Bama Is the Best; What About the Rest?

Lyn Scarbrough

September 08, 2016 at 10:56 am.

Sep 3, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris (34) runs past USC Trojans defensive back Adoree' Jackson (2) during the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 3, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris (34) runs past USC Trojans defensive back Adoree’ Jackson (2) during the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get the obvious out of the way up front.

Based on the first weekend of the 2016 college football season, Alabama is the best team in the Southeastern Conference … again … and it’s probably not even close.

That realization actually started before the last weekend’s games.

On Thursday night, Tennessee looked like one of the most overrated teams in recent years. The Volunteers (ranked preseason No. 6 nationally by Lindy’s) luckily won at home over Appalachian State (ranked preseason No. 72 by Lindy’s). The team that is better on paper than any other Eastern Division team wasn’t better than a team from the Sun Belt.

That same night, Vanderbilt led by a third year head coach, guided by a returning starting quarterback, playing at home, couldn’t hold the lead against South Carolina, led by a new coaching staff, returning only four offensive starters. If Vandy couldn’t win this SEC game, which one can it win?

Saturday’s games didn’t give much better results. Mississippi State in its first game AD (After Dak) lost in Starkville to the South Alabama Jaguars, ranked by Lindy’s as preseason No. 8 in the Sun Belt (No. 114 out of 128 teams nationally). The Bulldogs led at one time by 17 points. Missouri was soundly beaten on the road by West Virginia, and Kentucky lost in Lexington, giving up 44 points to C-USA member Southern Miss and its senior quarterback Nick Mullens.

Arkansas squeaked out a one-point win at home over Louisiana Tech (ranked No. 94 in the preseason by Lindy’s), a team which graduated its veteran starting quarterback and its top runner, who scored more career touchdowns than any player in college football history.

Florida’s win wasn’t much better. The Gators hosted UMass, the team ranked by Lindy’s as preseason No. 128 (dead last) … the worst team in college football this season. To say that the 24-7 victory was underwhelming is being generous to Florida.

Two traditional powers, LSU and Auburn, also lost, but they were at least close games to nationally recognized teams, Wisconsin and Clemson. LSU came from behind to take a second half lead against the Badgers, but couldn’t hold it down the stretch. Auburn, whose offense apparently showed up at some other stadium for the first half, played well on both sides of the ball in the second half, but lost by six points to the No. 2 ranked Tigers.

Two other SEC teams did have wins. Georgia defeated a talented North Carolina team, coming from behind to win in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Texas A&M had a 24-9 lead in the fourth quarter, but surrendered 15 unanswered points to Josh Rosen led UCLA. The Aggies won by a touchdown in overtime.

The finale was on Labor Day night in Orlando where Ole Miss provided the biggest tease, then the biggest collapse, of the entire sub-par weekend. Playing with the league’s most ballyhooed quarterback, Chad Kelley … against a Florida State team with a first-time starting freshman quarterback … the Rebels roared to a 22-point lead, then surrendered 33 unanswered points in what turned out to be an embarrassing second half mismatch.

That just leaves Alabama. Fortunately for the rest of the SEC, the Crimson Tide was there to hold up the conference banner.

In fairness, this is not a classic Southern Cal team. Defensively, it’s totally rebuilding. The entire defensive line from 2015 is gone. Only one of three starting linebackers returned. Of the starting front seven, five sophomores were slated to be starters. The punter and placekicker had to be replaced from last season. And, veteran starting quarterback Cody Kessler was drafted by the Cleveland Browns.

Nobody expected USC to be a really good team and almost nobody expected the game in Dallas to be close. But, it is still Southern Cal and scoring 52 points is impressive no matter what problems the opponent might have.

Alabama was just overwhelmingly good again. Quarterback play was explosive and unexpected, especially from freshman Jalen Hurts. The first-year signal caller from Channelview, Texas, came off the bench, scoring two touchdowns on the ground, while completing six of 11 passes for 118 yards and two more scores. Another freshman quarterback, Blake Barnett, started the game and also threw for 100 yards.

There was a running star who stepped in for departed Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, but it wasn’t Bo Scarborough, who had gotten most of the preseason hype. Damien Harris, the MVP of the spring game, ran for 138 and two touchdowns, including a 73-yarder which ended short of the end zone.

Nothing else needs to be said about the Tide defense. Winning 52-6, holding Southern Cal without a touchdown, outgaining the Trojans by 271 yards, and holding All-American wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to only one reception speaks for itself.

So, where does the SEC go from here?

Despite the overall showing … mediocre at best … all isn’t lost for the conference yet. There are still several potentially outstanding teams in the league that should learn from the first week’s experience.

Tennessee can’t play with less inspiration and perform that badly again, can it? Can LSU’s offense, with potentially the nation’s best running back, be outplayed that thoroughly again? Will Auburn stop its quarterback carousel and gain an identity to support one of the SEC’s best defenses and kicking games? Were the lackluster performances from Mississippi State, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Kentucky an aberration or signs of what should be expected this season?

In evaluating SEC prospects for the 2016 season, there are questions to be answered everywhere in the conference – except, of course, in Tuscaloosa.

Answers there came through loud and clear. Alabama is best team in the Southeastern Conference … again.

Last weekend, there wasn’t a conference team that would have come close to the Crimson Tide. And, unless Alabama plays a lot worse, few teams on its schedule will represent a roadblock between west Alabama and the national championship game in Tampa.