It’s been a very, very weird time in the college sports world and it all started on that Thursday during conference tournament weekend when everything was canceled essentially overnight. Everything completely stopped and what followed it was months of uncertainty.
Things have started to get better while outbreaks are still occurring nearly five months later, but we seem to have reached a somewhat level of normalcy with the NBA, MLB, PGA Tour, NASCAR, UFC and WNBA all playing live events this week. Things seem to be getting tuned up for football season and finally we have learned the SEC’s model after the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC all released their plans prior to the public getting word out of Birmingham.
Beginning the last weekend in September, toes will be meeting leather in the Southeastern Conference with each team set to play 10 league games over the next 11 weeks with the conference championship game scheduled for December 19. It will be the biggest endurance test the sport has ever seen and we’ll all have a front row seat to see how it all unfolds.
It’s very natural for some fans to be giddy and for others to be downright disappointed. We are entering the land of the unknown and the league office doesn’t even know how they are going to schedule it as we stand right now. This is going to get pretty wonky and the variable of COVID-19 could change things at moment’s notice. But as we stand right now, we’re entering a once in a lifetime time season with plenty to get excited about and it’s going to be fun as hell.
Kentucky Is Built For This
The Wildcats return 15 starters off of last season’s team and that’s not even counting Terry Wilson and Davonte Robinson, who missed the season with injury. You also need to add in LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph who is expected to be boundary corner No. 1 over 12-game starter Cedrick Dort Jr. That’s even before you get to the line of scrimmage.
UK will have the best center in the conference and two of the top five tackles. The returning four starters have combined to start 83 games and each has a legit chance to get drafted. On the other side of the football, Quinton Bohanna is one of the finest interior defensive linemen in the country and Wildcats should have a defensive line rotation that is at least 10-deep. Combine that with a senior quarterback, one of the best secondaries in the country, a plethora of running backs and a potential double-digit sack guy in Boogie Watson. A lot of pieces are there.
The schedule is going to be tough and an extra road game against one who recruits at a top 15 or top 20 level is very likely. However, Kentucky’s roster building has been really strong over recent seasons and this is arguably the best roster in program history. With that talent comes a load of experience and the Wildcats should be ready to cash in with victories when the season begins.
No Inflated Records
There’s a saying that Bill Parcells made popular many moons again when he stated, “You are what your record says your are.” That may be in true in the NFL where everyone plays the same group of 30 something teams with over a third of those games yearly happening against the same three teams in your division. However, things can be quite different in college football.
If you choose to, it’s quite feasible to schedule three automatic wins in the non-conference and the fourth game can be very winnable if that one Power Five team turns out to be bad. This can lead to some inflated records and can turn some pretenders into contenders. We’ve seen Texas A&M be a king at this in the past.
Back in 2016, the Aggies were 6-0 and up to No. 6 in the nation when they headed to Tuscaloosa to play No. 1 Alabama with College GameDay in town. With Trevor Knight behind center and Myles Garrett wreaking havoc off the edge, A&M looked like a legit CFP contender. That changed following the 19-point loss as the Aggies would crawl to a 2-5 finish.
A&M was in a similar boat this season with Colorado, the projected worst team in the Pac-12, being their biggest non-con test and not having Alabama or LSU on the schedule until the last two weeks of the season. However, that won’t be the case this year and you will have to earn your record.
This is going to be a grind and there’s going to be a ton of one-possession games. Buckle up for a fun ride.
To put it bluntly, things are a mess on West End in Nashville right now. Derek Mason has had more athletic directors (3) than bowl appearances (2) and it certainly feels like a situation where the Commodores will be looking to make a change soon. The school is in desperate need of some facility upgrades and the university just recently decided to shred its athletic communications department.
Mason had to replace both of his coordinators this offseason, will be starting a quarterback with zero experience and could be a double-digit dog in every game they play this season. With that said, they will get a nice reset when they play host.
Georgia fans took over Vanderbilt yesterday ?
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) September 1, 2019
In league games this season, Vandy will get a semblance of home field advantage with social distancing guidelines taking down attendance and essentially eliminating entry from anyone who is not a season ticket holder or family member of a player on the team. Vandy does draw Ole Miss and South Carolina at home plus it is very likely the league office matches them up with Arkansas. With these factors, Mason may be able to surprise some people this fall.
Cold Weather Football
For those that listen to our great podcast “11 Personnel,” you know my affinity for the cold. Football is at its best when it is being played outside in the elements during the months of November and December. One of the worst things about Kentucky’s place in the SEC is that they haven’t been able to take advantage of being the northernmost school in the conference.
For a very long time, UK has ended its conference slate with games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt who happen to be the second and third northernmost schools in the conference. Kentucky has never been able to get Florida on its schedule in November and more times than not when it hosts a big time program from the West it happens in October.
However, this year we get nearly half of the schedule taking place in November and December, providing UK the excellent opportunity to host multiple league foes in suboptimal conditions. With the way this Kentucky team is built, that’s a big advantage that could allow the Wildcats to make a big splash as the season comes to a close.
It’s Wide Open
For over a decade, there is no denying that this has been Nick Saban’s league. Alabama’s head football coach has won six conference titles since 2009 with five national championships. They have been the cream of the crop in the sport, but we’ve started to see some chinks in the armor.
For just the second time since Saban arrived, another SEC team brought home the national title and the Crimson Tide lost two regular season games and finished outside of the top-five for just the second time in the decade. That is still very elite and they are on an insane run of 12 straight top-10 finishes and that doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.
Bama will enter the season as the favorite if media day ever occurs and they again have the most talented roster in the conference. However, they have some pretty big quarterback questions and the jury is still very much out on defensive coordinator Pete Golding. These question marks mean the league is wide open and that is good news for everyone.
A lot of people are drinking the Dan Mullen kool-aid, but he has still yet to beat Kirby Smart as a head coach and hasn’t really even been close in their three head-to-head meetings. Texas A&M has the schedule to make a run while LSU is the defending national champ. Auburn is always a wild card with Gus Malzahn and both Kentucky and Tennessee seem poised to make some noise and rattle some cages.
Now we add two additional conference games to the equation in a league where the quarterback position appears set to make a major step backwards. There are a bunch of teams that are very close together and that could result in upsets across the board. This new format combined with the status of the programs could give us one of the more wild regular seasons in conference history.
It’s going to be fun as hell.