First, a great big Happy Labor Day to all of you! Hope you have a fun one and a safe one.
Second, we’ll be providing a quickie/bullet-pointed wrap of SEC game action each Monday during the season. The first edition of our Weekend Wrap starts… now.
1. South Carolina 27, North Carolina 10 (Thursday)
Is there anyone who hasn’t taken a shot at Jadeveon Clowney and his conditioning yet? The bar was set too high for a player who can change a game with one or two plays. There was no chance of him winning the Heisman Trophy because there’s not a defensive end in the country to doesn’t lose more battles than he wins. So keeping a camera on Clowney for every play was bound to show that, yes, he can be blocked. But even with Clowney out of shape for the UNC game, the Gamecocks still held what was a very good offense last year to 10 stinking points. That’s USC’s D with Clowney in bad shape? What happens when he plays himself into shape? His coaches have spoken of his tendency to take plays off, but this writer puts him in the Nick Fairley category. Auburn’s old defensive tackle would go series without making an impact. Then at crunch time he’d make a game-changing play. Clowney’s the same kind of player. Criticize him for not being in shape, but don’t suggest he’s not as good as the hype. Here’s guessing Georgia’s will be double-teaming his out-of-shape rump on Saturday.
2. Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35 (Thursday)
Let’s get this out of the way: There was nary a defense to be seen in Nashville last Thursday. But those offenses looked pretty good. If Bo Wallace can take care of the football this year, Ole Miss can be a fly in someone’s West Division ointment. And while he might have lost the game, Vanderbilt seems to have found an honest-to-goodness QB in Austyn Carta-Samuels. It was one game, but the VU passing attack (even without Chris Boyd) seems to have gotten an upgrade.
3. Florida 24, Toledo 6
Jeff Driskel was efficient. The defense was stifling. The running game cranked out more than 250 yards on the ground. Different season, same script for the Gators. After years of watching Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer offenses, however, one wonders if Florida fans will be happy with winning “ugly.” The empty seats at The Swamp were blamed on the heat and the opponent this weekend, but let’s see what attendance looks like in October and November. Here’s hoping UF fans aren’t so spoiled that they can’t appreciate a punch-you-in-the-mouth style victory.
4. Texas A&M 52, Rice 31
Backup quarterback Matt Joeckel put up some good numbers against Rice (14-of-19 for 190 with a touchdown and no picks), but it’s clear that A&M is one team with Johnny Football and another without him. First half score without Johnny Manziel: Aggies 28, Owls 21. Second half score with Manziel: Aggies 24, Owls 10. Texas A&M fans need to pray their hotshot signal-caller stays healthy (and eligible).
5. Oklahoma State 21, Mississippi State 3
If you’re keeping track, MSU has now lost six of its last seven contests and Dan Mullen’s record against ranked opponents is 2-17. Bulldog fans barked a year ago when we suggested State had plateaued under Mullen. Judging by the messageboards, a few marooners are starting to see things the same way. Sure the season’s young and State lost to a good OSU team. But it’s Mike Gundy’s offense that’s good, not (usually) his defense. The Cowboys allowed 420+ yards per game last season and ranked 82nd in the nation in total defense (64th in scoring defense at 28 points allowed per game). Mullen’s squad managed a field goal. It’s Year Five and State has a senior/veteran QB. If Mullen hasn’t built MSU’s offense yet…
6. Arkansas 34, UL-Lafayette 14
This one probably isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Bret Bielema’s debut win came against a bowl team from a year ago. Both Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had reason to smile. Bielema saw two running backs (Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins) break the 100-yard barrier. And the pass happy Chaney saw new quarterback Brandon Allen complete 15 of 22 passes for 230 yards, three scores and no interceptions. It wasn’t a win over LSU, but this was a very solid — and a tad surprising — curtain-raiser for the Hogs.
7. Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10
Christion Jones 18, Virginia Tech 0. While Alabama’s offense struggled — just 110 passing yards and just 96 rushing yards — the junior receiver/returner saved the day. He returned a punt for a score (72 yards), a kickoff for another (94 yards), and he caught AJ McCarron’s lone TD pass of the evening (from 38 yards out). Kudos to Jones, but Bama’s offense — especially that rebuilt offensive line — needs some work if the Tide are to win their third BCS title in a row and back-to-back SEC crowns.
8. Tennessee 45, Austin Peay 0
The Vols looked efficient against a team that had just two wins at the FCS level a year ago. When you schedule a tomato can, you’re supposed to crush it. Tennessee did that. But next Saturday against Western Kentucky will give us a much, much better view of the Volunteers’ strengths and weaknesses.
