1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

The inevitable happened last week, and the only question remaining is suddenly unavoidable.

What exactly is the SEC getting with Texas and Oklahoma?

“Ratings gold,” an SEC AD told me this week. “The wealth is always there, it never diminishes.”

That’s good, because the product on the field certainly has for 2 foundational titans of college football. That 24-karat gold standard in media rights and television appeal is hovering around the 14-karat mark on the field of late.

Texas and Oklahoma may look all shiny and pretty to university presidents and television executives. But they may as well be Texas A&M and Florida of late when talking wins and losses.

Or as they say in the land of cowboys: All hat, no cattle.

When the college football world changed forever 2 years ago, when Texas and OU quietly applied to join the SEC while publicly flaunting the Big 12 banner, the paradigm shift had potentially devastating moves on the field for the rest of college football.

Oklahoma had appeared in 4 of the past 6 Playoffs, and Texas was on yet another iteration of being “back” with new coach Steve Sarkisian. Oklahoma began the 2021 season with the projected No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft (Spencer Rattler) and national title hopes, and Texas was feeling the high of new coach, new system — and what looked like the closest thing to an elite Nick Saban assistant coach since a guy named Kirby won a few games once he left the Crimson nest.

Now here we are: Rattler is continuing to rebuild his draft stock at South Carolina, Riley left for USC (and took some critical OU pieces with him), and Texas — I know this is going to shock everyone — has 3 less wins than it did the previous 2 seasons before Sarkisian arrived.

Think about this: Since OU and Texas announced they were leaving for the SEC, their combined record is 30-21, including 13-12 in Big 12 games.

When the SEC accepted Oklahoma in 2021, the Sooners were young and cutting edge with Riley, and even with the regression of Rattler in 2021, found an elite quarterback in Caleb Williams. Riley was routinely competing for (and reaching) the Playoff.

A year later, he left for USC and in 1 season underscored the importance of coaching in college football: The Trojans rebounded from the depths of a 4-8 season to 1 win from reaching the Playoff. And Williams won the Heisman Trophy.

OU, meanwhile, in its first season under longtime elite college football assistant coach Brent Venables, had a losing season for the first time since 1998 and lost 6 conference games for the first time since 1997 — and only the 2nd time in school history.

More gutting for the SEC: USC will join the Big Ten — the SEC’s rival in all things college sports on and off the field — the same season OU joins the SEC.

When Texas and OU decided to leave for the SEC in 2021, Texas had just decoupled from coach Tom Herman. He had a 48-39 record, and a high-water mark of the January 2019 Sugar Bowl win over a Georgia team that — learn this talking point, Texas and OU fans — didn’t want to be there, anyway.

In the 2 years since under Sarkisian, Texas has lost 12 games — including 7 in 2021 (tied for 3rd-most in school history) — was humiliated by old Southwest (and future SEC) rival Arkansas, and lost at home to Kansas.

Since announcing their intention to leave, Oklahoma had its string of 6 straight Big 12 titles ended and lost to Oklahoma State for the first time since 2014.

I’m not saying there’s a whole lot of bad juju going on here, but yeah, there’s a whole lot of bad juju since the 2021 announcement.

Forget about television ratings and billion dollar media rights deals for a moment. The SEC became the ratings king — and network and cable television stood in line to throw cash at them — because the SEC won big football games and had the best players and coaches.

Not because they looked pretty but had no heft behind them.

2. Building again

Before we go further, there is hope — and it begins and ends with procuring players.

Players mean everything. You win and lose with the elite of the elite, and after the most recent high school and transfer portal classes, it’s clear the Texas and OU brands are still strong among high school and current college players.

Texas just signed the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation, according to the 247 composite. The class includes the No. 1 overall player, QB Arch Manning — who may or may not beat out the No. 1 overall player of 2021 (QB Quinn Ewers, transfer portal).

