SEC looks vulnerable thanks to shocking 1-4 record against ACC as part of lackluster start to season
By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer
The mighty Southeastern Conference, which has claimed 13 of the last 17 national championships, including four straight, looks far more vulnerable than anyone expected and the slow start could be important when teams are competing for playoff spots.
The SEC’s 1-4 record against Atlantic Coast Conference teams ranks as perhaps the biggest surprise of the young season. The league also has been humbled in other high-profile matchups, including Texas beating then-No. 3 Alabama 34-24 and Florida falling at Utah, 24-11.
The SEC’s 3-6 record against Power Five teams includes two attention-grabbing losses against ACC teams. Florida State beat LSU and North Carolina rolled past South Carolina on the opening weekend. Texas A&M was also clobbered at Miami.
The league’s customary strength-of-schedule advantage with the College Football Playoff committee may be in jeopardy this year. A one-loss team that is not the SEC champion may have a more difficult argument for a playoff spot against a one-loss team from another league, including the ACC and Big 12.
Would No. 1 Georgia, the two-time defending national champion still sitting atop the AP Top 25, have more reason to worry about the implication of a loss? Georgia coach Kirby Smart noted all those SEC losses in the first two weeks came against quality opponents as his Bulldogs prepared for their SEC opener against South Carolina on Saturday.
“I really have no idea,” Smart said when asked about the league’s rough start. “I mean, I can’t put a finger on it or explain it. I think that every team you mentioned that beat an SEC team is a really good team, really, really good teams. And most of those teams have been improving for a while.”
Florida coach Billy Napier suggested patience when evaluating the league.
“I do think as we settle in here, the end of the year typically, I think you’ll be able to evaluate that more,” Napier said.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops remained optimistic even after the Wildcats trailed Eastern Kentucky until late in the first half.
“We know we will get better,” Stoops said. “… We are 2-0. And there are plenty of teams around the country that have a lot to do.”
The league’s only win over an ACC team came in Tennessee’s 49-13 rout of Virginia on Sept. 2. The Vols dropped two spots to No. 11 in the Top 25 following their lackluster 30-13 win over Austin Peay. The uninspiring performance led to a players-only meeting to refocus for this week’s game at Florida.
“It was a great meeting for us honestly just because it allowed everybody to see that we all still have the same page, flush the game that happened and let’s just continue to go work this week,” said Vols defensive lineman Omari Thomas.
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Georgia’s Mekhi Mews, a 5-foot-8 walk-on wide receiver, leads the SEC and ranks second in the nation with 130 yards on five punt returns. He returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown in last week’s 45-3 win over Ball State. The speedy Mews also leads the Bulldogs with six catches for 102 yards.
“I’ve seen it every day since he came in here,” said wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. “Him being on scout teams, just going out there against the ones and just giving everybody the blues. Every day he makes plays. That’s all he does. Those little runs, that’s what he does on a daily basis.”
Tennessee’s Dee Williams, a cornerback, ranks third in the nation — right behind Mews — with 123 punt return yards in two games.
Williams, a junior-college transfer, is a senior in his second season with the Vols. After missing the first four games last season with an injury, he had 281 yards on 15 returns for an SEC-best 18.7 yards per return. He had a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale.