MEMPHIS — Throughout the long offseason, storylines emerge as fans wait -- impatiently -- for the return of college football. And often those storylines are quickly discarded or even reversed once the season truly begins. So it has been with one Jadeveon Clowney, who turned a fabulous 2012 campaign capped off by an extraordinary hit against Michigan in the Outback Bowl into months of offseason hysteria.
After summarily being named the presumptive number one draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by numerous outlets, Clowney was profiled in the New York Times, featured on the ESPYs, and called "the best defensive prospect in at least a decade" by NFL personnel executives.
But three weeks into the season, it's all changed. After South Carolina's opening win against North Carolina, Steve Spurrier questioned Clowney's conditioning. Two games (including a loss to Georgia) later, and Clowney's critics are growing louder, his Heisman odds have lengthened, and he's even slipped from the top spot in a prominent 2014 NFL mock draft. The conventional wisdom seems to be that he's having a bust of a season.
CLOWNEY 2013 (THROUGH 3 GAMES):
SOLO TACKLES: 8
TOTAL TACKLES: 10
TACKLES FOR LOSS: 3
QB HURRIES: 3
FUMBLES FORCED: 1
CLOWNEY 2012 (THROUGH 3 GAMES):
SOLO TACKLES: 8
TOTAL TACKLES: 13
TACKLES FOR LOSS: 5.5
QB HURRIES: 2
FUMBLES FORCED: 0
There's not a significant difference in his statistical performance. South Carolina's loss at Georgia hurt his perception, but it's not as if he was solely responsible for the loss.
Now, factor in that South Carolina has played a tougher opening three-game slate this year than last (North Carolina, at Georgia, Wofford this year; at Vanderbilt, East Carolina, UAB last year). Also take into account that Clowney's dealing with bone spurs in his foot, a painful condition that will require offseason surgery and likely has affected his burst and mobility.
Knowing all that, is Clowney really doing so badly? The lesson, as always, is that offseason hype of monumental proportions can very quickly turn against a player. Johnny Manziel found that out as his off-field antics drew massive criticism, while Clowney's on-field performance is under huge scrutiny. Like Manziel, Clowney is not all of a sudden dramatically different than he was a year ago. Don't believe the hype -- in either direction.
GEORGIA-LSU: NOT YOUR USUAL SEC MATCHUP
Just two Saturdays after an extraordinary 49-42 Alabama win over Texas A&M, another SEC matchup looms between two top-10 opponents that both can score points in bunches. The conference has swung wildly from defensive powerhouse to offensive showcase this season, and that trend will likely continue in Athens on Saturday.
Georgia's faced a ridiculously front-loaded schedule already; LSU will be the third top-10 opponent of the Bulldogs' four games thus far. LSU, on the other hand, has faced a relatively easy schedule; they opened against TCU a month ago. The Horned Frogs were a top-20 team then but have limped to an unimpressive 1-2 mark so far. After Saturday, LSU's toughest tests are still to come while Georgia's will be all but done.
Both quarterbacks have a lot to prove. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger will make a difficult return to Athens, where a guilty plea on two misdemeanor sexual battery counts cost him a Georgia scholarship three years ago. He does so playing the best football of his career under new LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Meanwhile, Georgia's signal caller Aaron Murray is still saddled with a reputation for coming up short in games against the very best opponents (as outlined in an earlier Numbers Game. Murray did use a four touchdown performance against South Carolina two weeks ago to help dispel that criticism, though another solid effort Saturday wouldn't hurt.
You might expect with stars like Todd Gurley and Jeremy Hill in their respective backfields, Georgia and LSU would run the ball quite a bit. However, it's been through the air both have been most successful. According to Football Outsiders' S&P passing stat (a measure of effectiveness and explosiveness taking opponents into account), Georgia and LSU are both among the best seven teams in the country throwing the football.
Murray: 72 percent (first in SEC)
Mettenberger: 65 percent (sixth in SEC)
YARDS PER ATTEMPT:
Murray: 12.7 (first in SEC)
Mettenberger: 11.3 (second in SEC)
Murray: 7 (third in SEC)
Mettenberger: 10 (second in SEC)
Murray: 193.61 (second in SEC)
Mettenberger: 201.78 (first in SEC)
COMPLETIONS OF 20+ YARDS
Murray: 16 of 59 (27.1 percent of passes -- second in SEC)
Mettenberger: 21 of 59 (35.6 percent of passes -- first in SEC)
Impressive numbers, especially taking into account the fact that statistical marvel Manziel shares the conference with them. Expect to see both teams rack up some serious yardage (and points) this weekend, regardless of which one actually comes out on top.
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK
4: Undefeated SEC teams (Alabama, LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss)
4: Average fumbles per game for Florida (worst in college football)
2: SEC receivers averaging over 100 yards per game (Mike Evans of Texas A&M and Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt)
0.7: QB Rating of Tennessee's Nathan Peterman against Florida last Saturday (4-11, 5 yards, 2 interceptions)
You can listen to Peter Edmiston on First Call every weekday morning on Sports 56 WHBQ/87.7 FM. Data courtesy cfbstats.com and footballstudyhall.com.