South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore justifiably has big dreams. The sophomore tailback wants to win the Heisman Trophy. He hopes to return to the Southeastern Conference championship game. He’d love to play for the BCS championship.
But it was what the 2010 unanimous national freshman of the year said about the SEC that most bears repeating as the 2011 college football season begins.
“Every team in the SEC,” he observed, “is trying to win the national championship.”
In what other conference in the country could that be anything more than wishful thinking? More impressive, in what league anywhere is there a single player still eligible who was playing college ball the last time anyone but an SEC school finished No. 1?
Think about it. The SEC has won five straight national championships. Unless you’re one of those few souls granted a sixth year of eligibility because of medical issues — or you’re a Mormon who went off on a two-year mission trip — you were still in high school the last time a non-SEC school won it all. (FYI, it was Texas in 2005.)
But can the league that’s SECond to none on the gridiron do it again? And if it does, will it get an egg roll with it? (Google Doris Day’s last movie.)
Furthermore, who can stop it? Preseason No. 1 Oklahoma, which has turned to prairie dust in each of its last three appearances in the BCS title game?
No. 3 Oregon, which should be disqualified for its outrageous Nike garb alone but might get there if it can escape LSU on Sept. 3 in Jerry’s (Jones) Playhouse in Arlington, Texas, and isn’t handcuffed by the NCAA before the season ends for its dealings with the unscrupulous recruiting service owner?
(Note: According to ESPN’s Pat Forde, one college official recently told him that it will be “a busy fall” for NCAA violations, which means the Ducks might be served up on a probation platter by January, though the backlog of NCAA investigations probably leaves Oregon safe until 2016 or so.)
Anyone else? Well, Boise State could be there if the Broncos can get past Georgia in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 3.
Stanford could get there largely because Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the country, the Pac-12’s good but not great and the Cardinal wouldn’t have to play an SEC school until the national title game inside New Orleans’ Superdome on Jan. 9.
Florida State also could get there, at least partly because the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference other than Clemson — now that Miami’s committed suicide — doesn’t think about national titles until March. Then again, the Seminoles do close out the regular season at Florida.
And when you think of it that way, it gets harder and harder to draw up a scenario by which no SEC school reaches the BCS title game. Especially since Stanford and Oregon play at Stanford on Nov. 12, a game that will surely do in the loser.
So figure the road to the national championship — if not the outright champ — again will be determined one way or another by the SEC.
Of course, that league is not all we care about around here. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga could reach the playoffs for the first time since 1984 if it can overcome a ridiculously treacherous schedule that begins at highly ranked Nebraska.
With quarterback B.J. Coleman now a senior and his lifelong batterymate Joel Bradford back for a final Mocs season, UTC probably has its best chance in two decades to reach the playoffs.
But much as Mocs Mania is alive and well, it still pales in comparison to SEC fever. Always has, always will.
So who reaches the SEC title game on Dec. 3 inside the Georgia Dome? Attempting to get beyond the preseason polls and hype, yours truly devised a formula to rate which schools have the easiest path.
Every schedule was graded thusly: One point for home games against unranked nonconferences foe with no votes in the coaches’ poll, three points for road games against nonconference foes who were unranked or without votes and four points for road games against ranked teams or those with votes.
Conference games counted as follows: Three points for home games against ranked foes or those with votes, with road games counting four. Home games against unranked league foes with no votes counted two, with road games counting three.
By that criteria, LSU faces the stiffest schedule with 36 points, followed by Georgia with 35 and Ole Miss and Auburn at 34 each. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina each finished with 33, followed by Kentucky and Vanderbilt at 32. Bringing up the rear in schedule toughness was Tennessee at 30.
Considering this quote from Georgia coach Mark Richt about the Volunteers offense — “[Quarterback] Tyler Bray has a lot of moxie, a lot of belief in himself, outstanding receivers to throw to. I can’t imagine them not having a big year offensively over there at Tennessee” — and it’s easy to make the Vols the SEC East dark horse.
But the pick from this corner is South Carolina to meet Alabama, mostly because LSU — which might have the most overall talent — must play the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5
As for what will happen then, I’ll allow sentimentality to get the best of me because of this quote from Bama linebacker Dont’a Hightower regarding the tornadoes that ravaged the Heart of Dixie:
“Tuscaloosa thrives on football. So to have something to look forward to, to heal, even a little bit, for some people, that’s all they have. We’re working hard to give them back some of that, like the Saints did [for New Orleans] with [Hurricane] Katrina.”
And once past the Gamecocks, the Tide will defeat Florida State in the BCS title game, then join FSU administrators the next morning to announce the SEC’s newest member (along with Texas A&M).
Because you don’t just get egg rolls with six straight national championships. You also get Seminoles.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...