, if Nick Fitzgerald were to get hurt this season, they’ll be just fine with back-up quarterback Keytaon Thompson. There wasn’t much else to say about their 63-6 beat-down of Stephen F. Austin except that they looked the part of a top-tier SEC team doing it. We will find out a lot more about State when they head to Manhattan, Kansas for a tricky meeting with Bill Snyder and his Kansas State Wildcats.
5. LSU Tigers. Let me preface this write-up by saying that Miami has been ridiculously overrated ever since their turnover-fueled blow-out of Notre Dame last season. The Hurricanes are nowhere near a top-ten team. With that being said, LSU was impressive Sunday night. The funny thing is that they did to Miami what the Hurricanes did to a few teams last season that led to them being overhyped coming into 2018: they capitalized on a few huge plays and won the turnover battle in a landslide. On a per-play basis, the teams actually ended up pretty equal. Some people are starting to talk up new quarterback Joe Burrow, but his stat-line was far from good (11/24 for 140 yards, no touchdowns). Also, the LSU offensive line just isn’t what it used to be in the Les Miles Era, and starting right tackle Adrian Magee left the game with a pretty serious-looking injury. However, Dave Aranda’s defense is fantastic. I’m still not convinced Ed Orgeron can get through this brutal schedule with less than four losses, but that defense will give everybody hell this season.
6. South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks slapped around Coastal Carolina 49-15, and we learned pretty much nothing from it. Jake Bentley, Rico Dowdle, Deebo Samuel, and Bryan Edwards make up a heck of an offensive group, and the Will Muschamp-led defense is very good. I personally think South Carolina is slightly overrated, but we will find out a lot more about them when they host Georgia next week. Let’s see if they are the division contenders many people think they are this season.
7. Florida Gators. Dan Mullen’s debut in the Swamp went way better than many of Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain’s bouts with cupcakes over the years. Mullen’s version of quarterback Feleipe Franks looks a lot more intimidating than what the Gators got out of him last year, and transfer receivers Trevon Grimes and Van Jefferson look to completely revamp their passing game. This is a team to watch out for.
8. Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels may very well boast one of the top ten offenses in college football this season. Jordan Ta’amu is a very underrated quarterback, and the receiving corps is filthy. A.J. Brown may be the best player in college football out wide, but D.K. Metcalf and DeMarkus Lodge were every bit as productive this past Saturday, and Braylon Sanders was the guy who made the highlight reel catch this week. Honestly though, the biggest reason why this offense may be the best in the conference is because it looks like they’ve finally got a runningback that equals their weapons in the passing game. Sure, Texas Tech’s defense is always terrible, but Scottie Phillips looked the part on his way to over 200 yards rushing on a 12.8 YPC average. The defense as a whole will probably be awful, but they’ve got enough talent in spots to get a few stops and let their offense win some games. They will be a lot of fun to watch this year.
9. Missouri Tigers. The East’s version of Ole Miss. Quarterback Drew Lock put up stupid numbers yet again against a terrible UT-Martin squad. The difference between this year and last year is that the defense didn’t get shredded by their FCS opponent this time around. In all seriousness though, the defense has been much better since head coach Barry Odom took back full control of that side of the ball. Missouri is a team to keep an eye on. If the defense can play at a competent level this season, and the offense can finally click against top defenses, Mizzou will make some noise.
10. Texas A&M Aggies. The Aggies look every bit the part of a rebuilding, yet talented, team. Kellen Mond looked much more polished in the pocket than he did a year ago, but he still misfired quite a few times. The good news for him is that Trayveon Williams is a beast in the run game. The bad news is that the offensive line needs serious work. Defensively, A&M has some good players in spots, but it’s obvious that Jimbo Fisher still has a lot of work cut out for him on that side of the ball.
11. Vanderbilt Commodores. Vandy took on a tricky Middle Tennessee State team that’s given them hell over the years and put them away handily. Kyle Shurmur has good control over the offense at quarterback, and the defense made some big, disruptive plays against the Blue Raiders on Saturday, which is something that they surprisingly weren’t able to do much of last season.
12. Kentucky Wildcats. The ‘Cats had way too much trouble putting away a middle-of-the-road MAC team in Central Michigan, needing 14 unanswered points in the 2nd half to pull away from the Chippewas. Mark Stoops has made a career in Lexington by following up unimpressive wins against cupcakes by keeping it competitive with the rest of the SEC East (and beating South Carolina) during the East’s down period, but I have a feeling that won’t last much longer. Stoops has brought some serious talent to Lexington (Benny Snell at runningback, Josh Allen at linebacker, etc.), but he hasn’t really capitalized on it. Terry Wilson had a pretty bad debut at quarterback, and if Stoops can’t get that corrected, it could be a long year for the Wildcats.
13. Arkansas Razorbacks. Chad Morris has a serious rebuild on his hands in Fayetteville, but at least it looks like he may have his quarterback. Ty Storey tore up Eastern Illinois when he entered the game (12/17 for 261 yards and 3 TDs). The defense has a long way to go though, and the fact that the Razorbacks couldn’t run the ball against an FCS team is a massive concern (2.2 YPC).
14. Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols still have some good talent in spots, and that showed at times against West Virginia. But the areas where they struggle, they really struggle. The Mountaineers have one of the best passing attacks in college football, but the 2nd half of the game Saturday looked like a 7-on-7 drill against the back-ups in practice for Will Grier and company. Jarrett Garantano and Tim Jordan showed some life in the Tennessee backfield though, so the Vols have something to build on.