3 Biggest SEC Surprises in College Football's Early Going
Welcome to SEC territory.
In case you are completely out of the loop when it comes to college football, the Southeastern Conference is the top of the food chain, so to speak.
Since the inception of the Bowl Championship Series [BCS], no other conference has been as successful—not even close—as the the SEC. In 14 occurrences, the SEC has won the championship eight times. That's by far the best mark, considering the second most championship victories belong to the Big 12, which accounts for only two.
The strength of SEC football is demonstrated in the fact that it has six straight BCS titles, going back to Florida in 2006.
Presently, after five weeks of action, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida are all ranked in the AP poll's top 10—more than any other conference. The Big 12 is the only other conference with more than one top 10 representative, with two.
And, while Alabama stands clear above all other teams in the nation right now, the SEC East—recently regarded as the weaker division—now boasts three of those five top 10 teams.
The Southeastern Conference has looked very strong this year, still boasting as many as six unbeaten teams. It will be the only conference to feature two games between ranked, unbeaten conference foes this weekend; the Florida Gators square of with the LSU Tigers and the South Carolina Gamecocks play host to the Georgia Bulldogs.
There are stories of intrigue everywhere. Here we will look at three such stories.
Arkansas Razorbacks' Collapse
Tyler Wilson and the Arkansas Razorbacks' hopes for the season have been sacked.
Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE
Last year, Arkansas seemed ready to take that next step. They finished the season with a 12-2 record, and were ranked fifth nationally after a convincing 29-16 win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. The Razorbacks had established themselves as the third most powerful team in the conference.
Arkansas was a rising program only a year ago, but with how they've been playing this year, you would think that was a decade ago.
After five weeks, the Razorbacks stand at 1-4 overall, 0-2 in conference. Their two conference losses, to Alabama and Texas A&M respectively, would seem reasonable, if not for the two non-conference losses to the University of Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers.
Statistically, they have played horrendously, ranking near the bottom nationally in both offensive rushing yards (115th) and defensive points allowed (116th). Last year, the Razorbacks ranked 13th in the nation in passing offense (with an average of 315 yards per game) and 15th in points scored (at 36.8 per game).
This season, those numbers have dropped. While their passing yards have only gone down by five per game (21st nationally), their average of only 23.2 points per game ranks 94th in the country.
Considering that they give up an average of 40.6 points per game, they might as well be giving opposing teams a 17-point head start each game.
And, the sad part is, the season doesn't get much better.
This week, they play the SEC West rival Auburn Tigers. While their record isn't reflective of success, the Tigers are playing much tougher, closer games than the Razorbacks. They, then, get three straight home games against Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tulsa.
It could be possible for them to come out of that four-game span with two losses. From there, it only gets worse.
With a three-game stretch against South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU to close out the season, suddenly a bowl game—any bowl game—seems almost too much to ask for.
For a team that once looked so promising to suddenly be staring at a five-win season, or worse, it seems a bit naive to say that this was anything but a surprise.
Jeff Driskel's Efficient Play for the Florida Gators
Jeff Driskel is developing into a reliable, if not stellar, quarterback.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Coming into the season, Florida—who did not even have a starting quarterback—was expected to be the third best team, if even that high, in the SEC East. Suddenly, Jeff Driskel has emerged as one of the most efficient players at the QB position in the entire conference.
In 2011, in John Brantley's injury absence during a two-game stretch in October, freshmen quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett had the opportunity to audition for the 2012 starting job.
Neither seemed to want it.
Brissett, who played in both games, completed 13 of 24 passes for one touchdown and three interceptions. Driskel only played against Auburn. He wasn't much better, connecting on 50 percent of his 18 passes for no picks...and no scores.
Both played well in the spring game, though neither had really established themselves as "the guy."
So, the new season came and expectations were low. No one knew if the Gators had a starting quarterback, let alone if he would be any good.
Both were set to play in the opener against Bowling Green. Brissett only saw a little action in the second quarter, completing just three passes on five attempts. The offense sputtered with him at the helm, punting both times. The rest of the game was Driskel all day, all the time.
Since then, he has earned the role of starting quarterback by being efficient, completing 69.6 percent of his passes (12th in the nation).
Although he often holds the ball too long and takes unnecessary sacks, he has shown a lot of potential. Going forward, he could have a tremendous upside.
Georgia Bulldogs Outstanding Freshmen Running Backs
Georgia runningbacks Todd Gurley (left) and Keith Marshall (right) have been sensational this season.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
In Athens, Georgia, the Bulldogs running attack was once expected to be among the top tier in the nation. Isaiah Crowell had all of the hype and expectations of a superstar. Then, unexpectedly, he was arrested in June for felony charges for carrying a concealed weapon.
The team had to cut their ties with the troubled halfback.
After his dismissal, Georgia head coach Mark Richt had this to say, via ESPN:
No decision to dismiss a guy from the team is an easy decision. It’s always tough because I care very much about all these guys and having to make those kinds of decisions are tough. But in the end, I think we did what’s in the best interest of the program...
Except, without their star running back, fans' expectations were that the offense would become all Aaron Murray all of the time. No one knew what to expect of the inexperienced running backs taking over in Crowell's absence.
Freshmen runners, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, came out of the gate running hard.
In their season debut against Buffalo, Gurley amassed 100 yards on only eight carries for two touchdowns and Marshall added 46 yards of his own on 10 carries. Gurley also had an impressive 100-yard kickoff return.
Four games later, the tandem running attack of Gurley and Marshall now has Georgia ranked 11th in the nation in rushing yards per game with average of 250. The Bulldogs offense is using its balanced attack to rack up the points too, ranking eighth in points scored with an average of 48.2 per contest.
If they can maintain their success on the ground, pairing Murray's passing assault with such a potent rushing attack will make the Bulldogs' offense one of the hardest to defend.
The Crimson Tide continues to run roughshod over the competition.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
While only time will tell how the seasons for each of these teams unfold, it can at least be said that, given the circumstances, few if any could have foreseen these unexpected results five weeks into the season.
Arkansas may very well finish with one of the worst year-to-year turnarounds in recent memory.
Meanwhile, as Georgia rises back to prominence, there is little telling as to whether they have enough firepower to overcome both Florida and South Carolina. This week will be a huge barometer for all three teams in determining who looks to have the best shot at winning the SEC East.
Still, at present, everyone is looking up at Alabama.
Here's looking forward to another great year in the Southeastern Conference.