SEC 360: A gridiron Royal Rumble. What if SEC teams were 1980s WWF wrestlers ...
Do you realize what’s happening?
We’re approaching Week 6 of the SEC football season, and we are about to witness a Royal Rumble, ladies and gentlemen.
There are 5 — count ’em, 5 —SEC teams ranked in the Top 10, and over the next 2 months and change, one will toss one another over the top rope until a champion is left standing in the ring.
Remember when you were 12 years old and you used to get nervous during professional wrestling events? No? Just me?
Gosh, I remember how nervous I was — petrified, really — the night of Wrestlemania. Not that I got to watch it — asking my dad to rent the event on pay-per-view was like asking whether we were going as a family to the moon. So you had to either a) hear the results from other kids who enjoyed such luxuries or b) wait until Mean Gene Okerlund told you the following week.
If you are unfamiliar with the professional wrestling madness known as the “Royal Rumble,” please allow me to make the intro. Back in the late 1980s, the World Wrestling Federation began instituting this savage 30-man battle royal, which was your chance to see the best professional wrestlers in the land going toe-to-toe. There was always some sort of hijinks or someone turning heel, for instance in 1989 when Randy “Macho Man” Savage went to the dark side and turned on Hulk Hogan.
This year, the SEC is set for its own Royal Rumble, a laborious, 2-month-long endeavor held at various coliseums across the South. The favored contestants include Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida and Georgia, with Missouri and Texas A&M on the outside looking in. This is nothing new; anyone who has come within the conference’s orbit over the past 20 years has grown to appreciate the inherent gall of the SEC slate. But this year is unique in the sense that so many teams are clustered up near the treetops of national polls. While the SEC boasts 5 teams in the Top 10, the other conference with the greatest representation is the Big Ten, which proudly places 6 teams in the AP Top 25. Rounding out the Power 5 conferences are ACC (3), the Big 12 (3), and the Pac-12 (3).
So how good is the SEC? One could certainly make the parity argument against the conference: that the SEC is loaded at the top but empty at the bottom, where teams like Tennessee and Arkansas dwell. Could we say that the Big Ten is better than the SEC, top to bottom? Maybe.
But here’s the thing about the SEC this year: So stacked is this conference that the eventual division champion in both divisions most likely will have to go through 2 Top 5 teams just to win said division.
Now, let’s have a little fun with this. If you had to equate each of the 5 undefeated SEC teams with WWF wrestlers from the 1980s, who would they be? Let’s start with the Crimson Tide.
Alabama: Hulk Hogan
I am a Real American. Fight for the rights of every man. I am a Real American. Fight for the rights! Fight. For. The. Rights!
This is an absolute no brainer. Hogan, simply, was the biggest and the best, and Alabama has been the conference’s biggest and best. The only question here was whether you were going to go with Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair. I went with Hogan because I link Flair with NWA wrestling, mainly because he joined the WWF after my interest dissipated.
And besides, Flair only claims 16 championships. Alabama claims 17.
LSU: Randy “Macho Man” Savage
LSU is to Alabama as Savage is to Hogan.
I can’t really explain it; I just feel like this is a good fit. LSU is sort of Savage-esque, right? Snap into a Slim Jim … in Baton Rouge?
Can you imagine the amount of testosterone flowing if somehow we can go back in time and hook Ed Orgeron up with Macho Savage for a night on the town in, say, a JEEP Grand Wagoneer?
Arguably the greatest event in pro wrestling history was the Hogan-Savage imbroglio at Wrestlemania V at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, billed as “The Mega Powers Explode.” Add commentators Gorilla Monson and Jesse “The Body” Ventura, and friend, you had Valhalla. Sort of like what’s coming on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa when SEC Mega Powers Explode.
Georgia: The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior was nearly always second fiddle to Hogan, except the time Warrior finally pinned the big fella at Wrestlemania VI at the SkyDome in Toronto. For the past 3 seasons, Georgia’s arrival into the ring of SEC elites has been a bit Warrior-like, sprinting down the aisle, sliding underneath the bottom rope, going berserk, shaking the ropes like a madman hopped up on energy drinks.
But like the Warrior, Georgia has only held the Intercontinental Title (SEC Championship) and has failed to take home the coveted World Heavyweight Title. Can Georgia have its Wrestlemania VI moment this year? Although the Dawgs have not been as dominant as perhaps anticipated, expect Kirby’s slobbering squad to continue to improve throughout the season. That makes Georgia a very dangerous team come December.
Auburn: Jake “The Snake” Roberts
The slipperiest team in the SEC is Auburn. Meaning they might not be too flashy, but they can slip up and bite you. Ask Mississippi State. Ask Texas A&M.
And unless Auburn has gotten too big for its britches, Florida is about to find out how good this team is Saturday. Expect the ol’ snake oil salesman himself, Gus Malzahn, to be cooking up a potent elixir that will lure the Gators in one direction while Gustaf is planning to go in precisely the opposite one.
After all, there aren’t just Gators in the Swamp; there are snakes, too.
Florida: Bret “The Hitman” Hart
Honestly, Bret Hart always seemed rather boring to me, juxtaposed to his brother-in-law, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, who was a favorite of mine. Yet Hart, known as a cerebral tactician, quietly cobbled together a stellar career spanning four decades. He was a 5-time WWF World Heavyweight Champion and a 2-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Florida, in my opinion, kind of resembles Hart, and it’s not just because I can imagine Dan Mullen wearing those reflective wraparound shades as he jogs the city streets of Gainesville. Strutting and talking smack, the Gators are a team looking for respect, and By George they can earn it this weekend in Gainesville by knocking down the No. 7 team in the country.
