Auburn football isn’t the only thing back after a long layoff. Yours truly is home again after what seems like a NCAA investigation length long duration. Hopefully I’ll be able to last longer than Al Borges’ paycheck. I’m as amped up get going as Tigers Unlimited is to sell the remaining season tickets. While there’s no truth to the rumor that Gus Malzahn recruited me away from a junior college blog, I’m hoping my writing shapes up again to look like his offense than Scott Loeffler’s.
Catching all the games this first weekend, I was reminded that the reemergence of the pre-season bowl game in 2008 by Chick-fil-A restored the glamor of the Kickoff and Pigskin Classics of the 1980s and 90s. Instantly, the SEC cornered that market on the limelight. Not only did we dominate the post season with six to seven bowl teams, but with the Chick’Kick played in the SEC’s own backyard, we looked to tee off the season with it as well. With the Cowboys Classic debuting a year later in Dallas, Jerry Jones sought to steal some of that thunder but didn’t gather much steam until they started inviting SEC teams–LSU in 2011, Alabama last year, and LSU again this last weekend. It didn’t hurt to have the venue flip to the glitz of Jerry World either.
While the game in Atlanta is angled towards the SEC and probably someone from the ACC, the other one has defaulted to the SEC and preferably some team from Texas but not necessarily. Alabama and LSU seem to be penciled in every other year. Last season the Atlanta site doubled down on match ups and looks to do the same next year. Great news came two weeks ago that Auburn is scheduled to play Louisville in 2015. Judging on whether or not Charlie Strong is still coaching there will dictate how good an idea that is. I, like most fans, am always in favor of the limelight, it’s still good strategy to consider starting the season with a cupcake.
With limited slots in the glamor games, the answer to that question for many big name programs for the time being is to buck that historic trend and instead choose to start the season with a bigger competitor–BCS schools picking up other BCS schools. Witness the slate of other games available this weekend just in our conference: Auburn played a team from the PAC 12, State played a Big 12 foe, Vandy and Ole Miss jumped right into conference play, and Georgia took on Clemson. Intriguing match ups like these, coupled with the opening weekend being stretched out five whole days from Thursday through Monday because of the lack of the NFL and the holiday weekend, and the gravity of these games detracted from the exclusivity of the two marquee matchups. Could college football have already made it’s most exciting new trend obsolete or was this simply an abberation?
In a season of limited games and not an exhibition or scrimmage to be found, the time honored tradition of starting the season with a lower division foe is tempting. Of course, not every cupcake will let you lick the frosting bowl. Texas A&M struggled in the first half against Rice sans a suspended Johnny Cash and Florida could be heard screaming Holy Toledo in their game at the Swamp. And Kentucky made Bobby Petrino relevant again by crashing their Bluegrass motorcycle into the Hilltop of intrastate rival Western Kentucky. Maybe the Cats should have given a longer look at Bobby P. after all. They may have thought they were going to be forced to outbid us.
But the brunt of broken SEC dreams was borne by Georgia in their loss to Clemson in a pairing of two top ten teams. Clemson was able to play spoiler to a SEC team for the second year in a row in a renewal of a rivalry that used to span decades. Like Auburn a year ago, The Dawgs now face a tough conference game this week and could easily be staring down the barrel of a 0-2 season. Were that to happen, and with fans’ hopes of a conference and national championship dashed, expect the all-too familiar cries for Mark Richt’s head that we heard two years ago. The lingering disappointment from last year in Atlanta and the putrid start to 2013 would be too much for the Dog faithful and could lead to their own version of Jetgate experienced by Tiger fans a decade prior.
Don’t get too accustomed to these marquee kickoff games and riveting out of conference match ups for long though, sports fans. With the playoff for FBS commencing next year, the desire for the added exposure and chance to bump national rankings won’t be as great for the major powers and will gradually fade away. While the four team playoff won’t exclusively involve conference champions, expect at least the SEC title winner to be in the running each year and for us to try and sneak an extra team in as has been the case the last two seasons. With future SEC divisional scheduling still undetermined, the possibility of not playing every team in your division lingers. And there’s nothing quite like a mythical conference championship to be ambiguous enough to sneak a quarter of the conference into a playoff.
While an OOC loss wouldn’t influence the conference crown, it could affect a team on the edge, like 2011 Alabama, or even a SEC runner-up like Georgia last year. Why stick your neck out early and risk a loss if you already have enough strength of schedule credit in your normal conference schedule? Leave that to the remnants of the Big East and Notre Dame. Eventually, the tough early games will be relegated to the up and coming teams with something to prove, like the teams from what will by then be known as the former non-BCS conferences. And the SEC can go back to scheduling the UT-Chattanoogas and East Carolinas of old.
It’s great to be back, to have football back, and to be an Auburn Tiger. War Eagle!
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