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Starting 11: Georgia and Clemson Dominate Edition

Right off the top, I think we need to compliment the SEC, commissioner Greg Sankey, and the coaches and players of the league for having three straight weeks of football games with fans present.

After the coronabros spent months telling us that playing college football on campuses this fall was impossible, the SEC is 21 for 21 so far in playing scheduled games and there have been fans present for each of these games too.

It’s possible some games will have to be postponed and rescheduled before the season is finished — likely even — but to complete 30% of the regular season without having a single postponement is pretty phenomenal. Remember, the league also built in several potential bye weeks as well so the ability to reschedule games as necessary is very much available to the conference.

All in all, in this year of absolute craziness, the SEC has done incredibly well at getting its games played and has done an fantastic job of setting up safeguards in the event those games can’t be played.

I know all of us are fans so we’re inevitably going to be angry at the way some of these games turn out, but ultimately a season where the story is, “Can you believe that missed call?!” is a far better one than sitting around and waiting for 2021.

We still have a long way to go in the season, but did anyone anticipate the SEC starting off the season 21 for 21 when it came to playing games? I doubt it.

This is just a hug win.

Now let’s dive in to what we learned in week three action.

But before we do that, I want to remind all of you reading this from Tennessee — or people who think they may be inside the state of Tennessee at some point this fall — go sign up right now for legalized online sports gambling. It’s coming in the next few days and you’ll be able to place your bets as rapidly as possible by signing up today.

Here goes with the Starting 11:

1. Georgia dominated Tennessee in the final twenty minutes of the game.

First, Georgia might be the only team in the SEC with a truly outstanding defense. I’m not sure how good the Bulldogs are on offense, especially as more tape of Stetson Bennett is available to study, but their defense is deeply talented and fast. Georgia completely owned the line of scrimmage against Tennessee’s run game on Saturday and I think Tennessee has a pretty good offensive line.

I can’t wait to see how Georgia matches up with Alabama next week.

Having said that, Jarrett Guarantano was an unmitigated disaster in the second half of the Georgia game. He fumbled three times and threw an awful interception. The first two turnovers gave the Bulldogs the football with very short fields and the Tennessee defense managed to force field goals to stay in the game.

Indeed, it was still 23-21 until the final minute of the third quarter when Stetson Bennett hit a wide open receiver on third down for a TD on a Tennessee defensive bust.

But Guarantano’s play was just atrocious, especially for a fifth year senior. If he just takes sacks on each of his turnovers and doesn’t even manage to throw the ball away — again, he should, as a fifth year senior, be able to throw the ball away and not be sacked — then Tennessee is in this game well into the fourth quarter. Instead, he gave the game away with atrocious decision making and his inability to hold on to the football.

This is what has been so frustrating about Guarantano for years, he’s completely unreliable even after five years in the program. He might come out and play fantastic and he might come out and look like he’s never played football before. AND THAT CAN HAPPEN FROM ONE SERIES TO ANOTHER!

By your fifth year with the same program in college football you should have eliminated the wild ups and downs and settled in to be a somewhat consistent player.

Guarantano hasn’t done that.

At all.

As a result Tennessee can beat anyone on their schedule — I really believe that — and they can lose to anyone on their schedule except Vanderbilt. (Vandy is just next level bad). So where do the Vols go from here? I think they’re back to where you’d expect a team with this erratic of a starting quarterback to be: 5-5 on the year.

As for Georgia, the SEC East feels like it comes down to the Cocktail Party regardless of what happens against Alabama. I just don’t see anyone else on the Bulldogs schedule being able to challenge them other than Alabama and Florida.

And if I were betting right now, I’d bet on a rematch in Atlanta between Alabama and Georgia.

In fact, the best scenario for the SEC is probably Alabama and Georgia split their series and win out otherwise, putting both teams at 10-1 and into the college football playoff.

2. Clemson crushed Miami.

The U is not back.

This was a complete beatdown by Clemson as the Tigers rolled up 550 yards of offense to Miami’s 210 yards of offense and completely ended D’eriq King’s Heisman aspirations in one night.

Clemson only plays one more ranked team on their schedule — Notre Dame in South Bend on November 7th. That will be a battle for the Tigers, but otherwise Clemson looks prepared to coast into the ACC title game and, from there, to the playoff.

