Last year’s bowl results seemed to crack the invincible shield of the SEC West. College football’s toughest division was 2-5 in bowl games, including Alabama’s loss to eventual national champion Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semifinal of the College Football Playoff. LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn all took losses as well, with Arkansas and Texas A&M scoring the only two wins for the vaunted division in postseason play. Suddenly the SEC critics came out in full force in an attempt to shred the SEC aura like a piece of tissue paper. How did the SEC West respond?
Alabama was the headliner in Week 1 with a decisive victory over Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide dominated the running game against the Badgers, who played their first game with Paul Chryst as the head coach. The coaching match-up was a complete mismatch, as was the match-up in the trenches. Alabama rolled up 238 rushing yards while holding the usually strong running Badgers to just 40 yards. Alabama seemed to solve its question at quarterback just fine by having Jacob Coker complete 15 of 21 pass attempts for 213 yards and a touchdown. Nick Saban always seems to have his quarterback situation under control, even when it is a significant unknown. We’ll see if that holds up, but this was a great way for the Crimson Tide to start the year after the way the last one ended.
Auburn showed off a new defense that looked good early on but had to hang on against Louisville in the other spotlight game for the SEC West. Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson showed plenty of room for improvement at quarterback, but they still hung on to secure a season-opening win against a team that could play one of the toughest defense sin the ACC in 2015. In Houston, Texas A&M showed off some good defensive improvement with a 38-17 victory over Arizona State (my preseason Pac-12 South favorite). That is three neutral site victories for the SEC West against power conference opponents from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. Not too shabby for the overrated SEC West in Week 1. And I didn’t even mention Arkansas and their 48-13 victory over UTEP.
Blowout victories over FCS schools should rarely, if ever, receive praise in college football. Especially when that FBS team piling on the points is a top 20 team returning about as much experience and skill as it ever has. Ole Miss blasted Tennessee-Martin by a final score of 76-3 and they held back no punches. New starting quarterback Chad Kelly had 211 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns in his debut for the Rebels. Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche even scored a touchdown reception in the second quarter, and this wasn’t some dink and dunk down by the goal line. It was a 31-yard play to put the Rebels up 34-0 minutes into the second quarter. No bonus points are awarded for a win over an FCS squad, but Ole Miss showed some glimpses of what to scout and look for from them this season. LSU’s season opener against McNeese State was canceled due to weather shortly after kickoff. Hey, the Tigers looked good for four minutes!
Mississippi State was in a tussle on the road at Southern Miss, but managed to outscore the Eagles 20-6 after halftime to pull away for the win despite replacing a ton of players. Dak Prescott passed for 237 yards and two touchdowns and led the Bulldogs on the ground with 72 rushing yards and another touchdown.
The SEC West will remain one of the top divisions in college football, no matter how much you might want to think otherwise. It will be what they do in the postseason that matters most though.