From top to bottom—well, almost—the SEC began the 2021 college football season with a clear message: Texas and Oklahoma may not be here yet, but we’re still the best conference in the sport—and it’s not even close.
With victories in 12 out of 14 matchups, covered spreads in eight of the 14 games and a combined scoring margin of 499 to 226, the SEC put on a performance for the ages. That being said, the conference played a rather weak schedule on the whole. Only four out of the 14 games were played against Power Five teams, those being Miami, Clemson, Louisville and UCLA. Regardless, the conference took care of business, even if the level of competition wasn’t SEC-caliber.
Here’s where the teams stack up heading into Week Two. Expect more of the same this week, as the SEC—with one exception—plays another below-average slate of non-conference games.
1. Alabama: 1-0
If you thought the absence of ten starters from last year’s national championship team would be enough to slow down the Crimson Tide, the greatest coach of all time might have a few words for you. With a 44-13 thrashing of No. 22 Miami, Nick Saban improved to 15-0 in opening games in his Alabama tenure. Sophomore quarterback Bryce Young, who is tied for the highest-rated recruit in Alabama history per 247 Sports, had a lights-out performance, throwing for 344 yards and four touchdowns, the latter of which set a school debut record. Presumed first-round pick John Metchie hauled in six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown while fellow receiver James Williams, another NFL hopeful, scorched the earth with four catches for 126 yards and a touchdown of his own. Alabama’s offense wasn’t the only thing clicking in Atlanta, as the defense forced three turnovers from veteran Miami quarterback D’Eriq King to pair with four sacks and a monstrous performance from linebacker Will Anderson. Alabama is the best team in football until proven otherwise, a title that’s not likely to be challenged next week versus FCS opponent Mercer.
2. Georgia: 1-0
With a 10-3 rock fight of a win versus No. 6 Clemson, the Georgia Bulldogs now own the most impressive victory in college football. Georgia may very well be the second-best team in the country, and they certainly have the defense to compete with anyone. The lone touchdown of the game came off of a 74-yard interception return from veteran defensive back Christopher Smith, the crowning achievement of a seven-sack performance that held the Clemson Tigers—six-time repeat ACC champions and the second seed in last year’s playoffs—to 180 total yards. While the offensive performance was less than stellar—though running back Zamir White’s 13-carry, 74-yard performance is nothing to scoff at—the remainder of Georgia’s schedule features no team remotely as talented defensively as the one they just faced. Quarterback JT Daniels and company should look to put up more points next week versus Alabama-Birmingham.
3. Texas A&M: 1-0
It’s a crazy world we live in, where the team ranked No. 5 in the AP poll is only the third-best in its conference. Regardless of its position, Texas A&M proved it’s a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball with a 41-10 victory over Kent State. Running back play was the key to the Aggies’ success, with sophomore Devon Achane rushing 12 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns and All-SEC First-Teamer Isaiah Spiller pounding the rock 17 times for 113 yards of his own. On the defensive side, senior defensive back Leon O’Neal Jr. had the game of his life, snagging two interceptions and running one back 85 yards for a touchdown. If there’s any critique of the Aggies, it’s the same one that’s been raised in successful season after successful season for Jimbo Fisher: a lack of consistent explosiveness at quarterback. Regardless, Texas A&M should continue rolling right along next week when they take on the Colorado Buffaloes of the Pac-12.
4. Florida: 1-0
The Florida Gators entered this week with one key question—how will the passing game hold up with quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts moving onto the NFL? On Saturday, their passing attack was underwhelming, with starting quarterback Emory Jones and backup Anthony Richardson combining for only 153 yards and one touchdown through the air. Despite this, the Gators took care of business with a 35-14 win over Florida Atlantic. The contest was far less competitive than the score shows, as the Gators’ lead ballooned to 28-0 in the fourth quarter before FAU managed to score two touchdowns in the game’s final five minutes. The catalyst for the Gators this week was the run game, which tallied 400 combined yards and four of their five touchdowns, capped off by a 73-yard touchdown run by Richardson. Florida will have one more week to make adjustments in the passing game as they head to Tampa to play a South Florida team that went 1-8 in 2020, before hosting No. 1 Alabama the following week.
5. Ole Miss: 1-0
Ole Miss kicked off its season with a thorough domination of Louisville, beating them 43-24. From the first snap of the game, it was all Rebels. With a halftime lead of 26-0, the game was as good as over. Quarterback Matt Corral looked very strong under center, racking up 381 passing yards and two total touchdowns, but the true star for the Rebel offense was wide receiver Dontario Drummond. The senior wideout tallied a monster 177 yards on nine receptions, in addition to a touchdown. The connection between Corral and Drummond looks unstoppable, and it will be a major problem for opposing defenses this season. The outlook in Oxford is promising. Look for the Rebels to continue making noise if they keep up this caliber of play.
6. Auburn: 1-0
The Auburn Tigers kicked off their 2021 season with a 60-10 thumping of the Akron Zips. The Tigers were rolling on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Bo Nix was near-perfect, going 20-22 for 275 yards with three touchdown passes, and sophomore running back Tank Bigsby racked up 119 rushing yards and two touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers’ defense looked particularly stout in Derek Mason’s first game as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. The Mason defense held the Zips to -3 yards on the ground with six sacks and 11 tackles for losses. The Tigers hope to carry over their momentum when they host FCS opponent Alabama State this weekend, a game they should handily win.
7. Kentucky: 1-0
Coming into Saturday’s contest, the Kentucky faithful had one question: is quarterback Will Levis good enough to sling it in the SEC? The answer: a resounding yes. The Wildcats opened their season with a 45-10 thumping of Louisiana Monroe, a performance headlined by Levis’ 367-yard, four-touchdown performance. As per usual in a Mark Stoops offense, the running game was also a major contributor to success, boasting 125 yards and a touchdown from All-SEC Third-Teamer Chris Rodriguez Jr. For the defense, linebackers J.J. Weaver and DeAndre Square were absolute monsters, stuffing the statsheet for a combined eight tackles, 5 1/2 tackles for loss and three sacks. Having trailed for less than nine minutes against the Warhawks, Kentucky should brace itself for stiffer competition next week when they face SEC East adversary Missouri.
8. Missouri: 1-0
When the news broke that Texas and Oklahoma would be joining the SEC, Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz asked conference commissioner Greg Sankey if his squad was allowed to use the “horns down” taunt. Narrowly averting disaster with a 34-24 win over Central Michigan, the Tigers should look to get past their MAC opponents before setting their sights on bigger and badder foes. Offensively, Missouri had a field day: 257 yards and two touchdowns for quarterback Connor Bazelak, along with an astounding 203 yards, one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown from running back Tyler Badie. On the defensive side of the ball, Missouri did well enough to put the game away and force two interceptions, but giving up 475 yards to a team that went 3-3 last year is not a great look. Drinkwitz and company will look to step it up next week with the beginning of SEC play against the Kentucky Wildcats.
9. LSU: 0-1
Coming into 2021, LSU’s biggest question mark was their defense. The Tiger faithful got no answer last Saturday in their 38-27 loss to the UCLA Bruins. UCLA running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown gashed the Tigers for a combined 210 yards on the ground. The Tigers’ pass defense looked no stronger, allowing quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the UCLA receiving core to burn them for 75 and 45-yard touchdown passes and 260 yards through the air. In terms of offense, the Tigers struggled mightily in the run game, combining for 49 yards on 25 carries against the UCLA rush defense. The only bright spot in this game for the Tigers was the connection between quarterback Max Johnson and wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, a tandem that combined for the Tigers’ only three touchdowns. LSU leaves this game with even more uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball, and it will be a long season in Death Valley if the Tigers’ defense isn’t able to make adjustments before their SEC schedule begins.
10. Arkansas: 1-0
After the chaos of last season’s conference-only slate, the first non-conference game of the Sam Pittman era proved quite the showing for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Finding themselves down 17-7 early in the third quarter, the Hogs scored 31 unanswered points to secure a victory against Conference USA opponent Rice. As adorable as All-SEC wide receiver Trey Knox’s PetSmart promotionals may be, the key to Arkansas’ success on Saturday was its running game. Powered by 102 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries from junior Trelon Smith, the Razorbacks scored four of their five touchdowns on the ground. When combined with a stellar performance from their offensive line—which only allowed two sacks all game—and pass defense—which forced three crucial interceptions—Pittman’s squad lived to fight another day. Next week will be an early test of the Razorbacks’ mettle as they face No. 15 Texas, a future SEC foe.
11. Tennessee: 1-0
The Tennessee Volunteers may not have covered the spread against MAC opponent Bowling Green, but they did rush their way to a 38-6 victory in Josh Heupel’s first game as head coach. The ground game was outstanding and came from all over: 116 total yards and a touchdown each for running backs Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small, as well as 44 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Joe Milton III. However, if they want to make a serious splash in SEC play, the Volunteers can’t continue to lose the turnover battle nor pass for fewer than 150 yards. Three sacks and no touchdowns allowed does bode well for the Tennessee defense, but the pressure will be turned up a notch next week when the Pittsburgh Panthers travel to Knoxville.
12. South Carolina: 1-0
The Gamecocks opened up their 2021 campaign with a blowout 46-0 win, thoroughly dominating FCS opponent Eastern Illinois. Despite throwing for only 121 yards, quarterback Zeb Noland played a clean game, tossing four touchdowns with no interceptions. Senior running back ZaQuandre White led the rushing attack for the Gamecocks, tallying 128 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. On defense, South Carolina put up just as strong of a performance, holding the Panthers to 109 yards in the contest. The Gamecocks will have their first test of the season next week as they travel to East Carolina as two point underdogs. Despite the blowout win, South Carolina will have to bring their “A” game against stronger opponents to move up these rankings.
13. Mississippi State: 1-0
In a game that was both baffling and electrifying, the Mississippi State Bulldogs narrowly avoided an upset, beating Louisiana Tech 35-34. State took an early 14-0 lead, proceeded to allow Louisiana Tech to score 34 unanswered points and found themselves down 20. In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs’ offense woke back up, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to give themselves a one point lead, but leaving enough time for Tech to take one final drive. After marching down the field, Tech had a 46-yard field goal opportunity with two seconds left on the clock to win the game. Kicker Jacob Barnes came up short, allowing the Bulldogs to escape with a win. Sophomore running back Jo’Quavious Marks was at the heart of the Bulldog offense, scoring two touchdowns on the ground and one through the air. The near downfall for State in this game was their sloppy play. They turned the ball over four times and accrued 12 penalties for 96 yards. The Bulldogs were lucky to escape this one, but as their schedule picks up, they’ll need to clean it up to remain competitive.
14. Vanderbilt: 0-1
Pain. Vanderbilt kicked off the Clark Lea era with a 23-3 blowout loss at home to FCS opponent East Tennessee State, a team that they paid $415,000 for the right to play. On offense, the Commodores couldn’t find any rhythm. The quarterback platoon of Ken Seals and Mike Wright yielded little success, as they combined for 236 yards and two interceptions. The final nail in the coffin for the ‘Dores was a Ken Seals fumble, leading to an ETSU scoop-and-score and a 20-3 Buccaneer lead. The Vanderbilt run game also saw sparse production, gaining just 85 yards on 31 attempts. On the defensive side of the ball, the Commodores allowed ETSU running back Quay Holmes to rack up 149 yards on the ground, accounting for nearly half of the Buccaneers’ offense. The Commodores finish this week with question marks in nearly all aspects of their game. They hope to play a more competitive ballgame next time out as they head to Fort Collins to play Colorado State, a team that was also handily beaten by an FCS opponent at home last weekend.