Is the SEC a great con or the real deal?
That question is posed nearly every season and in the past six years the SEC always claimed the high ground at the end of the year. But this gets repeated every year because of the absolute sham of a schedule most SEC powers play.
Five SEC teams are ranked in the top nine in the latest simulated BCS standings, very impressive indeed. But take a look at whom they got on their respective non-conference schedules:
Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Western Carolina (No. 1 Alabama), North Texas, Idaho, Towson (No. 3 LSU), Buffalo, Florida Atlantic (again?), Georgia Southern (No. 4 Georgia), East Carolina, UAB, Wofford (No. 6 South Carolina), Bowling Green, UL-Lafayette, Jacksonville State (No. 9 Florida).
None of these are BCS conference teams, and each school faces at least one FCS team. Not exactly a murderer's row, is it?
At least Alabama and LSU have resoundingly beaten the one BCS conference foe they each have on their nonconference schedules. And Michigan and Washington look like competitive teams in their respective conferences. But how legit are the three SEC East frontrunners, since each of their lone BCS nonconference games won't take place until the end of the regular season?
We'll get some ideas this Saturday, even if they still lead to simply a circular argument. Two major SEC conference games will finally create some separation at the top of the SEC, as four of those five top-ranked teams go head-to-head.
First up, LSU visits the Swamp (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) in perhaps the most important game to-date for the Gators in the post-Urban Meyer era. Florida might be 4-0, but it's not beaten a ranked team and has looked listless and vulnerable in some of its wins. The Tigers have been even less impressive aside from their home rout of the Huskies.
In the short term, this game is more important for LSU. A loss might effectively end the Tigers' hopes of a return trip to the BCS title game, a bitter disappointment for a team that was ranked No. 1 in some preseason polls. But in the longer view, this game will be a huge referendum on the Will Muschamp regime at Florida.
A loss to LSU will temper all the "Florida is back!" talk. But a victory not only sets the Gators up for a promising run the rest of the season - Florida will have just one more true road game at the end of the season at Florida State after next week's game at Vandy - it will give Muschamp the breathing room he needs from the fickle Florida faithful to restore the program to the heights established by Steve Spurrier.
The Ol' Ball Coach will be busy on the same night to lift his new program to those heights as his Gamecocks host Georgia (7 p.m. ESPN) for his first shot at a 6-0 start since he took over in Columbia in 2005. South Carolina is in the midst of a brutal stretch in which it'll next go on the road at LSU and Florida. Defeating Georgia is merely the first step toward returning to the SEC title game for the 'Cocks.
Mark Richt's seat has cooled considerably since Georgia won the SEC East last season (despite losing to South Carolina), and this season his Bulldogs seem primed to do even better. Unlike South Carolina, Georgia's remaining schedule isn't nearly all that challenging, with the Cocktail fight with Florida as its only remaining tussle with a ranked team. Georgia has pretensions of ending the SEC West's three-year hegemony on conference supremacy, and it won't have to encounter Alabama or LSU until the championship game.
All the while, the team with the most to gain amidst all this fratricide is Alabama, the defending national champs. The Tide don't face any of the top SEC East teams this season and, other than a trip to Baton Rouge, have a pretty smooth path toward another run at the national title. No wonder Nick Saban has all that free time to complain about (cough, cough) "player safety."
Other games with BCS implications:
West Virginia at Texas, 7 p.m., FOX - We picked WVU's Big 12 opener against Baylor as the BCS impact game of the week last week, and it did not disappoint (unless you're Nick Saban, apparently). This week might not be 70-63 but plenty of points will be scored. Texas, like Florida, will want to prove its renaissance is no fluke. But the Mountaineers aren't your average debutantes - they're not just happy to be in the Big 12.
Miami vs. Notre Dame at Chicago, 7:30 p.m., NBC - Call it Catholics vs. Parolees? The Hurricanes are currently out on bail but there's no doubt they'll be back in the NCAA big house soon, so they're playing on borrowed time. They also have an offense that might just have enough firepower to truly test the Irish's defense, which has carried Notre Dame to a 4-0 start.
Nebraska at Ohio State, 8 p.m., ABC - The Buckeyes can't win the Big Ten this season but they are hell-bent on ruining everyone else's season, especially those in the Legends Division. Last week it was Michigan State and this week it might be the Huskers, who got a big win over Wisconsin last week but otherwise haven't fared well against elite competition since joining the B1G last season.
Washington State at Oregon State, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Network - The Beavers don't have any In-N-Out to look forward to after this game, so will their attack be ground to a halt? WSU showed some fight against Oregon a week ago, but Mike Leach does not yet have the weapons he needs to compete in a high-octane Pac-12.
Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m., ABC - The Red Raiders are off to another 4-0 start, but we've seen this flick before. Last year Tech won its first four before losing seven of its last eight. OU's national championship dreams have already been dashed, and now it has very little margin for error just trying to win the conference.
Washington at Oregon, 10:30 p.m., ESPN - The Ducks usually let the other guys hang around for a half and then blow them right out of the pond. Rinse, repeat?
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