The best case scenario for the ACC is similar to the best case scenario for the ACC — have Notre Dame and Clemson split their regular season game and the title game and both finish 10-1.

Then the ACC could argue they are deserving of two playoff teams as well.

Given the collapse of the Big 12 and the Pac 12 and Big Ten playing limited schedules, you can even argue that if the Big 10 and Pac 12 champs aren’t undefeated, we could end up seeing two from the ACC and two from the SEC.

3. Texas A&M got a signature win under Jimbo Fisher.

I have no idea how many fans packed into Kyle Field under the “25% capacity,” but I do know this was a loud crew that refused to see their Aggies lose. And the only thing I’d change is I’d love to see the coronabros lose their minds if A&M fans had stormed the field after their win.

Jimbo looked like he wanted to fight every critic who has mentioned his huge salary over the past three years in the immediate aftermath of their win and Dan Mullen was fired up after the game, saying he wants 90,000 people in the Swamp for their game against LSU.

The Aggies now look poised for three more additional wins in a row: at Mississippi State, Arkansas, and at South Carolina, before heading to Tennessee. Then the Aggies end with Ole Miss, LSU, and at Auburn. If you’re an Aggie fan you can look at that schedule and think 6-1 (and maybe even 7-0) is very doable. You’ve already played the two toughest teams on your schedule and you split with them. Which is the toughest game remaining here based on what we’ve seen in the first three weeks of the season? Auburn or Tennessee on the road? A split there feels very realistic and it’s not crazy to think you could win both.

Either way, it’s amazing what one big win can do for the program’s outlook.

Now let’s talk big picture for a moment, the practical impact of Florida’s loss to Texas A&M may not be that massive. Why? Because if the Gators beat Georgia in the Cocktail Party — and I’ve already told you that I see Georgia winning this game — then the Gators would only have one other top 25 team left on the schedule: Tennessee to finish the season. (And we don’t know if Tennessee will still be ranked in the top 25 by then.) Either way the Gators will be favored to win every game left on their schedule except for Georgia.

Which means the Cocktail Party this year is essentially the SEC East title game.

So here’s a wild scenario for you, what if the Gators win out, but Georgia beats Alabama and wins every other game? Then you could have 9-1 Florida winning the SEC East tiebreak over 9-1 Georgia and advancing to play 9-1 Alabama in the SEC title game.

There’s a decent chance Georgia would make the playoff then if Alabama beat Florida, even without advancing to the SEC title game and winning their division.

My point here is pretty simple, Florida, even with a loss, still figures to be a substantial favorite in every game they have left on the schedule except for Georgia. So this loss really doesn’t change much for them, the road to Atlanta still runs through the Cocktail Party.

4. Alabama’s defense is the worst it has ever been under Nick Saban, but Ole Miss has an historically awful defense.

Alabama-Ole Miss was the highest scoring game in SEC history and it featured the most yards of offense in SEC history.

This is a wild stat for you that brings home how bad the Ole Miss defense was. Alabama had the ball for 11 possessions in this game. The Tide rolled up a staggering 723 yards of offense and 63 points. Ole Miss forced Alabama to punt once and got a turnover at the one yard line. That means Ole Miss’s defense kept Alabama from gaining just 41 yards on the entire day. In other words, if there had been no defense at all opposing them, Alabama would have gained 764 yards. Against Ole Miss, they gained 723 yards.

The Ole Miss defense was basically air.

But that wasn’t really much of a surprise because the Ole Miss defense was atrocious against Florida and Kentucky too.

The big surprise coming out of this game was the Alabama defense getting gouged like they did. (Also, Nick Saban not losing his mind on the sideline. I know the mask partly covered up his facial expressions, but the fact he never threw his headset is pretty unbelievable.)

Lane Kiffin pitched a perfect playcalling game, nearly. Everything Ole Miss did, especially on third down, seemed to work. So much so that Nick Saban is even wondering if Ole Miss knew Alabama’s defensive signals.

The end result was Ole Miss ran up 647 yards of offense, including a staggering 57 carries for 268 yards, proving it wasn’t all just passing success.

