What will it take for each SEC West team to be happy in 2020?
The late, great Don Draper once defined happiness as “a moment before you need more happiness.”
By that immutable logic, even the LSU Tigers — the defending national champions — need a healthy dose of happiness for the 2020 college football season to be defined as a success.
That said, Don Draper was looking at the world through a bottle of Canadian Club most days and nights instead of getting his corn from a jar like our SEC East friends in Knoxville. Happiness is a relative term depending on the burg your school calls home and the level of success said school has had on the gridiron.
Therefore, we have determined what it will take for every SEC West school to be happy in 2020:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Current state? Vengeful
Happy in 2020? A retooled, reloaded Crimson Tide will have its usual mix of returning greatness and the usual haul of recruiting gold. Losing Scott Cochran to Georgia stings more than the typical strength coach departure should, and Alabama’s crop of assistant coaches don’t exactly harken back to the glory days of Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt.
But Alabama is Alabama, and Nick Saban is Nick Saban. That means the Crimson Tide will be favorites in almost every game they play. But LSU looms in Baton Rouge, and Auburn seems to have some sort of Iron Bowl voodoo going. Those games have been circled with a bright crimson Sharpie already, and will be must-see football late in the season.
Current state? Easy to please
Happy in 2020? A couple of victories should do the trick. Seriously. Sam Pittman takes over the laughingstock of the SEC West and basically needs to maintain an active pulse rate to do better than the abomination of the 2019 effort put forth by Chad Morris’ Razorbacks.
Arkansas has only won 1 SEC game since Barack Obama was in office, which makes for tough sledding on the recruiting trail. But playing Tennessee and Ole Miss at home could lend honest-to-pig conference victories.
Current state? Business class
Happy in 2020? Life as an Auburn Tiger football fan is largely one of perpetual yearning. The little brother syndrome is inescapable — even when you have a strange hold on your arch-rival in the biggest game of the season. You’re young when you should be experienced. You see teams like LSU and Georgia win games and take steps forward while you’re treading water like a champ.
This season could be a sort of referendum for coach Gus Malzahn, who has had enough time in the saddle to move Auburn out of the middle of the plane and into first class — if even for a short hop. Staying in the division championship conversation into November books that particular ticket. But an early loss could mean the Tigers being bumped back to 38D and yet another Auburn coach taking an ESPN studio gig.
Current emotion? Hung over
Happy in 2020? Forgive LSU for being a little boozy after Joe Burrow and the Tigers went 15-0 and captured the national championship. It was, literally, a perfect season — and there is really is only a single way to go once you’ve climbed Mount Everest.
This is not to predict doom and gloom for LSU. The problem is that there is almost no possible way 2020 could be any better than 2019 was. There aren’t a ton of potential problems on the 2020 schedule, with only a home tussle against Texas and a road trip to Florida standing in the way of the annual smackdown against Alabama. The back end of 2020, which also has road trips to Auburn and Texas A&M, is fierce.
We will learn just how good Ed Orgeron as a coach in 2020. But in the meantime, they’re still partying hard in Baton Rouge. — and it isn’t last call quite yet.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Current emotion? “Ahoy, mateys!”
Happy in 2020? Sometimes, you just gotta go against the grain to get anything done. Apparently Mississippi State has figured this out, rolling the proverbial dice to bring in Mike Leach for a healthy injection of privateering in StarkVegas.
From Oct. 3 to Oct. 31, the Bulldogs play Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Write it down: Leach and the Pirates, um, Bulldogs win 2 of those games and are knocking on the door of the top 10 heading into November.
Ole Miss Rebels
Current emotion? Frat. Very, very frat.
Happy in 2020? Like the hiring of Mike Leach just a bit south, Ole Miss football was transformed into a national brand when the Rebels jettisoned Matt Luke following a urination-themed Egg Bowl loss and hired Lane Monte Kiffin.
The venerable Joey Freshwater is like a cat with 9 lives, as his failures around the country outnumber his successes. But Kiffin’s most recent stop — Florida Atlantic — was an unqualified success story and resurrected his brand yet again. Nick Saban’s former offensive coordinator moving to a team in the same division as Alabama is a shot from Oxford straight across the Tuscaloosa bow.
For the time being, Ole Miss is soaking in the Kenny Chesney-like vibe Kiffin brings to the table. Can the on-field identity follow suit?
Texas A&M Aggies
Current emotion? Budget-conscious
Happy in 2020? The great thing about 10-gallon hats is that their inhabitants often have the cash that allows them to not give a flying flip about your opinion of their chapeau. It also allows the inhabitant to spread around the kind of cash that Aggie Nation did by bringing in Jimbo Fisher after a star-crossed run at Florida State.
Fisher was given the keys to his own personal gold vault starting in 2018, and 9-4 and 8-5 finishes the past 2 seasons aren’t exactly awful results. But 9-4 and 8-5 isn’t what the 10-gallon hats slotted $75 million for. They want 12 wins, 13 even. Another pedestrian season out of Fisher’s Aggies might have him trading in his own 10-gallon hat for a clip-on microphone and an ESPN blazer.