As midseason arrives or approaches, it’s a time to look back to the preseason … and realize just how much stuff hasn’t gone as planned.
There’ve been plenty of surprises in 2017, but so far many of the biggest stories are the things we thought, figured, or downright just knew we would see … but we haven’t. Here are 10 of those:
1. The explosion of the LSU passing game under Matt Canada
Has Danny Etling been better? Well, his QB rating has gone from 135.6 to 149.7, but that might be a function of not yet facing Auburn, Alabama and A&M. Canada was supposed to inject life into the passing game. So far, LSU is scoring less and gaining less yardage than in 2016. Passing? Well, they are averaging 11 yards per game more, but that’s a small return on a big investment.
2. Derrius Guice ruling the SEC
Maybe there’s a curse with LSU. Last year, Leonard Fournette was expected to be a Heisman contender, but ended up hurt and rushing for 843 yards, while Guice stole the show. So far this year, a banged-up Guice has 364 yards rushing — and his backup, Darrell Williams has been, well, better. Williams has 355 rushing yards, and gains half a yard per carry more than Guice.
3. Paul Rhodes shoring up the Arkansas defense
In the past three years, the Arkansas defense had gotten bad. How bad? From 19 to 27 to 31 points per game from 2014-16. Former Iowa State coach Paul Rhodes was supposed to coach up the Hogs, and at least bring some improvement. Right? Wrong. The Razorbacks have gone from 31.1 points per game allowed last year to 31.4 this year — and they still have to play Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss.
4. Austin Allen as an All-SEC QB
Unbelievable that Shea Patterson was left off the preseason All-SEC squad in favor of senior Austin Allen. Last year, Allen passed for 3,430 yards, completing 61 percent of his passes for 25 touchdowns and posting a 146.0 QB rating. This year? 850 passing yards, 56 percent, 8 touchdowns and a 133.2 QB rating. QBs ahead of Allen in that last stat include Stephen Johnson, Feleipe Franks, and Kyle Shurmur — not to mention Patterson, who is on pace to set a SEC passing yardage record.
5. A much-improved Florida offense
How could it be this bad again? The defense graduated an NFL Draft class worth of talent, but the offense was supposed to be better. Sure, we were supposed to be watching Jordan Scarlett and Antonio Callaway, among other suspended Gators who haven’t seen the field. But UF has gone from 23.2 to 23.9 to 25.0 points per game, and from 334 yards to 344 yards to 347 yards per game. It is technically better, but at this glacial pace, Georgia will be winning national titles before Florida gets to 30 points and 400 yards per game.
6. Jacob Eason
There were people who tried to tell us that Jake Fromm was the real deal. He was sharp in the spring, but everybody is sharp in the spring. A nagging injury to Eason later, the guy who was a likely breakout SEC quarterback for 2017 has instead thrown seven passes for the season.
It’ll be interesting to see how Kirby Smart can sell Fromm, Eason, and his 2018 recruits on being part of the same program.
7. Any offense from Tennessee
The Vols had a defensive disaster in 2016, giving up 449 yards per game and almost 30 points on average. In their final three regular season games last year, they gave up 36 to Kentucky, 37 to Mizzou and 45 to Vandy. Surely the counterbalance would be a big-time offense from Butch Jones in 2017. Nope.
UT is 13th in the SEC in scoring (24.2 PPG) and yardage (333.4 yards per game). Those stats are a decline of over a dozen points and 110 yards per game from last season. Saturday, they’ll start redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano.
Champions of 13th place life isn’t a good look for Butch Jones’ offense.
8. Kentucky’s power running game
The Wildcats rushed for 234 yards per game last season, with 5.4 yards per carry. Sure, they lost RB Boom Williams and center Jon Toth. But with star Benny Snell and most of the component parts returning, UK’s ground game has been … putrid. Kentucky is averaging 138 yards per game with 3.6 yards per carry. Somehow, the Cats are winning anyway.
9. Ralph Webb having a great season
Even when Vandy was bad, Ralph Webb was good. The school’s career rushing leader ran for 912 yards in 2014, 1,152 in 2015, and 1,283 in 2016. Meanwhile, Vandy’s wins went from three to four to six. With the Commodores hanging around the fringes of the bowl picture in 2017, Webb has done … well, not a lot. Webb has 245 yards rushing and 2.8 yards per carry. Puzzling.
10. Bromance between Nick and Brian
Brian Daboll is the anti-Lane Kiffin. He won’t run his mouth, he won’t quit before the national title game, generally, he will make less waves. Wouldn’t Nick Saban love that? So far, Daboll’s offense is ahead of Kiffin’s from 2016, in scoring (43 PPG to 38.8) and yardage (483 YPG to 455). Conference games against LSU and Auburn might slow that pace. We’ll see.
So are we going to see awkward sideline man-hugs? Time will tell. As anyone who has worked for Saban can testify, things can get real in a hurry. While we haven’t seen any sideline donkey barbecues from Saban yet, the jury is still out on whether Saban will endorse Daboll-ball when the chips are down.