After a long period of waiting to see if it would come to fruition, the 2020 Southeastern Conference (SEC) football season finally began this past Saturday. This season, much like this year, is unprecedented; in light of COVID-19 rescheduling, each SEC team is scheduled to play a ten game, conference-only schedule. So in Week One, rather than seeing a slate of non-conference games, we saw seven SEC games. Some teams, like Alabama and Florida, lived up to their preseason expectations and left little doubt as to the ranking they deserve. Others, such as LSU, gave suboptimal performances that shook up the conference rankings. Going into Week Two, here’s how the SEC stands:
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the Alabama Crimson Tide fielding a dominant football team. This year seems to be no different based on Week One. Second-ranked Alabama could do no wrong against Missouri, winning comfortably 38-19. The Crimson Tide’s offense picked up right where it left off last year, accumulating 414 total yards and scoring five touchdowns. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was particularly impressive, finishing with 134 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The defense was equally imposing, as they didn’t allow Missouri to score a touchdown until halfway through the fourth quarter when the backups were playing. This upcoming week, Alabama will get their first taste of divisional action against the Texas A&M Aggies.
If nothing else, the third-ranked Florida Gators proved their offensive dominance in their 51-35 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels. The Gators put up 642 yards of total offense, the most of any team in the Southeastern Conference this past weekend. Any conversation about this dominant offensive effort begins and ends with Florida’s quarterback, Kyle Trask. Trask garnered a lot of fanfare this offseason, as many felt like he could be this season’s version of Joe Burrow. Against Ole Miss, he lived up to that hype and then some, throwing for 416 yards and six touchdown passes. It was a spectacular effort that showed why Florida is the cream of the crop in the SEC East, at least for now. Next, Florida will face the South Carolina Gamecocks in their home opener.
The seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers earned the third spot in the SEC power rankings this week after beating a solid Kentucky Wildcats team 29-13. The result of the game was actually up in the air for a while, as the two teams were neck and neck for three quarters. Fortunately for the Tigers, they were able to pull away in the final frame, as quarterback Bo Nix threw for two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. This offensive showing was complimented by Auburn’s defense forcing three Wildcat turnovers, including two fourth-quarter fumbles. All in all, the Tigers didn’t do anything too wild in their win. But they did exactly what they needed to win and showed why they are deserving of the third spot in this week’s rankings. In Week Two, Auburn will travel down to Athens to face their cross-division rival Georgia Bulldogs in one of the early season’s marquee matchups.
4. Mississippi State
If teams were being ranked based on sheer impressiveness, there’s a high likelihood that the 16th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs would’ve claimed the top spot. The Mike Leach era of Mississippi State football started with a bang this past Saturday, as the Bulldogs shocked the defending National Champion LSU Tigers 44-34. Any questions about whether or not the Air Raid offense would work in the SEC were put to bed by quarterback KJ Costello, who threw for a dumbfounding 623 yards and five touchdowns. Three different Mississippi State players finished with over 100 yards receiving. To put the icing on the cake, the defense pulled a little bit of their weight as well by forcing two interceptions. This week, Mississippi State gets a much easier matchup as the Arkansas Razorbacks head to Starkville to take on the Bulldogs.
The Georgia Bulldogs may be ranked fourth in the newest AP Poll, but it’s hard to justify the Bulldogs even being the fourth-best team in their own conference right now. Just look at their 37-10 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks: Georgia played atrociously in the first half, failing to score a single touchdown and went into halftime trailing 7-5. Their offense was nonexistent; so much so that the team had to switch quarterbacks before the second quarter even ended. To the Bulldogs’ credit, they played much better in the second half, outscoring the Razorbacks 32-3 after coming out of the locker room. However, considering that Arkansas has been one of the worst Power Five football programs over the past several seasons, Georgia should never have found itself in this situation in the first place. It’s very possible that Georgia can rise again in the rankings, especially since supposed starting quarterback JT Daniels has been medically cleared to play this week. But as of this moment, they can rank no better than fifth in the SEC. Georgia gets a chance to prove the doubters wrong this upcoming week though, as they play the Auburn Tigers.
The National Championship hangover is real, or at least that’s what the 20th-ranked LSU Tigers are thinking after dropping the season opener 44-34 to Mississippi State. While many expected LSU to remain a title contender, this game cast serious doubts on the likelihood of a successful championship defense. The Tigers’ trademark defense, which has garnered the team the nickname of “Defensive Backs University,” was ripped to shreds by quarterback KJ Costello. Anytime a defense allows over 600 yards of passing and five touchdowns, something has gone horribly wrong. The Tigers’ new quarterback Myles Brennan didn’t help matters by turning in a subpar performance, only completing 59% of his passes and throwing two interceptions. While LSU was able to keep it close for most of the game, their shortcomings in these areas proved to be the difference in the end. If the Tigers came into the game with a celebratory mood, they exited it with the sober realization that the 2019 season is now long gone. Thankfully for the Tigers, they’ll have ample opportunity to bounce back in Week Two as they travel to Nashville to play Vanderbilt.
The Volunteers carried the momentum from their six-game winning streak last season into a tight 31-27 opening day victory against the South Carolina Gamecocks (SC). Tennessee nearly blew a two-touchdown lead established by quarterback Jared Guarantano and a pick-six from linebacker Henry To’o To’o. Surprisingly, their special teams were what prevented the SC rally, with a recovered muffed punt in the final two minutes. It may not have been smooth, but an SEC win, even against SC, is a great improvement from the Vols’ opening loss to Georgia State in 2019. Despite Tennessee having languished in the shadows of their elite SEC counterparts in recent years, there may be some cause for cautious optimism this year. The Vols will look to improve their winning streak to eight this week against the struggling Missouri Tigers.
