The SEC’s Other Sept. 3 Game
By Paul Myerberg // Jun 27, 2011
This post originally appeared on Mar. 24, shortly after the SEC released its team-by-team and composite schedule for the 2011 season. Since I’m very much bogged down with Countdown work, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to shoot this back to the top of the page as a sidebar to go with the Ole Miss preview.
B.Y.U. doesn’t often head east, and if the Cougars do travel outside their comfort zone, it’s typically only towards the Midwest, not to the eastern side of the Mississippi. The river, that is. Come Sept. 3, B.Y.U. will make a strange, strange trip to Oxford, Miss., where the hometown Rebels plan on making sure a disappointing 2010 campaign doesn’t travel over to 2011. To do so, Ole Miss must prepare for a team with a similar mindset: like its opponent, B.Y.U. has designs on a one-year turnaround of its own.
Evidence that each F.B.S. program sets its own standards: each team looks to reverse a one-year slide, but each team views success differently. It’s not as it the Cougars dropped off the map in 2010, but a 7-6 finish – in this day and age of Bronco Mendenhall-led football – raised eyebrows. In Oxford, two years of surprising success under Houston Nutt made a 4-8 season all the more distressing.
Now, I’m not sure if Mississippi would beat itself up over a seven-win 2011, not when you consider the travails that await in the SEC. The SEC West, once again, will be a minefield of national title contenders, from the defending champs, Auburn; to two teams, Alabama and L.S.U., with the talent to run the table; to a program well on the rise in Mississippi State; to Arkansas, which looks to continue its own progression while making a change at quarterback.
The Rebels face those same cast of characters in 2011, with Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and L.S.U. coming to Oxford. That’s the good news: if one made a list of the seven best teams on the Ole Miss schedule, five come at home – that’s the above quartet along with the Cougars, with Auburn and Mississippi State coming on the road. Well, that’s not good news so much as not-bad-news, but it could be worse.
So each team would view a potential turnaround differently. For B.Y.U., it’s all about a return to 10 wins or more, perhaps a marquee win or two, perhaps a run towards a B.C.S. berth. The latter is a stretch, despite what should be an improved offense and a stronger, deeper, more experienced team from top to bottom. But 10 wins is very much in play, particularly if the Cougars can maintain the hot play that propelled them through a rough start to a 6-2 mark over the final two months of the season.
It’s more than doable, though there’s a slight chink in that plan: B.Y.U. takes on Independent status beginning this fall – remember? – which adds a slight level of difficulty to the schedule. Yes, there’s always San Jose State, Idaho State, Idaho, what have you, but B.Y.U. also adds the Rebels, Texas, Oregon State and T.C.U. while maintaining the rivalry with Utah, even if the game comes in September, not on the final Saturday of the regular season. Again, not-bad-news: B.Y.U. must play Utah every year without fail, but an easy win – a cupcake instead of the Utes – wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
The beefed-up schedule has B.Y.U. commiserating with the Rebels. Now the Cougars might understand what it’s like to not have much time to rise for air, a way of life from September to December for a team on the fringes of SEC competitiveness. The schedule almost – if 10 wins is the goal – makes the Mississippi game a must-win. B.Y.U. heads to Texas the following Saturday. Hosts Utah on Sept. 17, U.C.F. on Sept. 24. An SEC team, followed by a national power, followed by an intense rivalry game, followed by a likely 10-win team from Conference USA? Could the Cougars suffer through another foul, sloppy start to open 2011?
You won’t hear much about this game heading into the first Saturday of September, as most of the SEC – not to mention the country – will be tuned into Oregon-L.S.U. or Georgia-Boise State, and understandably so. Yet don’t confuse the lack of ink, already seen in spades with those four national powers, with a lack of intrigue: both teams know what’s on the line, what lies in the balance, which should create the type of late-season atmosphere rarely seen on the first Saturday of September.
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Tags: B.Y.U., Bronco Mendenhall, Houston Nutt, Mississippi
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