After TJ Finley saved Auburn football's season, Bryan Harsin must start him | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

This the "Topp Rope," a biweekly SEC football column from the USA TODAY Network's Blake Toppmeyer.

An SEC football coach never really recovers from a loss to Georgia State.

It might not end the coaching tenure immediately. The coach can even survive into the next season.

But you can't shake a loss to Georgia State. Anytime the coach stumbles after that, the response will be: Are you really surprised? This is the guy who lost to Georgia State?

Just ask former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt about that. Pruitt's Vols lost to Georgia State to open the 2019 season. Less than 18 months later, he was out of a job.

So, Auburn's first-year coach Bryan Harsin should be breathing a sigh of relief — and thanking backup quarterback TJ Finley.

Finley, while scrambling away from defenders, completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Shedrick Jackson on a fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead touchdown in a 34-24 victory over Georgia State.

REPORT CARD:Report card: Auburn football beat Georgia State, but did it fail its exam?

QUARTERBACK SITUATION:What's next for Auburn football at quarterback after TJ Finley replaced Bo Nix vs. Georgia State?

TJ FINLEY:How TJ Finley brought Auburn football from behind to avoid upset vs. Georgia State

Don't let the score fool you. If Finley is sacked or that pass falls incomplete, the Panthers win. Auburn returned an interception for a touchdown following Finley's heroic play to make the final margin seem more comfortable.

Harsin inserted Finley, an LSU transfer, into the the game late in the third quarter with Auburn trailing 24-19 after starter Bo Nix struggled for the second straight game.

Credit Harsin for making the switch. A lot of coaches would have refused to replace a veteran quarterback like Nix in that situation and gone down with the ship.

Finley wasn't flawless, and he overshot an open receiver on the play before his fourth-down completion. But he completed 9 of 16 passes for 97 yards and added 15 rushing yards. He played well enough that he deserves to start against LSU next week.

"I made the decision to make a change and to see if we could just create some momentum, and we did. And it worked in our favor," said Harsin, who added that Finley "was great, for the most part."

Harsin didn't say who will start against LSU. The answer should be easy, though. Start the guy who helped you avoid an embarrassing loss. 

Who needs patience? Not Sam Pittman or the Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas' second-year coach Sam Pittman is delivering a haymaker to any coach or administrator who preaches patience for their football program.

Pittman took the reins of an Arkansas program that had lost 20 games in the two seasons prior to his arrival and had not won an SEC game during that stretch. The Razorbacks, in 2019, lost to San Jose State and Western Kentucky.

Then Pittman arrived, and Arkansas won three SEC games his first season.

And he's proving that was no fluke.

No. 18 Arkansas beat No. 5 Texas A&M 20-10 on Saturday to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2003. The Aggies were projected as the top threat to Alabama in the SEC West.

One month into the season, we can revise that and say Ole Miss, behind second-year coach Lane Kiffin, and Arkansas are the biggest challengers to the Tide in the West.

So much for slow rebuilds.

Should wins over Vanderbilt count?

Is Georgia the best team in the country? Or, is Vanderbilt the worst Power Five team in the country?

Both, maybe. 

No. 2 Georgia beat Vanderbilt 62-0 in a game that could have been more lopsided, considering the Bulldogs scored five first-quarter touchdowns.

"For me, this isn’t about (Georgia) It's about us," first-year Vanderbilt Clark Lea said.

Wrong. It's about both teams. 

Georgia is really good. Vanderbilt is terrible.

Can Ed Orgeron rally from the hot seat?

LSU coach Ed Orgeron has emerged from troubled waters before.

The Tigers started 3-2 in 2017, including a loss to Troy, in Orgeron's first season as LSU's full-time coach after serving as interim coach in 2016.

Already, some were wondering about Orgeron's buyout.

But Orgeron and his Tigers rallied to a 9-4 record in 2017. Two years later, LSU won a national championship.

Orgeron's footing became unsteady again after a loss to UCLA to open this season. The Tigers have won three straight since then, including a 28-25 triumph over Mississippi State on Saturday.

OK, Orgeron's safe for now.

Next up: Auburn.

Then a road game at Kentucky. Then four straight games against ranked opponents – Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas – including two on the road.

That's one slender tightrope.

He said it

"We own Texas now." – Arkansas linebacker Grant Morgan

The Razorbacks have defeated Rice, Texas and Texas A&M this season.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.