Berry’s college football pregame: The SEC is down in 2023 and might stay that way

Berry’s college football pregame: The SEC is down in 2023 and might stay that way

The SEC opened the season with three apparent national championship contenders in Georgia, Alabama and LSU. Two already have lost.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 14, 2023, 9:19am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 14, 2023, 9:19am CDT

The story after Week 1 of college football was that the going-out-of-business Pac-12 is up.

The story after Week 2 of college football was that the Southeastern Conference is down.

Few saw the former coming. No one saw the latter coming.

Last Saturday, Alabama lost at home to Texas and Texas A&M lost at Miami. That on the heels of Louisiana State losing to Florida State on a neutral field and Florida losing at Utah in Week 1.

We’re trying something new at Sellout Crowd this week. My weekly array of college football fixtures — Big 12 and national rankings, Big 12 and national pregames, which include upset specials and coaches on the hot seat, are being included in this one massive package.

Let us know if you like it this way, or separated out. We’re still trying all kinds of new things.

And we’re starting with the SEC’s sluggish start. The conference king seems unlikely to retain that status this season.

Look at it this way. The SEC opened the season with three apparent national championship contenders in Georgia, Alabama and LSU. Two already have lost.

The SEC’s best win so far is Ole Miss’ 37-20 survival at Tulane, a game in which the Rebels scored 17 points in the final 4½ minutes and the Green Wave was playing without star quarterback Michael Pratt.

The SEC is 3-6 against the other Power Five conferences. The rest of the leagues (counting Notre Dame): Pac-12 6-3, Atlantic Coast Conference 4-4, Big Ten 3-3, Big 12 4-5.

The SEC will have the chance to get back on the winning side of that record. But it will be hard-pressed to build back its non-conference résumé, since most of the marquee games are over. That’s the problem with playing so few meaningful non-conference games.

Here are the SEC’s remaining non-conference games against Power Five opponents: 

  • Kansas State at Missouri
  • Brigham Young at Arkansas
  • Georgia Tech at Ole Miss
  • Clemson at South Carolina
  • Florida State at Florida
  • Georgia at Georgia Tech
  • Kentucky at Louisville

Some good games there. Some quality opponents. But the SEC already has lost the marquee game of two straight weeks — LSU-Florida State and Alabama-Texas.

The SEC’s annual standard of grabbing two of the College Football Playoff’s four spots is in jeopardy before the halfway mark of September. The only way for the trio of Georgia, Bama and LSU to include two teams with one or fewer defeats, is if Bama or LSU win out (they play each on November 4), and Georgia otherwise wins out.

The reality rankings

Here is my national top 10 — and remember, I’m not predicting. I’m ranking on who you played, where you played and how you did:

  1. Texas 2-0: Winning in Tuscaloosa figures to stand the test of time.
  2. Florida State 2-0: Beating LSU figures to stand the test of time.
  3. Utah 2-0: Utes have two impressive victories (Florida, at Baylor) without quarterback Cameron Rising, who should return soon.
  4. Colorado 2-0: Two wins, both over Power Five Conference opponents. Only Utah matches that.
  5. Duke 2-0: Wonder if they’ve come down in Durham, North Carolina, from the high of beating Clemson on Labor Day night.
  6. Washington State 2-0: If you want to argue that the Cougars should be higher, considering wins over Colorado State (road) and Wisconsin (home), you would have a very good point.
  7. Miami 2-0: The Hurricanes beat Texas A&M 48-33 to turn the 2023 season quite optimistic in Miami.
  8. North Carolina 2-0: Two solid wins for the Tar Heels — South Carolina on a neutral field and Appalachian State.
  9. Notre Dame 2-0: The Fighting Irish hasn’t played at home yet — Navy in Dublin and North Carolina State on Tobacco Road.
  10. Cincinnati 2-0: Winning at Pittsburgh was unexpected and quite delightful for UC’s new thrust in the Big 12.

Upset specials

National — Florida over Tennessee: Most SEC analysis has the Volunteers penned in as the chief contender to Georgia’s East Division supremacy. And that’s completely justified.

And most analysis of OU’s future SEC schedules has Tennessee as a behemoth, including next season, when the Vols come to Owen Field.

Josh Heupel’s team deserves such status after a rousing 2022, in which Tennessee went 11-2 and finished sixth in the final Associated Press poll.