8. Texas A&M
Texas A&M seemed flatfooted in a 17-12 win against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Whether they came out stagnant due to a pandemic affecting their home environment (Kyle Field was at 25% capacity), or if the Aggies simply lacked respect for the Commodores, Head Coach Jimbo Fisher is walking away from this game with plenty of teachable moments for his team. The most concerning part may be that the Aggies offense, led by fourth-year starter Kellen Mond, was held to just 17 points. This was due to a general lack of care for the ball, with three lost fumbles along with sloppy special teams play from kick returner Ainias Smith. In fact, the safety resulting from Smith’s choice to return a punt from the end zone epitomized the Aggies’ approach to this game. Coach Fisher will need to address these mishaps in order to build a team that hopes to compete with the heavyweights of the Southeastern Conference like second-ranked Alabama, who they will face this Saturday.
The Kentucky Wildcats kept pace with the Auburn Tigers for most of their opening game, before the Wildcats pulled away 29-13 in a dominant fourth quarter performance. The game was lost in a fashion similar to most uneven competitions, with the stronger team taking advantage of the mistakes of the underdog. In this case, Kentucky’s fourth quarter blunders on ball security and special teams play led to this lopsided loss. Despite an impressive effort for three quarters, Coach Mark Stoops needs to impart to his team the importance of minimizing mistakes. Given time, the Wildcats can build on the lessons from this game as they look to get their first win against Ole Miss in Week Two.
10. Ole Miss
In a fast-paced shootout between Ole Miss and Florida, the Rebels got left in the dust by the Gators in a 51-35 loss. If the Rebels have any hopes of winning in the SEC this season, they have to establish some presence on the defensive end. Without that, their future will be wholly dependent on the heroics of sophomore quarterback Matt Corral, who poured in 396 yards with 3 TDs, and star wide receiver Elijah Moore, who caught ten passes for 227 yards against the Gators. If the Rebels continue to rely on offense alone, they project as an entertaining team that will be fortunate to end with six wins. However, Ole Miss has a great chance to improve upon their Week One performance against an evenly-matched Kentucky team this Saturday.
11. South Carolina
South Carolina fell just short in a 31-27 defeat against Tennessee that came down to the wire. The Gamecocks faltered in large part due to a special teams blunder with 90 seconds left as a Tennessee punt was muffed by Cam Smith. This, along with the pick-six thrown by transfer quarterback Collin Hill, ultimately cost SC the game. Still, Coach Will Muschamp has to be happy with the overall performance of Hill, as he made 25 of 39 passes for 290 yards. Unfortunately, this disappointing loss is followed by a difficult Week Two matchup with South Carolina traveling to Gainesville to face the third-ranked Florida Gators. To have any hope against the explosive Florida offense, SC will have to limit turnovers and hope that standout defensive lineman Kingsley Enagbare can apply pressure to Kyle Trask this Saturday.
The worst thing Missouri did on Week One was draw the Alabama Crimson Tide on their schedule. In a demoralizing defeat, the Tigers got rolled by Alabama QB Mac Jones and consumed by the Crimson Tide defense for three quarters. The only consolation for Missouri was their fourth quarter performance, which was solely due to the Alabama starters resting. As with many games over this last dynastic decade for Alabama, Missouri looked much more well-suited to play against their backups. Mizzou coach Eliah Drinkwitz will have to encourage his team to come out with more energy in what will be a slightly more favorable matchup against 21st-ranked Tennessee this weekend.
Despite coming in near the bottom of this list, the Vanderbilt Commodores exceeded expectations in their 17-12 loss to Texas A&M. There were bright spots across the team for Coach Derek Mason, most notably freshman quarterback Ken Seals. After much uncertainty in the QB competition over the offseason, Ken Seals showed promise as a starter. Though he did throw two interceptions, Seals completed 20 of his other 27 passes for 150 yards, including a touchdown dart to the corner of the end zone for receiver Amir Abdur-Rahman. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch encouraged Seals’ success by emphasizing short, quick passes that allowed the freshman to get comfortable. Beyond the offense, Vanderbilt has to be thrilled with the defensive effort against an experienced Aggie offense, with five forced fumbles and three recoveries. The special teams held Texas A&M’s returners to three yards per return while also forcing a safety off of a punt return. Overall, Vanderbilt was able to make a difficult matchup competitive. If Mason and his staff can continue to gameplan on the defensive end while keeping it simple for Seals, the Commodores may have a decent year. Unfortunately, the next game for Vanderbilt is against the defending National Champion LSU Tigers, as they come off of a shocking loss.
Similar to Missouri, Arkansas’ first mistake was finding themselves up against the fourth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in Week One. After a strong defensive start for the Razorbacks, they failed to adjust to Georgia’s substitution of quarterback Stetson Bennett. The junior college transfer nearly threw a perfect game from the moment he stepped onto the field, which left Arkansas grasping for the moral victory of a successful first half against the Bulldogs. Despite a discombobulated offensive attack, with Razorback running backs only running for 21 yards on 11 carries, transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks showed some of his talent. In his first game with Arkansas, Franks reached 200 yards on 19 completions and 36 attempts. His two interceptions though, including one returned for a touchdown, were pivotal in Georgia taking control of the game. First-year Arkansas Head Coach Sam Pittman will have to get his team firing on all cylinders if they expect to give red-hot Mississippi State a challenge in Week Two.