COVID-19 is bigger than football, but I'd be crushed if these 5 September SEC games were canceled
You can think 2 things at the same time.
Like, I understand the severity of COVID-19. I don’t want to ignore the risk this has on our population. I understand that putting tens of thousands of people into stadiums seems reckless when we are dealing with a pandemic.
I would also be extremely bummed to see this social distancing carry into the start of the college football season. We only get (give or take) 14 college football Saturdays a year, and just the thought of losing a couple makes me the bad kind of anxious.
What I’m about to write is by no means a prediction that these games will be canceled. But given the cancelations of massive sporting events like the NCAA Tournament, The Masters and The Olympics among others, it’s fair to at least wonder if we’re going to see a normal 2020 college football season during this uncertain time.
If players aren’t allowed to practice together again until early-August, there’s a scenario in which games are delayed. In a perfect world, the curve is flattened and we play the 2020 season as scheduled. That’s my wish. I have no answer as to whether that’ll come true.
If that doesn’t play out and COVID-19 does result in the cancelation of games, losing these 5 would be a major bummer:
1. Sept. 19: Georgia at Alabama
For the first time in 5 years, we’re supposed to see these teams play in the regular season. It’ll be different than watching them battle for an SEC or national championship, but obviously the stakes are going to be plenty high. Is this finally the first time that a Nick Saban disciple gets the last laugh? I don’t know.
What I do know is that the thought of Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle going against Georgia’s loaded defense is all sorts of intriguing. Both teams lost a lot of talent, but they could still be top-5 teams when this matchup rolls around.
Oh, and I should probably mention the Scott Cochran angle. I’m gonna go on record and say that Cochran is about to get the rudest welcoming of any special teams coach in college football history. The on-camera shots of him (I assume in the booth?) will be plentiful. That much we know.
The thought of canceling any game with potentially massive Playoff expectations is obviously a tough thing to stomach. But missing out on this rotating crossover would be an especially tough pill to swallow.
2. Sept. 12: Texas at LSU
That game was fantastic last year. You know this one is going to be a night kickoff like it was last year. Maybe it’ll also host College GameDay, but instead of shooting a cannon through an LSU jersey, perhaps this year we’d see Ed Orgeron wrestle that steer, Bevo. Dibs, Coach O.
Last year’s game was an instant classic. For my money, it was one of the 3-4 best regular-season games of the year. Will that be the case this year if it’s played? I wouldn’t doubt it. LSU has no shortage of questions it needs to answer, mainly at the second level of that defense and on the offensive line. The other question — how good is Myles Brennan — will also get some clarity in a game like this.
That is, assuming it’s played. These conversations are happening:
Spoke with an AD today who is going to have his staff start modeling out what it means to the dept to have:
10-game football season
Losing 1 home game
Losing 2 home games
No fans all season
No fans through Oct.
Along with other less optimistic scenarios.
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) March 26, 2020
Now let’s everybody listen to Coach O’s public service announcement and prevent this from being a reality.
3. Sept. 12: Tennessee at Oklahoma
You’ll notice a theme here — I have a ton of Sept. 12 games. This one is marked on the calendar for a variety of reasons. The most obvious one is that we get to see just how much Tennessee is ready to speed up that hype train. If the Vols go into Norman and stymie new Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, we’re suddenly looking at a third contender in the SEC East.
Speaking of Rattler, I want any excuse to watch a Heisman Trophy candidate. That’s the assumption for any Oklahoma quarterback under Lincoln Riley. It figures to be the former 5-star recruit’s first real FBS start. That’s something I’m looking forward to.
The contrast in identity allows us to tackle an annual question — how would a Big 12 offense fare against an elite SEC defense? If we don’t get to see that play out, then we’re still asking that question into bowl season. I don’t like that. I’d much rather have a home-and-home with a pair of traditional powers to help us decide that question.
Do you think we’d hear an “S-E-C, S-E-C!” on the TV broadcast if Tennessee went into Norman and pulled off the upset? Probably. We’ll cross that bridge if (a bigger “if” than I once thought) and when we come to it.
4. Sept. 12: Kentucky at Florida
If you haven’t been paying attention, this game has been absolutely awesome the past 3 years. Most matchups between teams where one has wins in 32 of the past 33 games aren’t must-see TV, this one absolutely is. Need I remind you?
- 2017 — Kentucky blows double-digit lead for leaving not 1 but 2 Florida receivers uncovered for touchdowns
- 2018 — Kentucky goes into Florida and wins in The Swamp for the first time in 31 years
- 2019 — Feleipe Franks suffers season-ending injury and Kyle Trask rallies Gators back from double-digit deficit
What’ll happen in 2020? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. Hopefully.
This is also an interesting head-to-head matchup because of what each team does well. Kentucky returns starters galore on that defense while Florida has that on the offensive side of the ball. It’s Dan Mullen, the great offensive mind, vs. Mark Stoops, the great defensive mind.
This game has a knack for giving us something totally unpredictable. At this point, I would gladly take a boring 28-17 game as long as it meant live sports on TV.
5. Sept. 12: Auburn vs. UNC (in Atlanta)
Sensing a theme, are we? Yes, I have a lot of Sept. 12 games because of that aforementioned tweet about a 10-game schedule (it seems unlikely that they’d just cancel 1 game). This matchup, even though it isn’t a home-and-home, is still going to be plenty good if we get to see it.
Mack Brown has a lot of people believing that UNC can take that up-in-the-air No. 2 spot in the ACC behind Clemson. A game like this will go a long way in proving or disproving that. It’ll also go a long way in shaping the perception of Gus Malzahn in 2020. It’s a bit much to say 1 game is make-or-break for his future at this point, but could a loss to a basketball school have Auburn fans on edge before SEC play kicks off? Absolutely.
This is also a sneaky-good matchup of a pair of blue-chip quarterbacks from the 2019 class. Sam Howell had the year that Auburn fans wish Bo Nix had. Can Nix begin his “I’m the man in Year 2” narrative with a dominant neutral-site performance? Possibly.
Auburn played in a pair of entertaining, down-to-the-wire games in neutral-site showdowns each of the last 2 years. Nobody would be surprised to see that happen again.
Well, assuming there is a game to see. Fingers crossed, y’all.