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Anatomy of the Upsets: The Favorites That Lost Were More Vulnerable Than We Thought

Each of the games had individual factors that tilted them in one direction or another. But there are also some common threads

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to take too much away from a Saturday like the SEC just had, or to try to come up with an overarching narrative for five games that all went haywire on the same week. After all, each of those games featured two teams that were distinct from the pair of teams that played in every other game, and each game is decided on its own merits.

That said, there were some similarities and trends within the conference that contributed to many of the upsets, and can help us understand a little bit more about the chaos that unfolded this weekend.

All of the favorites had flaws

It's easier to overlook a team's weaknesses as long as it keeps winning. And all of the favorites Saturday had either one loss or had faced a strong non-conference team that made it easier to understand why they had two losses. A lot of the fans of these teams knew the weaknesses, and we often pointed them out here, but most of those teams had managed to work their way around those flaws over the first seven weeks of the season. On Saturday, that didn't happen.

Georgia: The Dawgs' loss to Clemson didn't look so bad until Clemson crashed and burned Saturday night against Florida State. The Missouri loss had a lot to do with how good the Tigers are now, and even more to do with the injuries that stacked up during the Tennessee game. But most people didn't expect those injuries to be enough to put the Bulldogs in danger of losing to Vanderbilt. Most people were wrong.

Florida: It should now be pretty clear to everyone that Florida has no offense. If that's an exaggeration, it's only a slight one. The Gators had 151 yards of total offense Saturday. They are 12th in the SEC in rushing, passing and scoring offense and last in red-zone offense and total offense. Even as good as Florida's defense has been -- and it was not particularly good Saturday -- you have to be able to move the ball more than that to win games.

LSU: The Tigers are perhaps the one team that doesn't fall neatly into this category, but there are a few things that emerged in the Ole Miss game. First, LSU has at times struggled on defense against the best offenses; it allowed 44 points in the loss to pre-Alamo Georgia. Meanwhile, it's now fair to ask if Zach Mettenberger's success in the early part of the season was real, or a statistical anomaly powered in part by weak defenses and easy opponents.

South Carolina: Going back to their first game against North Carolina, and with the only exception being last week's annihilation of Arkansas, the Gamecocks have gotten into a bad habit of seeming to take entire quarters off. It's almost bitten them a few times in the season, most notably against Kentucky and what was an underrated Central Florida team. On Saturday, it finally caught up to the Gamecocks; they allowed Tennessee to build up a 17-7 lead before appearing to wake up, and that was all Tennessee needed to give it a shot at a fourth-quarter comeback.

Texas A&M: The Aggies are in many ways the opposite of Florida: They have absolutely no defense. The only FBS team not to top 450 yards of total offense against A&M this season is SMU -- and they came close, with 434 total yards. If you keep giving the other team the opportunity to score, it's eventually going to blow up in your face. It almost did against Ole Miss in Week 7. This past Saturday, it finally cost the Aggies a game.

You'll also note that most of those teams have also seen some of their wins (or losses, in the cases of Georgia, LSU and South Carolina) lose luster. About the only wins among the entire group that have aged well are the Gamecocks' road victory against UCF and LSU's win over Auburn. So when we thought these teams were overcoming their problems against quality competition, it might just be that the competition was not as good as we thought.

Most of the favorites were on the road

I used to be a huge skeptic of home-field advantage in college football. After all, it wasn't like baseball, where the dimensions of the field and how the ball flies and bounces literally changes from park to park. But I've started to think over the last few years that there's a bit more to home-field advantage than I originally thought.

Of the five teams that got upset Saturday, four were on the road. Only Texas A&M lost at home. And Alabama was also at home for the beatdown of Arkansas -- meaning that Auburn was the only road team that won this weekend. Maybe it only made a difference at the margins, and maybe it didn't play into some of the upset games at all, but we might have seen some very different outcomes if some of the games changed locations.

Offensive games are more volatile

Let's state what continues to be the case: Offense is up in the SEC this year. Whether it's the result of defensive attrition or improved schemes or the no-huddle or whatever, the conference's teams are moving the ball and scoring at an almost unforeseen clip. And that makes for a lot of fun games.

It also means that games can be a little more volatile. After all, if your focus is largely on outscoring your opponent and not as much on stopping them from scoring, you get the back-and-forth games that we've seen out of teams like Texas A&M and even Georgia before basically every skill player on the depth chart went down. The problem with back-and-forth games is that they often turn into a case of which team has the ball last, and your team is not always going to have the ball last.

Of the five upsets Saturday, four involved the underdog scoring the final points of the game. Three of them saw those points scored with less than two minutes to go, and two included game-winning field goals at the gun (South Carolina-Tennessee) or with two seconds left (LSU-Ole Miss).

The worst teams in the SEC are getting better

One of the things that's amazing when you look across the SEC is the quality of coaching that's now in place across the league. Some of the historically downtrodden programs in the conference have hired good or even great coaches that have dug them out of the ditch or are in the process of doing so. South Carolina under Steve Spurrier is maybe the highest-profile example of the trend, but it goes deeper than that.

Hugh Freeze has his faults -- some of his late-game decisions are nothing short of awful -- but his offense has very quickly turned Ole Miss from a punchline into a team that you have to take seriously. Butch Jones has done a great job in a short amount of time at Tennessee, and Gus Malzahn has done even better at Auburn, vindicating Auburn fans who insisted that coaching was the biggest problem they had in 2012, thus laying the groundwork for a quick turnaround. James Franklin has at least made Vanderbilt respectable.

All of those coaches have been helped by the record amounts of money the SEC has been pulling in from television deals. Now, facilities and recruiting tools that were once available only to the league's best teams are within the financial reach of the lower-tier programs as well. The rich are getting richer, but so are the poor.

Meanwhile, Missouri was just flat out underrated. They never should have been an underdog at home to Florida in the first place.


Sometimes statistics, particularly in this age of advanced statistics, makes it easier for us to overlook the fact that teams are not constant, nor are they robotic. Particularly when it comes to 18- and 22-year-old college students, emotion and distractions can prove to be too much. When you have a group of players that has grown used to winning, which is the case in many of the programs that lost Saturday, it can be very difficult for them to focus when things aren't going their way. Take an injured team like Georgia that's playing more underclassmen than you might like, and it becomes even more of a factor.

And there's just dumb luck. Sometimes, you just don't have it or the other team does. A penalty gets called that shouldn't, or doesn't get called when it should, or a fumble bounces one way when it could have bounced another. It might not show up on the stat sheet, but that doesn't make it any less real.

Not everything can be explained. If there's anything that Saturday should have taught us, it's that.