College Football Coverage: The SEC Holds Serve In Week 1

College football’s top rung is currently held down by Alabama and will be until they lose outright, rather than just look sluggish. That’ s appropriate for a program that has won three of the last four national championships, but there’s also no denying that the Tide looked like a team with a lot of work to do in their 35-10 win over Virginia Tech.

Let’s begin by pointing out what should be obvious—when you talk about how much work a team has to do in the aftermath of beating a team with a long track record of success by 25 points, it’s apparent that team is in a pretty good place. So the criticisms of Alabama have to be kept in perspective.

But criticize is what the mainstream media did during that game, and that was correct. Alabama scored two special teams touchdowns and returned an interception for a TD. While this certainly speaks to their big-play capability, its unlikely Virginia Tech has those special teams breakdowns if this game is even a couple weeks into the season.

The Tide offense did not look good, and the concerns over their rebuilt offensive line look valid. Watching the game live, it appeared that Virginia Tech’s defensive front controlled the point of attack, and the 96 yards on 38 carries that ‘Bama runners mustered suggests that appearances were accurate.

Furthermore, A.J. McCarron did not bail the team out with any big plays to Amari Cooper outside. While a better running game would help McCarron do that, I thought he and Cooper would at least hook up a few times. That never happened.

Alabama still won easily and problems with an offensive line in the first game of the year are not an unprecedented issue for a coach to deal with. Nonetheless, it is apparent that Nick Saban has plenty of ammo to get his team’s attention between now and the September 14 game at Texas A&M.

TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage has South Carolina on the top rung to start the year and the Gamecocks did all they reasonably could to validate that in the win over North Carolina. The one downside to South Carolina’s 27-10 dismantling of the Tar Heels was that overpublicized defensive end Jadeveon Clowney looked winded by the second quarter.

Clowney’s lack of conditioning was apparent, and it’s equally apparent that Steve Spurrier has a lot of other football players who can get the job done if this media hype creation doesn’t want to get in shape. I suppose I should make one caveat—if he as an asthmatic condition, I apologize for the harshness, but I’ve never heard that such is the case.

What South Carolina’s defense did do was shut down a good North Carolina passing game and quarterback Bryn Renner. The Gamecocks also ran the ball effectively, piling up 228 yards. While pushing around an ACC team was easier than doing so to their SEC brethren, South Carolina’s offensive front showed they can deliver a punch. Mike Davis, with his 115 yards, is the lead running back this year.

LSU was also impressive in their own opener against TCU. While I had my doubts about the Tigers this year, and one game won’t change that, the performance of quarterback Zach Mettenberg was enough to get my attention.

Mettenberg’s completion percentage wasn’ t high, going just 16/32. But he made his completions count, repeatedly hitting receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry for big yardage. Mettenberg threw for 270 yards, the vast bulk to Beckham and Landry.

While it would be ideal for the passing game to also be high-percentage, Mettenberg doesn’t have to meet an ideal standard of performance. If he supplements this team’s running game and what looks like another talented defense, with some big plays down the field, LSU is going to be a tough out.

On balance, Week 1 was where the SEC held serve. They didn’t run roughshod over the rest of the nation, with Georgia’s loss at Clemson being a prime example. The Bulldogs need to toughen up defensively if they’re going to rise above being a nice Capital One Bowl/Outback Bowl kind of team and compete with South Carolina next week, and Alabama in the bigger picture.

The SEC also suffered a disappointment with Mississippi State looking grotesquely mismatched in the trenches in a 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State. MSU got nothing going with Lardarius Perkins on the ground, couldn’t stop the run.

The one caveat here is that it’s possible that Mississippi State might be around the 10th-best team in their conference, while the Cowboys are getting love in some outlets as the best in the Big 12. If the disparity is that wide, that’s not something that’s an adequate reflection of league strength. But make a mental note of games like these as we continually evaluate the conferences.

But even with Mississippi State and Georgia coming up short, the SEC saw big wins in marquee spots from Alabama, LSU and South Carolina, along with Texas A&M hang 52 points in the board against a good Rice team, even with Johnny Manziel not playing the first half.

If you were looking for this to be the year to take down the SEC, you didn’t get routed, but the conference still held serve as the nation’s standard-bearer.