The Auburn Tigers struggled with the power running game. The same Arkansas Razorbacks' offense that ranked last in the SEC a year ago manhandled the Tigers’ front seven, posting 21 points by halftime.
They all entered their season-openers with hopes of competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but the SEC’s three highest-ranked teams showed significant flaws in Week 1. The Gamecocks had their doors blown off. The Tide and Tigers won, but it wasn’t pretty. Even the LSU Tigers, a popular dark horse pick to reach the final four, had to be bailed out by a bit of Les Miles magic and the Wisconsin's' abrupt aversion to the running game.
By the time Monday rolled around, the dust settled and the big picture of the SEC became clear, it wasn’t what anyone expected. Somehow it was the Georgia Bulldogs and Texas A&M left standing as seemingly the league’s best hope of reaching the playoff.
But with all due respect to Todd Gurley’s inhuman exploits and Kenny Hill’s inspired performance, should we be sold? For that matter, should we be ready to call anyone the class of the SEC?
Right now there are far more questions than answers. Everyone, it seems, has flaws.
The East is a toss-up. Georgia certainly holds promise, but quarterback Hutson Mason still needs to show he can carry an offense, Gurley has to stay healthy and the secondary must continue improving despite missing so many starters from a season ago. South Carolina, meanwhile, has to do a complete 180 or it will lose to Georgia in two weeks and find itself in an insurmountable hole. Then there are the Florida Gators, who are a complete unknown given Mother Nature’s refusal to let them finally turn the page on 2013.
The West is even more convoluted. Texas A&M might be the real deal, but its offense is so young and it is still too early to say whether Mark Snyder has orchestrated the most impressive turnaround in history with that defense. Alabama has serious questions on defense, too, and at quarterback we might be jumping the gun a bit in proclaiming Blake Sims the answer. LSU could very well settle on Anthony Jennings under center, but he has the potential to be a reboot of Jordan Jefferson, which isn’t a good thing. Then there is Auburn, stuck with too many quarterbacks and not enough defenders, not to mention its brutal schedule.
If you’re looking for one of the favorites to run away with it, don’t hold your breath. In fact, if Week 1 showed us anything, it’s that while there are a bunch of good teams in the SEC, there is no one dominant team like in years past.
The Missouri Tigers won handily, the Ole Miss Rebels turned it on in the second half and the Mississippi State Bulldogs cruised to victory. All three should feel good about their dreams of reaching Atlanta.
The only real slouches are the Vanderbilt Commodores.
When it comes time for playoff jockeying and the "my conference vs. your conference" disputes, parity will be the SEC’s No. 1 point of emphasis. But it will also be the reason it doesn’t yield an undefeated or even a one-loss team.
Alabama will get better. So will LSU and Auburn. Even South Carolina should improve with time. It is, in fact, only Week 1 we’re talking about.
But first impressions do mean something, and the first look we had of the SEC revealed a pack of teams loaded with potential but saddled with problems.
Until we find out who is ready to take a step forward and lead, it will continue to be a wide open race.