Given the opponent, this was the worst defensive performance of the Saban era at Alabama. This was also the best any Nick Saban assistant has ever done against him, so there’s reason for optimism looking forward for Ole Miss.

So what comes next?

Well, Alabama gets to go against Georgia, a pro style offense without a great quarterback and without anywhere near the offensive explosiveness.

I actually think we’ll see an old school style SEC defensive battle next week in Tuscaloosa, I really do.

And you guys seem convinced Alabama will still find a way to win too based on your poll voting.

5. An SEC officiating error cost Arkansas the game against Auburn.

Arkansas played Auburn to a statistical tie on the field — 437 total yards for the Hogs vs. 446 total yards for Auburn — and the game came down to stupid play by Bo Nix that created an awkward officiating scenario.

On the next to last Auburn play of the game, Nix planned to spike the football and stop the clock to set up a field goal. But he fumbled the ball on the snap. He then picked the ball up and spiked the ball facing backwards, something I’ve never seen happen before.

But watching it live, I immediately realized, like many of you did, that a backwards spike is in essence, a backwards pass.

And backwards passes are live footballs, fumbles that can be recovered by the opposing team.

Here’s the play if you weren’t watching and haven’t seen it.

You can’t see the recovery here, but it was clearly made by an Arkansas player.

The SEC said the call was correct on the field because there wasn’t an “immediate recovery.”

But how can there be an immediate recovery when the ball is spiked backwards and players have to sprint behind the line of scrimmage to get to the ball?

That’s impossible.

What happened here was Bo Nix made such a stupid play that the officials had never seen it before. I really believe that’s the case. Heck, I’ve watched football my entire life and I’ve never seen a backwards spike before either. (Honestly, I’m stunned Jarrett Guarantano hasn’t done this before).

Put simply, I don’t think there’s any way to put this other than Arkansas got screwed out of a win here and Auburn was gifted a win.

The Razorbacks should have won this game, period.

I think the SEC officials would look better if they just acknowledged they blew the call instead of trying to argue they made the right call.

6. Mississippi State’s offense tanked on the road in Lexington.

Mississippi State benched K.J. Costello and managed to throw SIX interceptions en route to a 24-2 loss in Lexington.

On a day when every SEC offense, it felt like, couldn’t be stopped, Mike Leach’s offense couldn’t manage to score a single point.

Boy, does two weeks ago feel like a lifetime for Mississippi State fans?

I’ve never seen anything like it, from the penthouse to the outhouse in the space of a few weeks.

And for LSU fans, what in the world are they thinking? Every other team in the SEC seems to have figured out how to play Mike Leach’s offense after watching the tape from down on the bayou.

As for Kentucky, the Wildcats got a much needed win with at Tennessee and Georgia coming up on the schedule. Who knows, maybe Kentucky will get bad Guarantano and have a chance to steal a game on the road Saturday.

7. Congrats to Missouri, but my goodness, what in the world has happened to LSU?

First, Missouri deserves tremendous credit for finding a way to win this football game. Their goal line stand was incredible. Four straight stops from the one to win the game? That’s a stand for the ages. Congrats to Eli Drinkwitz on his first career win.

But let’s talk LSU for a moment.

After the first week of the season I asked if Joe Burrow at LSU in 2019 could be the equivalent of Cam Newton at Auburn in 2010.

Think about it, the two best individual quarterback seasons I’ve ever seen, along with a high profile offensive coordinator, leading a team to an undefeated national championship. But then when those quarterbacks leave, the wheels completely come off.

In 2010 Cam Newton was simply unstoppable in Gus Malzahn’s offense. But without Cam Auburn would probably have been an 8-4 or 9-3 football team in 2010. Cam covered up those deficiencies and essentially willed Auburn to a title.

But once Cam left — and Gus Malzahn left — Auburn fell apart. The year after Cam Chizik’s Tigers team went 8-5. The next year the wheels completely came off and Auburn went 3-9 overall, 0-8 in the SEC.

Now LSU is tanking without Burrow like Auburn did without Cam.

LSU isn’t just 1-2, they’ve arguably played the three worst teams in the SEC and only won a single game against that trio.

LSU still has Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and Texas A&M on this schedule. And that doesn’t even count games against South Carolina, Arkansas, and Ole Miss, all three of whom are probably better than the three teams they’ve played this far.