Sarkisian’s 3 recruiting classes at Texas have been ranked No. 15, 5 and 3. The current class includes the No. 1 QB (Manning), the No. 1 RB (Cedric Baxter Jr.), the No. 2 LB (Anthony Hill), No. 3 WR (Johntay Cook II) and the No. 4 CB (Malik Muhammed) in the 2023 class.

The class also includes 2 of the top transfer portal players (WR Adonai Mitchell, S Jalen Catalon), and 2022 portal signee WR Isaiah Neyor missed all of last season with a one injury and will be ready this fall.

Then there’s Oklahoma, which despite a horrifying season in which it gave up more than 40 points 5 times, landed the No. 4 recruiting class highlighted by the No. 4 QB (Jackson Arnold), and the No. 11 (DE Adepoju Adebawore) and No. 16 overall (S Peyton Bowen) players.

The Sooners also landed a top-5 transfer portal class, including the one player (Edge Dasan McCullough from Indiana) who an SEC coach told me was, “far and away the best player in the portal.”

Now, the question: Can the presidents and athletic directors at Texas and OU hold on with two coaches who can clearly procure players and build rosters — but haven’t proven yet that it can translate to the field?

Another 8-5 season might be disastrous for Sarkisian, depending on how it plays out. The same can be said for Venables, who can’t afford another losing season.

They’re no longer lally-gagging around in the Big 12. If you miss on a couple of seasons in the SEC, you might be down a lot longer than you think (see: Florida, Auburn, Tennessee).

3. Year Zero and the transition, The Epilogue

As soon as Texas and Oklahoma announced they were leaving for the SEC, it was only a matter of when. The initial expectation was as soon as possible, and no later than 2023.

But Texas and OU didn’t want to hand over walk away money AND face a prolonged (and potentially costly) legal battle to regain their media rights. So they needed the Big 12’s blessing — and the further the Big 12 moved from the day it essentially became the American Athletic Conference, Part II, the more they wanted no part in facilitating an early exit.

Then the expanded Playoff was reignited earlier this year, and for college football to move forward on the 12-team format for the 2024 season, all 10 conferences and Notre Dame had to sign off on the deal.

“The SEC wasn’t signing off on anything without a certain guarantee,” an industry source told me.

That guarantee: Texas and OU to the SEC for the first season of the new Playoff in 2024.

“There were a couple of hurdles that had to be overcome, but this move was set in action months ago when the 12-team (Playoff) was set,” the industry source said. “It was a, ‘We’re going to do everything we can to make it happen’ thing.”

4. The next move for SEC

There are 2 key moves — conference games and scheduling format — remaining for the SEC, and both should be set by the end of the SEC spring meetings in late May where all 16 schools will be represented.

While there’s currently a minority group of schools that don’t want 9 conference games and still want divisional play, commissioner Greg Sankey has said since before last season that the format “focus” has been on 1 division. In that scenario, the championship game would be played with the top 2 teams in the conference, which is how the Pac-12, Big 12 and — beginning in 2023 — ACC championship games are formatted.

The more difficult lift will be moving to 9 games, even though it is clearly more advantageous than 8. Some schools want to stay at 8 for scheduling flexibility and guaranteed home games — and for an easier path to the postseason.

But adding Texas and Oklahoma creates bigger games and new rivalries and more money in future media rights deals. Now that the SEC has a firm date of arrival for Texas and OU, it can negotiate with ESPN — its future exclusive media rights partner beginning in 2024 — about revising the deal.

ESPN won’t balk on revising the deal, but will likely want a 9-game SEC schedule in return. The format for the 9-game schedule is 3 permanent rivals, and 6 rotating games.

That allows every team to play every other team over 2 years, and every other team home and away over 4 years. In other words, every high school player who signs with an SEC school has the chance to play against every other school — and at every other school — in the conference.

Gone will be the days when Georgia has played Texas A&M once since the Aggies entered the conference in 2012, and Florida has played Texas A&M 4 times over the same span.

The last piece of format change is the 3 permanent opponents, and before we go further, no team will get what they want. They all must bend for the common good.

