Looking Around the SEC after Week Two

Lyn Scarbrough

September 15, 2015 at 1:18 pm.

Cody Core (88) is one of many weapons Ole Miss has on offense. (Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports)

Cody Core (88) is one of many weapons Ole Miss has on offense. (Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports)

A week ago, the analysis of SEC football programs seemed pretty obvious.

There were a record 10 SEC teams in the Top 25. Conference teams had played four games against Power 5 conference teams and won them all. And, most of the scores against “lesser” opponents were by comfortable, if not gigantic, margins.

One week later, not much seems sure at all.

In the league’s marquee game, Tennessee fell to Oklahoma, 31-24. It’s not so much that the Vols lost the game. It’s how they lost it.

With expectations high for the first time in memory, Neyland Stadium, decked out in alternating sections of orange and white, was rocking. When the home team went ahead, 17-0, fans were literally dancing in the aisles. The celebrations were premature.

With their backs against the wall and time running out, the Sooners scored a late touchdown to tie the game, then their score in the second overtime won it. It was the worst come-from-behind win against the Volunteers in program history. Never had Tennessee led a game by 17 points and lost.

So what’s next? Suddenly, with such disappointment, the air is out of the Big Orange balloon. It can still be a great season for the Vols, but the coaching staff has its work cut out not to allow this loss to define the team. A trip to Florida, a team that has beaten them 10 consecutive times, is in two weeks. Two weeks later, Georgia comes to Knoxville. Two weeks later, Tennessee plays in Tuscaloosa. What will happen next?

And, this past Saturday against those “lesser” opponents, it looked like a different conference.

Auburn, a preseason national championship contender, had to score late, then dominate overtime, for a 27-20 win over Jacksonville State. How significant was the win? Auburn fell in the Coaches Poll from No. 7 to No. 15 by winning. The Gamecocks climbed from No. 5 to No. 1 in the FCS poll by losing.

The Tigers have not looked anything like a title contender in its first two games. Injuries have hurt significantly on the defensive side. Carl Lawson and Tray Matthews couldn’t play on Saturday. Then when two other secondary starters were lost (one to injury (Josh Holsey), one to ejection (Blake Countess)) during the first half, three freshmen were forced to play in the defensive backfield for almost the entire game.

Offensively, quarterback Jeremy Johnson, heralded as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate before the first game, has looked more like a candidate for second string after two outings. So far, there has been no reason for opponents to respect the Auburn quarterback as a running threat, and with no zone-read option, Johnson has forced passes into double- and triple coverage, resulting in five interceptions.

If things don’t improve for the Tigers on both sides of the ball, those other Tigers in Baton Rouge will start the season with an unanticipated 2-0 start in conference play on Saturday afternoon and Auburn’s title dreams could head toward nightmare status.

Three other SEC teams didn’t fare any better. Florida struggled to defeat East Carolina, 31-24, while Missouri had to score late to beat Arkansas State from the Sun Belt Conference, 27-20. That’s three wins by just one touchdown when SEC teams were big favorites.

Arkansas fans should be so fortunate! The Razorbacks lost to Toledo of the MAC in a game when their supposedly high-powered offense only scored 10 points. To make it worse, the Rockets’ first game, scheduled against Stony Brook, had been cancelled by thunderstorms the previous week. So, this was Toledo’s season opener … on the road in Arkansas.

As with Tennessee, the question becomes, what’s next?

On Saturday, Texas Tech travels to Fayetteville.

Here’s the comparison … Arkansas opened the season with a 35-point win over UTEP. The lost to Toledo last week.  On Saturday, Texas Tech scored 69 on UTEP, winning by 49. After playing the Red Raiders, the Razorbacks play Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, then travel to Knoxville and to Tuscaloosa, before returning home to play Auburn. A 3-4 start is a realistic possibility for Arkansas, and a 1-6 start isn’t out of the question. For another fan base with high expectations, that would be tough pill to swallow.

The two most impressive SEC teams to this point have been Texas A&M and Ole Miss. The Aggies impressively knocked off No. 16 Arizona State, then followed it up with a 33-point win over Ball State. They should be 5-0 when Alabama comes to College Station in mid-October.

Alabama will play that upstart Ole Miss team after two comfortable wins over Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee. The Tide has run the ball well, gotten satisfactory play from Jake Coker at quarterback and has given up just 13.5 points per game. Butsomething has to give on Saturday in Tuscaloosa when the Rebels visit Bryant-Denny Stadium.

How impressive has the Ole Miss offense been? After scoring 76 in the first week win over UT-Martin, the Rebs scored 73 in beating Fresno State from the Mountain West. They became the first team in 47 years — the Houston Cougars did it in 1968 — to score as many as 73 points in consecutive games, and only the second team to do that in the last 90 years. No SEC team has ever come close to matching it.

You have to go with Alabama in this one due to the home-field advantage and maybe the revenge factor, too, after the game in Oxford in 2014. In case you wondered, Ole Miss and Alabama started playing football in October, 1894. The Rebels have never beaten Alabama in back-to-back seasons.

How about this week’s other in-conference match-ups?

South Carolina is fortunate to be 1-1 after being dominated at home by Kentucky, following a narrow opening win over North Carolina which threw two interceptions in the end zone. The Gamecocks play in Athens on Saturday against a Bulldog team that appears to be the best in the East. Look for another Georgia win, sending Steve Spurrier’s season into a further tailspin.

Kentucky’s win in Columbia was its first conference road win since 2009. The Wildcats welcome Florida on Saturday, looking for its first win over the Gators in 29 years. If the Cats win this one, they could be 5-0 when Auburn comes to Lexington for a Thursday night game on Oct. 15. Who would have thought it was more likely for Kentucky to be undefeated than Auburn when that game is played!

Will things be more clear in the SEC after the third week of the season? If the first two weeks are an indication probably not.