The SEC is down, as evidenced by its lack of a team in the title game, and Texas is up, but that’s a trade the Sooners are willing to make.
The Southeastern Conference kept offering clues that its football was down in 2023.
Nobody wants to listen, because hype rules the day and how loud you speak trumps what you say, and “It Just Means More” was constructed to end, not start, debate.
But back in September, Texas beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Florida State beat Louisiana State in Tallahassee, and Miami beat Texas A&M, and Utah (without its quarterback) beat Florida, and Georgia and Tennessee didn’t play any opponent capable of winning.
And we all said, the SEC is down. We were right.
Which explains the national championship game Monday night. Michigan-Washington. The first title game without an SEC school since Ohio State-Oregon nine years ago. Nine!
The eight championship games since have produced 10 SEC representatives — we had Alabama-Georgia twice, to determine the 2017 and 2021 champions.
Of course, when we say the SEC is down, we don’t mean Johnny Cash down. Not ring of fire down. We don’t mean Down in the Valley down.
We mean down by the SEC’s epic standards. We mean a crack in the armor, a sliver in the gate.
The SEC still can play some mean football. Heck, we’re this close to an Alabama-Texas national final. Bama lost to Michigan 27-20 in overtime; Texas’ miracle comeback came up 12 yards shy, and Washington prevailed 37-31.
But that’s sort of the point. The SEC showed some vulnerability, and the rest of college football seized the day.
Can the Sooners do the same?
I have no idea if the SEC’s slippage from Zeus to Apollo will continue. For all I know, Bama and Georgia will return to terrorizing autumn cathedrals in 2024, and the SEC’s depth will sprout throughout the 12-team playoff in December. And the SEC’s depth was quite impressive even for Apollo — five teams in the top 13 of the College Football Playoff rankings. No. 4 Alabama, No. 6 Georgia, No. 9 Missouri, No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 13 LSU.
The committee didn’t seem to hold the SEC’s September against it, which is one of the perks of Greek mythology. And just to ensure that the SEC doesn’t run low on quality ballclubs, here comes OU and Texas, joining up on July 1. The Longhorns were No. 4 in the committee rankings, the Sooners No. 12. That’s seven of the top 13.
But that’s sort of the point. The Sooners — and Longhorns — seem to be up and running with the best of the SEC at just the right time.
OU’s got holes for 2024 — don’t study the Sooner offensive line depth chart unless you’re sitting down — but that’s sort of standard in the transfer portal era. Roster stability is a thing of the past. Every year is a shotgun start.
Texas played with the big boys (and beat Alabama), and OU played with Texas (and beat the Longhorns).
Sure, it stinks for the Sooners that UT found its shoulder pads just as the SEC era dawns. It’s one thing for OU to be dealing with the increased challenge of SEC mythology, but now the Sooners have to do it with Bevo having sharpened his horns.
But what? Did we think Texas was going to stay Rip Van Winkle forever?
The events of 2023 (plus New Year’s Day 2024) was an even tradeoff for the Sooners. The Longhorns rose, the SEC fell. And yes, the Texas ascent was steeper than the SEC descent, but still, the Sooners can handle that outcome.
They’ve been dealing with Texas’ actual and perceived superiority for a century. That’s nothing new. Where OU needed help was bridging the gap between best of the Big 12 and best of the SEC. And that gulf narrowed in 2023.
The Sooners are more SEC-ready than they were 2½ years ago, when they lit the latest conference realignment fire. Part of that is the Sooners and part of that is their new conference, and America will watch the championship game Monday night void of its annual anthem, the chanting of “SEC! SEC!”