The rest of the way from now until the end of the Southeastern Conference regular season will not be a marathon, or a sprint.
It will be a shuffle. A constant reshuffling of the deck or, perhaps more appropriately, a rearranging of the deck chairs on this Titanic of a year we call 2020.
The SEC has since the summer of COVID-19 decided to grit its teeth and carry on, giving its corner of the college football season a “Bush push” into the end zone. That means completing a 10-game SEC-only regular season schedule, wrapping up with the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 19 in Atlanta.
The SEC title game won’t be alone that day. The conference used up its buffer week between the end of the rescheduled regular season (Dec. 5) and the championship game, with a rapidly filling slate of games on Dec. 12. That includes LSU’s game at Florida, rescheduled from Oct. 17 because of a coronavirus outbreak that at the time plagued the Gators.
LSU had to postpone its game with Alabama that was set for Nov. 14 for the same reason. That game is still dangling out there, but there are signs pointing to another massive reshuffling on the near horizon that may include it.
The SEC on Monday did not follow typical protocol, declining to announce any television times for games of Dec. 5 (which, if you’re scoring at home, was when the SEC Championship Game was to have been played once upon a time). They exercised a six-day option on everything, which leads us to believe there are lot of games in next weekend’s schedule that are about to find new landing places.
You have to believe that includes LSU-Alabama. If that game is rescheduled for Dec. 5 in Tiger Stadium, that would mean moving LSU’s game with Ole Miss penciled in for that game (no pens when writing down this schedule) to the Dec. 19 playing date now approved for teams not going to Atlanta. That would also mean moving Alabama’s game at Arkansas to Dec. 12, as the Crimson Tide still has that date open.
LSU coach Ed “We’re coming and we’re not backing down” Orgeron says, to his credit, bring on Bama.
“We knew this season was going to be very fluid,” Orgeron said during his Monday video news conference. “We’re focused in on Texas A&M, but I sure hope that the Alabama game is rescheduled. We want to play Alabama. That's a great rivalry, and we look forward to playing them. So if they can fit it in to where we can play Alabama, I'm sure they're going to do it. We have Alabama; we have Florida; we have Ole Miss left, and those are awesome great games, and we're ready to play every one of them.”
The SEC’s missionary zeal to see everyone off with a full 10-game schedule has several talking points:
• You want your College Football Playoff contenders (at this point Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M) to have as many data points as possible to show the selection committee, though every game is technically a flirtation with an upset.
• Every athletic program is facing some sort of coronavirus-related financial hardship. So home games, even ones with greatly reduced attendance, will help beleaguered bottom lines. If LSU-Alabama isn’t played, the Tigers would have only three home games. That hasn’t happened since 1927. As it is, LSU will only get four home games max because the Missouri game was moved there for Hurricane Delta. The last time the Tigers played only four home games was 1931.
• I’m not sure if this is the case, but it would not be surprising if there isn’t some television contract pressure on the SEC to provide inventory for the ESPN networks, the SEC Network and CBS. With Texas A&M-Ole Miss called off last Saturday, CBS went out to Reno to televise the San Diego State-Nevada game and play some single-deck blackjack. And no, Aztecs and Wolf Pack fans were no more enamored with Gary Danielson than Texas A&M and Ole Miss fans would have been.
The late shuffling of games puts extra pressure on SEC coaching staffs to prepare at the relatively last minute for someone different. How much worse things could be for coaching staffs in that regard isn’t exactly quantifiable, but Orgeron said his guys, including LSU’s squadron of analysts, are ready.
“We're scheduled for Ole Miss next week so we have analysts breaking down Ole Miss,” Coach O said. “We have already broken down Alabama, so that’s done. And then we have already broken down Florida, so that's done. So as far as the analytical work, most of it's been done.
“Now, the last couple games haven't been (included), but we have enough information that if we need to start new next week with anybody else, we're going to be ready to go.”
Obviously, the SEC’s scheduling flexibility is at its limit. Anything else happens, which is possible and perhaps probable, then a full 10-game slate for some schools is going out the window. That concern hits home for LSU because Monday the SEC postponed this Saturday’s Arkansas-Missouri game and set up Mizzou to host Vanderbilt instead. This is reportedly because of positive tests and quarantining within the Arkansas program, which nearly scrapped last Saturday’s LSU-Arkansas game.
Hopefully for LSU’s sake having just played Arkansas won’t cause the Tigers problems going forward. Because there is no place else to put another postponed game on their schedule.