Starting 11: Tennessee Blows It Edition

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Sep 12, 2015; Knoxville, TN, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops celebrates with Sooners safety Steven Parker (10) after defeating the Tennessee Volunteers in double overtime at Neyland Stadium. Oklahoma won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports Jim Brown

All it takes is one upset loss for the SEC haters to come roaring back with a vengeance. You should have seen my timeline during the Jacksonville State-Auburn game — Big Ten fans are so insecure  about their league that they don’t even wait for games to end, all they need is a near upset loss and they’re delirious with glee. So by the time Tennessee blew the game against Oklahoma — we’ll talk more about that below — and Arkansas found a way to lose to Toledo, you would have thought the conference went 0-14 on the weekend. 

Is the SEC overrated?

No way. 

Let’s dive in and I’ll explain why.

1. First, every SEC West team isn’t going to be 12-0.

Somebody has to lose. So what have we learned in the first two weeks of the season based on team performances in the SEC West? Let’s break down all seven teams. 

About what we expected (3): Alabama, LSU, and Mississippi State

Better than we expected (2): Texas A&M and Ole Miss 

Worse than we expected (2): Auburn and Arkansas

So we’ve had three teams exactly what we expected, two teams better than we expected, and two teams worse than we expected.

That’s pretty standard, right? Nothing about the SEC West as a whole has been surprising so far. Indeed, there’s been only one aberrant actual result in the SEC West this season — Arkansas losing to Toledo.   

2. So how did Arkansas lose to Toledo?

This box score is baffling. Arkansas outgained Toledo 515 to 318 in total yards. The Razorbacks only lost the turnover battle by one. So I’m at a loss to explain how Arkansas only scored 10 points on offense. Can you ever remember a team piling up 515 yards of offense with just one turnover and only scoring 10 points? (Toledo’s safety was intentional). I can’t. 

For comparison’s sake, Texas A&M scored 56 points on 478 yards of total offense against Ball State. So ten points on 515 yards of offense is almost impossible to manage. 

Hell, how often does a team lose a game when they post nearly 200 yards more in total yardage than their opponent and only lose the turnover battle by one? This almost never happens either. After looking at the box score, my inclination is to say, wow, this was a totally inexplicable result which sometimes happens in football. Arkansas had no business losing this game. It’s why I’ve already gone in big on Arkansas to beat Texas Tech by more than 9.5 points this coming week. 

But if Arkansas had scored at the end of this game — which they almost did twice — everyone would immediately forget this game. Instead, it’s the basis upon which everyone is arguing the SEC West is garbage. Does that really make sense? 

Having said all of this, was losing to Toledo not the most Arkansas result possible? All offseason Arkansas fans have been talking about winning the SEC this year and then in week two they lose to fucking Toledo. 

So predictable. 

3. What’s up with Jeremy Johnson?

Jeremy Johnson now has five interceptions in two games. Scarily, just about all these interceptions have been of the awful — what the hell were you thinking — variety?

I have tremendous faith in Gus Malzahn’s ability to make a quarterback much better by the end of the season than he was at the beginning of the season. Witness the evolution we saw in 2010 with Cam Newton and in 2013 with Nick Marshall. Both of these guys were infinitely better quarterbacks by the SEC title game than they were the first week of the season. And both of these guys took the Tigers to the title game.

So I’m not willing to hit the panic button on Johnson.

But we have seen enough to know that Johnson isn’t that athletic, that is, he doesn’t have the rushing ability of either Cam or Marshall. That means that his pocket passing game is paramount, he needs to be an assassin from the pocket. And so far the only thing he’s been shooting is his own team in the leg, Plaxico Burress style.

If the Jeremy Johnson we have seen so far is the Jeremy Johnson we’re going to see all season then Auburn will, at best, go 7-5 this year and Johnson will be replaced at some point. They’ll lose at LSU, at Texas A&M, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Georgia for sure. Potentially the Tigers could also lose to Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Kentucky on a Thursday night in Lexington.

Now, i have so much faith in Malzahn that I don’t think this will happen — I think Johnson will play much better each week from here on out — but if he doesn’t then this Auburn season could go off the rails in a hurry.   

It may sound crazy, but Jeremy Johnson’s performance thus far is much more alarming to me than Arkansas’s loss to Toledo.

4. Tennessee choked again. 

There is absolutely no way that Tennessee should have lost to Oklahoma. Even Bob Stoops told Bruce Feldman that in some revealing quotes. Credit to Baker Mayfield and Sterling Shepard for making some incredible plays in the final seven minutes of that game, but when the fourth quarter began Tennessee had a 17-3 lead and a first and ten at the Oklahoma 29. That drive should have ended the game. Get any points at all there and this one is a wrap. Even a field goal makes it a three score game.

Instead, the Vols choked, posting a performance eerily similar to last year’s Florida game, when Tennessee was up 9-0 — went into an offensive shell — and found a way to lose 10-9 in a game that should have been over before the fourth quarter even started. This is a game that will, and should, sting for a long time.

It also raises questions about whether Butch Jones — who has recruited top ten talent to Tennessee — is a good enough coach to get top ten results from that talent. Lots of you are Tweeting me that Butch and Dooley have the same record after 27 games at Tennessee, identical 13-14 marks. The fallacy here is Dooley’s team was on decline at this point, Butch’s team should be much better next year and the year after. 

