For many reasons – a stated desire to travel less, a calculated move to push back the start date, an unstated desire to irk the ACC – the SEC wound up with a 10-game schedule, no outsiders allowed. By the second of those 10 Saturdays, we’ve already seen the difference it can make.
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry was scheduled for its 125th installment Saturday night in Athens. “I’ve been a part of a lot of Auburn-Georgia games,” said Kirby Smart, who played for the Bulldogs and now coaches them. “I’ve never been part of one in Week 2.”
Not since 1936, when the series was then staged in Columbus, had these two met before November. Then the Bulldogs face Tennessee. Then they play Alabama in Tuscaloosa, then Kentucky in Lexington, then Florida in Jax. No bye weeks anywhere. Barely time to take a deep breath. Georgia has known tough stretches before – the run of LSU/Florida/Kentucky/Auburn of 2018 comes to mind, though an off-week was interspersed – but not many like this. And then come four MORE league games.
The point being: SEC teams have never been tasked with doing what a 2020 SEC assemblage must do – play somebody else from the Just-Means-More association 10 weeks running. History teaches us how difficult it is for great teams to go 8-0 in this league. Tack on two more games and see what happens.
Here’s how many of Nick Saban’s six national championship teams (one at LSU, five at Alabama) went unbeaten in the conference season – one. His 2003 Tigers lost to Florida; his 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2018 Crimson Tide lost, in order, to LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Auburn. Urban Meyer’s Florida BCS champs lost league games to Auburn (2006) and Ole Miss (2018.) Les Miles' 2007 LSU champs lost twice – to Kentucky and Arkansas, each in three overtimes.
We saw strange doings in Week 1. Mississippi State, under the sword-swinging Mike Leach, went to Baton Rouge and beat No. 6 LSU, the unbeaten 2019 national champ. No. 10 Texas A&M struggled at home against Vanderbilt. No. 4 Georgia trailed Arkansas, which hasn’t won a conference game since 2017, at the half. No. 8 Auburn led Kentucky by two after three quarters. No. 5 Florida yielded 35 points to Ole Miss, now under the tutelage of the legendary Lane Kiffin.
That was Week 1. Week 2 saw no similar upheavals in the afternoon games, unless the grim truth that Will Muschamp still isn’t a head coach counts as breaking news. Florida is 2-0, but it must travel to College Station next. Tennessee is 2-0, but it faces a date with Georgia between the hedges. Oh, and Alabama? Still pretty good.
It’s 2020, and this is the SEC. There are no guarantee games to pad the record, no Saturdays off to rest and recalibrate. There’s just another test against another school that takes the sport as seriously as you do, week upon week upon week. It’s hard to imagine any team sailing through undefeated, Alabama included.