Sorry State of the SEC
Some people think that Kentucky is not in the South, but is instead in the Midwest. Some people are idiots. Kentucky is in the South, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And, as a member of the Southern half of these United States we are afforded certain inalienable rights, chief among those is the right to enjoy bourbon, women, horses, and football. Football, yes football, is part of our Southern heritage as much as anything, be it iced tea, grits, or collard greens. In the South, Saturdays are for college football and the Southeastern Conference, one of the oldest and most storied conferences in all of the land. The SEC is the home of Paul "Bear" Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach who has been gone for 20 years, but whom 'Bama fans talk about as if he coached his final game last week. The SEC embraces cocky sons of bitches like former Heisman Trophy winner and University of Florida Head Coach Steve Spurrier, who never missed an opportunity to run up the score or run down your school. The SEC is where Herschel Walker ran roughshod between the hedges at the University of Georgia. The SEC is where three different Mannings, Archie, Peyton, and Eli, chose to play quarterback. The SEC is where the Louisiana State University fans made so much noise during a game that it actually registered on a seismograph. The SEC is War Eagle, Roll Tide, Cowbells, Gamecocks, the World's Biggest Cocktail Party, and UGA, the greatest college mascot of all time. The SEC is all of these things, but right now the SEC is not the nation's best football conference. Not even close.
Think about these scores for a second. Auburn is a football team that supposedly featured not one, not two, not three, but four running backs who could conceivably start and excel at almost any other Division I school. They were picked by some publications to win a national title and they opened their season at home against a Pac-10 team, the University of Southern California, which lost their Heisman Trophy winner to the NFL. They proceeded to go out and lose 23-0. That was not a typo, that was 0, zero, zilch, love (for you tennis people out there). OK, a blip on the screen, maybe USC is the real deal. They followed this up by losing to ACC doormat Georgia Tech 17-3, which means the four best running backs in the country are leading an offense that averages 1.5 points per game.
There would be no reason to panic if this was an isolated incident, if Auburn was the only SEC brother not carrying their weight. But this wave appears to be cresting as the college football season rolls on. The Mississippi State Bulldogs, a team once feared for their innovative defenses, gave up 42 points to a University of Oregon team that broke several NCAA records for "ugliest uniforms ever seen in a college football game." The University of Kentucky was manhandled by the University of Louisville, a team that is picked to finish 5th in Conference USA, at home 40-24. They followed up that stellar effort by beating Division I-AA Murray State 37-6, a blowout that unfortunately showcased the Wildcats ability, or disability, to run the ball. A I-A team not being able to run the ball against a I-AA team is like me not being able to post up my 5'2" sister in a game of hoops. UK was not alone in losing to Conference USA teams as Eli Manning and the Ole Miss Rebels gave up 23 points in the fourth quarter to Memphis, a CUSA team worse than Louisville, on their way to a 44-34 defeat. Losing to a CUSA team, a conference that is a rung below Bowl Championship Conferences like the SEC, the Big 12, the ACC, the Big 10, the Pac-10, and the Big East should be enough to have your status as an SEC school come under review. The SEC was supposed to have the best players money can buy. Isn't that why more than half the schools are on probation?
It is so bad that the SEC is now celebrating moral victories and squeaker wins. The University of Florida was a 14 point underdog to Miami. 14 points!!! Under Spurrier, the only time the Gators were 14-point underdogs were if they were playing an NFL team. The Gators blew a 23-point lead and lost 38-33, but at least they came close. Since when do the Gators, the Mighty, Mighty Gators take "moral" victories? Alabama, where the Bear once roamed, is patting themselves on the back because they "almost" beat number 1 ranked Oklahoma, before losing 20-13. It used to be the only number one team that won in Tuscaloosa was the Tide, guess not anymore. Even the Tennessee Volunteers had it rough, not being able to put away a tough Marshall team at home, winning only by 10.
It is not all bad though. The Georgia Bulldogs and Coach Mark Richt appear to be filling the void at the top of the SEC vacated by the Gators. A 30-0 shutout of Clemson in week one was impressive indeed. Lou Holtz continues to work miracles in Columbia, as his Gamecocks knocked off the ranked Virginia Cavaliers, and LSU smoked Arizona 59-3. However, victories like this were once the norm and now they are the exception.
Although you cannot point at one single thing, the transition from Steve Spurrier to Ron Zook triggered not only the downfall of Gator football, but also the SEC as a whole. Florida was the bell cow, the team that walked the walk and talked the talk. Under Zook, they are just another team and that is turning the SEC into just another conference. Meanwhile the Big 12, with Oklahoma and Texas, the Big 10 with Ohio State and Michigan, and the ACC with Florida State, and soon Virginia Tech and Miami, all appear to have bypassed the SEC.
The road to redemption begins now. Georgia is the big dog of the SEC and desperately need someone to join them. Whether it be Tennessee, Florida, LSU, or, what the hell, the Kentucky Wildcats. A great conference has two power teams, not just one. SEC football is a tradition, and in the grand scheme of things, a few bad years should not be cause for alarm. Victories over teams like Miami and Oklahoma are long-range goals, but wins over mid-major CUSA teams should begin now. The South may not rise again, but the SEC will. n
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