The votes are in, and pretty much every preseason publication has spoken: The Southeastern Conference is set to be king of college football again in 2008.
Not only outsiders think so; at the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., every coach said the league will be better than in 2007, when LSU won the conference’s second consecutive national title.
It’s hard to argue with such a consensus. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offers a dazzling array of supporting facts: Two 2007 BCS bowl teams (LSU, Georgia) both won; nine teams had seven-plus wins in 2007; eight have 14 or more returning starters, highlighted by Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow of Florida.
Four SEC teams are in at least one preseason top 10: the Gators, Auburn, LSU and Georgia, which is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on everyone’s list. Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina are listed among the top 30 by some.
It sounds great, and might even turn out that way. So why are most SEC teams intent on keeping their superiority a secret?
I’m talking about the league’s unwillingness, in terms of nonconference scheduling, of putting its money where its mouth is. Once again, SEC teams will play a mostly who’s-that lineup of foes, defending the practice with the tired idea that “the conference is tough enough” without looking for outside trouble.
Of 48 non-SEC opponents (four per team) this fall, 31 are in the should-be-an-automatic-win category. Of the other 17, six are traditional rivalries (Clemson-USC, Louisville-Kentucky, etc.).
The one mitigating factor for the SEC’s wimp-out image: Of six nonconference games that scream “mustsee TV,” four are on the road, while Clemson-Alabama is in neutral Atlanta.
Georgia at Arizona State, Arkansas at Texas, Auburn at West Virginia and Tennessee at UCLA should give us some indication how the SEC stacks up nationally.
Hawaii at Florida looked better before the Sugar Bowl. Of the rest, N.C. State at USC is an OK regional matchup, though a must-win for the Gamecocks.
Enjoy those games while you can. Then it will be back inside the SEC clubhouse for a little mutually harmful jousting until bowl season. Is the SEC the best? Must be; everyone says so, right?
Me, I’m looking forward to defending national champion LSU at home Aug. 30 against its toughest nonconference foe: Appalachian State, last season’s giant-killer against Michigan. Win that, Les Miles, and then we’ll talk about who’s No. 1.
— Bob Gillespie