This Tennessee team is undoubtedly better than any team the Vols have had since 2009. Oklahoma is a top 15 caliber opponent and the Vols dominated them for the vast majority of this game. That hasn’t happened in Knoxville since 2007. Coming into the season any reasonable Vol fan should have looked at these four games — Oklahoma, at Florida, Arkansas, and Georgia — and been happy with 2-2. All the loss to Oklahoma does is make winning at Florida an absolute must. And to be fair, if you had to pick between beating Florida or beating Oklahoma, this is an easy call, you have to pick Florida since winning the SEC East is the top line goal this year. Now, if Tennessee loses to another bad Florida team in the Swamp, then I think you can legtimately start to question whether Jones is a skilled enough coach to get the job done at an elite level. 

But so far I haven’t seen anything so far from either Tennessee, Georgia, or any other SEC east team to change my preseason prediction, the team that wins Georgia at Tennessee will win the east this year.   

5. USC and UCLA are the class of the Pac 12.

It’s probably too early to predict this, but I’m fearless when it comes to predictions.

So here goes: both USC and UCLA will be undefeated when they play on the final week of the regular season for the Pac 12 South title. Go ahead and save this prediction so you can retweet it to me if it doesn’t happen. (This is Twitter’s favorite thing to do. You know when you predicted that thing to happen months ago? IT DIDN’T HAPPEN YOU HOMO! EVERYTHING YOU PREDICT ISN’T PERFECT GAYWAD. GO EAT A BAG OF DICKS!) Of course if I’m right, no one will acknowledge that I was right. That’s how predictions go.   

6. Michigan State will lose a Big Ten game before they get to Ohio State in late November.

Much has been made, deservedly so, of how weak Ohio State’s schedule is. But most people haven’t analyzed how much more difficult Michigan State’s Big Ten slate is than Ohio State’s. 

Ohio State has road games at Illinois, Indiana, Rutgers and, in the only real road challenge of the season, at Michigan. 

Meanwhile, Michigan State has games at Rutgers, at Michigan, at Nebraska and at Ohio State. Either Michigan or Nebraska will beat Michigan State this year.   

7. The four most impressive teams that haven’t played anyone yet this season are: Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Clemson, and USC.

All four teams get a chance to show us how good they are in games this coming week. Georgia Tech is at Notre Dame, Ole Miss is at Alabama, Clemson is at Louisville, and USC hosts Stanford.

Three of these four teams win, but I think Bama beats Ole Miss.

And look out for Clemson. If the Tigers get past Louisville, which I think they will, they have Notre Dame without Zaire, Georgia Tech, and Florida State all coming to town. Only two teams all season don’t play a top 25 team on the road, Clemson and Ohio State. That’s why I picked Clemson for my playoff before the season started.    

8. Steve Spurrier is in trouble at South Carolina.

It’s hard to see Spurrier, who I have as the second best coach in SEC history, bouncing back from a second straight year of losing to Kentucky. This one really stings. After going 7-6 last year I see the Gamecocks posting a losing record this season, which would be Spurrier’s first ever losing record as a head coach in the SEC. Which will raise an interesting question, does Spurrier deserve the right to go out on his own terms?

I think he does, particularly because he won 11 games in a row three straight seasons with the Gamecocks. But there are very few coaches that get to go out on their own terms. 

So how does this play itself out? If Spurrier follows up a 7-6 season with a 5-7 record does the head ball coach get a guaranteed return in 2016? Or could South Carolina allow him to be involved in picking his successor, potentially bringing a coach in waiting to the Gamecocks and letting Spurrier transition for a year or two? I know coach in waiting jobs haven’t worked great, but things did turn out pretty well for Florida State. 

Here’s a wild theory for you, is it possible that South Carolina could hire former defensive coordinator Charlie Strong away from Texas at the end of the year? The only reason I’m thinking it is because Stewart Mandel floated the idea on our Friday night show of Strong leaving Texas after two years to avoid a potential firing in year three. 

9. Notre Dame wasn’t going to contend for the playoff even with Malik Zaire, but they’re definitely done without him.

Having said that, what an impressive throw by Deshone Kizer in that situation. Brian Kelly was in the midst of some Les Miles-esque horrible time management in an end of game situation when he was saved by an improbable pass and win.

As for Virginia coach Mike London? This is why so many coaches are alcoholics. I have no idea how you sleep after this loss. 

10. BYU won on their second straight “Hail Joseph Smith.”

I don’t think it will happen, but if BYU won at UCLA this week and at Michigan next week and then ran the table from there how would you keep 12-0 BYU out of the playoff? They’d have four road wins over Nebraska, UCLA, Michigan, and Missouri as well as a home win over Boise State.

Seriously, 12-0 BYU’s in the playoff and I don’t even think it’s a tough call for the committee. 

BYU’s schedule is infinitely more difficult than, for instance, Ohio State’s. 

11. SEC power rankings:

Remember, I rank teams based entirely on the games they’ve played, not on our preseason expectations of those teams. 

1. Texas A&M

2. Alabama

3. Georgia

4. LSU

5. Tennessee

6. Ole Miss

7. Kentucky

8. Misssissippi State

9. Mizzou

10. Florida

11. Auburn

12. Arkansas 

13. South Carolina

14. Vanderbilt

Outkick’s national top ten rankings are here. 

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.