The top two teams in the SEC will not be playing for their conference championship.
We know this because we know Tennessee is better than LSU. The Vols invaded Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge in October, defeating LSU 40-13.
LSU (9-3, 6-2 SEC) will stumble into the SEC championship after a loss to previously hapless Texas A&M to take on No. 1 Georgia in Atlanta.
LSU won a division full of paper tigers thanks to an overtime win against Alabama. Credit Brian Kelly for a solid debut despite Saturday’s result, but this game proved this Atlanta team doesn’t belong with Georgia.
This is the least convincing SEC conference championship matchup since Alabama plastered Florida in 2016.
The divisions are to blame.
The SEC split into divisions in 1992 after expanding to 12 teams.
The creation of divisions allowed the SEC to take advantage of an NCAA rule that allowed a conference championship game if a league had at least 12 teams and was split into two teams, a smart — and lucrative — move that transformed the sport. The SEC became a trendsetter. Each FBS conference now plays a championship game.
However, NCAA rules have evolved, and divisions are no longer required to conduct a conference championship. So the divisions all over the country go down in leagues. The SEC plans to abandon the divisions after Oklahoma and Texas join the conference in favor of a contiguous 16-team league that will send its top two teams to the conference championship.
If such a format existed this season, the Vols (10-2, 6-2) would deserve a rematch against Georgia (12-0, 8-0) and retain hope of qualifying for the College Football Playoffs . From the looks of it, Tennessee has resigned itself to watching from home and likely accepting a New Year’s Six Bowl offer.
The Bulldogs beat Tennessee 27-13 in Athens earlier this month, and I have no reason to think a continuation would yield a different result, especially after UT’s star quarterback Hendon Hooker ended on Nov. 19 suffered a knee injury during the season. I also have no reason to believe that LSU, which was run over by the Aggies, will threaten Georgia.
Eliminating divisions increases the likelihood of a rematch in the conference championship.
It also increases the likelihood that the top two teams in the conference will meet in the league championship.
If Spencer Rattler returns, what’s the South Carolina cap?
Spencer Rattler is talented enough to be inducted into the NFL in April. The South Carolina quarterback could likely be selected on Day 3 of the draft, but he would be overshadowed in a class expecting Bryce Young, CJ Stroud and Will Levis.
How much could Rattler improve his stocks if he returns to Shane Beamer’s program for another season?
Rattler finally found his stride in the last two weeks and the Gamecocks killed Tennessee and Clemson. He threw for 360 yards on Saturday while the Gamecocks bounced Clemson off the playoff picture.
Beamer’s program build remains on track, and the Gamecocks assemble a top 15 recruit class. Another college season for Rattler would be mutually beneficial and should keep the Gamecocks in the top 25 in 2023.
Bryce Young, bow down
If Saturday was it for Young in Alabama, what a way to end a brilliant career that I don’t think will be fully appreciated until after he’s gone.
Young, a first-round NFL draft pick, had 391 yards of offense in the 49-27 win at Alabama’s Iron Bowl. He waved approvingly to the Crimson Tide fans as he left the field.
The trend is for early round draft projections to drop out of bowl games. Young, who has suffered intermittent shoulder injuries this season, said he hasn’t decided his next move yet.
Young will not repeat himself as a Heisman Trophy winner. He was very good, but some other quarterbacks have better stats for better teams.
Still, I’ll swear that college football’s greatest player wore the #9 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
Three and out
1. Caleb Williams advanced to pole position for the Heisman Trophy after Southern Cal defeated Notre Dame. Williams, who won college football’s top honor in his freshman season with the Trojans, would be the epitome of the free agency era. Expect another winter of quarterback maneuvers. Unlike last season, Alabama should be looking for a transfer quarterback given Young’s expected departure for the NFL.
2. For all the talk of Mike Leach’s airstrike, Zach Arnett’s defense is why Mississippi State is 8-4 and a prime contender for a Florida bowl game. A veteran Bulldogs defense limited Ole Miss’ powerful groundplay to just 78 yards in MSU’s 24-22 Egg Bowl win. Hiring Arnett as a young defensive coordinator from San Diego State remains Leach’s smartest move as an MSU coach.
3. Missouri’s entry into the SEC invalidated the Tigers’ rivalry games, so the Battle Line Rivalry with Arkansas was hatched at their new conference. I’ve been hesitant to accept this series as a rivalry in more than name, but the Tigers treating the unwieldy Battle Line Trophy like it’s the Holy Grail might make me change my mind. Missouri beat Arkansas to qualify for the Bowl on Friday. The Tigers are 7-2 in this series since they joined the SEC, and they’ve cemented themselves as a bust for the Razorbacks this season (6-6).
That “Topp Rope” is his biweekly SEC football column that airs throughout the USA TODAY Network. If you like Blake’s reporting, consider it a digital subscription so you can access everything. Also check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfilteredor access exclusive columns through the SEC Unfiltered Newsletter.