Here is a bad and extremely telling stat about the SEC early in 2023: The SEC is 3-6 against other Power 5 conferences.
If that sounds unusually bad, it’s because it is. In 2022, the SEC was 10-5 in regular-season games against other power conference teams. In 2021, it was 9-6. In both of those years, one of the non-conference losses didn’t come until the end of the season (South Carolina to Clemson in 2021, Florida to Florida State in 2022.)
But there are three additional points that make this really bad. For one thing, of the six losses thus far, three came in rematches of a game that the SEC won last year: Alabama lost a rematch to Texas, Florida lost a rematch to Utah, and Texas A&M lost to Miami.
And sure, two of those rematches were on the road, but that brings up another point: all six of the losses have been by double digits. This isn’t a series of bad breaks. The closest game — Alabama losing to Texas by 10 at home — was the Crimson Tide’s first double-digit home loss since 2004. Meanwhile: LSU lost to Florida State by three touchdowns; Florida lost to Utah by 13 (and scored 11 points!); Texas A&M lost to Miami by 15; South Carolina lost to North Carolina by two touchdowns; and Vandy lost to Wake Forest by 16 (but you knew that.) Only the Vandy loss was remotely expected; in fact, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M were favored.
Third, there are probably four more non-conference games in which an SEC team will be the underdog. Missouri is an underdog against Kansas State this weekend, while Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina will likely be underdogs in Thanksgiving weekend games against, respectively, Louisville, Florida State, and Clemson. In other words, it’s more likely than not that the SEC will finish the regular season with a losing record against other Power 5 conferences. (The only remaining nonconference Power 5 games in which the SEC team should be favored: Arkansas and Ole Miss hosting, respectively, BYU and Georgia Tech this weekend, and of course Georgia playing Georgia Tech the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That’s it.)
So what the hell is going on? One issue is that the SEC lost an unusual amount of quarterback talent over the offseason. Bryce Young (Alabama) and Anthony Richardson (Florida) were first-round draft picks, and Will Levis (Kentucky) very nearly was, and Stetson Bennett (Georgia) won two national championships. And that’s even before you get to Hendon Hooker (Tennessee), who was a very good quarterback for the Josh Heupel offense.
But this was also a bad year to need a quarterback. The top two quarterbacks in the transfer portal were Sam Hartman (now at Notre Dame) and Devin Leary (okay, he’s now at Kentucky.) Per 247 Sports, though, the third-best quarterback in the portal was Hudson Card, who started sporadically at Texas for a couple years before clearly getting displaced by Quinn Ewers. Fourth was Shedeur Sanders — who wasn’t truly available in that he was always going to follow his father to Colorado. Fifth: Walker Howard, a former five-star who took a redshirt year at LSU last season. Pickings were slim.
For that reason, of the six SEC teams that needed to replace a quarterback, three — Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee — went with an option already on the roster; Kentucky landed Devin Leary, but Auburn and Florida settled on subpar options from the transfer portal. Additionally, another school that might have wanted to upgrade its quarterback situation (Missouri) could not.
What’s also becoming apparent, though, is the two-way nature of the transfer portal. While everybody focuses on the fact that top teams can fill basically any hole with a transfer, less focused on is the slow bleed of depth and developmental guys from transfers out. There’s a reason why you have to reach into the transfer portal to fill a spot: because the guy who a few years ago would have been next up at that spot, now has already transferred out of the program. A textbook example of this: prior to last season, Drew Sanders transferred from Alabama to Arkansas, where he played his way into being a third-round NFL Draft pick. Had he stayed at Alabama, he’s probably a starter on the Alabama defense this season.
Anyway — on to last weekend’s games.
Georgia 45, Ball State 3: Georgia sleepwalked through this one, won easily because it’s Ball State, wake me up when they play someone with a pulse.
Kentucky 28, Eastern Kentucky 17: We made a lot about the SEC’s losses to Power 5 teams out of conference, and then there’s being in a one-score game in the fourth quarter against an FCS team. Devin Leary has been mostly fine; Kentucky’s offensive line is not.
Ole Miss 37, Tulane 20: Tulane was playing with its backup quarterback, and this game was much closer than the final indicates: it was tied heading into the fourth quarter. This also might have been the best performance by an SEC team this weekend.
