Why Week 2 will shape how we view the SEC throughout 2019
Let’s call Week 1 what it was — a dud.
For the SEC, that wasn’t the showing the conference wanted to establish to the rest of the college football world, that “this league is a gauntlet and you’ll be lucky to survive it.” If teams like Georgia State and Wyoming can survive the SEC gauntlet, surely anyone can, right?
It’s a fair point that the anti-SEC crowd made — and will continue to make — after Week 1.
But there’s something else worth remembering. Something else that will show why Week 2 is the true moment of truth week for SEC judgment in 2019.
As bad as Week 1 was for the SEC, the conference’s 6 teams in the Associated Press Top 25 were 6-0 with an average margin of victory of 26.5 points. That included victories over 4 Power 5 teams and a 10-win Group of 5 team (2-0 vs. ACC, 1-0 vs. Pac-12 and 1-0 vs. SEC).
Last week, the SEC (Auburn) won the only game involving 2 Top 25 teams. When Bo Nix threw that game-winning touchdown pass to Seth Williams, there was a picture of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey jumping for joy that made its way around the internet:
mood: Tim Cook and Greg Sankey pic.twitter.com/urG4U5TTVT
— Auburn Athletics Grief Counselor (@sheabooskyy) September 1, 2019
So why is this week so important? Well, it’s simple.
This week, there are 2 games involving a pair of Top 25 teams. In case you haven’t heard, both involve the SEC. Texas A&M travels to Clemson to face a team that hasn’t lost since the 2017 Sugar Bowl, and LSU travels to face top 10 Texas.
As it relates to conference supremacy and the Playoff race, yeah, it’s a wee bit important for the SEC, especially as it tries to move past the dud that was Week 1 for the majority of the conference. The SEC will have opportunities to flex if it enters October with something like 6 teams in the top 12 (something that doesn’t seem that crazy yet).
Let’s also think about the dynamics at play here.
With A&M-Clemson, that nail-biter last year fueled much of the belief that the Tigers wouldn’t dominate the SEC like they did against the ACC. While both sides of that hypothetical argument could be debated, what can’t be debated was how much better the Tigers were after that game once Trevor Lawrence took over as the starter.
So picture this scenario playing out. The Aggies are considered anywhere from No. 4-6 in the SEC pecking order. Even if they’re the 4th best team in the SEC, what would it say if they went to Death Valley and did what they did last year? Clemson is favored to win by 3 scores. If A&M again goes down to the wire with Clemson, that’s huge for the SEC.
Why? A&M faces Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Auburn this year. The better the Aggies show up against Clemson, the more it’ll help those 4 SEC contenders, win or lose.
If A&M struggles against Clemson like Alabama did last year, that goes out the window. Nobody in the SEC will be able to brag about how the team that’s No. 4-6 in the conference pecking order performed against mighty Clemson.
You know, like all of last year.
Unlike last year, the SEC also has a major opportunity to win a road nonconference game against a top 10 team. Remember how big Georgia’s win at Notre Dame was a couple years ago? That helped open the door for 2 SEC teams to make the Playoff.
There’s a scenario in which that could open the door for LSU to do that in 2019. With a win in Austin, obviously. If we’re talking about an LSU team that goes 11-1 with its lone loss coming at Alabama, that 2-team SEC Playoff bid would be even stronger than it was in 2017.
Am I getting ahead of myself by even suggesting that heading into Week 2? Definitely, but this is the most critical nonconference game of the year for the Playoff selection committee. It’ll matter in how it evaluates the Big 12 — even Texas losing hurts Oklahoma’s ability to rack up impressive wins — and of course how it evaluates the SEC.
You better believe it’ll help the claim that the SEC West is the nation’s toughest division if LSU rolls into Austin and pulls out a win.
And what if the opposite happens? Like, A&M gets waxed and Texas takes down another elite SEC team and Sam Ehlinger announces “we’re baaaaaaaaaack” in the postgame celebration?
As Paul Finebaum said, just wait until Monday morning.
“We all love the SEC, but when the SEC gets hammered, I hear laughing across the country,” Finebaum said on Monday on his weekly WJOX appearance. “All you have to do is turn your phone on. I had people texting me, ‘Are you OK? Are you in a fetal position?’ Yeah, I actually was in a fetal position. But that’s what you get. Nobody brags louder and boasts more than the SEC and the SEC got its comeuppance on Saturday and it may not be over yet.”
He’s right. The SEC doesn’t get a chance to be the quiet storyline, especially not in weekends like this. It either flexes or becomes the butt of a loud joke.
We all know what those jokes look like:
Kelly Bryant throws incomplete on 4th & 11 and Mizzou will fall to Wyoming! Program building win for the Cowboys, 37-31 once it’s kneeled out. #ItJustMeansMore
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 1, 2019
Assuming Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Auburn don’t lay eggs as massive favorites, we could be talking about the conference in a much different light at the end of Week 2 after wins against powers from the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12.
(Before you assume that’s my way of predicting an A&M upset of Clemson, no, it’s absolutely not. I still think Lawrence will have a lot of success throwing against the Aggies’ secondary.)
But with just an LSU win, 5 top 10 teams would realistic for the SEC. In my opinion, 3 top 4 teams would be on the table.
With Notre Dame-Georgia as the last big nonconference game for the SEC and really one of the last big nonconference games for anyone the rest of the way, Week 2 will have an impact far beyond early September. We’ll probably be talking about its implications 3 months from now.
Despite all the conclusions some jumped to in Week 1, the 2019 version of the SEC is still a piece of clay that’s waiting to be molded.
By the time we go to bed on Saturday night, we’ll have a much better idea of what kind of shape it’ll take this year.