Five biggest takeaways from the SEC’s opening night

If last night was the slightest of indications of what 2013 will be, hold on to your jock straps. Football is back, and there was no better way to kick it off than last night:

The Thriller: Did we witness the best game of the season the first night? Probably not, but Ole Miss-Vanderbilt was everything it was cut out to be. There were momentum swings; there were big plays; it was a roller coaster, and you loved every minute of it. You better hold on to your hats, because that was just the first night. Both teams couldn’t afford to lose and have a ‘successful’ season in their minds, and opening night saw two teams who refused to lose. Each team was prepared and well coached. Coming in, I thought this had a chance to be the most underrated game of week one. Now, I’m asking whether this one could be the most underrated game of the season.

Clowney: Overrated? Nah, but that will be the reaction from around the country today. Clowney made just three tackles and compiled no sacks. But it’s fair to critique the country’s most talented player. Steve Spurrier made it clear after the game that he wasn’t happy about his conditioning. In fact, most of the team was sucking wind in the first quarter. Who’s the strength and conditioning coordinator? Clowney downplayed his lackluster start, even saying he had a stomach bug, but you all remember the red flag raised by Spurrier in training camp about Clowney’s conditioning. Credit UNC for taking Clowney out of the game and scheming around him. Quick screens and draws helped neutralize the freak.

Related: UNC player tried to cheap shot Clowney

Rebels freshmen: They were as good as advertised. Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Tony Connor, Laremy Tunsil and Evan Engram all played and all made impacts. Entering the game, most of the talking heads were downplaying the Rebels’ recruiting class and hype. Connor made the game’s first INT. Nkemdiche is the next Reggie White. Did you see his 11-yard run on the fake punt? What an athlete. Treadwell was the game plan in the second half, and he caught nine passes for 82 yards. Tight end Engram caught five passes for 61 yards and looked like he’ll be a big contributor this season. Tunsil is a future franchise left tackle. All five made big impacts. There’s a new era in Oxford.

No missing Lattimore: Several raised the questions of where exactly South Carolina will get their running game now that Lattimore is gone. They all quickly forgot that the Gamecocks were 9-1 without Lattimore the last two years. Now, they can be sure of it. With Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, the running game is good enough to get to Atlanta. Davis rushed 12 times for 115 yards and one touchdown, breaking off a 75-yard touchdown run and refusing to be tackled on some carries, while Wilds carried 12 times for 64 yards. Combined they are thunder and thunder.

Mr. Matthews: Everyone will talk about Jordan Matthews’ gutsy performance (literally) and that it was his fault the interception happened on the final drive. But he is so talented. The former two-star nobody showed why last night he’s one of the top receivers in the country. Matthews led all receivers with 10 catches for 178 yards and one touchdown. Why did you think his 94 catches for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns were a fluke? He’s the real deal.

Photo Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports