As much fun as it is to see the Tiffany League get dragged along Desolation Row, I’m not sure the convenient narrative — because the SEC had a terrible Week 1, the SEC isn’t any good anymore — is on point. Yes, half the SEC lost. Yes, Tennessee and Arkansas barely won, and Florida was put under pressure, and Texas A&M needed overtime after wasting a 15-point lead, and Georgia trailed by 10 in the third quarter. But how many of those seven losing SEC teams should have won?
Mississippi State lost to South Alabama: Huge upset, yes. But Mississippi State lost quarterback Dak Prescott, the best player Dan Mullen has had in Starkville. The Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the SEC West. It wasn’t as if anyone had them in the Top 25.
Kentucky lost to Southern Miss: The Wildcats were picked fourth in the SEC East, which only goes to show that more than half the division is awful. I’m a UK alum. I am never surprised when Kentucky loses. You shouldn’t be, either.
Auburn lost to Clemson: The wonder here was that it was even close, given that Clemson has a tremendous team and Gus Malzahn was coaching as if he wanted Bobby Lowder to fire him at halftime. Of all the strange things I’ve seen in four decades of covering college football, the crash of the Gus Bus ranks at the top. (Right alongside Gene Chizik getting fired two years after winning a national championship and Terry Bowden quitting in midseason, both of which occurred at, er, Auburn.)
Vanderbilt lost to South Carolina: Because somebody had to lose, not that either deserved to win.
Missouri lost to West Virginia: Mizzou was picked to finish next-to-last in the East and had to play in Morgantown. And the Tigers did break double figures — they scored 11 points — which actually constituted progress. They were held to 10 or fewer points in five of their final six SEC games last season.
Ole Miss lost to Florida State: And blew a 22-point lead in so doing. And yielded 33 consecutive points. But FSU was favored, and FSU has better players and a better coach, and the game was played in Florida.
LSU lost to Wisconsin: This was the one case of an SEC favorite that’s also a good team losing over the weekend, but even this bears an asterisk. LSU kept Les Miles only because it allowed sentiment to intervene, but sentiment can’t mask the obvious any longer: Les Miles has become the Mark Richt of the SEC West. He’s the coach of a gifted team that big games and looks bad doing it. (Also similar: The offensive coordinator — Cam Cameron in LSU’s case, Brian Schottenheimer in Georgia’s — is terrible.) LSU should have fired Miles the same weekend Georgia fired Richt. LSU will fire Miles this fall.
If there was a real theme to Week 1, it’s the one we should have seen before Week 1: Beyond Alabama, the SEC is nothing special. The ACC’s second-best team — FSU or Clemson, flip a coin — is better than the SEC’s second-best team. The ACC’s third-best team — Louisville — might be better than the SEC’s No. 3.
The SEC had three teams in the top 10 of Associated Press preseason poll, but two were LSU, which is badly coached, and Tennessee, which has proved next to nothing. (I did have Tennessee at No. 7 in my Top 25, but I had LSU way down at No. 11.) The SEC doesn’t appear to be vintage this year, but it wasn’t vintage last year. (We note that Florida won the East but lost its final three games by an aggregate 73 points.)
The breaking story in the SEC isn’t that the league has suddenly gone south, figuratively speaking, but that that the King of All Football Leagues has broken into a two-category entity. And we don’t mean West and East. We mean Alabama and everybody else.
Super fun reading: