Is SEC football down this year?

College football is full of surprises -- that's why we love it -- but Week 1 of SEC play was even more unpredictable than usual.

I thought Alabama would struggle in Mike Shula's head coaching debut but I never dreamed the Tide would look as clueless as it did the first 25 minutes. South Florida jumped on top 17-7 and should've led by at least 20-0. USF gave Bama its TD on a tipped pass that was intercepted and returned for a score by Charlie Peprah. South Florida also blew a great scoring opportunity by fumbling a snap on fourth-and-inches at the Bama 20-yard line. Unless the Tide plays significantly better this week, it could be hammered by top-ranked Oklahoma.

Much like Alabama, Kentucky played a terrible first half in its opener. The Wildcats gave away 14 points -- seven on a horrendous Shane Boyd pass that Louisville intercepted and returned inside the 10-yard line and seven more on a blocked punt that the Cardinals recovered in the end zone. Jared Lorenzen was heroic in defeat (except for one ill-advised interception he threw in the fourth quarter) but the Wildcats beat themselves with dumb mistakes ... reminiscent of the 2002 Vols. I still think UK will be a good team this season but the Big Blue has to jell in a hurry.

Auburn's national title bid ended abruptly. The Tigers were manhandled by Southern Cal, which held Auburn's vaunted ground game to less than 50 yards. Unless Tommy Tuberville finds a passing attack to complement his rushing attack, Auburn may be hard-pressed to go 8-4.

LIke many observers, I figured the absence of eight starters due to injury and suspension would cost Georgia in its opener vs. Clemson. And, like many observers, I was dead wrong. Georgia dominated from start to finish. Obviously, the Bulldogs are much better than most of us suspected ... or the Tigers are much worse. Only time will tell, I guess.

I thought Ole Miss would struggle with Vanderbilt, so the fact the Rebels won by a mere field goal wasn't surprising. I thought Mississippi State would give Oregon a battle, which it did, but I figured the Bulldogs could win at home, which they didn't. I knew South Carolina would be down this year but I never expected the Gamecocks would beat Louisiana-LaFayette by a mere touchdown.

LSU hammered Louisiana-Monroe 49-7 -- I even got the score right on that one -- but I was surprised that Florida beat San Jose State as convincingly as it did. We'll learn a lot more about the Gators this Saturday, when they visit Miami.

SEC teams went 6-3 vs. non-conference foes last weekend, and league members should be the underdog in at least three games this weekend -- Florida at Miami, Bama vs. Oklahoma and South Carolina vs. Virginia. LSU hosts Arizona in what might be a competitive game but the rest of the SEC teams should win handily. Tennessee hosts Marshall, Arkansas hosts Tulsa, Auburn visits Georgia Tech, Georgia hosts Middle Tennessee State, Kentucky hosts Murray State, Ole Miss visits Memphis and Vanderbilt hosts UT-Chattanooga.

Here's how I'd rate the SEC teams (1-10 scale) based on Week 1:

Georgia 9.0
LSU 8.5
Tennessee 8.5
Florida 8.5
Auburn 7.5
Alabama 7.5
Kentucky 5.0
Ole Miss 5.0
Mississippi State 4.0
Vanderbilt 4.0
South Carolina 4.0
Arkansas is not rated. The Razorbacks open this weekend vs. Tulsa.


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