A potential breakdown of the permanent opponents:

  • Alabama: Auburn, LSU, Tennessee
  • Arkansas: Missouri, Ole Miss, Texas
  • Auburn: Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina
  • Florida: Georgia, Kentucky, LSU
  • Georgia: Auburn, Florida, South Carolina
  • Kentucky: Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
  • LSU: Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss
  • Mississippi State: Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M
  • Missouri: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt
  • Oklahoma: Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M
  • Ole Miss: Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State
  • South Carolina: Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State
  • Tennessee: Alabama, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
  • Texas: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M
  • Texas A&M: Oklahoma, Mississippi State, Texas
  • Vanderbilt: Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee

5. The Weekly 5

South Carolina’s national championship odds, and 5 things it will take to reach the Playoff:

1. QB Spencer Rattler to play like he did in the final 3 games of the season (Tennessee, Clemson, Notre Dame), not the first 10.

2. A revamped offensive line — including Yale transfer OT Nick Gargiulo and as many as 4 freshmen signees competing for playing time — can’t leave Rattler exposed. Expect this group to get more options after May 1 transfer portal opening.

3. WR Juice Wells has a Jalin Hyatt-type breakout season. Wells had 928 yards and 6 TDs in 2022. Gamecocks need double the amount of touchdowns.

4. Freshmen Edges Nyckoles Harbor and Desmond Umeozulu have an immediate impact, and significantly upgrade a pass rush that had only 20 sacks in 2022.

5. A season unlike any other with game-changing special teams plays. The Gamecocks had 5 special teams touchdowns in 2022. They’ll need double that to get to the Playoff.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo.

“You always come away from the Senior Bowl talking about a handful of guys who changed the narrative. He’s clearly a talented guy; that was never in question. But to watch him prepare and work in Mobile, and then see it play out in practice in team and individual periods, it was impressive. He’s 6-2 and he’s all of 220 pounds, and he’s running in the 4.4s. He does the 2 most important things at the position: He separates, and his catch radius is terrific. He just needs to be more consistent. Chase Claypool is a bigger guy, but what (Mingo) did in Mobile is very similar to what Claypool did. They get around the elite of their game, and they raise the level of their play.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: breakout performer in spring practice.

1. Georgia: TE Oscar Delp: Former 5-star recruit was 3rd option in a loaded TE room in 2022. He’ll be a legitimate, dangerous option in the multitude of TE bunch sets Georgia uses.

2. Alabama: RB Justice Haynes. The Tide are solid at the position. And solid doesn’t cut it. Haynes, a 5-star freshman midterm enrollee can deliver explosive plays lost from Jahmyr Gibbs — and the power to move the pile.

3. Tennessee: DT Daevin Hobbs: A midterm freshman enrollee, a top-60 recruit and a need for disputers along the Vols’ defensive front.

4. LSU: WR Cris Hilton Jr. With impact freshmen soon entering the mix, time for Hilton — a top-80 recruit in 2021 — to make this move. Shoulder injury forced him to miss most of 2022.

5. Ole Miss: WR Chris Marshall. Forget why it didn’t work at Texas A&M for the former 5-star recruit. Rebels need size and explosion on the outside, and he fits.

6. South Carolina: RB Mario Anderson Jr.: A transfer from Division II Newberry, he had 2,797 yards and 31 TDs in 2 seasons and averaged 7.4 yards per carry last season. A huge need for depleted RB room.

7. Texas A&M: DE Shemar Stewart. Former Top 10 recruit showed flashes in 2022. Like the rest of the Aggies’ heralded 2022 signing class, he missed on 15 critical bowl game practices that would’ve been critical for development.

8. Arkansas: WR Andrew Armstrong. Transfer from FCS Texas A&M-Commerce (62 catches, 1,020 yards, 13 TD), he’s thin (6-6, 190 pounds) and needs to add some bulk. But he’l be a problem for SEC defenses with his height and ability to high-point 50-50 balls.