So there you have it. Our 5 contenders for the 2019 SEC crown linked to WWF wrestlers.
This has been so much fun, why don’t we do the rest of the SEC …
Texas A&M: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
I keep thinking A&M is going to put a little scratch together, but it never does. Kind of like Rowdy Roddy Piper of the WWF.
Loud and brash and sporting the ever-present kilt, Piper was one of the more likable and iconic wrestlers. But he never really won anything of great significance while I was watching. I remember he hosted a show called “Piper’s Pit” and if A&M can’t find an identity soon, it’ll be in the poo-poo pit.
Mississippi State: “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
This makes sense because DiBiase is a Jackson, Miss., native, but also because Mississippi State has gotten a bit greedy as of late. And that’s not a bad thing.
Dan Mullen ushered in an “Era of Good Feelings” in Starkville, and upped the expectations from 6- and 7-win seasons to 9 and 10. You got the sense that good things were happening at MSU until Mullen bolted for the land of palm trees and oranges.
Now if Joe Moorhead cannot sustain the magic that Mullen seemed to conjure up, MSU will default back to its middling normalcy.
Ole Miss: Junkyard Dog
For some reason, Ole Miss 2019 reminds me of the “JYD.” Fun, likable, but not very good.
JYD could steal your heart but never could walk away with the gold (a steel chain, yes). Similarly, Ole Miss stole our hearts in 2014-15 but failed to make a championship game appearance for the 27th consecutive year.
Now Ole Miss is in the doghouse and finds itself the subject—and not the perpetrator—of the song “Another One Bites the Dust.”
Arkansas: George “The Animal” Steele
I once met George “The Animal” Steele in the Birmingham airport, circa 1988. Though Animal branded himself as a sort of an inept caveman-like buffoon, he was surprisingly articulate in real life. A Michigan State graduate, Steele was famous for his green tongue and his propensity to gnaw on the cuisine of salted turnbuckle.
The Arkansas program reminds me of The Animal, but for the opposite reason. It’s supposed to be surprisingly articulate, but for the past few seasons it has proven to be inept at football.
Tennessee: Kamala, the Ugandan Giant
While it’s a natural tendency to go with Hillbilly Jim in this instance, Kamala is the better choice because the program has gone to “parts unknown.”
Kentucky: Dangerous Danny Davis
Remember when Dangerous Danny Davis turned from referee to heel and the world exploded? Well, I feel like Kentucky has made a turn, too. Last year, the Wildcats were knocking on the doorstep of the program’s first SEC Championship Game appearance; this year, the team has gone in the tank.
Vanderbilt: Honky Tonk Man
Music Row and the man who brought music to the WWF? Fits as snug as a sequined one-piece. (Shoot, even Honky’s real birthplace was the state of Tennessee. He was born in the town of Bolivar in 1953.)
Honky’s wrestling popularity reached a zenith in 1987-88, when he held the Intercontinental Title. But Vandy is more like the Honky Tonk Man of the mid-1990s — and Elvis in the late ‘70s: portlier and past his prime.
South Carolina: Koko B. Ware
You would have thought after putting on a good show at home against Alabama, the Gamecocks might elevate. But instead, the bird has landed — with a thud. Kind of like Koko B. Ware used to do on the canvases of America.
Missouri: King Kong Bundy
If you’ll remember, Bundy was sort of a mini-Andre the Giant, and Missouri is sort of a mini-Nebraska. Save for the Gary Pinkel era and a few other outlying seasons dotted throughout the years, this program has been average while trying to appear big. Hopefully, Barry Odom can erase that optical illusion and make the Tigers a bona fide winner, and soon.
* * * * * * *
OK, enough of the shenanigans. Now, I don’t fancy myself as much of a prognosticator, but for the sake of argument, let’s talk SEC Championship predictions.
Most Likely Scenario: LSU vs. Georgia
Bama is down, the only question is how down. Please allow me to poke the hornet’s nest with this statement: In my opinion, this is the worst team Alabama has fielded since the 2008 season. The defense is simply too young and too porous and the offense is too one-dimensional to go undefeated. I would have a much different take if the Crimson Tide could start to improve in the ground game and play ball-control offense with heavier doses of Najee Harris and Brian Robinson.
With that premise, the most likely scenario is the following: Auburn beats Florida, Auburn loses at LSU, LSU beats Alabama, Georgia beats Florida, Auburn loses to Georgia and turns around the next week and beats Alabama at home.
Barring a November meltdown (which can be typical for both teams) that leaves LSU and Georgia as the only undefeated teams in the conference.
A Very Possible Scenario: Alabama vs. Georgia
Alabama has not lost a game in October since 2010, and don’t expect it to happen this year. I feel that LSU is going to be favored heading into Tuscaloosa in a game that will seem eerily similar to the regular-season “Game of the Century” in 2011.
But what if Crazy Coach O and Crazy Joe hit the panic button and Alabama slaps LSU around for the 9th consecutive time? That would set up Alabama and Auburn for the right to go to Atlanta on Dec. 7.
If this happens, don’t expect the Tide to let 2013 happen again.
Longshot, but Nice to Think About: Auburn vs. Florida
Rematches are fun, but Auburn has had a tendency to do Auburn things in the Gus Malzahn era (meaning drop a game or 2 it’s not supposed to lose). As good as Bo Nix appears to be, it’s possible a freshman quarterback will not be able to sustain the Tigers through the SEC gauntlet.
Let me say it this way: I just don’t think Auburn can beat Alabama, Georgia and LSU — or even 2 out of the 3.
Is a 2-loss year a bad year on The Plains? Certainly not, and something the Tigers can build on as Nix progresses.
So there you have it. Now, who do you like? Who ends up standing in the middle of the ring when it’s all said and done?