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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Disappointed Tennessee football fans leave Neyland Stadium in the final seconds of the Vols' season-opening loss to Georgia State.

We won't wrap up what feels like the longest first weekend in college football history until the final horn sounds Monday night on Notre Dame's visit to Louisville inside the structure formerly known as Papa John's Stadium.

But unless the Cardinals — who were 2-10 last year — upset the No. 9 Fighting Irish, we already know who's in line to finish first for the entire season when it comes to the most embarrassing, if not humiliating, loss.

That distinction likely will go to the Tennessee Volunteers, whose 38-30 home loss to Georgia State in Neyland Stadium on Saturday all but defies belief.

Yes, Ole Miss fans are probably less than thrilled with losing to Memphis, but at least that was a road game against a program that has been pretty decent the past few seasons.

some text Mark Wiedmer

Yes, Florida State fans aren't exactly overwhelming social media in support of second-year Seminoles coach Willie Taggart after a home loss to Boise State in a game originally scheduled to be played in Jacksonville before the threat of the demonic Dorian, which reached the Bahamas on Sunday as a Category 5 hurricane.

But the Broncos were 10-3 a season ago. The Noles were 5-7. Enough said.

What happened at Neyland Stadium, though, really has no plausible explanation other than the one the Big Orange Nation least wants to hear, which is the sobering reality that the Vols may still be two or three years away from both Southeastern Conference and national relevance.

Yes, it's just one game, and Georgia State clearly had an emotional edge in this one by virtue of being at least a 25-point underdog on a humid afternoon when the temperature at kickoff was 89 degrees and the liberally announced crowd of 85,503 seemed more concerned with avoiding heat exhaustion than cheering on their Vols.

Then again, when you fumble the ball away two snaps into the game and fall behind 7-0, then blow leads of 14-7 and 23-21 against an opponent than went 2-10 last season and never had previously beaten a Power Five conference opponent, what do you expect from your long-suffering fans?

"Flabbergasted," was senior safety Nigel Warrior's word for what happened.

"I'm disgusted, to be honest," added quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who had two of the Vols' three turnovers.

According to ESPN, the entire Big Orange Nation has a right to be disgusted. The cable giant's stats department claims SEC schools had won 82 straight football games when favored by 25 or more points before Tennessee's loss. Beyond that, no SEC team had lost by as many as eight points when favored by 25 or more in the past 40 years.

But at least these Vols are first in something within the SEC these days, right?

So what else have we learned this opening weekend?

No. 1, at least regarding Ole Miss and Tennessee, the bottom of this conference looks a little shaky at the moment. Missouri's 37-31 loss to Wyoming doesn't exactly build confidence, either. Throw in somewhat narrow victories by Mississippi State over Louisiana and Arkansas over Portland State, and the bottom third of the league may not be as strong as usual against outside competition.

Then again, No. 2 Alabama (42-3 over Duke), No. 3 Georgia over Vanderbilt (30-6), No. 16 Auburn over No. 11 Oregon (27-21), No. 6 LSU's 55-3 rout of Georgia Southern and No. 12 Texas A&M's 41-7 thumping of Texas State make the top of the conference look as stout as ever.

Beyond that, Kentucky's late-game surge in a 38-24 win over Toledo may mean the Wildcats' drop from last year's 10-3 season won't be as dramatic as some feared after the loss of so many defensive stars to the NFL.

There's also a Nick Saban penalty to enjoy from Bama's victory over Duke. Were you to list the great curmudgeons of current college football coaches, Saban would likely be at the top of the list. He's just short of the late Ohio State coaching tyrant Woody Hayes after a loss and only slightly less ornery in victory.

The perpetual candidate for anger management therapy was at his best (or worst) when his team got a warning for celebrating too much on the sideline after picking off a Duke pass. Only this time Saban wasn't mad at his team, but rather the officials, who finally hit the coach with a 15-yard loss for unsportsmanlike conduct after his expletive-laced fit.

"The guy intercepts the ball, and everybody was jumping up and down on the sideline and we get a (warning)," Saban said afterward. "My reaction to that was the kids are having fun."

Of course, this warmer, fuzzier Saban soon vanished in favor of his cold-hearted assassin self.

"One of the things we want to establish here is discipline," he added, "and the coach did a poor job of setting a good example of how you're supposed to be disciplined."

Perhaps, but it was the Vols who clearly did the poorest job of looking like a SEC football team on the first weekend of the season.

Not that second-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt wasn't honest in his assessment of what the Vols face over their final 11 regular-season games, beginning with next weekend's visit by BYU.

"We have to go back and go to work and improve," he said, "because next Saturday night there will be a team coming in that is probably going to be better than them (Georgia State). It will keep happening that way."

Without a good deal of improvement in a short period of time, losses like the one to the Panthers will keep happening, too.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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