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September 2, 2014

Brice's Off the Beaten Path

Somehow we survived the first week of the seventh year of 'Brice's Off The Beaten Path,' and my initial rankings basically were awful.

But, there were seven different players who got their first significant touches on the ball Sunday night in the Vols' win. It also was Tennessee's sixth straight season opening victory and seventh in eight years.

After Jalen Reeves-Maybin and A.J Johnson, the Vols had at least seven other players notch multiple tackles.

And now, it's on with 'The Path':

Brice's SEC Power Rankings Week 1
1. GEORGIA (1-0, 0-0): We said in this space a week ago if the Bulldogs were well on their way to being South Carolina state champions, watch out. Well, yeah, the Bulldogs scored the last 31 points in an overpowering romp of hapless Clemson. The Tigers rival Florida State as the ACC's fastest team, and they looked to have Utah State-like speed against Georgia's skill in the second half. I clearly undervalued Georgia here last week --- almost as much as Texas A&M in my week of biggest upheaval since uncorking these rankings seven seasons ago. (This week: Open. NEXT: at SOUTH CAROLINA, 3:30 p.m., CBS)
2. TEXAS A&M (1-0, 1-0): Because people a lot smarter than me talk about it an awful lot, and because surely there's some merit to it, I'll say here what I said on Twitter: Jason Garrett probably should pay close attention to his Dallas Cowboys and Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M Aggies. Sumlin sure continues to look like a guy who can coach at any level, and Jones could certainly make a splash by hiring the young, confident Sumlin away from the college world if the Cowboys are again mediocre and TAMU keeps looking like a Playoff team. Johnny Who? Wow. (This week: vs. Lamar; NEXT: vs. RICE)
3. AUBURN (1-0, 1-0): Most insist there's no quarterback controversy at Auburn, though Jeremy Johnson completed 75 percent of his passes for well more than 200 yards in basically a half of work because Nick Marshall was blunted in the first half via suspension. The Tigers rolled, 45-21, and I guess they'll crowd 600 total yards' offense this week. (This week: vs. San Jose State; NEXT: OPEN)
4. ALABAMA (1-0, 0-0): Can it last? And by that, I mean Lane Kiffin clearly outcoached his boss, Nick Saban, in the opener. The Tide's offense looked smooth for the most part, even with a first-time starter. And I thought Kiffin did a nice job the way he began each series at the edge of the field with the offense. But Saban's defense sucked. Can I say that here? I guess I just did. (This week: vs. Florida Atlantic; NEXT: vs. SOUTHERN MISS)
5. LSU (10-3, 5-3): IF the game had gone six quarters, I think LSU might have won by three or four touchdowns. The Bayou Bengals got gashed a bit early, which was quite surprising. Bucky averaged 7 yards a carry on 39 tries; no 'Mustang' can get deployed in those conditions. Anthony Jennings was respectable at QB for LSU, though most people believe it's when, not if, Harris takes over. (vs. Sam Houston St.; NEXT: vs. MONROE, 7 p.m.)
6. OLE MISS (1-0, 0-0): The Black Bears' offense took a bit to get untracked, and certainly there remain depth concerns for Ole Miss' second-team defense. But the Fightin' Freezes did a nice job against a Boise State team that I fully expect to slip, pretty quickly, into national irrelevance the next few years. (This week: at Vanderbilt; NEXT: vs. LAFAYETTE)
7. SOUTH CAROLINA (0-1, 0-1): Where's all the talk about a better Gamecock defense? It fooled me; I overvalued no team more than South Carolina. Ouch. I mean, USC scored 28 points, at home, in a season opener and it was basically never in the game after 10 minutes. Plus, Mike Davis is questionable this week with a rib injury --- though let's be honest: unless Davis was going to play linebacker, USC won't need him to beat the Pirates. (This week: vs. East Carolina, 7 p.m.; NEXT: vs. GEORGIA, 3:30 p.m, CBS)
