- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Yep, it’s back for another season, our “Hot and Not” stroll around the SEC.
Week 1 is in our rearview mirrors, and some temperatures are already rising. Others ... not so much.
Here’s a taste:
Ole Miss’ future: It didn’t take long for Ole Miss fans to see some of the Rebels’ most prized members of their heralded 2013 signing class in action. They played a key role in Ole Miss’ thrilling 39-35 win over Vanderbilt in Thursday’s opener, and what was already a bright future for the Rebels just got a lot brighter. Receiver Laquon Treadwell looks physically like you’d expect a pro to look. He’s a big target, gets open and catches it if it’s anywhere close to him. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche is scary good. He’s 290-plus pounds, powerful and brings it on every down. Safety Tony Conner had a big interception early and is a perfect fit for the Rebels in that “Husky” position. He’s physical enough at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds to play the run but also can cover. Offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson played extensively and played well. They were on the field a lot in the second half, and that’s when the Rebels’ offensive line found its groove. With Aaron Morris out for the season, their roles will only increase, and tight end Evan Engram caught five passes for 61 yards with three of those catches coming in the third quarter, when Ole Miss made its move. It’s hard not to be giddy about the future if you’re of the Hotty Toddy persuasion.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley: If Gurley’s not the best running back in college football, I want to see the back who is. Even with a quad injury, Gurley was electric and finished with 174 yards on 12 carries in the Bulldogs' 38-35 loss to Clemson. He had touchdown runs of 80 and 12 yards, showing off both his speed and tackle-breaking ability.
Mississippi State’s offense: The Bulldogs’ 21-3 loss to No. 13 Oklahoma State marked their lowest scoring output since a 31-3 loss to Alabama in 2009 during Dan Mullen’s first season. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they’ve made a habit of not showing up offensively in games against nationally ranked foes. In their last eight games against ranked teams (going back to the 2011 season), they’ve averaged just 10.3 points per game and have been held to 17 points or fewer in all eight games. In six of those eight contests, Mississippi State has been held to 13 points or fewer.
Tennessee’s fans: Never mind that Tennessee was facing a team (Austin Peay) that had zero chance to even make it close. And never mind that the Vols entered the game on the heels of three consecutive losing seasons. Neyland Stadium was rocking, and an announced crowd of 97,169 showed up to see the Butch Jones era kick off. A year ago, the Vols drew just 87,821 for their opener against Georgia State and averaged 89,965 for home games, their lowest since 1979. Jones has his work cut out on the field, but he has them believing on Rocky Top.
Georgia’s pass protection: The Bulldogs had better figure it out in hurry on their offensive line before South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney get to town this weekend. Rarely did Aaron Murray have time to throw in the loss to Clemson, and the Tigers’ defensive front isn’t going to be confused anytime soon with the Gamecocks’ defensive front.
Alabama’s defensive front seven: So much for Alabama’s offense maybe being a little bit ahead of the defense this season. The Crimson Tide are as menacing, swarming and suffocating as ever in their front seven, and senior end Ed Stinson was especially active. Alabama just keeps replacing great players with other great players.
Restless Georgia fans: Enough with the Mark Richt must-go nonsense. Let’s see what happens this weekend when South Carolina visits Sanford Stadium. Richt has proved in the past how resilient his teams are, and a win over the Gamecocks would ease a lot of the pain right now in Dawg Land. Remember, it's a looooong season.
South Carolina’s defense: OK, maybe Clowney didn’t have six sacks and send somebody's helmet flying off in South Carolina’s opener, but the Gamecocks are still a load on defense. They had 12 tackles for loss (in one game) in their 27-10 win over North Carolina -- with 11 different players getting into the act. They held the Tar Heels to 293 total yards and limited them to just 7.5 yards per completion on 43 pass attempts. There's a lot more to this defense than just Clowney.
Mark Stoops’ debut: It’s never a good thing when Kentucky loses for a second consecutive season to Western Kentucky. But there was so much excitement surrounding Stoops and the way he has recruited, making the season-opening loss in Nashville even more disappointing. It also underscores what kind of challenge awaits Stoops.
Johnny Football: If you’re tired of hearing about Johnny Manziel, you might want to get used to it. Here’s a news flash: He ain’t changing, nor does he care what anybody else thinks about him. What he should care about is whether he does anything to hurt his team on the field or anything that would reflect poorly on his teammates and coaches who have to be growing weary of the whole Johnny Manziel circus. It’s obvious they love the way Manziel competes and the fire he plays with. In the time he was on the field Saturday in the second half against Rice, he looked even more comfortable in the pocket than he did a year ago and was extremely sharp throwing the ball. But he can’t cost his team foolish (Kevin Sumlin’s words) penalties, and he’s too good a player to continue serving as a distraction with the juvenile antics. It’s obvious Manziel revels in being college football’s so-called bad boy and would like to tell everybody to go stick it. But there’s a fine line sometimes between doing that and sticking it to your teammates.
4dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough