Starting 11: Auburn Rips Out Oregon’s Heart

Happy start of college football season!

Unless you’re a Tennessee, Florida State, UCLA, Purdue, Missouri and South Carolina fan, in which case, yes, all of these awful games really did happen, you weren’t having a nightmare.

Here’s my fan panic rankings among these teams:

1. Tennessee

2. Florida State (Man, how far away does the 1998 national title game between Tennessee and FSU seem after this opening week?!)

3. UCLA

4. Purdue

5. South Carolina

6. Missouri

(Honorable mention: USC, which even though the Trojans won against Fresno State, with the J.T. Daniels injury, it may have been a great case of winning the battle and losing the war).

While my team suffered its most humiliating defeat of all time, at least the Outkick picks have been on fire. We’re 13-6 so far on the year with the over in Houston-Oklahoma tonight to finish off our first 20 picks.

I’ll have the week two picks for the VIPs up tomorrow.

If you haven’t signed up for Outkick VIP you get an autographed copy of my book, a VIP phone line to call the radio show and cut to the front of the line, access to our events, and early access to the gambling picks I’ll post on Wednesday afternoon. Oftentimes the lines can move substantially so if you enjoy gambling, it’s nice to see as early as possible.

Okay, here we go with the Starting 11.

1. Auburn’s win over Oregon is likely to have the most season-long impact by far of anything we saw on the opening weekend, at least so far, of college football. (If Oklahoma or Notre Dame were upset that would change, but barring that the game that will be the most impactful will be Auburn’s win over Oregon.) 

Why will this game have a season-long impact?

Because this was Oregon’s chance to argue they belong in the national title conversation.

They needed to beat Auburn, who is probably the SEC’s fifth or sixth best team this year.

And they were so, achingly, incredibly close to making that happen.

But with a 21-6 lead late in the third quarter, they fell apart, leading to an improbable touchdown pass with a few seconds left that put the Pac 12 conference right where it’s been for years: a national afterthought.

While Mario Cristobal’s decision-making is being questioned to a great extent in the wake of this defeat, how about Gus Malzahn’s playcalling here? If your true freshman quarterback gets sacked on this pass play you might not get a chance to bring on Anders Carlson to kick because the clock probably runs out before you can spike the football.

I know it ended up working out for Auburn, but with nine seconds left and no timeouts, why was Auburn even running a play here?

Once Auburn had the first down at the 26, why wouldn’t you run the clock down and spike it with three or four seconds left to ensure the field goal is the final play of the game? At that point in time you’ve got Anders Carlson kicking in a dome from 43 or 44 yards for the win.

Carlson was 13 for 16 last year on kicks inside of fifty yards and he’d already gone 2-2 in this game, making him 15 for 18 from inside of fifty yards so far in his career.

Assuming that rate is roughly accurate, there was an 83% chance of a made field goal here to win the game.

I know the touchdown play worked — and got the miracle, improbable cover as well — but dropping back a freshman passer there with a running clock and no timeouts seems like a potential disaster.

Regardless, from a bigger picture perspective let’s presume that Auburn goes on to finish around 8-4 and loses to Georgia and Alabama as part of their season.

Let’s also presume that Oregon has a best case scenario and goes undefeated from here and wins the Pac 12.

Based on this loss Oregon’s not getting in the playoff in front of the SEC champ, but the Ducks would also have a hard time getting into the college football playoff over a 12-1 second place SEC team that had beaten Auburn, which both Georgia and Alabama would probably do.

That’s why a week one game like this matters so much in the playoff picture.

Oregon now needs for Auburn to be the class of the SEC and I just don’t see that happening.

By the way, while Bo Nix struggled, Auburn dominated the line of scrimmage in this game.

Here’s Cam Newton exulting over the win.

2. Justin Fields was electric in the first quarter for Ohio State as the Buckeyes raced out to 28-0 lead.

It’s still wild to me to see so many quarterbacks in new places this year.

Consider, the quarterback for #4 Oklahoma, Jalen Hurts, used to be the starter and backup for #2 Alabama, the quarterback for #5 Ohio State used to be the back-up quarterback for #3 Georgia, the quarterback for #6 LSU, Joe Burrow, used to the back up for #5 Ohio State, the quarterback for #7 Michigan, Shea Patterson, used to be the starter for Ole Miss, the quarterback for #13 Washington, Jacob Eason, used to be the back up for #3 Georgia too and, finally, Kelly Bryant, used to the starter for #1 Clemson and is now at Missouri.

I mean, this is completely wild.

What we’ve created in college football is perpetual quarterback free agency, which is the exact opposite of what happens in the NFL, where almost no decent quarterback ever changes teams or hits free agency.

3. Alabama and Georgia’s defenses were stout and neither team allowed a touchdown.

Barring LSU rising up this year and making a real run in the SEC, I think Alabama and Georgia have created a substantial amount of space between themselves and the rest of the league.

I will say this, however, while Alabama won pretty handily — outgaining Duke by over 300 yards — the rushing yardage was roughly equal. Alabama ran the ball 42 times for 145 yards while Duke ran the ball 32 times for 107 yards.

If I’d told you Alabama was going to outrush Duke by only 38 yards — with both teams running the ball a combined 74 times — would you have believed that was very likely?

I know Tua is phenomenal — and so are the Tide wide receivers — but this is a stat worth keeping an eye on, especially given the Tide injuries at linebacker.

But it might not matter at all until the 5-0 Tide roll down to Texas A&M in mid-October.

4. Early on Saturday morning a forty foot boat sank in the Vol Navy.

Unfortunately, it appears that boat sinking is already a perfect metaphor for the 2019 Volunteer season.

Yes, Georgia State came into Neyland Stadium as a 26 point underdog and won by 8 points, an astonishing 34 point swing from the Vegas line that immediately, I believe, becomes the worst loss in Tennessee football history.

But the worst part about this loss is it wasn’t a statistical anomaly or an aberration: Tennessee just isn’t any good on the offensive and defensive lines.

Sometimes you lose a game and when you go back and look over the stats you’re in disbelief over what you saw happen. Maybe it was a four or five turnover game that leads to a couple of defensive touchdowns or one team scored touchdowns multiple times on special teams.

That’s typically when major upsets happen in college football, when the crazy, wacky and zany arrives.

But the alarming thing for Tennessee fans is what happened on the offensive and defensive lines yesterday. Georgia State, a 2-10 team a year ago, ran the ball 53 times for 213 yards. Meanwhile Tennessee ran the ball 31 times for 93 yards.

Now those defensive stats aren’t totally awful — they’re not good, but they aren’t atrocious — but the inability of Tennessee to run the football against a team like Georgia State is particularly ominous for the season.

Astonishingly, Georgia State was better on both lines of scrimmage than Tennessee.

That makes this game not look so much like an upset as it is an indictment of the overall Tennessee talent level, especially on the lines of scrimmage. Yes, it’s an awful loss, but worst of all it’s an awful loss that doesn’t appear to be rooted in a series of unlikely and implausible play events.

Snap for snap on Saturday, Georgia State was just better than Tennessee.

So what should Vol fans be thinking at this point?

That this team is a long way from being very good.

The coaching may not be very good — it’s still too early to tell, to be honest — but the talent level most assuredly isn’t great, or even very good at all.

The only positive I see here is leaving aside Alabama and Georgia, who Tennessee has zero chance to beat, I’m not sure the rest of the SEC teams on the schedule are very good this year either. Sure, the Vols won’t beat Florida because the Vols hardly ever beat Florida, but I don’t think the Gators are particularly good. But based on what we saw from South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Missouri all five of these games are all winnable.

Now the goal becomes get to 6-6, make a bowl, and recruit like hell.

I thought the ceiling was 8-4 this year. Now it appears the ceiling may be 6-6.

And the game against BYU becomes as close to a must win as any second year coach in the SEC has had in a very long time. Beat BYU and theoretically Tennessee can still beat UTC and be sitting at 2-1 for the Florida game.

But lose to BYU and your ceiling moves from 6-6 to, probably, 4-8.

Or worse.

We’ve already learned quite a bit about Tennessee — they aren’t very good — but I think we may learn even more in the BYU game.

By the way, maybe I’m just used to bad losses at this point, but the loss to Georgia State is like 1/100th as painful to me as Tennessee’s basketball loss to Purdue in the NCAA tournament. They aren’t even in the same ballpark. The Vol basketball team was good enough to go to the Final Four or win a national title. That Purdue overtime loss left me sleepless for a couple of days. Seriously, I’m way too old to care as much as I do about games like these. But this loss? We already knew Tennessee wasn’t that good this year. This loss just confirms it. I’m way more bothered by losses when teams have championship aspirations than I am by mediocre or bad teams losing.

By the way, part two, stop with the Greg Schiano talk. Schiano was let go as defensive coordinator at Ohio State and is currently unemployed. Jeremy Pruitt may or may not get the job done at Tennessee, but if Pruitt fails it won’t mean Schiano would have succeeded. Far from it. It would just mean Tennessee made a bad hire and then followed it up with another bad hire too, something, unfortunately, which Vol fans are way too used to over the past 15 years or so.

5. Mack Brown beat South Carolina as a double digit underdog and then did this dance.

North Carolina took a huge amount of heat for rehiring Mack Brown — he last won a game coaching North Carolina in 1997! and won his first game overall since 2013 — but this was a pretty incredible win for him.

And it was also a really, really tough loss for Will Muschamp.

6. Hugh Freeze coached a game from a hospital bed.

Before the game he gave this pregame speech to his team.

I mean, this looks like something out of “Blue Mountain State.”

And then after the game, this happened.

I don’t even know what to say here, you can’t even make this story up.

I thought Derek Dooley coaching on a stool with a cane was the most improbable coaching set up we’d ever see, but then this came along.

It’s just incredible.

7. Tennessee, South Carolina, Missouri and Ole Miss all looked awful.

While Mizzou posted 537 yards of offense they gave up nearly 300! rushing yards to Wyoming.

South Carolina managed to blow a 20-9 lead late in the third quarter and get outgained by over 200 yards.

Ole Miss was outgained by nearly 200 yards in their loss to Memphis.

We’ve already written about Tennessee above, but the key takeaway from all four of these losses is they weren’t statistical anomalies. These four teams just got flat out whipped on the line of scrimmage.

Even in this age of offensive pyrotechnics what I look for the most in every box score is rushing yardage. Who controlled the line of scrimmage on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball?

These SEC teams were all whipped up front.

Which, particularly in the SEC East, makes me love Georgia even more. What SEC East team is going to be able to match them on the offensive and defensive lines? Maybe, possibly, Florida? But I don’t even see that. Potentially Auburn on the road in a big rivalry game is a stumbling point, but based on week one’s results, I actually like Georgia in the trenches even more than Alabama.

The Bulldogs first real test will come against Notre Dame in a few weeks, but I already like them to go undefeated and advance to the college football playoff.

By the way, Georgia fans completely took over Nashville.

I’ve never seen Bulldog fans this fired up or traveling at these levels.

It was pretty wild to see them take over Vanderbilt’s home stadium, but there were tens of thousands of additional Bulldog fans who didn’t even attempt to go to the game. Hell, our bar, Downtown Sporting Club, was absolutely packed with them all day long.

Thanks for the revenue.

8. Stop saying “Well, Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe,” every time your team loses a game they should have won. 

I’m over this desperate analogy tossed out by desperate fans looking for solace after awful losses.

Yes, Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe in year one.

And then in year two he was 12-0 and in the SEC title game. And then in year three he won the national title. The truth of the matter is this, if your coach is going to be great at your program, you pretty much always know it by year two.

Sure, he might be okay or even good and not have a great second season, but if he’s going to be great, it’s self-evident in college football by year two.

One of my favorite stats — every SEC football coach who won an SEC title in the SEC title game era has won at least nine games by his second year on the job.

9. Don’t overlook Utah’s win over BYU or USC’s disaster of a win over Fresno State.

Kyle Whittingham has now won the Holy War nine straight years — he went to BYU, making the losses even more painful for Cougar fans — and I think Utah will win the Pac 12 South this year.

That’s particularly the case when you saw the mess Clay Helton put out on the field against Fresno State late last night.

Whittingham and David Shaw are probably the nation’s two most underrated coaches.

Speaking of Helton, by the way, I continue to believe Urban Meyer will be the next USC coach and everything that happened in the first game against Fresno State just provided more evidence of why I think that will happen.

10.  Wild stat from you on Clemson from my guy Todd Fuhrman: based on his power numbers the Tigers will be favored by 17 or more against every team on their schedule right now. 

That’s why I’ve argued Clemson right now is very reminiscent of USC during the Leinart, Bush, and White years. They are a nationally dominant team in a conference with no other national contender.

Speaking of not having a nationally dominant team, I tend to think the Big Ten is going to beat up on itself quite a bit this year, knocking everyone out of the playoff picture. Which is why my college football playoff foursome is Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma.

While all the focus has been on Michigan and Ohio State, don’t overlook Penn State, who hung 79 points on Idaho, including nearly 700 yards of offense, and Michigan State, whose defense looked incredibly stout against Tulsa.

I think these Big Ten East teams are all going to beat up on each other a ton this year and no clear cut best team will emerge.

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. LSU

4. Auburn

5. Florida

6. Texas A&M

7. Kentucky

8. Mississippi State

9. Vanderbilt

10. Arkansas

11. South Carolina

12. Ole Miss

13. Missouri

743. Tennessee

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