Last season, Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Christion Jones was a capable playmaker in the slot. He had 27 catches for 368 yards and four touchdowns–respectable numbers by all means, but nothing to suggest Jones was a star in the making.
After an offseason’s worth of conjecture, we were pretty sure we knew who the stars were gonna be last week with college football kicking off, and we definitely didn’t have Christion Jones on the list. With all the megastars returning in the SEC–Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, TJ Yeldon, and many more–the expectation was that we’d see big-time players making big-time plays.
In some instances we saw exactly that.
Sensational Georgia Bulldogs sophomore running back Todd Gurley picked up right where he left off in 2012 with a 154-yard, two touchdown performance on Saturday in a marquee matchup with the Clemson Tigers that earned him SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Unfortunately, Georgia’s other Heisman candidate wasn’t quite as dynamic.
Murray wasn’t awful, but he was ineffective on third down and did throw a costly interception. And that was just one of many disappointing performances from SEC stars.
In a dominant win over the Virginia Tech Hokies, the Alabama Crimson Tide offense was stagnant. AJ McCarron, who has made a career out of efficient play at quarterback, was anything but efficient, while TJ Yeldon didn’t seem as explosive behind an offensive line ravaged by graduation and the NFL Draft.
Luckily for Alabama, Christion Jones emerged as a capable playmaker, scoring on a 94-yard kick return, a 72-yard punt return and a 38-yard touchdown reception.
In South Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney made just three tackles in a win over the North Carolina Tar Heels. However, it wasn’t just the lack of numbers–a fact that will undoubtedly hinder his chances at becoming the first full-time defender to win the award–that was concerning in regards to Clowney, it was the seeming lack of conditioning.
Clowney looked completely gassed against North Carolina’s no-huddle on a number of occasions and also had to leave the field for a spell after apparently tweaking his hamstring. And while expectations for Clowney may have been inflated coming off his performance and “The Hit” in the Outback Bowl, it was still a disappointing performance from the defending Hendricks Award winner.
Then there was Johnny Manziel, who still looked as dynamic as ever in limited action against Rice. However, it’s Manziel’s antics that made Saturday a huge letdown for the defending Heisman Trophy winner.
Manziel was suspended for the first half against Rice, and after entering the contest in the third quarter, proceeded to get called for a taunting penalty that led to him walking past Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. The incident seemed slightly blown out of proportion, but combined with everything else we’ve seen out of Johnny Football this offseason, the talented sophomore continues to paint a picture of someone who simply doesn’t get it.
However, while it was a disappointing weekend for the SEC’s biggest stars, we did have the privilege of seeing some new stars emerge.
Beyond Christion Jones surprising performance, we saw guys like LSU Tigers running back Terrence Magee and Ole Miss freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell have big games this week.
Treadwell was a highly-touted five-star coming out of high school, but as a true freshman, his nine catch performance on Thursday night was eye-opening. Meanwhile, the expectations were relatively tame for Magee considering he plays in the same backfield as Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard, but his 95-yard, two touchdown game helped lead LSU to a win over the TCU Horned Frogs.
Yet, the best performance of the opening week of SEC football probably came on its opening night when Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Jordan Matthews torched Ole Miss to the tune of 10 catches and 178 yards with a touchdown in a 39-35 loss.
Jordan Matthews was already a star in most circles after a 94-catch season in 2012, but he really came into his own and earned some national recognition with his play on Thursday night. Even going beyond the jaw-dropping stats, Matthews projectile vomited on the field after taking a big hit and then returned to make a spectacular catch on the same drive.
It was a gutsy (literally) performance.
All told, the state of SEC football is still pretty good, it just didn’t go exactly the way we expected this week. Some of the game’s biggest stars came back down to earth after an offseason full of mythologizing, while new stars emerged.
I guess that only thing for certain in the world of SEC football is uncertainty.