If it’s the third weekend of November, it must be Cupcake Saturday in the SEC.
Yep, this is the weekend when SEC teams – instead of playing each other like in all the other conferences – take on overmatched non-Power 5 and often FCS opponents to pad their records and get healthy.
But this year, we decided not to shame the SEC, instead we’ll pity it. Simply put, the once-great conference that dominated college football for nearly a decade is now just Alabama and 13 dwarfs.
Take a look at the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Sure, Alabama is at the top (and deservedly so), but you’ll have to go all the way down to No. 15 to find the next SEC team – Auburn. Meanwhile, there are four Big Ten teams occupying the top eight and four Pac-12 teams in the top 13. Even the woeful Big 12 placed three teams between Alabama and Auburn.
Other than Alabama, every SEC team has at least three losses. And the conference’s legion of apologists (beginning with that four-letter network) can no longer claim that it’s a function of just SEC teams beating each other up. Other than the Crimson Tide’s thrashing of USC in the season opener, no SEC team has beaten a currently ranked nonconference opponent.
The SEC is now a conference of rampant mediocrity, as the first cause of it is coaching turnovers not for the better. While the SEC once boasted future Hall of Fame coaches such as Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier simultaneously, it is now left with the likes of Butch Jones, Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart at some of its marquee programs.
The other reason for the downfall of the SEC is it’s been bereft of quarterback talent for sometime now. Of the five SEC QBs currently starting in the NFL, only Dak Prescott (a 2016 fourth-round pick who has emerged surprisingly thanks to Tony Romo’s injury) is of recent vintage. Basically the SEC has not produced any top-shelf quarterback for at least half a decade following the likes of Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton.
So while Alabama has remained on its lofty perch in the college football pecking order, the rest of the SEC has come crashing down despite its usual abundance of talented recruits. And its scheduling malpractice has now become an issue more than ever before.
The SEC (along with the ACC) has steadfastly refused to play nine conference games as all other Power 5 leagues have moved to do. Most of the teams play up to eight home games and rarely travel out of the SEC footprint. They load up the nonconference portion of the schedule with the usual little sisters of the poor as once again every SEC team was slated to play one FCS opponent this season.
If it weren’t for the hurricane-caused postponement of the LSU-Florida game, we would’ve been treated to eight SEC games featuring a cupcake opponent this Saturday. There are no other conferences that do this as blatantly and consistently – and getting away with it – as the SEC. But now the conference will be paying a price for it.
Most likely there will be no more than two SEC teams in the New Year’s Six bowl lineup this year: Alabama in the playoff and another in the SEC-contracted Sugar Bowl. Whereas it used to overwhelm the bowl season, the SEC (minus Alabama) is now merely an afterthought.
Game of the Week
Oklahoma (-3) at West Virginia, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
The two teams that represent the Big 12’s last best chance at a playoff spot square off in Morgantown, with the winner keeping the conference’s slim hopes alive. Oklahoma will need considerable amount of help even if it wins out to claim the Big 12 title so it must defeat West Virginia and, combined with an Oklahoma State win at TCU, to set up a winner-take-all Bedlam as a last chance to impress the committee.
Also keep an eye on
Florida at LSU (-13.5), 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Originally scheduled for the Swamp on Oct. 8, this game was postponed as a precaution for Hurricane Matthew. Both teams had to cancel respective matchups with South Alabama (LSU) and FCS Presbyterian (Florida) to make the makeup happen in Baton Rouge. The Gators must win this game to fend off Tennessee for the SEC East title whereas the Tigers need it to keep their hopes alive for the Sugar Bowl.
Washington State at Colorado (-4.5), 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX
The Pac-12’s unlikely division leaders meet in what could be a preview of the conference title game. After stumbling out of the gate with two losses, Washington State is the hottest team in the Pac-12, having won eight straight while averaging 46.6 points per game during the streak. Colorado, on the other hand, has won more conference games this season (six) than its previous five seasons in the Pac-12 combined (five).
Player to watch
Louisville (-14) at Houston, 8 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN
What was at one point considered a gargantuan nonconference matchup featuring a pair of top five teams has badly lost its luster, thanks to two Houston losses and Louisville’s narrow defeat at Clemson. But besides Lamar Jackson, we’ll get to appreciate Houston’s 27-year-old freshman punter Dane Roy, by way of Australia. The former ice cream salesman won a kicking competition in the Australian Football League’s Grand Final (the equivalent of the Super Bowl) and got to spend some time with Ray Guy before earning a scholarship from the Cougars. Roy punted 11 times in Houston’s 30-18 victory over Tulane last week and is averaging 40.2 yards per punt this season.