With Bama watching, who makes a stand?
October, 2, 2012
By Chris Low | ESPN.com
US PresswireFlorida's Will Muschamp, left, and LSU's Les Miles will square off this weekend in Gainesville, Fla.Everybody from the most obnoxious sidewalk alumnus to SEC commissioner Mike Slive himself has puffed out his chest pretty proudly during the SEC’s streak of six straight national championships.
Chants of “SEC, SEC” are common in all 14 of the stadiums across the conference.
Granted, those chants are louder and more frequent in some venues than they are in others.
It’s a league that loves its football (craves it, really) and measures itself based on how many championship trophies it collects.
And, yes, it’s a league that loves to remind you of how dominant it has been.
From afar, skeptics aren’t ready to concede that dominance, especially here lately.
They contend that it’s a league that’s top-heavy and a league that has ridden Alabama’s coattails for the past few years. The Crimson Tide have won two of the past three national championships and are ranked No. 1 in both polls again this season.
There’s little debate that Alabama is the class of the SEC. Since the start of the 2008 season -- Nick Saban’s second in charge in Tuscaloosa -- the Crimson Tide have compiled a 49-4 regular-season record, a 32-5 record in all games against SEC opponents and a 7-1 record against nationally ranked opponents outside the SEC.
Pardon the pun, but it’s the kind of roll that begs an obvious question: Is Alabama on the verge of taking off and leaving everybody else in the SEC in its crimson dust?
We’ll be better able to answer that question come December.
But in terms of the SEC’s overall strength, how ironic is it that the biggest weekend of the season so far won’t even include the Crimson Tide?
A pair of top-10 matchups highlight the SEC schedule on Saturday -- No. 4 LSU taking on No. 10 Florida in Gainesville, Fla., and No. 5 Georgia traveling to Columbia, S.C., to face No. 6 South Carolina.
One league having five teams in the top 10 in October speaks for itself. Even so, this is a chance for Florida, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina all to break out a bit from Alabama’s shadow and prove their worth as national championship contenders.
LSU has been here. This isn’t foreign ground for the Tigers, who went 13-0 last season in climbing to No. 1 in the polls before losing to Alabama 21-0 in a rematch in the BCS National Championship Game.
But the Tigers this season still have a lot to prove after plodding their way through the past two games, including a 38-22 win over FCS foe Towson last week.
The Tigers have dropped in the national polls each of the past two weeks. Here’s a chance to show that they’re still as strong of a contender as ever, especially considering what the environment will be like Saturday in the Swamp.
For the other three, all East Division rivals, only one will survive.
Consider this weekend the first of a three- or four-game playoff. They all play each other. The chief difference is that Georgia doesn’t have to play LSU.
If you look at it from Georgia’s perspective (and, yes, the Bulldogs have looked vulnerable on defense), a win over South Carolina puts it in prime position to possibly be 12-0 and playing for an SEC championship.
After South Carolina, the last really tough test on Georgia’s schedule is Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 27. If the Bulldogs get past the Gators, three of their final four games are at home – Ole Miss, at Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.
That’s not to diss Florida and South Carolina. It’s just that they have a lot tougher road if they’re going to be in that national championship conversation when December rolls around.
Other than both having to face LSU, they also both have killer regular-season finales against bitter in-state rivals on the road. Florida ends the season at No. 3 Florida State, and South Carolina heads to No. 15 Clemson.
Of course, the entire picture changes if South Carolina knocks off Georgia and/or Florida takes care of LSU this Saturday.
Then, the Florida-South Carolina showdown on Oct. 20 in Gainesville takes center stage.
There’s too much football to be played for anybody to start making reservations.
But with the SEC’s alpha dog sitting at home and watching this week, we at least get a better sense of who else in the pack is ready to bow up and make a stand in college football’s ultimate dog-eat-dog league.