SEC Coming Attractions: Rethinking division favorites; time not on Gamecocks’ side

After cruising past Clemson, Todd Gurley and Georgia get a week off before they head to Columbia to face South Carolina.

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You wouldn’t be criticized for wanting to hit the snooze button on the second week of the season in the SEC. There’s just one in-conference matchup — No. 15 Ole Miss at Vanderbilt — while eight teams play non-Power 5 league teams (with one potential land mine) and three schools face FCS opponents.

But after a week that saw potential heroes rise (Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill and Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne) and reaffirm their greatness (Georgia’s Todd Gurley), along with a couple of crash and burn performances (we’re looking at you, South Carolina and Vanderbilt), Week 2 is about who and what you’re willing to buy into.

So cue up the anthropomorphic snack items, belt out ‘Let’s All Go to the Lobby,’ and dig in for SEC Coming Attractions.

Back at SEC Media Days, we collected scribes pegged Alabama and South Carolina as the favorites in the West and East, respectively. But with the Gamecocks steamrolled by Hill and the Aggies (more on what this means for Steve Spurrier and Co. later) and the Crimson Tide getting a close call from West Virginia, should we be rethinking who the favorites are in this conference?

No. 6 Georgia had arguably the most impressive showing of any FBS team on opening weekend, and while we won’t see the Bulldogs this Saturday as they’re off until the Sept. 13 trip to No. 21 South Carolina, no one is going to stop talking about Todd Gurley’s 293 all-purpose yards against Clemson in the interim.

With a deep running backs stable and a vastly improved defense under Jeremy Pruitt, the Bulldogs look like the class of the East. But we’ve been down this road before with Georgia, so forgive us if we aren’t entirely jumping on the bandwagon quite yet, Mark Richt.

The West is harder to read, as No. 2 Alabama’s defense looks vulnerable, while Yellowhammer State rival No. 5 Auburn showed it has staying power with another budding star at running back (see Cameron Artis-Payne’s 177 yards) and an envious QB situation with Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson. Then there’s the No. 9 Aggies, who boast a passer that’s underscoring the notion that Kevin Sumlin may be the ultimate QB whisperer.

Heading into Week 2, the torches have been passed to Georgia (clearly) and Auburn (just barely) and though with the Bulldogs off and the Tigers getting San Jose State, they should keep the favorite sons status for at least another week.

Grab Your Popcorn: A star-studded cast in a race with twists, turns, fun and mischief? ‘The Cannonball Run’ may as well be the SEC. If anyone has the power, Les Miles dressed as Captain Chaos, please.

South Carolina’s defense looked abysmal and RB Mike Davis, who after a 1,183-yard, 11-TD sophomore year was considered a Heisman contender, had just 15 yards on six carries as he re-aggravated a rib injury against the Aggies.

If there are any silver linings for the Gamecocks, they have what should be a tune-up against East Carolina on Saturday before hosting Georgia, and if they can manage to knock of the Bulldogs, they remain very much in contention in the East race.

But the Pirates, led by QB Shane Carden — who set a school record with 4,139 yards last season and is coming off a 283-yard, three-TD day in the win over North Carolina Central last week — employ an offense that should look very familiar to the Gamecocks. After all, East Carolina runs an up-tempo Air Raid spread that’s in the same vein as what Hill and the Aggies carved South Carolina up with.

The key for the Gamecocks is going to be Davis, who Spurrier said on Monday was "sort of doubtful," but then the Head Ball Coach came back on Tuesday and said he believes the junior back will be ready to go.

South Carolina is going to need all the help it can get to keep the pressure off its defense, one that failed to put any on Hill last week. While Carden may not be operating behind an offensive line of the same caliber as the Aggies, Davis’ best attribute can come in helping to keep the Pirates offense on the sideline.

Plus, it wouldn’t hurt for the Gamecocks star to be rolling heading into what looks like a season-defining game with Georgia.

Grab Your Popcorn: It’s pirates South Carolina is battling and not a corrupt casino and Davis isn’t wielding a piece of lumber, but one man taking matters into his own hands fits the Gamecocks’ need. Walk tall, indeed.

Is Nick Saban simply leaving the door cracked open in hopes that Jacob Coker will kick it in?