9. Kentucky: OT Marques Cox. A shaky UK offensive line gets its anchor. Cox will step in a left tackle, and won’t be challenged. Missed most of 2022 with a foot injury, but gave up only 3 sacks in more than 1,000 snaps with the Huskies.

10. Mississippi State: WR Freddie Roberson. Bulldogs have needed a true No.1 receiver since the late Mike Leach first arrived in Starkville in 2020. Roberson caught 96 passes for 1,469 yards and 10 TDs at Eastern Washington.

11. Florida: DE Kelby Collins. Gators are desperate for a presence off the edge, and the Top 50 recruit has publicly declared he’s not sitting or waiting — he’s winning a job. Gators need that attitude to filter through the locker room.

12. Missouri: WR Luther Burden. Last year’s No. 3 overall recruit never really found a groove in 2022. He’ll explode this season with new OC Kirby Moore and the offense built around his skills — and it begins with spring ball.

13. Auburn: OT Dillon Wade. The starting left tackle at Tulsa in 2022, Wade chose Auburn over USC and is 1 of 8 new offensive linemen (portal and high school signees) under new coach Hugh Freeze. He’ll likely start Day 1 at left tackle.

14. Vanderbilt: RB Sedrick Alexander. Once Ray Davis hit the portal and left for Kentucky, running back became a premium. A freshman midterm enrollee, Alexander (5-8, 185) isn’t the biggest guy, but his high school tape is tremendous.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: With Alabama hiring Tommy Rees from Notre Dame, do you expect Coach Nick Saban to revert back to a run-first offense? — Stewart Donald, Atlanta.


You don’t play to your new coordinator and play-caller, you play to your personnel. Right now, Alabama’s personnel is about as far from line up, blow people off the line of scrimmage and run as it has been under Saban.

The offensive line has been a mess for 2 seasons, a reality that was consistently overshadowed by QB Bryce Young’s ability to make plays off schedule. The Tide haven’t added an offensive lineman from the portal, and though there’s still time with the spring portal opening May 1, I’d be shocked if 5-star OT Kadyn Procter isn’t a Day 1 starter and other freshmen blue-chip signees weren’t given an opportunity to compete.

Rees ran the ball at Notre Dame (532 carries, 338 passes in 2022) because that’s what the personnel was recruited to do. He didn’t have an elite 5-star quarterback who could push the ball all over the field — nor did Notre Dame have dynamic speed on the outside.

Ty Simpson is that type of quarterback, and WRs Kobe Prentice, Ja’Corey Brooks, Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Hood — while inconsistent in 2022 — have the ability to stretch and stress defenses with explosion plays. The Tide also added 5-star WR Jalen Hale, and WR Malik Benson, the No.1 JUCO player. They’re going to throw the ball, it’s how they‘re built.

9. Numbers

46. Kentucky allowed 46 sacks in 2022, a number that not only led the SEC, but was 126th in the nation.

Problems on the offensive line led to a regression of sorts for star QB Will Levis, and didn’t allow the Wildcats to fully develop 2 of the top young players in the SEC: WRs Dane Key and Barion Brown.

Former NC State QB Devin Leary, the key to Kentucky’s offseason moves, regressed last season in a similar situation — before sustaining a season-ending injury (torn pec) in early October. The last thing Kentucky needs is more protection problems for Leary.

Add Cox was important, and Alabama transfer Tanner Bowles could help on the interior. Highly-regarded OC Liam Coen returned after a season in the NFL, but he’s not working magic unless the sacks number from 2022 is cut in half.

In Coen’s only season at UK in 2021, the Wildcats gave up 25 sacks — and Levis had a breakout season after transferring from Penn State.

10. Quote to note

Mississippi State coach Zach Arnett: “What we do conceptually in the pass game will mirror and reflect what we have done over the last 3 years. You have a 3-year returning starter at quarterback, a proven winner who has led the league in passing the last coupe of year. We would be pretty stupid to completely change our passing concepts and the way he reads progressions and delivers the football.”