But the Vols are breaking in a new quarterback, Joe Milton, and it’s not like Tennessee has a long track record of success.

That No. 6 ranking is the only top-20 finish by the Volunteers since 2007. Tennessee has just three winning SEC records since 2007. The idea that the Vols have arrived might be a little squishy.

Florida was pummeled by Utah in the season opener, but you know the Gators have talent. Tennessee is a 6½ -point favorite, but let’s go with Florida in the upset.

Big 12 — Ohio over Iowa State: The Cyclones are tough. Even in defeat, they rarely go down easy.

Iowa State went 4-8 a year ago, and that’s with a 1-6 record in one-possession finishes.

But a program can only take so much. Iowa State was rocked by a betting scandal that in August cost the Cyclones four key players, including starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers, for the entire season.

Then ISU played arch-rival Iowa tough, only to lose 20-13 last Saturday.

Now the Cyclones play at a Mid-American Conference opponent, Ohio U., and the Bobcats are solid. Not flashy. Solid. Sort of like Iowa State.

Will the Cyclones find the fortitude to be ready for Ohio?

Let’s guess that Iowa State is emotionally spent. Let’s go with Ohio in the upset.

Texas Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers (3) celebrates with his parents on their 34-24 victory Saturday, Sept. 9. 2023, over the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Big 12 rankings

This 14-team Big 12 is going to hit us strange all season. Remember, I had Houston No. 1 last week. Then the Cougars lost to Rice.

  1. Texas 2-0: What are the odds that winning in Tuscaloosa, 34-24, will at season’s end be the best victory in college football all season? Fairly solid.
  2. Cincinnati 2-0: The Bearcats won at Pittsburgh.
  3. Central Florida 2-0: The 18-16 victory at Boise State was hard-earned. Sort of like OSU’s 21-20 win at Boise State in 2021.
  4. Kansas 2-0: The Jayhawks mostly dominated Illinois.
  5. Kansas State 2-0: Victory over Troy was impressive — the Trojans are the reigning Sun Belt champions.
  6. Oklahoma 2-0: How will the 28-11 win over Southern Methodist hold up?
  7. Oklahoma State 2-0: The 27-15 win at Arizona State looks better if you frame it this way — a road win over a soon-to-be Big 12 member.
  8. Texas Christian 1-1: The home loss to Colorado looks better and better as the Deion phenomenon marches on.
  9. Texas Tech 0-2: Two tough assignments (at Wyoming, Oregon), two losses. There are worse résumés.
  10. Houston 1-1: Six Big 12 teams have at least one loss. Among those six, the Cougars have both the best win (Texas-San Antonio) and the worst loss (at Rice).
  11. Brigham Young 2-0: Both BYU wins are over teams either in (Southern Utah) or just out of (Sam Houston) Division I-AA.
  12. Iowa State 1-1: The Cyclones put up a fight against Iowa.
  13. West Virginia 1-1: WVU put up a fight for awhile against Penn State.
  14. Baylor 0-2: Bears looked tough against Utah, but it’s hard to get past that home loss to Texas State.

Coaches on the hot seat

Big 12 — Neal Brown: West Virginia hosts Pittsburgh on Saturday in the historic Backyard Brawl, continuing a brutal September for the Mountaineers. WVU already lost to Penn State 38-15, and the Mountaineers host Texas Tech next week, followed by a game at Texas Christian.

Good thing West Virginia played Duquesne last week.

Can Brown survive the month? Depends mostly on WVU finances. Brown is scheduled to make $4 million this season, and if he’s fired before New Year’s Day, Brown is owed the totality of his remaining contract, which extends through the 2026 season. That’s $12.7 million.

But a victory over Pitt could relieve the pressure on Brown. Mountaineers are passionate about the Backyard Brawl, which has been interrupted in recent years and could be again — the programs are not scheduled to play in 2026-28.

West Virginians like Brown. They just don’t like losing, and Brown is 23-26 in four-plus years in Morgantown.

Cincinnati won 27-21 last week at Pitt 27-21, so neither side is favored. Las Vegas calls this a pick’em. Beating Pitt would give Brown a shot at a winning September record and turn down the fire on a coach WVU doesn’t want to release.

