So to recap the last few days of SEC football:
— Nick Saban’s Alabama powerhouse is going to miss the College Football Playoff for the first time.
— The Tennessee head coach search is so fluid the new guy isn’t official until he actually steps onto Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium field when the Volunteers open their 2018 season against West Virginia.
— Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema was fired after the Razorbacks lost to Missouri but before he left the field.
— Florida stole Mississippi State’s head coach – its No. 3 option – to replace Jim McElwain (who won SEC East titles in both of his two full seasons in Gainesville).
— South Carolina, despite finishing No. 107 of 129 FBS teams in total offense and hoping offensive coordinator Kurt Roper gets another job before he is fired, is 8-4 and headed to a nice Florida bowl game.
— Mississippi State lost a great quarterback, a great coach and a bad Egg Bowl.
— Texas A&M thinks Jimbo Fisher will lead the Aggies to the promised land. Or at least into Citrus Bowl consideration.
— Ole Miss thinks Matt Luke is the next Dabo Swinney.
— The SEC went 1-3 against the ACC on the final weekend of the regular season.
Oh, and Saban turned fashion critic last week when he spied a fashionable pair of torn-up jeans and wondered, “How did we get here?”
Of course, the SEC Hazmat Response Unit is all over this mess — with help from those lovable, spray-painting, vigilante Tennessee fans and astute callers to The Paul Finebaum Show.
Believe. There is a path out of this early winter storm. Even if it isn’t lined with golden bricks and GameDay signs, it leads to a better SEC and very soon. The “It Just Means More” conference can jump back into the national respectability biz with a few steps.
Simply connect the geographic dots:
It starts Saturday with an Auburn-Georgia SEC Championship Game. The winner is a formidable College Football Playoff beast. Auburn would be coming off a Georgia-UL Monroe-Alabama-Georgia win streak. Georgia would have avenged its Auburn loss while looking ahead to a national championship game back at the Mercedes-Benz Dome.
You have to feel sorry for Alabama. Wait … Did I just say that? But, yeah, few head coaches try to play a tougher non-conference opener than Saban. Who knew that preseason ACC title favorite Florida State would contribute to Alabama’s soft No. 54 schedule ranking in December?
Saban Inc. will not squeeze into the playoff over a two-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State and probably not over a two-loss Big 12 champion TCU. But the Crimson Tide will roar back with a vengeance. The first opportunity might come against the ACC runner-up in the Orange Bowl.
Alas, if only Tennessee and AD John Currie listened to me and doused those Jon Gruden rumors early, the Not Jon Gruden hire wouldn’t deflate every chat room.
Two guarantees: The Vols will not go 0-8 in the SEC next season; Gamecock fans will not wear “Keep Butch Jones” T-shirts at the 2018 Tennessee-South Carolina game.
Dan Mullen, great hire. Even if the Gators might have wanted Chip Kelly and Scott Frost more. They got the second-best head coach in the SEC, a proven winner who overachieved at Mississippi State after leaving Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida.
Former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead seems like a swell fit at Mississippi State and has already endeared himself to the Bulldogs’ fan base.
You can’t expect eight straight bowl seasons and a No. 1 ranking like Mullen produced but competitive SEC West football works in Stark Vegas.
Will Muschamp said exactly the right thing after the Gamecocks’ 34-10 loss to Clemson: “I’m going recruiting.”
Amid SEC staff shakeups, South Carolina can sell stability, from the new December signing period to February.
The Other Columbia
And the hottest team in the SEC is …. Yes, the same Missouri Tigers who were 1-5 in mid-October. Six straight wins and SEC passing leader Drew Lock will do wonders for a program’s self-esteem.
The folks at Texas A&M think that just because they have some of the coolest traditions in college football (The 12th Man, yell practice, etc. …) and the Dixie Chicken grill and bar they should have an elite program.
After paying out several $10 million buyouts, they will eventually find a coach capable of a playoff appearance before he bolts for the Dallas Cowboys.
Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Nashville, Shreveport. And wherever else SEC teams might clash with ACC foes this bowl season. The SEC, despite its 1-3 slump last Saturday, still holds a 5-4 season edge over the ACC. Serious braggin’ rights are at stake after the ACC’s 10-4 stretch last season, the second time in three years the ACC has held the advantage over a league that won the conference rivalry every year from 2004 to 2013.
All of which begs for the SEC to adopt a new official battle cry from Nicholas Lou Saban Jr.:
“How did we get here?”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff