There’s no way around it: That was a rough Week 1 for the SEC. The overriding number of reader questions this week focused on the SEC’s 6-6 record out of conference.
When it just means more, it just gets asked more.
What does it mean moving forward in 2016? That’s a trickier question because it’s incredibly early to truly evaluate conferences. Don’t be the person who buries the SEC after one week. But do keep in mind the big picture: The SEC’s depth has continued to decline from its once incredibly high level.
As the SEC won seven straight national championships by four schools from 2006-12, the league went 46-29 (.613) against ranked nonconference opponents. Over the past four years, when only Alabama Crimson Tide has won a national title, the SEC is 17-24 (.414) against ranked nonconference teams.
That’s a pretty telling statistic that the SEC has come back to Earth. It shouldn’t be too shocking. College football is cyclical, other schools around the country have really good teams and coaches, and no one (not even the SEC) is ever going to match the SEC’s seven-year run of national titles by four different teams.
But as I’ve written before, the SEC is playing with fire as the West Division keeps dominating the East. One day a one-loss West champion may need a quality win against the East in the SEC Championship Game to state its last case for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. At least two of these three teams — Georgia Bulldogs , Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers — need to get better.
Somewhat lost in the “sky is falling” talk is the SEC did win three of its five games against ranked opponents in Week 1: Alabama over Southern California Trojans , Texas A&M over UCLA Bruins , and Georgia over North Carolina Tar Heels . The SEC’s two losses to ranked teams weren’t surprising — Clemson Tigers over Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles over Ole Miss Rebels — but the fact the Rebels lost a 22-point lead was not a good look.
The Pac-12 watched two of its bell cows lose Week 1 games (USC and UCLA) and two other supposedly solid programs fall ( Washington State Cougars to Eastern Washington and Arizona Wildcats to BYU). The Big 12 saw Oklahoma Sooners go down and TCU Horned Frogs struggle to beat South Dakota State. Those Pac-12 and Big 12 results could eventually be more damaging to those conferences than the SEC’s Week 1 struggles.
But the SEC likes to boast so the questions about the league are understandable. Here’s the potential disturbing part if you’re the SEC: The depth of its conference is already under question after one week in the first year the SEC is requiring every school to play at least one game against a Power Five opponent, Notre Dame Fighting Irish or BYU.
Tennessee barely beat Appalachian State in overtime. Mississippi State Bulldogs lost to South Alabama Jaguars . LSU Tigers fell to Wisconsin Badgers . Ole Miss blew a big lead to Florida State. Kentucky Wildcats watched a big lead disappear in a loss to Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles . Florida struggled putting away UMass until the fourth quarter. Missouri Tigers lost to West Virginia Mountaineers . Auburn lost to Clemson. Arkansas Razorbacks snuck past Louisiana Tech Bulldogs . Throw in the ugly Vanderbilt-South Carolina game and that’s 11 of 14 SEC teams not feeling too good about Week 1.
My annual reminder: It’s only one week. Teams will improve and regress as the season goes. Other conferences will have their own rough weeks. Still, this was an unusual red flag immediately for the SEC that’s part of a growing trend.
Now for this week’s mailbag …
Is there media bias? Texas wins and it is a “new era.” Wisconsin wins and it is, “What’s wrong with LSU?” Explain please. — @DougGreenB
Is it too early to say that Texas is back? — Jared Castro
The Longhorns’ exciting victory over Notre Dame raises a fair question: How often are we going to say Texas is “back?” In this case, I’ve seen the Texas players and fans celebrating Sunday’s win like a championship more than the media, which documented the scene.
I’m not ready to say Texas is back, but it now has a chance to be back — and that is a big deal. Shane Buechele looks like he is the quarterback the Longhorns have badly needed since the end of the Mack Brown era. Sterlin Gilbert looks like he’s the perfect offensive coordinator to move the Longhorns into this decade as a legitimate up-tempo, spread offense. If the breaks go right for Texas, the ceiling is high for a special season. We’ve also seen Charlie Strong carried off the field before, so we’ll see.
