Week 1 in the SEC is in the books, and with it came a glimpse of which teams have improved, which players are set to step up and which teams have glaring holes to fill.
Georgia dropped the marquee game of the weekend to Clemson, which gave fans from outside of the SEC something to pound their chests about. Alabama's offense looked average at best in its win over Virginia Tech, and Mississippi State didn't find the end zone against Oklahoma State.
Maybe the big, bad SEC isn't so tough after all?
Week 1 taught us a lot about how this season will shake out in the SEC.
LSU Is Back and Could Be Better Than Ever
Remember all that talk about LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger being a liability and one of the big reasons why LSU is going to take a step back in 2013? The Watkinsville, Ga. native silenced the critics with his Week 1 performance, throwing for 251 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers' 37-27 win over TCU.
Mettenberger showed poise in the pocket, displayed that big arm and made several NFL-caliber throws—including back shoulder passes and 15-yard out-routes across the field.
Can he thrive in this offense? You bet he can.
The absence of running back Jeremy Hill didn't matter at all, as Alfred Blue and Terrence Magee each went north of 85 yards rushing. The defense looked like a typical LSU defense, giving up just 259 yards to the Horned Frogs.
It was an all-around solid performance from the Tigers, and it firmly established them as a primary contender for the BCS National Championship.
Alabama Can Be Beaten
If you look at the scoreboard, Alabama's win over Virginia Tech looks like a typical Crimson Tide victory. A 35-10 score indicates that 'Bama controlled the game from the outset and muscled their way to an easy win.
That was the case on Saturday, but it wasn't as authoritative as it should have been.
One of Alabama's few questions heading into the season is the effectiveness of a rebuilt offensive line that includes three new starers. Against the Hokies, that line's effectiveness left much to be desired for Tide fans.
But it wasn't just the newcomers who struggled. Preseason All-SEC offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio was called for two holding penalties in the first half and beaten on inside moves often. Running back T.J. Yeldon struggled in the opening half as well, gaining just 22 yards on 11 carries, and Alabama was out-gained 212-206 by a Virginia Tech team whose quarterback, Logan Thomas, completed 5 of 26 passes.
The offense is supposed to be a strong point for the Crimson Tide team this season, but the offensive line woes prevented quarterback AJ McCarron from getting into a rhythm. Virginia Tech has a good defense, and they should receive a ton of credit. But if Alabama fans aren't concerned about their team after Week 1, they should be.
After all, did you expect McCarron (89.31) to be behind Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (96.40) in quarterback rating after Week 1?
Johnny Manziel's Attitude Isn't Annoying, It's Refreshing
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel may act like a punk at times, but he's an entertaining punk.
Don't get caught up in him flashing the money sign after his first touchdown pass. He did that all of last season, and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd did it against Georgia too. It's a celebration. An ironic celebration given the recent autograph scandal that embroiled Manziel in August, but a celebration nonetheless.
Signing air autographs to trash-talking defenders (who were doing the same thing) isn't an indication of an attitude problem, it's an indication that Manziel isn't going to back down.
Is getting an unsportsmanlike penalty late in the game really that big of a deal? Nope. If a Rice defender is jaw-jacking down three scores in the fourth quarter, he deserves to get "scoreboard" thrown back in his face. If anything, Manziel's performance is a public service.
Yeah, Manziel got "benched." But was he really going to go back in the game anyway? If anything, head coach Kevin Sumlin was just taking advantage of a teachable moment that fell into his lap.
Keep doing your thing, Johnny. It's a lot of fun.
The Gators Are Who We Thought They Were
What will Florida be in 2013? Apparently the same team it was in 2012.
Defense led the charge for the Gators, as defensive lineman Dominique Easley had three tackles, one for a loss, three quarterback hurries and generally made life difficult for the Toledo Rockets in Florida's 24-6 win. Linebacker Ronald Powell recorded a sack and was solid in his return to game action after a year off, and newcomer Vernon Hargreaves III had a pick from the Gators' secondary.
The names have changed a bit, but the effectiveness of the defense stayed the same.
Offensively, it was all about efficiency.
The absence of Matt Jones at running back didn't matter, because all backup Mack Brown did was rush for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Jeff Driskel was accurate, completing 17-of-22 passes, but he managed only seven yards per attempt. Florida needs to find a wide receiver who can stretch the field, and that didn't happen against the Rockets.
Georgia Needs Some Work
It was a shootout in Death Valley between Clemson and Georgia, as the Tigers topped the Bulldogs 38-35. That part was a little surprising, because despite the absence of several stars, Georgia has recruited well, and the pieces they have stepping in have played well in limited action.
Giving up yards to Clemson isn't the biggest question facing these Bulldogs, though, because the offensive line—thought to be a strength—was atrocious against the Tigers.
Quarterback Aaron Murray was sacked four times, fumbled once and was generally harassed all night. With South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney rolling into town this week, that's not the kind of problem head coach Mark Richt needs.
Run blocking wasn't a problem, considering Todd Gurley had 154 yards and two touchdowns, but the pass blocking has to improve if Georgia wants to three-peat as SEC East champions.
Bielema Doing Bielema Things
Can Arkansas transition to more of a smashmouth style under first-year head coach Bret Bielema? The answer was a resounding "yes" based on the Razorbacks' 34-14 Week 1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Running backs Jonathan Williams (151) and Alex Collins (131) each went north of 130 rushing yards, and quarterback Brandon Allen completed 15-of-22 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
Granted, it was against Louisiana-Lafayette, but it's still a good sign—especially the performance of the freshman Collins and first-year quarterback Allen.
With Samford and Southern Miss coming up before a road trip to Rutgers, the strong start gives Arkansas a chance to build some much-needed momentum and confidence heading into a five-game stretch that includes games with the Scarlet Knights, Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in five consecutive weeks.
Somebody Needs to Teach Nick Marshall How to Throw a Changeup
As expected, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was inconsistent in his debut for the Tigers, as they topped Washington State 31-24.
Marshall was 10-of-19 for 99 yards and added 27 on the ground, and he showed off that big arm early and often.
That's a good and bad thing.
Marshall has a cannon and can sling it 70 yards with relative ease, but he didn't show that he was capable of taking anything off when attempting short passes that require a little more touch.
First-game jitters? Sure. That could certainly explain it. Plus, his receivers didn't help out all that much, dropping several passes. But when the ball is coming 100 miles per hour on a short slant, can you blame them?
Isn't Dan Mullen Supposed to Be an Offensive Genius?
There's simply no excuse for not finding the end zone against a Big 12 defense.
Mississippi State only found the red zone twice against Oklahoma State on Saturday, coming away with only a field goal in a 21-3 loss to the Cowboys. The Bulldogs converted just two of their 16 third-down attempts.
The defense was strong, but man, that offense—which totaled just 333 yards on the afternoon—needs a lot of work. Running back LaDarius Perkins disappeared in the second half, quarterback Tyler Russell was efficient but not explosive and none of the wide receivers stepped up.
It was a bad performance for the Bulldogs, particularly with better defenses looming once they hit SEC play.
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