T-8. MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-0, 0-0): I'm not fully sold yet on Dak Prescott, but hard to ignore his numbers against SoMiss, including more than 280 passing yards and four touchdowns. Plus, Bully held the hapless Golden Eagles to barely 70 rushing yards. We just won't learn much about this team until Sept. 20 when they visit 'Death Valley.' Unless, of course, MSU is somehow not 3-0 when that game arrives. Also, we know how the SEC passed a rule saying teams have to schedule a 'Big 5' foe annually moving forward. How about one that says the SEC doesn't lower itself to play on the road against programs who haven't been D-1 for at least a decade? (This week: vs. UAB; NEXT: at South Alabama, 4 p.m.)
T-8. TENNESSEE (1-0, 0-0): The maturation process officially is underway. Though just one game, safe to say it's a bit ahead of pace in some areas. But speed ruled the Vols' opening win, whether it was offensive playmakers getting loose just enough on the perimeter or Tennessee's defense swarming to the ball. That sort of aggressive defensive speed had not been present in seven or eight years; it isn't done growing --- nor experiencing growing pains. I counted about 40 first- or second-year players who logged snaps for the Vols, who also continue to recruit very solidly. The key is continued growth, especially for an offensive line that didn't remotely get enough push, and more depth along the defensive interior, where Jordan Williams brief injury had a lot of Vols' coaches wearing very concerned faces. (This week: vs. Arkansas State, Noon, SEC TV; NEXT: at OKLAHOMA, 8 p.m., ABC/ESPN)
T-9. MISSOURI (1-0, 0-0): The Tigers got a special teams touchdown and overall brilliant performance from Marcus Murray, who had more than 200 all-purpose yards in a 38-18 win against South Dakota State. But that win wasn't remotely flawless or really very comfortable. It was just a 10-point game heading into the fourth, and the FCS-resident Jackrabbits amassed some 365 yards' offense. They also had a nearly 11-minute edge in time of possession. (This week: at Toledo (seriously, who's doing these schedules?); NEXT: vs. UCF)
T-9. FLORIDA (0-0, 0-0): The Gators learned absolutely nothing this week, except film review shouldn't take too long. There's only 10 seconds of it. Florida couldn't play as Mother Nature ruled the Sunshine State with stormy weather. UF A.D. Jeremy Foley wrote this in an open letter Sunday: "Because there are many issues that must be resolved, there will be no decision regarding the status of the Florida-Idaho game made today (Sunday), but we anticipate knowing more in the next two or three days. We will share any updates when they become available." (This week: vs. Eastern Michigan; NEXT: KENTUCKY)
12. KENTUCKY (1-0, 0-0): Big Blue had seven first-time starters and recorded their biggest win over anyone in 12 years, since a 60-point drubbing of UTEP. The Wildcats got good quarterback play from sophomore Patrick Towles, who redshirted a year ago, and they also saw several newcomers, including transfer back Braylon Heard run wild after sitting out last season following his exit from Nebraska. It will be a slightly better test this week, but I'd be stunned if Kentucky doesn't toss up more than 400 yards' offense and improve to 2-0. (This week: vs. Ohio; NEXT: at FLORIDA)
13. ARKANSAS (0-1, 0-1): Team Hogwired had 20 first downs, a relatively balanced attack and only committed five penalties on the road in a difficult environment. They looked much improved. They still lost their 12th-straight SEC game. Twelve! That's a huge number. And oh, their next SEC foe? Texas A&M in late-September --- after they play at the explosive Texas Tech two weeks prior. (This week: Nicholls State; NEXT: at TEXAS TECH)
14. VANDERBILT (0-1, 0-0): 'Dores coach Derek Mason said both of the following in post-game, "I told you we had three capable guys." And, "I don't think Patton (Robinette) got the hook." This after Mason said the 'Dores "felt they needed a switch" at quarterback. It was, well, a Sal Sunserri-esque press conference performance. And that offense might even have struggled against ole Sal, as evidenced by SEVEN turnovers. Trust me, folks; that's never a good thing. If I could rank a team 15th, I would here. (This week: vs. Ole Miss; NEXT: vs. UMASS)

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