Texas A&M and Missouri welcomed two of the SEC East's most storied programs to College Station and Columbia on Saturday for their SEC debuts, promising Florida a date with Kevin Sumlin's terrific and flashy offense and Georgia a clash between Mizzou's spread and the Bulldogs' "old man football." Those old hands both fell behind early, and trailed at halftime, and yet the Gators and Bulldogs ended up doing enough to have their fans rain the SEC's preferred "ESS EEE CEE" chant down ... on SEC opponents.
I spent my Saturday in College Station, where A&M fans seemed stoked to be part of the SEC and out of the huge shadow cast by Texas: SEC flags flew, SEC/A&M shirts numbered in the hundreds, the Aggies' band spelled out SEC at halftime. Unfortunately, Texas A&M's defection from the Big 12 didn't solve the second half problems that plagued it in 2011.
Florida's defense went from being gashed by Johnny Manziel -- a future star who may not lose too many more games at Kyle Field -- and Sumlin's offense to shutting it down for most of the second half. Will Muschamp's Gators, stung by stupid penalties for almost all of their coach's time in orange and blue, drew just three flags on the day, none in the second half. Jeff Driskel survived a porous offensive line's failure to shut down the A&M pass rush and moved Florida effectively, especially late. And the Gators went ahead in the fourth quarter on a Mike Gillislee run and blanked the Aggies in the second half to hold their 20-17 lead for the biggest win of the Muschamp era.
The Gators' red-and-black-wearing rivals from the Peach State were even more impressive. Georgia entered the fourth quarter against Missouri up just 24-20 on the road, and had to rally back with 15 points in the third quarter to get to that point. From there, Jarvis Jones took over. The Dawgs' ferocious pass-rushing linebacker dropped in coverage to pick off a pass and return it to the Missouri 1 and set up the touchdown that gave Georgia a 34-20 lead, then strip-sacked James Franklin to set up Aaron Murray's offense for the touchdown that extended the final margin to 41-20.
Jones is one of the finest players in the country, and one of the best pass-rushers in the SEC -- which might be a bigger deal. He helped make up for Georgia's suspension-racked secondary by wreaking havoc on a Missouri team that resorted to a fake punt on a fourth and 11 in the fourth quarter to try to get things started, and his talents on defense plus an offense that counts Murray, Todd Gurley, and Marlon Brown among its members turned a close game into a rout that left Bulldogs fans chanting "OLD MAN FOOTBALL" and "ESS EEE CEE" late.
I can't speak for every fan of an SEC team, but virtually every Florida fan I know, myself included, took a ton of glee from the Gators handing Texas A&M a loss in its SEC debut; I'd imagine things were the same in Columbia with thousands of Dawgs on hand. The thing that helped make the SEC more appealing than the Texas-dominated Big 12 to A&M and Mizzou, equal share in revenues and power, makes it look to fans of the other 12 teams like the SEC did two newcomers a favor. You're welcome, Florida and Georgia fans must have thought, and welcome to the SEC, where we know who really runs things.
While the SEC's old guard in the East was taking care of business out west, two of the West's marquee teams looked like the least impressive squads in the conference, as UL Monroe toppled Arkansas and Mississippi State drilled Auburn.
Of the two losses, Arkansas' is the more explicable: Tyler Wilson went out in the first half with a
broken collarbone concussion something "above the shoulders," and John L. Smith's Razorbacks have yet to really give this "defense" thing a go in 2012, so Arky didn't have the powder to put the Warhawks away for good, nor the wet blanket to dampen them in the fourth quarter and overtime. Arkansas under Bobby Petrino looked like a legitimate third titan in the SEC West at the beginning of 2012; Smith's Hogs look more like Houston Nutt's bunch, which is a bad sign with Alabama next on the docket.
But there is a fate worse than giving UL-Monroe glee, one 'Bama fans will recognize: Arkansas could be Auburn. The Tigers, coming off a disappointing loss to Clemson in a primetime kickoff game, sleep-walked through a blowout loss to Mississippi State, tallying just 216 yards and coughing up five turnovers to give Dan Mullen maybe his best win in Starkville -- and Gene Chizik his signature loss.
The bloom has been off Chizik's rose(-colored, craggy nose) for about a year, since Auburn got its cage rattled by Utah State and its winning streak ended by Clemson early in 2011, but his tenure increasingly looks like an achingly mediocre run with a peak produced by the marriage of immense talent (Cam Newton) with offensive genius (Gus Malzahn). Chizik's recruiting has been solid, but if it has upgraded Auburn's talent, it has not, apparently, made the Tigers better on the field.
And Auburn might have an even tougher opponent than Alabama next week: the Tigers will have to contend with those same plucky Warhawks, who are looking to go 2-0 in SEC play.
Meanwhile, the West is seemingly no more than a two-team race, again and as always. Alabama shut out Western Kentucky, 35-0, on Saturday, while LSU stomped Washington, 41-3. If a team is going to challenge either colossus, it might be Mississippi State ... but how much stock do we put in beating Auburn?
The Pac-12's got two of the country's best teams, too, in USC and Oregon. And the Trojans and Ducks both rolled on Saturday by deceptive scores, as USC pulled away late against Syracuse and Oregon's second team defense generously donated points to Fresno State. But, unlike in the SEC, the conference may not just belong to those two giants on a collision course.
Oregon State scored the day's first big upset by throwing a wrench into Wisconsin's running game out in Corvallis. UCLA appears to have a fantastic offense helmed by Brett Hundley, and got one of the program's best wins of the last five years by upending Nebraska. Arizona State throttled Illinois in Tempe. Arizona, newly fueled by Rich Rodriguez' offense, ripped Oklahoma State, 59-38, scoring 30 straight points after falling behind 14-0 in the first half of the first quarter.
Whether any of those teams can compete with USC or Oregon for 60 minutes remains to be seen, but they don't look like teams without punchers' chances. And with USC and Oregon looking shaky in spots on defense, teams with punchers' chances have reason to be hopeful.
Of course, the Pac-12's newcomers had an even worse weekend than the SEC's: Utah fell to in-state rival Utah State for the first time since 1997 and lost quarterback Jordan Wynn in the process, while Colorado suffered an even greater indignity, falling to FCS team Sacramento State (shouts to Tom Ziller!) on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Colorado is now 0-2, and may own the worst loss by any BCS league team: last week, those Hornets that stung the Buffaloes lost to New Mexico State by 30.
While we’re here, let’s watch some of the many fine college football videos from SB Nation’s YouTube channel: