ARLINGTON, Texas – Friends, readers and football fans, lend me your eyes.
We come to bury the Southeastern Conference, not to praise it.
Whoa, wait just a Bobby Bowden dadgum minute. Is this how quickly summertime citations of greatness and power turn into September skepticism? Well, yes, of course. It’s college football season — let the knee-jerk reacting begin, followed soon by the airing of grievances.
It turns out that defending national champion Alabama wasn’t just playing USC to open its 2016 season. The Crimson Tide was playing for the wounded pride and national reputation of the vaunted S-E-C.
At least Bama proved that it’s maybe good enough to get back into the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide was in a coma until midway through the second quarter on Saturday night. Sparked by freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and led by a spooky-good defense, Alabama rolled the Trojans, 52-6, in the Advocare Classic.
Making all-inclusive declarations on the First Weekend is a fool’s errand. (Remember last season, when Ole Miss beat Alabama and several writers shoveled dirt on the Tide’s grave and its dead dynasty? Whoops.)
Foolish scribe, reporting for duty.
Alabama appears to be the class of the SEC, and if Hurts can do enough to run the offense, the Tide is poised to go for back-to-backs. That’s because in Week One, the SEC’s losses were bad and its victories were pedestrian.
Mississippi State lost at home to South Alabama. LSU lost at Wisconsin, displaying no offense and a waste of talent.
Tennessee, hyped in the preseason, should have lost at home to Appalachian State. Arkansas beat Louisiana Tech by a point. Missouri lost at West Virginia.
Kentucky coughed up a 28-7 lead and lost at home to Southern Miss. Florida needed 14 fourth-quarter points to put away visiting UMass.
Auburn, at home against second-ranked Clemson, battled but struggled offensively (we don’t see you, Gus Malzahn) and lost, 19-13. No. 18 Georgia did beat No. 22 North Carolina, 33-24, in Atlanta. Good for you, SEC.
Alabama fans cheered when The Really Big Screen at AT&T Stadium showed UCLA’s fourth-down pass falling incomplete to give Texas A&M an overtime victory. Never mind that the victory almost felt like a loss considering the Aggies gagged away a 24-9 lead in the last five minutes.
The Crimson Tide faithful were more thrilled with their new quarterback. Blake Barnett got the start, but the offense was stuck in the mud. Hurts came in … and fumbled a zone read on his first play, giving USC the ball at the Alabama 48.
That lowlight was followed by plenty of highlights. His 39-yard touchdown pass to ArDarius Stewart gave Bama its first lead at 7-3. He followed that up with a 71-yard scoring strike to Stewart that benefited from USC’s blown coverage. Hurts showed his running ability with scoring runs of 7 and 6 yards.
“I think Jalen, every series that he played, got more and more comfortable,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He adds a dimension with his ability to run and that opened the running because they had to worry about him keeping it on the zone read.”
Hurts has already contributed to an Alabama national championship. He enrolled early and was the scout team quarterback imitating Clemson’s Deshaun Watson as the Tide prepared for the CFP title game.
Cue up the John Mellencamp “Hurts So Good” and loop it.
Alabama has proved that it can win with solid if not spectacular quarterback play. With this defense, the Tide QB doesn’t need to win the game; he just needs to not lose it.
The Trojans gained 46 yards on their first drive, which resulted in a double-doinked field goal. The rest of the half? USC ran 30 plays and gained 46 yards. Its last nine possessions included three three-and-outs, three sacks, two tackles for loss and a pick-six.
“We need to run to set up the pass and we weren’t physical enough to run the ball,” said USC coach Clay Helton.
USC gained 64 yards on 30 attempts. Eliminate a 36-yard first-quarter completion and a 46-yard third quarter run, and the Trojans gained 112 yards on 65 plays.
“We were very physical at the point of attack,” Alabama senior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. “But we weren’t trying to send message. We’re just trying to play Alabama football and uphold the standard. I feel like we did a pretty good job of that tonight.”
Saban, as one would expect of a coach famous for the “process” and “doing your job” had a lukewarm assessment of a 46-point win for his team after losing a Heisman Trophy winner and its starting quarterback.
“If you want to know the truth about it, I wasn’t pleased with the way we played,” he said when asked about his team’s chances this season. “Look, I’m happy we won and proud we beat a good team. At this time of the season, there’s always things to work on. I can make a long list of things than needs to be improved.”
The defending champs took care of the nation’s 20th-ranked team in the manner in which we expected. But in Week One, Alabama’s conference brothers ranged from disappointing to defeated.
Bama carrying the banner for an otherwise-mediocre SEC? Sounds like 2015.
We all know who won the national title at the end of that season.