The opening week of the college football season had two games between top 25 teams on Aug. 30. Both matchups featured SEC teams, although the Georgia Bulldogs and LSU Tigers are not really favorites to win college football’s toughest conference. Yet late surges got the Bulldogs and Tigers over the Clemson Tigers and Wisconsin Badgers, while sending a message to the likes of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers.
The No. 12 Bulldogs wound up blowing out the No. 16 Clemson Tigers by 45-21, thanks to three fourth-quarter touchdowns — two of which were scored by prospective Heisman contender Todd Gurley. Hours later, the No. 13 Tigers staged an even bigger rally by erasing a 24-7 deficit to the No. 14 Badgers, prevailing by 28-24.
Georgia, Clemson, LSU and Wisconsin were technically playing elimination games, even in this opening weekend for college football. Since they are all in the middle of the pack of the preseason top 25, they will need near-perfect records and a few upsets to break into the top four this season. Even with the Bulldogs and Tigers winning, they still must get through the gauntlet of the SEC to prove themselves as playoff contenders.
Nevertheless, the Bulldogs have a shot as long as Gurley performs at a Heisman level. He burned Clemson’s Tigers for 198 yards on the ground and three touchdowns, along with a 100-yard kickoff return for another score. That run tied the game at 21-21 midway through the second quarter, as the Bulldogs never trailed again after that.
LSU’s Tigers took much longer to get going, as Wisconsin went ahead by 24-7 in the opening minutes of the second half. Even when the Tigers started to wake up, they only got two field goals in the third quarter. But after getting a touchdown and a two-point conversion to start the fourth, LSU forced an interception and then went ahead after three successive runs from Kenny Hilliard.
There were some doubts that the SEC still ruled college football, after finally losing the national title last year and after the Pac-12 got stronger. Yet with the Texas A&M Aggies stunning the South Carolina Gamecocks on Aug. 28, and with Georgia and LSU making late statements, the depth of the SEC remains beyond a doubt. Now the conference will once again cannibalize itself until one — or two — title contenders emerge, like usual.