Coker and Blake Sims are listed as co-starters at QB on the Alabama depth chart heading into this weekend’s home opener opposite Florida Atlantic (to be clear, it says Sims "OR" Coker). This come despite Sims an effective 24 of 33 for 250 yards against West Virginia, while Coker didn’t attempt one pass.

This seems to mean one of two things: either Saban isn’t entirely convinced Sims, a fifth-year senior, can handle the job — he did call a couple of formations wrong, resulting in what Saban said "was some confusion on the field" — or, and this seems more likely, he just really, really wants Coker to step up and seize the job.

Remember, Coker didn’t arrive until this summer after graduating from Florida State, while Sims had three years behind AJ McCarron and got meaningful snaps this spring. It was Coker that drew rave reviews from analysts like Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack and it was Coker who was in a close battle with Jameis Winston for the Seminoles starting job before last season.

After facing the Owls on Saturday, the Crimson Tide face Southern Miss before hosting Florida on Sept. 20. Here’s expecting this QB situation to have worked itself out before the Gators and that defense head to Tuscaloosa.

Get Your Popcorn: Bob and Walt Tenor had a hard time getting separation from each other, that was until the conjoined twins had surgery. It probably won’t be that difficult for Coker and Sims. They shouldn’t have to worry about dealing with Cher, either.

Last week’s belief that it was Alabama that would give us the most to overreact about was off. The real target was just under 350 miles away in Baton Rouge, where the breaks were hit on the Leonard Fournette Hype Machine.

No. 12 LSU’s all-universe freshman RB had 18 yards on eight tries while Kenny Hilliard carried the running game with 110 yards on 18 attempts. Fournette also ran back five kickoffs for 118 yards, but in the realm of debuts, this was more Asher Roth’s ‘Asleep in the Bread Aisle’ when we were all waiting for ‘Ready To Die.’

But maybe, just maybe the expectations were too high as Fournette was being billed as a Heisman Trophy candidate before ever taking a snap (the man behind the Heisman Forecast is guilty as charged).

Miles, though, is taking a more practical approach, saying Tuesday "It was a season opener. It takes time for guys to understand exactly where that break is, where the cut is." Just relax, don’t be impatient. He’s a freshman. This is a guy (Fournette) who is going to develop year after year, play after play. Just wait."

This coming from a guy who has made a career out of impatience with trick plays and tinkering with fate like a mad scientist. But Miles is right, and with Sam Houston State and UL Monroe in the next two weeks before the Tigers play their SEC opener against Mississippi State on Sept. 20, there is plenty of time to get Fournette more comfortable in the offense.

Chances are he’s not going to win the Heisman in Year 1, but if anything an unspectacular start may be the best thing to happen to Fournette. Grab Your Popcorn: Neo, né Thomas A. Anderson, was supposed to be the The One — eventually getting there before some setbacks and some crazy kung-fu action — and he had the backing of a guy that had a penchant for saying quasi-crazy things like "’real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain."

The lightning delay and "Anchor Down" uniform fiasco were just the start as Vanderbilt lost 37-7 to Temple, a team that hadn’t beaten an SEC squad since 1938.

The Commodores were inept on offensive as QBs Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers and Johnny McCrary combined for four turnovers and Derek Mason said Monday on his radio show he would not publicly name a starter.

Meanwhile, the defense which was in its first game in a 3-4 scheme, gave up 351 yards and now gets the Rebels, who were shaky early but put up 458 yards and 35 points on Boise State.

If there’s a bright spot it’s the running game that got 70 yards out of Ralph Webb and will return Jerron Seymour on Saturday, but it’s tough not to look down that schedule and wonder how bad it could get.

The Commodores still get three FCS schools as they play UMass (Sept. 13), Charleston Southern (Oct. 11) and Old Dominion (Nov. 1), but with Kentucky looking strong in its season-opening win over UT Martin, there is a real possibility that Vandy could be staring at a winless SEC season.

Grab Your Popcorn: Was the James Franklin era and that string of bowl games just a dream? It’s as if Mason and the Commodore Nation fell into a certain time traveling hot tub and landed back in the early part of the century when they were posting two-and three-win seasons with regularity. It may not be that bad, but if you’re one of the ‘Dores’ faithful, you’ve had this feeling before.