SEC football: The 10 biggest surprises in the SEC this season
There were myriad surprises across the SEC this season.
Texas A&M was inches away from a touchdown and, possibly, an upset before a fumble was ruled to have gone through the end zone and the ball turned over to Clemson in an eventual 28-26 loss. The call was reviewed but upheld, and Jimbo Fisher was heated in the face of one of the officials about the call.
A week later, LSU used nine fourth-quarter points to win at Auburn 22-21, thanks to a 42-yard field goal from Cole Tracy as time expired.
But those paled in comparison to some historic storylines that will mark the 2018 season. Here are 10 of the most surprising things to happen in the SEC:
1. Kentucky ends 31-game losing streak against Florida
A historic victory decades in the making, Kentucky got 3 touchdowns from Terry Wilson, Benny Snell Jr. ran for 175 yards and the Wildcats beat the Gators for the first time since 1986, and the first time in Gainesville since 1979.
It was an upset that many figured could have happened in the last few years. The Wildcats had lost three of the last four meetings by six points or fewer. Florida needed triple overtime to win in 2014 and overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter last year in Lexington. That game was memorable for Kentucky leaving two Florida receivers uncovered for touchdowns.
It was a signature SEC win for Mark Stoops, as his previous biggest win was over then-No. 11 Louisville in 2016.
2. Heavy underdog Tennessee upsets Auburn
It took just six games for Tennessee to register a signature victory under Jeremy Pruitt, an early sign of progress.
UT, which went into The Plains as a 17-point underdog, leaned on a big-play passing attack. Jarrett Guarantano passed for 328 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Tennessee snapped an 11-game SEC losing streak with a 30-24 victory against then-No. 21 Auburn on Oct. 13. The Volunteers forced 3 turnovers from Auburn’s struggling offense, including 2 interceptions of Jarrett Stidham.
It sparked some conversations about Pruitt receiving Coach of the Year votes.
3. Josh Allen grows into sure-fire NFL prospect
At the start of the season, Josh Allen was on the NFL’s radar and was considered one of the top outside linebacker prospects, if not the best. He had flirted with declaring for the NFL Draft as a junior but ultimately came back to Kentucky for another season.
In a dominant season, he raised his NFL stock as much as any prospect around.
A year ago, Allen had 7 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Those numbers skyrocketed in a season that earned him the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top defensive player. Allen, who is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, led the SEC with 14 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss and 5 forced fumbles to go with his team-high 84 tackles. He broke the Kentucky single-season and career sacks records (28.5) this season.
That has elevated Allen from a first-round projection in the summer to a top-10, maybe even top-five, pick for when the 2019 NFL Draft rolls around.
4. Jalen Hurts flips the script
A role reversal nearly a year in the making, QB Jalen Hurts threw for 1 touchdown and ran for another with just more than a minute to go to deliver a Hollywood-style ending even a silver screen scriptwriter might think is too corny. Hurts’ play lifted Alabama to a 35-28 victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship. It was a stunning twist on the scenario that played out less than 11 months earlier on the very same field.
Hurts replaced an injured, but also ineffective, Tua Tagovailoa, a teammate who did the same in the national championship game in the same building, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with Alabama trailing Georgia 13-0. Then, Tagovailoa threw 3 touchdown passes, including a 41-yarder in overtime that gave the Tide a stunning 26-23 victory.
Hurts was 7-for-9 for 82 yards in the SEC Championship and converted 5 third downs to go with the 2 total TDs.
5. Auburn loses its nine-year 1,000-yard streak
Auburn’s run as a 1,000-rushing factory has hit a pothole. The Tigers are in serious danger of snapping a nine-year run of producing 1,000-yard rushers.
Boobee Whitlow turned in the best performance of his career against Ole Miss on Oct. 20 with 170 yards on 19 carries before exiting with an injury that hampered him down the stretch, including 61 yards on 19 carries in the Iron Bowl.
Whitlow’s health hindered the success of Auburn’s ground game, and while he enters the bowl season as the team’s leading rusher with 777 yards and 4 scores, he’ll need a historic effort in the Music City Bowl if Auburn wants to keep its 1,000-yard streak alive.
6. Kentucky’s best season since the 1970s
Mark Stoops’ team received a host of positive headlines most of the season as the Wildcats registered a 9-3 record, including 5-3 in conference play. Both marks are the best for the Wildcats since 1977. UK is the only team in the country to tie or improve its win total from the previous year in each of the last six seasons.
The memorable season included six wins over bowl-eligible teams, four wins over eight-win teams and 11 straight weeks ranked in the AP Top 25, the longest streak in school history. Stoops is just the fourth Kentucky coach to win AP SEC Coach of the Year, after Bear Bryant (1950), Fran Curci (1977) and Jerry Claiborne (1983).
7. James Carville led talk of a pro-Alabama conspiracy at the SEC
In the fallout of Devin White’s targeting ejection against Mississippi State and suspension, an LSU super fan went on a conspiracy blitz.
Political strategist James Carville, an LSU native and graduate, wrote a column for The Advocate about the controversial call that cost White the first half of the Alabama game.
In a media tour of sorts, Carville then appeared on The Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network to criticize the way the league handled the call and other calls affecting Alabama.
What’s more, with ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting from Baton Rouge for the Alabama-LSU game, the show had Carville on during one segment in which he continued to call out the SEC. ESPN within hours apologized about the segment.
Did James Carville just expose the deep state of the SEC?!pic.twitter.com/c8EV5DvCY3
— Barstool Sports (@barstooltweetss) November 3, 2018
8. Arkansas registers first 10-loss season
In a forgettable season to start the Chad Morris era, Arkansas finished 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC.
The 38-0 blanking against Missouri was their first shutout since a 52-0 loss at No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 19, 2013, but it also cemented the first 10-loss season for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas notably was winless in its trophy games against Texas A&M, LSU and Missouri for the third straight year.
The Razorbacks did not score a touchdown in their final eight quarters while falling on the road to Mississippi State and Missouri by a combined 90-6 score.
The Razorbacks appear to have a solid incoming recruiting class, but there were more than a couple of examples of turmoil during the season. At least seven players left the team, and two more were suspended for the final game.
9. Citadel ties Alabama at halftime
It was obviously a blip, but the 10-10 halftime score between The Citadel and Alabama was certainly an eyebrow-raiser for many. The wishbone attack gave the Crimson Tide fits.
The Crimson Tide held the ball for 10:46 in the half and ran 11 plays fewer than the visiting Bulldogs on just four possessions. Alabama’s defense had given up fewer than 100 yards in the first half all season. The Citadel had 149 yards of total offense in the half.
The program’s Twitter account enjoyed it, too.
Of course, Alabama bounced back and won 50-17.
10. Transfer Demetris Robertson makes no impact at Georgia
It appeared that the Cal transfer from Savannah, Ga., would make a splash for Georgia when he scored on a 72-yard touchdown run against Austin Peay.
But after the opening game, Robertson had 3 carries for 37 yards with a couple of dropped passes.
The speedy Robertson, a redshirt sophomore, was expected by many to be an impact player and make the receiving corps among the best around. But ultimately, he didn’t register even one catch.