9. Auburn 31, Washington State 24
So he’s not Cam Netwon Part II. New Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall completed 10 passes out of 19 for 99 yards with no TDs, no INTs. He rushed for 27 yards on nine carries. Gus Malzahn’s bunch was surprisingly out-offensed (464 yards to 394 yards) by Mike Leach’s Cougars. If not for WSU turnovers and running back Corey Grant (146 yards), this one might not have had a happy ending for the Tigers.
10. Missouri 58, Murray State 14
It was against an out-gunned opponent, but quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey looked to be back in form. If that’s truly the case, Mizzou might surprise some folks this year. Next week they’ll face a Toledo team that Florida throttled. That’ll give everyone a better idea of Missouri’s chances this season.
11. Western Kentucky 35, Kentucky 26
A big loss for Kentucky. Mark Stoops had gotten off to a great start — especially on the recruiting trail — but it’s guaranteed there’s a faction (perhaps large, perhaps small) of the UK fanbase today that’s thinking/saying/typing, “Why didn’t we hire Bobby Petrino?” Stoops’ job was going to be tough anyway, but losing to WKU is damaging. Here’s why: Kentucky has been a two-team state for years. Louisville is currently well ahead of the Wildcats. But after beating UK two years in a row — and with Petrino at the helm — the Bluegrass State might now be a three-team state. And there’s barely enough talent in the Commonwealth to support one program, much less three. We don’t blame Stoops for the talent and schedule he inherited, but this loss makes his job tougher in the long run.
12. Clemson 38, Georgia 35
Bad snaps, a killer of an interception, a defense that allowed 467 yards. Oh, and a season-ending injury to top receiver Malcolm Mitchell thrown in to boot. As bad as things looked at times on Saturday, Georgia still took a lot of young players into Death Valley and scared the pants off of the nation’s #8 team. And for all the talk of the Georgia offensive line needing work, Mike Bobo’s Dawgs did roll up a whopping 545 yards. The Mitchell injury is a real concern, but if UGA can get past South Carolina on Saturday — a very big if — a shootout loss at a top 10 team in the opener might be forgotten.
13. LSU 37, TCU 27
A tip of the hat — pun intended — to Les Miles for not playing running back Jeremy Hill on Saturday. It could be said that Miles really has no choice, lest — again, pun intended — he bring tsk-tsks and finger wags down upon his program, but whatever the reason, Miles did the right thing in keeping Hill on the sidelines. With that out of the way, LSU’s offense looked pretty good (448 yards) against a defense that’s typically pretty solid. And John Chavis’ young defense only allowed 259 yards of offense in their debut. Of the 27 points LSU allowed, seven came on a 100-yard kickoff return and another seven came on a six-yard drive following an Alfred Blue fumble. Earlier this summer MrSEC.com picked LSU to win the West instead of Alabama… we’re not backing off of that. (Not yet anyway.)
14. Opening Loss Jinx
Bad news for Georgia, Mississippi State and Kentucky (though it probably applies only to UGA): As we told you last week, no school has ever — that’s ever — lost its opening game and gone on to win the SEC Championship Game. That’s an oh-for-21 hole, folks. Four squads have recovered from an opening day loss to reach the title game (most recently Georgia in 2011), but none have hoisted the league trophy after the contest.
15. But Don’t Read Too Much Into Openers
Digested Point #14? Good. Now stop worrying about it. Openers aren’t always a good signal of what’s to come. In 2012, Tennessee whipped NC State 35-21. The Vols went on to surrender points in record fashion while NCSU made a bowl game. Georgia gave up 23 points to Buffalo, yet wound up five yards shy of the BCS title game. Auburn lost to a good Clemson team by a lone touchdown… then proceeded to lose eight more ballgames. The takeaway — don’t get too high or too low after Week One.
16. Johnny Manziel Is A Punk
A few of our adult readers will likely remember a “punky QB” from the 1980s named Jim McMahon of BYU and the Chicago Bears. Show him a rule, he’d break it. He was a rebel for rebellion’s sake. He became a cult hero to many fans — especially those in Chicago — simply because he did what he wasn’t supposed to do. Well, that describes Texas A&M’s quarterback, too, folks. Manziel is a spoiled brat and anyone even attempting to deny that fact makes himself (or herself) sound silly. That’s doesn’t mean the Aggie QB is evil, it just means he’s — here’s that word again — spoiled. Does ESPN make too much of his antics? Yes. Does that mean his behavior on Saturday really wasn’t that bad? No. It was. Still, A&M fans will back him because he’s their punk. And there’s a difference between “our punk” and “your punk.” That goes for every fanbase in the country. (Can you say: Ole Miss fans and Marshall Henderson?) Just how many Aggies do you think would defend Manziel if he were decked out in a certain shade of burnt orange? So it’s time to admit it, A&M’ers — Manziel is a punk. Even his own teammates didn’t vote their starting quarterback and the reigning Heisman-winner onto their 12-man leadership council. Just be glad he’s your punk and stop trying to defend him.
17. Kevin Sumlin Looks Weak
We drew the ire of some Aggie fans during SEC Media Days for saying the Manziel’s actions made his coach look weak. (Do you think Manziel would have done 1/10th of the stuff he’s done in the last 12 months if Nick Saban were his coach?) At Media Days, Sumlin hinted that he’d told Manziel to get off of Twitter. Manziel said on the very same day that maybe he just didn’t have anything to say. Then he jumped back on Twitter that very night. That made Sumlin look silly. On Saturday, Manziel taunted Rice players again and again until he finally drew a penalty. When Sumlin tried to get in Manziel’s ear about it, the QB just walked straight ahead, bumped his coach, and never looked in Sumlin’s direction. Laughably, Sumlin said after the game that he handled the situation on the sideline. He also pointed out that he pulled Manziel after he drew a flag. Well, here’s guessing Johnny Football was going to be pulled with a 52-28 lead and less than 10 minutes to play anyway. Sumlin’s got a great offense and a tremendous upside, but he looks weak. And it’s not just his quarterback causing him troubles. Maybe the coach is trying to rein things in with suspensions, but when eight Aggies are benched for one reason or another to start the season, it suggests there’s not a whole lot of discipline in College Station.
18. Why Does College Football Need A Villain
Can we stop with this defense of Manziel: “The game needs a villain.” Really? Who says? And why? I’ve always found that to be a Simpleton’s defense of a player who’s pretty much just a jerk. “It’s good for the game! It creates drama!” College football has been around for more than a century. Ticket prices and television dollars have never been higher. So the game seemed to be in pretty good shape before Manziel ever started trying to be America’s Bad Boy. If games need drama, what about our real lives? Would one of you invite some stranger into your own life to play the role of villain. “Now look, Bob, things at the office are kind of boring. I was hoping you could follow me around, taunt me, annoy me, break a few office rules. You know, just generally spice things up.” Absurd.
19. Please Stop With “The SEC Is Down” Talk
So the ACC and Big 12 got “statement” wins over the SEC, did they? A ranked Oklahoma State team beat a squad picked at or near the bottom of the SEC West. And #8 Clemson — in a great game, mind you — slipped past #5 Georgia. Not to take anything away from the Tigers, but if that game had been played in Athens, is it hard to imagine the Bulldogs coming away victorious? (For the record, Clemson is now 3-1 versus the SEC since last season and they deserve credit for that.) The SEC lost just three games on Saturday and registered its own wins over the ACC (two) and the Big 12 (one). The SEC may indeed turn out to be down in 2013, but it’s way, way too soon to be making those types of declarations.
20. But Keep An Eye On Those Defenses
For years, the SEC’s strength has been its teams’ suffocating brand of defense. But this past week half the teams in the league allowed 400+ yards of offense to their opponents (Ole Miss to Vanderbilt, MSU to Oklahoma State, Auburn to Washington State, Georgia to Clemson, Kentucky to WKU, Vandy to Ole Miss, and Texas A&M to Rice). A&M actually allowed more than 500 yards — 509 to be exact — though a number of defensive starters were benched for team rules violations. Could it be that up-tempo, spread offenses are weakening SEC defenses? This is one to watch moving forward.
Bonus: Have We Told You That Turnovers Matter?
Each season we attempt to hammer home the near end-all, be-all importance of turnovers. For all the scheming and blocking and tackling and practicing and play-calling and momentum and hostile environments and everything else that matters in college football… the game still comes down to taking care of said pigskin. It’s really just as simple as that. In the SEC last week there were 10 winners and four losers. Of the 10 winners, Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M and South Carolina all finished on the plus side of the turnover ledger. Alabama and Florida were even in turnover margin. Of the four losers, Georgia was minus-one and Vanderbilt and Mississippi State were both minus-two. Kentucky — likely the worst team in the SEC — was the only squad that finished with a positive turnover margin (plus-one) and failed to win its game. Fourteen teams and only one of them didn’t see the final score fall in line with the final turnover numbers.