An unlikely hero teaches a lesson to the powerhouse league
All year long, the SEC bumbled and stumbled. LSU was so bad that Les Miles went out and got himself fired in four weeks. Auburn could score 50 one week and struggle to complete a pass the next. Georgia will be good, but Kirby Smart very much looked like a new coach. Florida had a great defense … and, unfortunately, absolutely no offense. For a time, Kentucky was even competitive in the East. But still, the argument was there. Sure, the SEC didn’t have the most teams in the top 25. It didn’t have the best bowl record. But our big brother will whip all of your big brothers, said SEC fans. We’ve got Alabama.
And Alabama was a pretty good team to settle the argument. They had a dominant defense and an offense that took advantage of whatever it was given. Jalen Hurts was magical as a true freshman, and a mammoth offensive line blasted holes all over the field. Only a couple times had Alabama even been challenged. Ole Miss, in the same way they had the year before, passed all over Bama, but unlike in 2015, they came up a score short. LSU, by then healed to something approaching a good team, hung with Bama for most of the game but fell 10-0. But Alabama was 14-0, and looked like a team of destiny heading into Monday night.
And then Clemson happened. Deshaun Watson had almost outgunned the Tide last year, and this year, he dropped the almost. But the biggest player in the game might not have been Watson. It might have been receiver Hunter Renfrow. And if so, who would be more appropriate?
Renfrow, a 5-foot-something, 100-and-something-pound target, playing in a game full of five-star recruits, grabbed pass after pass, found seams, and on the penultimate play of the game, worked open in the front of the end zone to catch the winning touchdown. His final stat line was 10 catches, 92 yards and two touchdowns.
So no doubt Clemson outfought Alabama and Florida State and half of the SEC for Renfrow? Nope. Renfrow’s Rivals.com page lists the other schools recruiting him as Appalachian State, Furman, Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian and Wofford. For the record, the redshirt sophomore was a 150-pound walk-on who is now listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds — and as a scholarship player.
The 2017 season is dawning already on the SEC horizon. Nick Saban will be bent on revenge — what else could he be? Auburn is convinced that with a passing game, they’ll be back on the national scene. LSU and Georgia are terrifically talented teams. Maybe it’s finally the year for Tennessee or Florida.
But in the next month, with the craziness of National Signing Day, maybe the whole SEC would do well to remember Hunter Renfrow. Sure, you’ve got to have talented players. You’ve got to have the best coaches … and in the SEC, past performance can sometimes guarantee nothing except tall expectations going forward — just ask Les Miles or Gene Chizik. But sometimes, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
There’s no reason to think that the SEC won’t rise to the challenge. That’s what the best league in the country does. But winning on National Signing Day won’t mean anything if teams aren’t winning in the weight room and on the practice fields and in the film rooms. If the SEC puts together another run of seven consecutive titles, it’ll do it because of preparation and determination and refusing to be counted out, whether as a favorite or as a huge underdog. It’ll need to act kind of like Hunter Renfrow. Who would’ve imagined the 2016 SEC season would end with that tagline?