The SEC Riviera Roundup
By Chris Warner
October 7, 2014
A New Day in the SEC
Besieged by a rash of early departures to the NFL, SEC Western Division juggernauts Alabama and LSU are struggling to keep up with their more pedestrian recruiting counterparts, who conversely enjoy a bounty of experienced upper-classmen. This overlooked fait accompli of stellar recruiting is known all too well by the fans of elite basketball schools. Sadly, the love of money is indeed contrary to the love of winning football, when the economic interests of underclassmen are concerned.
In this exclusive column of everything SEC Football, we’ll consider this alarming college football trend and revisit the conference rankings as the Western Division continues to shuffle leaders based on early intra-conference play. Further, we’ll take our regular armchair quarterback tour across the paragon of college football-playing conferences.
A New Day
“This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it. I want it to be a gain, not loss—good, not evil.
Success, not failure, in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.”
-Daily devotion kept in the wallet of Paul William Bryant, Sr.
The Southeastern Conference’s greatest patriarch had many words of wisdom for his faithful friends, followers and fans. However, this is undoubtedly one of my favorites, as the adage was kept on his person, in his wallet. Interestingly, like most great quotes, it is timely even today, as the recent turn of events on the conference’s playing fields signal a certain shift in the strength of the league’s teams, with the two from the Magnolia State leading the sudden surge in dominance. Strangely, Mississippi State and Ole Miss appear poised for a serious run at the conference title, while Alabama and LSU appear certain to finish among the middle to bottom of the tougher division. Ole Miss last won the league in 1963; Mississippi State—1941; although they did win the West in 1998—something Ole Miss has never done.
The current New Day in college football resurrects the debate on how many “blue chippers” a head coach should seek to fill his roster, as recruiting too many future NFL stars can have the resulting unwanted effect of losing the upperclassmen every team needs to compete on an annual basis. Standout freshmen and sophomores and even juniors can be valuable team members, but teams that lack a strong senior class due to early departures can be left without the necessary maturity and leadership only four and five-year players can offer. One can only hope that this alarming trend will not do to college football fandom what it has done to college basketball—spur a precipitous lack of interest.
Around the SEC
Alabama – Nick Saban knows this week’s trip to Fayetteville is going to be tough. The Hogs had a week off after losing a heartbreaker to A&M; and losing, like winning, is a habit.
Arkansas – The Hogs had a reprieve from football last week. They are a talented, rested, motivated ball club. Alabama—not so much right now; this could be the Hogs’ weekend.
Auburn – Auburn has one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Unfortunately, so does Mississippi State. Dak Prescott is likely the better of the two. Watch out Auburn! Stark Vegas is home to echoing cowbells and a strong, confident, Bulldog football team.
LSU – The old adage foretells that every time you start a freshman quarterback you lose one or two games you aren’t supposed to. Les Miles knows this but had no choice. The Tigers head to Florida this weekend hoping to right their listing ship.
Mississippi State – Dan “Merlins” Mullen is having a dream season so far. His team is no longer the also ran. Instead, these Bulldogs are seen as vicious. After dismantling the Aggies they should be up to the challenge of playing the underdog role at home against AU.
Ole Miss – Ole Miss won its biggest game in school history at the expense of the Alabama Crimson Tide. The goalposts came down in the wake of the monumental win. Coach Saban can only wonder and shudder how he lost to the only coach in the league to never play college ball, but who read Malzahn’s book, “Hurry Up No Huddle.”
Texas A&M – The Aggies were humbled by the Bulldogs this past weekend. They get a second shot at the other hot team from the Magnolia State this weekend when they return home to host Ole Miss. This is a tough game for the Rebels, who must now deal with success.
Florida – The Gators upset the Vols in a squeaker in Knoxville. They return home to Gainesville this weekend to host the wounded LSU Tigers. These are two teams lacking an identity, but the Gators have at least won two conference contests. LSU desperately needs a win to quell the Cajuns calling incessantly for Miles to Michigan.
Georgia – The Bulldogs thumped Vandy last week but must travel to Columbia, Mizzou to play the East-leading Tigers. This is a huge game for the Bulldogs, and Todd Gurley, who is easily the league’s biggest Heisman contender next to Dak Prescott.
Kentucky – The Wildcats are on a roll. They defeated South Carolina this past weekend to extend their winning streak to two. The Cats host ULM this weekend before traveling to Baton Rouge in two weeks to try and extend their streak to four.
Mizzou – Maty Mauk’s skill was tested against Carolina. Against Georgia, it will be his will. The Bulldogs’ approach to pass defense is a ferocious pass rush. Whether Mauk can withstand the barrage will determine how well his Tigers perform. The Bulldogs have a dismal record in big games as of late, but this weekend they have the better team.
South Carolina – Steve Spurrier is looking more and more like “The Old Ball Coach” instead of the “Ole Ball Coach” or his preferred moniker, “Head Ball Coach.” The Cocks thankfully have this Saturday off, giving Gamecock fans some time off of calling for Spurrier’s graying head.
Tennessee – Butch Jones has to be disappointed. His team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory this past Saturday, falling to an also-struggling Florida Gator squad. The road to respectability in the SEC is full of potholes. UT Chattanooga couldn’t come at a better time.
Vandy – Commodore fans are looking forward to basketball season. Vandy has struggled mightily under first-year head coach Derek Mason, who took over for Kevin Franklin. In hindsight, one can only wonder how Franklin won in Nashville, as Mason, by all accounts, is no slouch. The Commodore curse continues.
The Sun Came up on Sunday (in Mississippi)
The cooler fall temperatures were a welcome reprieve in the Deep South this past weekend. However, in Louisiana and Alabama, it was a foreshadowing of an upset Saturday of epic proportions. LSU’s drubbing in Jordan-Hare and Bama’s disappointing choke in Oxford made the leftover gumbo on Sunday somewhat less palatable; and in Bama, there were numerous reports of trailer tippings. Winning football is a badge of pride for so many among these theretofore spoiled fan bases. For these troubled souls, it will be difficult to replace the psychological comfort provided from the fact that their favorite football team can no longer say it is better than one from Mississippi. It is indeed a New Day in the tradition-rich SEC.
*Chris Warner is a double graduate of LSU in Baton Rouge. A 15-year observer of SEC Football, he is the author of over 20 titles, including “A Tailgater’ Guide to SEC Football, Vol. IV,” “SEC Sports Quotes Compendium,” and “Bushwhacked at the Flora-Bama,” among others. He is a weekly regular on the Jordy Hultberg radio show. Contact him through his website: http://www.southernbeachreads.com