Americans – and by extension America, because America is Americans – hold liberty as their first love. Liberty, put simply, is the ability to do whatever you want so long as it harms no one else. This naturally fuels bold expression and action, as everyone aims their life toward whatever maximizes their version of happiness.
No region of the country has this uniquely American pursuit down to a science more than the South – especially the maximization part.
In the South, the people move slowly and kindly. Time itself seems unwilling to impose on anyone. Food’s all deep-fried, conversations are courteous, tradition remains real. There’s a rooted homey steadfast good-feeling grit to the whole place.
Distilling the South to a word is hard, but “gumption” comes pretty close. It captures a Southerner’s preference for trails already tracked, combined with a shrewd ability to swerve when needed. It embraces change, yes, but tied to reality, taking what’s offered and facing the music, doing the best you can with courage and a chuckle.
“Gumption” is just about a perfect adjective for the SEC’s path toward this very abnormal season of college football. When some other conferences were fretting as cases spiked, backing away from fall football in fear, the SEC resolutely maintained it could hold a season. There’s no outward sign that they’ll change their mind.
But Southerners aren’t fools. Unprecedented times may call for unprecedented measures. So even the SEC is playing a conference-only season and decreasing stadium capacity.
This is sure to make a bunch of SEC fans unhappy. They’ll engage in that ancient Southern practice of arguing not from two different sides, but within the same side. The season will happen. That’s taken for granted. From there? Endless dinner-table, cigar-circle, bar-top back-and-forth over exactly how much the COVID should affect it.
Regardless of COVID’s intrusion, you have to admire the SEC. Not only did they announce their schedule this week, but they did so on an ESPN network in a primetime special, thumbing their nose at the (mostly) motley crew of Droopy Dogs in the Big Ten and PAC-12. That’s a suitably gumption-filled start to a season like none other.
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So who’s likely to win, lose, and disappoint this year in the SEC? Let me tell you.
Yawn. Look, as long as Nick Saban holds the reins, the Tide’s dynasty will endure. This season they reload again, with game-tested Mac Jones competing with a five-star freshman for the QB spot (oh, the embarrassment of riches in Tuscaloosa). Bama has spectacular skill talent on both sides of the ball, and the best offensive line in the nation. They missed the College Football Playoff last year. If the Playoff happens this year, that won’t happen again.
Florida’s kind of like Texas. We’re constantly waiting to see whether they’ll return to the Urban Meyer-helmed top-flight form of their recent past, eyeing them suspiciously, hoping their flaws won’t prove to be their downfall. Unlike this year’s Longhorns, though, the Gators look poised to challenge for the divisional title and a possible Playoff spot. Florida boasts a decent number of returning starters, including QB Kyle Trask, who’ll have solid skill-position talent to target across the board. The question mark is the OL, which must protect Trask for the Gators to challenge Georgia’s SEC East dominance.
DARK HORSE: Auburn
Why is almost everyone sleeping on the Tigers? Bo Nix had an excellent freshman year leading Gus Malzahn’s offense, and hopefully he’ll have better protection this season – a reload on the OL is, counter-intuitively, probably exactly what they need. Returning superstar Seth Williams at WR should help Nix feel at home in long-yardage situations. If their largely new D gels, they have a favorable schedule: the Tigers go to Georgia but get Texas A&M, LSU, and dangerous Tennessee at home.
I get why the pundits are still so high on the Bayou Bengals. Arguably, last year’s version was the greatest college football team ever. But this is now; that was then. Ed Orgeron has plenty to replace on both sides of the ball. Bo Pelini’s stepping in for Baylor-bound Dave Aranda to coordinate the D, bringing with him a lethal but completely new scheme. Myles Brennan has some Goliath-sized shoes to fit into as he replaces Heisman winner Joe Burrow, but luckily, he gets Ja’Marr Chase back out wide. This has all the red flags of a rebuilding year, but maybe the Tigahs will claw their way to victories on talent alone. We’ll see.
LOSER: Mississippi State
Sorry, SEC East, I know this preview is West-heavy, but they’re honestly just more interesting. And sorry, CLANGA. You may have won last year’s Egg Bowl in such an improbable fashion that you literally altered your state’s flag, and heck, you may do it again. But your new coach is Mike Leach: famously a fan of zoomy offense, famously fun at press conferences, famously bad at winning rivalry games. The Fightin’ Cowbells will need time to adjust to the Air Raid, and KJ Costello is not the man to run it. Plus, it’s hard to run a pass-heavy offense with basically no one to throw to. The D is a gigantic shoulder-shrug, sporting a new coordinator. I’m trying to say that this season will not go well for you.
Barring any breaking news, my next article will be released on September 4th. It’s my season opener, a big long loveable meditation to get you in the mood for the upcoming season. This year, it’s simply called Bad.
Feel free to follow me in the meantime, and as always, happy watching!