We’re talking about LSU potentially going 3-7, 4-6 or worse this year.

That’s ominous.

Because it makes you wonder whether Coach O. may be the second coming of Gene Chizik, a coach who caught lightning in a bottle for one season with a transcendent quarterback talent and then fell apart.

Look out, LSU is already the most disappointing team in college football and things may be poised to get worse.

8. The SEC will have just one undefeated team by late Saturday night: either Alabama or Georgia.

But perhaps even wilder than the one undefeated team is that there are now only six teams with one or fewer losses. And that Vanderbilt is the only team without a win.

Put another way, after three weeks there are only six SEC teams that are still alive for the college football playoff: Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn.

Even wilder, the SEC East appears to have finally caught the SEC West. Outside of A&M’s win over Florida, you had Mizzou beating LSU and Kentucky beating Mississippi State.

The SEC West’s long era of dominance appears to be officially over.

9. Oklahoma-Texas was pure insanity.

And the biggest takeaway is: Texas is still not back.

Either Tom Herman or Lincoln Riley was going to be under immense pressure after this game and now it’s Tom Herman, who could afford a loss here much less than Lincoln Riley. Herman is now 27-17 in four years at Texas, 18-12 in the Big 12.

His team probably should be 0-3 in the Big 12 this year.

So can you really argue that Texas is getting substantially better in year four of Herman’s reign? I think that’s a difficult statement to make. That Sugar Bowl win over Georgia seems like a long, long time ago now.

Indeed, after watching this game I’m even more confident the Big 12 isn’t going to have a playoff team this year. (Sorry, Oklahoma State fans, I’m not buying you guys running the table.)

By the way, Texas college girl, I feel you.

This is the perfect picture from Saturday if your team lost.

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten:

Remember, I only rank teams based on the games they’ve actually played. So there are no Big Ten or Pac 12 teams ranked here until they actually play games. Which means we are struggling to even come up with ten good teams right now. (Without the fluff of non-conference games, losses are piling up in a hurry for everyone).

1. Clemson
2. Georgia
3. Alabama
4. Notre Dame
5. North Carolina
6. Texas A&M
7. Florida
8. Tennessee
9. Oklahoma State
10. Miami

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

1. Georgia
2. Alabama
3. Texas A&M
4. Florida
5. Tennessee
6. Auburn
7. Ole Miss
8. Arkansas
9. Kentucky
10. Missouri
11. South Carolina
12. Mississippi State
13. LSU
14. Vanderbilt

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is an author, radio show host, lawyer, TV analyst, and the founder of OutKick (formerly known as Outkick the Coverage).
Read More about Clay >>

5 Comments

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  1. Great day of college football yesterday! The SEC, with the exception of Georgia, doesn’t really have dominant defenses this season. That won’t get any traction this season. It’s Alabama, Georgia and then everyone else in that conference. The Big 12 has better defenses than the SEC this season (Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU, WVU and Oklahoma State all have pretty good defenses).

  2. The SEC is turning into the Big 12. I’m not sure how Georgia should be able to survive in the new environment. LSU couldn’t play manball despite raking in top-10 recruitment classes under Les and now Orgeron. Why should Georgia be any different? Their game next week against Alabama should be illuminating.

  3. I really enjoyed the early games; LSU is handing out a lot of happiness to the meek this year.
    As to TN: I am a graduate and a fan, but when I saw they were going with #2 for another year I knew it was going to be bad. The only reason I thought Pruitt might be a decent coach was because he benched him last year; but here we are with the same ol’ same ol’ on Rockytop. Pruitt will never get a signature win (when they appear to be a dime a dozen this year) with 2 calling the signals and he’s threatening his own reputation on the back of this 5th year disappointment. I’m not giving up on Pruitt yet but I’m very suspect of Fulmer and there may need to be more changes before this cycle of mediocrity ever ends..

  4. LSU minus Aranda, Brady, Burrow and 13 other draft picks was never going to be great. Brady was the OC for all practical purposes. Aranda led a fabulous defense, and of course Burrow was incredible.
    Coach O is who he always was. A good coach but not great. Ensminger, was only good with Brady and Polini has turned classic tiger defense into a joke. They were totally overrated for 2020.

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