Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where Jim Harbaugh simply cannot be kept off the sidelines:
First Quarter: The Mess at MSU
SECOND QUARTER: IT MEANS MORE, BUT THEY’RE WINNING LESS
The Southeastern Conference has done a remarkable job backing up its own bragging over the years, winning championships by the fistful this century. But there is no walk to back up the talk so far this season. To date, the SEC kind of stinks (11).
How unusually bad has it been? Mississippi’s defeat of No. 24 Tulane is the only thing saving the league from being winless against ranked opponents through two weeks, which last happened in 2004. The record against the top 25 is 1–4 so far, and the record against Power 5 competition is 3–6.
That .333 winning percentage is the worst record among the Power 5 conferences in games against one another. The Big 12 checks in at .444 (4–5); the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten are both .500 (4–4 and 3–3, respectively); and the ironically mighty Pac-12 is rolling along at .667 (6–3).
But it’s worse than just losing those games. All six of those defeats have come by double digits. The SEC isn’t just being beaten by quality competition, it’s getting housed. No flukes. No play here/play there. Blaming the refs won’t fly.
This should—should—resonate with the College Football Playoff selection committee (12) when it gets down to business in late October. The SEC has often benefited from a strength-of-conference bump in the rankings—and deservedly so. Wins against one another have counted more, and losses against one another have hurt less. That shouldn’t be the case this season.
The SEC hasn’t proved itself so far. Most of its remaining chances to do so won’t come until the final week of the regular season—Florida–Florida State, South Carolina–Clemson, Kentucky-Louisville—when the die is largely cast. As of now, the league’s only remaining nonconference game against a ranked opponent between now and Thanksgiving weekend is Missouri hosting No. 15 Kansas State on Saturday.
Let’s take a closer look at where things are breaking down for the SEC thus far:
Alabama (13). Texas’s 34 points are the most the Crimson Tide has surrendered in a regular-season nonconference game since Hawai‘i scored 37 in 2003. The Longhorns are good—maybe playoff-level good—but still. This is Alabama. And this is the latest signal that the Crimson Tide dynasty has passed the tipping point toward diminishing returns.
Many of the now-commonplace weaknesses were on display again Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium. This is not the buttoned-up machine of yore.
The Alabama defense, once the most vaunted turnover machine in the sport, had zero takeaways. That’s the fifth time in the last 15 games, and the 12th time in the last 17 games that they’ve had one or zero takeaways.
The Tide was whistled for 90 yards in penalties, the sixth time in 15 games that it has had 90 or more penalty yards. Their record in those six games: 3–3. Alabama jumping offside late ended any chance it had at a comeback.
And there are some new issues: Alabama didn’t record a sack against Texas, ranks 12th in the SEC in tackles for loss with nine and hasn’t yet broken a run of 30 yards or longer this season. There isn't much dominance up front.
LSU (14). If you thought Alabama giving up 34 to Texas was every-two-decades bad, the Tigers surrendering 45 points to Florida State is significantly worse. That’s the most LSU has allowed in a regular-season, nonconference game since 1991, when Texas A&M scored that many on the Tigers while still a member of the Big 12.
The LSU defensive backs couldn’t cover, and most alarmingly the defense seemed to quit competing as the Seminoles rolled downhill in the fourth quarter. Among SEC teams that have played two games, none has allowed more scrimmage plays of 10 yards or longer (33) and 20 yards or longer (11) than LSU.
Brian Kelly unflinchingly termed it a “total failure,” and nobody was arguing with him. Mauling Grambling in Week 2 proves nothing.
Texas A&M (15). For all the lamentation about porous defense at Alabama and LSU, neither of them allowed 8.35 yards per play to an opponent. That’s what Miami hung on the Aggies in a 48–33 flop in South Florida. Throw in a 98-yard kickoff return by the Hurricanes, and it was quite the tackling-optional performance by A&M.
In context, this should be more tiresome for the home fans than Alabama and LSU losing. This is just the continuation of a theme under the golden-handcuffs leadership of Jimbo Fisher. Texas A&M is 14–12 since 2020, 6–8 over the last season-plus, despite a money-is-no-object pursuit of success. Return on investment is severely lacking.
Florida (16). The Gators’ problems were more on the other side of the ball against Utah, scoring 11 points and netting 13 rushing yards. Even against McNeese State, they displayed no big-play pop in the running game and only a little when throwing the ball. No SEC team has fewer 30-yard scrimmage plays to date than Florida’s three.
Last year, Billy Napier had a pretty good offense after inheriting a quarterback who would go on to be the No. 4 pick in the draft and a Day 1 starter in the NFL. Predictably, results have dwindled under transfer Graham Mertz.
The Mertz Experience has continued on the same track it took at Wisconsin. His pass-efficiency rating tends to be spectacular against weaker teams (like the 197 he had in routing McNeese) and pedestrian against the stronger opponents (137 against Utah, which actually isn’t bad for Mertz).
South Carolina (17). The Williams-Brice Stadium denizens were not overjoyed when the Gamecocks followed up their opening pratfall against North Carolina by being tied with Furman until just before halftime. South Carolina blew it open in the second half, but this is a team that appears to have major issues on the offensive line.
The Cocks protected Spencer Rattler better after surrendering nine sacks to the Tar Heels but couldn’t run the ball against Furman, producing just 108 yards on 39 carries, with just one run longer than nine yards. South Carolina’s 1.51 yards per rush is tied for 131st nationally, with only Sam Houston State beneath it at 1.37.
Things should be fine against No. 1 Georgia on Saturday. Totally fine.
Vanderbilt (18). The Commodores’ history of self-inflicted defeat is long and legendary, and they lived up to that heritage against Wake Forest on Saturday. Three turnovers led directly to 13 Wake points in a 16-point loss, including a 31-yard scoop-and-score with a fumbled punt shortly before halftime that swung the game firmly away from Vandy. Other contributing factors: a third-and-18 pass interference, and a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line that produced two yards on four runs.
This could still be Clark Lea’s best of his three teams at the school, if the Dores can stay out of their own way long enough.
Even some of the SEC’s week two winners against lesser opponents were unimpressive in victory (19). Missouri had to grimly hang on against Middle Tennessee State, 23–19. Kentucky continued its history under Mark Stoops of playing down to its competition, beating Eastern Kentucky 28–17 one week after the Colonels lost 66–13 to Cincinnati. Tennessee played with its food against Austin Peay, 30–13.
The league does, of course, still have Georgia (20). The two-time national champion has won its first two games by a combined 93–10, but the competition has been weak (Tennessee-Martin and Ball State) and the Bulldogs’ starts have been listless. They’ve scored seven first-quarter points this season.
On the other hand, they’ve allowed zero points in the first three quarters this season. It was 38–0 before UT-Martin scored and 45–0 before Ball State got on the board. If an underwhelming SEC needs Georgia to carry the banner, the Dawgs could well be up to the task again.
First quarter: The Mess at MSU