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Have the Mighty Fallen?

John Marcase

John Marcase

September 14, 2023 at 5:00:00 PM

Early SEC football isn’t showing much promise

Let’s be honest. There isn’t much that can be gleaned from LSU’s 72-10 victory over Grambling State Saturday night. The purple and gold Tigers were heavy favorites over the black and gold Tigers, and LSU pretty much dominated the way it should have. Not much to take away from that. Saturday’s game at Mississippi State is a much bigger concern and barometer for what is to come from Brian Kelly’s squad.

However, there is something that can be surmised after the first two full weekends of the college football season. The SEC ain’t what it used to be.

Week 1 brought ugly losses by Florida to Utah, South Carolina to North Carolina and LSU to Florida State.

Week 2 brought more of a bruise to the ego of the mighty SEC, and it was downright nightmarish if you were Jimbo Fisher or anyone associated with Texas A&M. First, the Aggies lost at Miami, 48-33. Then, Texas gained a measure of revenge from 2022’s loss to Alabama by thumping the Tide in Tuscaloosa, 34-24. The last thing the embattled Fisher needs is Texas ascending as the Longhorns prepare to enter the SEC next season alongside Oklahoma.

Through two weeks of the season, the SEC is 3-6 against Power 5 teams. The marquee victory for the league is No. 20 Ole Miss’ 37-20 win at No. 24 Tulane this past Saturday, and the Wave were without starting quarterback Michael Pratt.

What in the name of Bear Bryant has happened to the conference of “It just means more?” 

Conference play begins this Saturday. In addition to LSU at Mississippi State, South Carolina-Georgia and Tennessee-Florida are on the slate. The remaining schools begin league play the following Saturday. That means the conference will not have a chance to bolster its out-of-conference resume until the final week of the regular season with a handful of rivalry games, but most if not all will not take place against unranked teams such as Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville.

There are a myriad of reasons why the SEC as a whole appears to be down in 2023. The two main reasons may be the transfer portal and NIL (Name, Image and Likeness). Players no longer are willing to sit and be developed. They want to play now. NIL allows athletes to make bank while in college, and nearly all of the Power 5 conference schools have well-funded NIL entities, if not a bevy of transfers.

Texas’ victory at Alabama is a prime example. Longhorn quarterback Quinn Ewers may be the poster child of each. Ewers graduated high school early, missing his senior season, to leave his hometown in the Dallas suburbs for Ohio State and a reported seven figure NIL deal.

After a season with the Buckeyes, Ewers transferred home to Texas and had the Longhorns up on Bama last season before suffering a season-ending injury as the Tide rallied to win, 20-19. Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ewers passed for 349 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions. The Arch Manning era in Austin may have to wait a few years, or perhaps begin in another locale.

Worrisome for Alabama, the Tide were dominated in the fourth quarter. Bama wasn’t just outscored, 21-8, but Texas dominated time of possession in the quarter, possessing the ball for more than 10 minutes, including the final 7:14.

This could be a low Tide moment for Nick Saban during his 17 seasons at Alabama, aside from his first season that was punctuated by an upset loss at home to UL-Monroe, 21-14. 

The problem is, who outside Georgia can take advantage? Though the Bulldogs are trying for the first three-peat national championship, it is hard to tell how good they are since they’ve played UT-Martin and Ball State. The Dawgs’ two remaining non-conference games are against UAB and Georgia Tech, which are not exactly the toughest tests in college football.

In the past, weak non-conference schedules didn’t really matter to the SEC, as it could rightfully boast of playing the best football. Winning 13 of the past 17 national championships has proven that. 

Georgia, or someone else from the SEC may extend the conference’s reign, but early results aren’t promising.

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