I'm resetting expectations for these 5 SEC teams
I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong.
Man, if I didn’t, this life would be awfully hard. I’m wrong way too often to try and do mental gymnastics all the time.
There were several SEC teams that I was wrong about in Week 1. Some more than others. There were teams like Vanderbilt that performed better than I thought it would but is still facing an uphill climb in a 10-game conference-only schedule. They didn’t make the cut for today’s topic.
But yeah, I was wrong about several SEC teams. It was an offseason without spring games and really much insight as to who these teams were going to be.
So I’m going to reset some expectations today. These 5 teams have me rethinking what I predicted for them in the SEC Crystal Ball:
1. Mississippi State
I had MSU going 4-6 and being up and down in Year 1 of the Mike Leach era. I thought, with the nation’s No. 109 pass offense last year and an All-SEC schedule this year, surely we’re not about to see MSU have its second winning season in SEC play in the 21st century … right? Well, what happened in Death Valley made that look awfully stupid. If defenses don’t prepare properly for the Air Raid, we’re going to see a whole lot more of that. These receivers got far more separation than I thought they’d get.
And while I don’t think KJ Costello will throw for 600 yards every game, is it crazy to say it seemed like MSU actually left some points on the field? A couple of key turnovers actually prevented that from being an even bigger day.
But let’s also give credit to the MSU defense with new defensive coordinator Zach Arnett. They played fast and frustrated Myles Brennan and that passing attack. That group flew to the football in a way that I really didn’t expect to see. MSU’s defense performed much better than I thought it would and could really hold the key to staying in the SEC West race.
That’s the exact type of performance that can make someone like myself go from “this team will be exciting but ultimately mediocre” to “this team has a legitimate shot to compete in the West.”
More. Dead. Wrong.
In my defense, I banged the drum for LSU when the preseason AP Top 25 came out and at that time, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin were still on that roster. And obviously, we had no idea that Derek Stingley would be out Week 1. He’ll make the Tigers better defensively when he returns, and that’s not really a question.
But man, I didn’t realize Bo Pelini would get dunked on that badly. The man coverage and 3rd-down lapses were horrendous. That was the exact type of performance that LSU fans feared when he was hired. It was stubborn, and frankly, it was downright arrogant to think that LSU could turn it around without making those adjustments.
So now, I’m definitely having serious doubts about LSU going 7-2 the rest of the way to reach my 7-3 prediction. This offense isn’t built to do that much heavy lifting. At least not yet. It’s not good enough to just assume that this young LSU defense will flip the switch and contend. You don’t let up more passing yards than anyone in SEC history in Week 1 without having some major issues.
If LSU doesn’t adjust and figure it out in a hurry on defense, just getting to 6-4 could be a challenge.
I’m not totally selling my Kentucky stock just yet, but there were several things from Week 1 that made me a bit worried about that 6-4 prediction. For starters, the offense that I thought would have an identity established really did not. Terry Wilson had an up-and-down return, Eddie Gran had a puzzling game plan and outside of Kavosiey Smoke’s touchdown in the first quarter, I didn’t really see Kentucky impose its will at the line of scrimmage with that decorated offensive line.
I also thought Chad Morris made better 2nd-half adjustments than Mark Stoops, which was certainly a surprise. Granted, Kentucky’s defense was put in some tough spots and Seth Williams made some All-American plays.
But I put Kentucky on here because I predicted the Week 1 win at Jordan-Hare, and now I’m realizing how daunting it’ll be for a program with 1 winning season in SEC play in the past 4 decades (2018) to get there. Wilson needs to be more comfortable and Gran has to figure out the midseason adjustment that’s going to make this offense tougher to defend.
Stoops’ best achievement last year was his in-season adjustment, specifically at the quarterback position. If Stoops doesn’t make the right in-season adjustment — I’m not totally sure what that is yet — his talented team will be staring at 4-6.
Doubting Kevin Steele was dumb. I’ll take the “L” on that one. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I said this offseason “I don’t know how Auburn is going to handle the loss of 2 generational players on the defensive line.” Well, with guys like KJ Britt and Owen Pappoe, it turns out that the Tigers still know how to get in the backfield and make plays. Kentucky didn’t want to throw the ball 38 times in that game. Call that the Steele effect.
I’m still not totally sold on the offense just yet. Some short fields and a couple of fantastic Seth Williams plays might have inflated those numbers a bit. I’m not convinced the Tigers truly have an offensive identity just yet. And I’d admittedly be more encouraged if we saw more of an active plan to get Anthony Schwartz more involved.
But I’m adjusting my 6-4 expectations because I questioned if Auburn’s defense was built to do the heavy lifting while this offense got on the same page with Chad Morris. I’m now of the belief that Auburn can do just that. There’s no denying that Auburn looked better and more complete than a team like LSU or Texas A&M. The West is going to be all sorts of intriguing this year, and Gus Malzahn’s squad figures to have a say in the chaos.
I think it’ll get better. I do. By “it,” I’m referring to the Georgia offense. You know, the one that just had the guy considered 4th string a month ago bail them out of a monumental Week 1 embarrassment.
Yes, I know. The Georgia defense wasn’t going to allow Feleipe Franks to go off. I get that.
But let’s be clear here. If you predicted Georgia go to 9-1 (I did) and/or make the Playoff (I didn’t), you were having second thoughts after Saturday’s showing. The Dawgs were totally undisciplined and far too easy to defend. The latter was what Todd Monken’s presence was supposed to turn around. D’Wan Mathis struggling the way he did put plenty of pressure on JT Daniels now being healthy because while Stetson Bennett IV performed well in those circumstances, that’s not an ideal wagon to get hitched to in a 10-game conference-only slate.
The good news is that Georgia’s defense should continue to stymie SEC offenses. That’s not slowing down anytime soon. The bad news is that the Dawgs’ offense won’t always benefit from turnovers like it did on Saturday against a much inferior Arkansas team. A better team could’ve made that a true 60-minute battle.
The Dawgs will still win a bunch of games, but I’m not in any position to predict a Playoff berth until we see a much more promising offensive showing.