Miami 48, Texas A&M 33: This tweet from Chris Lee sums it up pretty well:
It was always somewhat foreseeable we'd be talking about Texas A&M problems in September, I just wouldn't have predicted think they'd be based around special teams and defense.— Chris Lee (@chrislee70) September 9, 2023
And then there was this elite-level take:
I'm workshopping a take that the reason that Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson have taken a step back is because Texas A&M has essentially taken 10-15 of the rarest DL athletes in the sport and made them irrelevant.— Shehan Jeyarajah (@ShehanJeyarajah) September 9, 2023
I don't think I believe it yet, but I've got an eyebrow raised. https://t.co/0k75FmnM0z
Arkansas 28, Kent State 6: SP+ had Kent State as the worst team in FBS (okay, they probably aren’t in reality) going into this game, and Arkansas did... this.
Tennessee 30, Austin Peay 13: Tennessee led 13-6 at halftime, Joe Milton averaged 6.9 yards per attempt against an FCS defense, but somehow, this is the takeaway that Tennessee fans have about a turd of a performance against the Peay.
The fascinating thing is I can never in my life recall an FCS team get this many calls in an SEC stadium.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) September 10, 2023
I can't state emphatically enough how bad the officials' report card will be from this game.
Never change, Wes. Blame a shitty performance against Austin Peay on... the refs.
Texas 34, Alabama 24: Obviously I touched on this game a lot in the writeup. That said, Alabama’s defensive problems clearly were not entirely the result of Pete Golding being bad at his job, Jalen Milroe did not have a good game, and Alabama could not run. the. damn. ball.
I mean, if you want to argue that Alabama can still win the SEC and make it to the playoff, you’re technically correct.
Missouri 23, Middle Tennessee 19: Missouri hasn’t lost a game yet. There has been nothing impressive about either of their wins, though.
LSU 72, Grambling 10: Hey! An SEC team actually did what they were supposed to against an FCS team!
Florida 49, McNeese 7: Sure, okay, whatever.
Mississippi State 31, Arizona 24: Sure, this was one of the SEC’s three wins against Power 5 teams. Needing overtime to beat maybe the worst team in the Pac-12, though?
South Carolina 47, Furman 21: Okay, this was actually fine. Furman is a top 10 FCS team, and Spencer Rattler basically treated their defense like they weren’t there. (South Carolina still couldn’t run the ball to save their lives, though, which is definitely indicative of a problem.)
Auburn 14, Cal 10: Another of the SEC’s three Power 5 wins. It was a late touchdown against Cal.
This week’s Power Rankings
- Georgia (last week: 1)
- Alabama (last week: 2)
- LSU (last week: 5)
- Ole Miss (last week: 6)
- Tennessee (last week: 4)
- Texas A&M (last week: 3)
- Auburn (last week: 9)
- Mississippi State (last week: 10)
- Arkansas (last week: 7)
- South Carolina (last week: 12)
- Kentucky (last week: 8)
- Florida (last week: 13)
- Missouri (last week: 11)
- Vanderbilt (last week: 14)
This week’s games
- LSU at Mississippi State (11:00 AM CT, ESPN): It sure feels like this is the year for a non-Alabama/LSU team to win the West. We’ll see if Mississippi State wants to contend.
- Kansas State at Missouri (11:00 AM CT, SEC Network): What the hell is a Big 8 conference game doing here?
- South Carolina at Georgia (2:30 PM CT, CBS): The final year of CBS broadcasting SEC games starts with... a game where Georgia is a four-touchdown favorite, because of course it does.
- Alabama at South Florida (2:30 PM CT, ABC): Just go with the big brands on network television, I guess, because who cares if this game is crap. Also: Alabama is playing at South Florida?!
- UL Monroe at Texas A&M (3:00 PM CT, SEC Network): Wouldn’t be September in the SEC without someone playing UL Monroe.
- Tennessee at Florida (6:00 PM CT, ESPN): There was a time when this game was like an auto pick for the CBS game in Week 3. This year, well... could be interesting? Maybe? And by “interesting” i just mean “Joe Milton might be mediocre enough to give Florida a chance.”
- Samford at Auburn (6:00 PM CT, SEC Network+): We’re almost done with the FCS games.
- Vanderbilt at UNLV (6:00 PM CT, CBS Sports Network): Derek Mason’s nonconference scheduling: the gift that keeps on giving!
- Georgia Tech at Ole Miss (6:30 PM CT, SEC Network): Lane Kiffin disrespected Georgia Tech last week by not counting them when he said Ole Miss would play a “nine-game SEC schedule.” Bulletin board material.
- BYU at Arkansas (6:30 PM CT, ESPN2): This game promises to be brutal to watch.
- Akron at Kentucky (6:30 PM CT, ESPNU): Kentucky’s annual “as many MAC teams as possible” schedule continues.