LSU did get more attention than Wisconsin. Frankly, that’s because the Tigers move the needle more and we saw the same old, same old from Les Miles and his passing game. The Badgers did deserve more credit. They controlled that game and earned the win. They look to be better than I thought in 2016.
Does Les Miles make it through the entire season as LSU’s coach? — Sharif Masri
I got some variation of this question by several readers. Tell me which other games he loses, and I’ll have a better answer. Increasingly, it feels like this is the end of the road for Miles. Now, if Miles wins out to go 12-1, we’re talking a different story. It’s always dangerous to fire a coach in Week 1. But that’s as bad a Week 1 as Miles could have possibly had, and it is causing a lot of LSU supporters to say, “See, we should have fired him last November.”
Is Sark the heir apparent as Alabama’s offensive coordinator when Lane Kiffin leaves? — @cook333p
Nick Saban’s addition of former USC coach Steve Sarkisian as an offensive analyst was an interesting move. For starters, the timing of the announcement right after Week 1 suggests Sarkisian may have helped Alabama prepare to destroy his former team 52-6 in Week 1. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just interesting, especially since Sarkisian has a pending lawsuit against USC for firing him last October following a string of alcohol-related incidents.
If Kiffin continues to develop new quarterbacks without missing a beat for Alabama, he’s going to be a head coach again. There’s so much baggage that comes with hiring Kiffin as the face of your program that it’s still a dicey proposition. But when it eventually happens, Sarkisian is now potentially in place to pick up Alabama’s offense from his friend, Kiffin. Let’s hope Sark is getting his personal life in order, too.
How could anyone watch Clemson play on Saturday night and still rank them second? If Clemson is No. 2, then shouldn’t Auburn be in the top 10? The game came down to the last play. — Bo Kerr
Ah, poll questions! To your first part: No, sorry, I can’t put Auburn in the top 10 with that three-headed quarterback mess. Auburn’s defense showed up and that’s a positive sign. I tend to think Clemson’s offense is going to be fine. It started slow in 2015, too.
But are the Tigers the No. 2 team? Who knows? Like you, I have a disdain for polls this early in the season, but I’m asked to vote for them with the CBS Sports 128 and Football Writers Association of America rankings. It’s impossible to take the early polls too seriously. Because I base my rankings strictly on resumes this year — who did you beat, where did you beat them and how did you look? — my polls look funny early. They’ll balance out over time. My top five right now: 1. Alabama, 2. Houston Cougars , 3. Florida State, 4. Clemson, 5. Wisconsin.
Is college football going to advertise this week as the worst ever? — Ron Morris
It’s bad. There may be 160,000 people at Bristol Motor Speedway watching the spectacle of Tennessee and Virginia Tech Hokies punting back and forth. On paper, the only other semi-interesting Week 2 games are Arkansas at TCU and two intense regional rivalries — Brigham Young Cougars at Utah Utes (I love this rivalry) and Penn State Nittany Lions at Pittsburgh Panthers (it’s back after 16 years!).
How good was Week 1? ABC got a massive 7.0 rating for Texas-Notre Dame on Sunday night. To put that in perspective, a 7.0 for Ohio State-Michigan State made it the most-watched game in the 2015 regular season … and that came in Week 12. In other words, ESPN/ABC got huge viewership on a new time slot that you better believe will be used again in the future.
Hopefully, moving forward, schedule makers can balance out the big games better. Next year is a good example of what to do: Week 1 has Alabama-Florida State, Florida-Michigan and Georgia-Notre Dame; Week 2 has Oklahoma-Ohio State and Auburn-Clemson; and Week 3 has USC-Texas. But college football was smart to take over Labor Day weekend in 2016 with attractive games while the NFL was off.
We were all better off for it. Well, maybe not the SEC.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / College football mailbag: SEC stumbles, futures of Miles and Kiffin, Texas bias