National — Virginia Tech’s Brent Pry: Frank Beamer fashioned one of the great success stories in college football history. Virginia Tech was a sleepy mid-Atlantic program when Beamer arrived as head coach in 1987.

Beamer stayed 29 years and turned the Hokies into a national brand. VPI went 238-121-2 in those 29 years, made eight major bowl games, finished in the AP top 10 eight times and won four Atlantic Coast Conference championships.

Beamer’s successor, former OU quarterback Justin Fuente, lasted six seasons but was fired after a 43-31 record. His Hokies weren’t bad; they even had a 29-21 ACC record.

But parts of the Virginia Tech operation had become dysfunctional, according to ESPN, and when Fuente’s teams stumbled, he got caught up.

The Hokies hired Pry, the Penn State defensive coordinator. But Virginia Tech was 3-8 in Pry’s first season and is 1-1 this year, with a game at Rutgers on Saturday.

Virginia Tech has a bunch of winnable games. Rutgers, Marshall, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia. But those are losable games, too.

Lose the majority of those games, and the Hokies are destined for another troubling season, and the steadiness of Beamer’s 29 years will be even more removed. Rutgers is a game Pry needs badly.

Ranking the nation’s top 10 games

It’s a weak slate of college football this week. So weak, an unsuspecting matchup might be the best:

  1. Minnesota at North Carolina, 2:30 p.m., ESPN: Strange game to be No. 1, but one of these teams is going to get to 3-0, with at least two good wins. If it’s Carolina, it’s three good wins — the Tar Heels have beaten South Carolina and Appalachian State.
  2. Tennessee at Florida, 6 p.m., ESPN: In the last year of SEC divisions, these classic rivals from the 1990s now trail Georgia by a wide margin.
  3. Louisiana State at Mississippi State, 11 a.m., ESPN: Seems a one-sided rivalry, but the Bulldogs thrice have beaten LSU in the last nine meetings — 2014, 2017, 2020.
  4. Washington at Michigan State, 4 p.m., Peacock: Seems a mismatch and probably will be a romp for UW, but the coaching change away from Mel Tucker makes the Spartans at least intriguing.
  5. Penn State at Illinois, 11 a.m., Fox: Again, not really a great matchup, but at least it’s a road game for the Nittany Lions, against a good coach (Bret Bielema).
  6. Colorado State at Colorado, 9 p.m., ESPN: OK, so this should be a Buffalo blowout. But any game these days involving Deion Sanders’ Buffs is can’t-miss television.
  7. South Carolina at Georgia, 2:30 p.m., CBS: This is a one-sided game, but the Bulldogs’ schedule is so weak, anything resembling a real opponent makes for a marquee game this week.
  8. James Madison at Troy, 6 p.m., NFL Network: Sun Belt Conference showdown — and another cool game on NFL Network.
  9. Georgia Tech at Ole Miss, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network: Avoid an upset against Georgia Tech, and the Rebels set up a showdown at Alabama next week.

Ranking the Big 12 games

  1. Texas Christian at Houston, 7 p.m., Fox: These schools never met in football until Houston joined the Southwest Conference in 1976. They’ve played five times since, with TCU winning them all.
  2. Brigham Young at Arkansas, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2: Cougar coach Kelani Sitake must find a running game — BYU is averaging 79 yards a game rushing in wins over Sam Houston and Southern Utah.
  3. Pittsburgh at West Virginia, 6:30 p.m., ABC: When these teams play in Morgantown, the crowd is almost all-Mountaineer. When these teams play in Pittsburgh, the crowd’s about 50-50.
  4. Kansas State at Missouri, 11 a.m., SEC Network: Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz this week seemed to not know that KSU’s offensive coordinator is Collin Klein, who was the Big 12 offensive player of the year as recently as 2012.
  5. South Alabama at Oklahoma State, 6 p.m., ESPN Plus: If Mike Gundy plays to form, he’ll start his son. It’s Gunnar Gundy’s turn to play the first third of the game.
  6. Wyoming at Texas, 7 p.m., Longhorn Network: Texas hasn’t handled success well in recent years. Hard to imagine the ‘Horns not handling success well this season.
  7. Oklahoma at Tulsa, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2: OU has averaged 51.5 points per game their last six games against Tulsa.
  8. Miami-Ohio at Cincinnati, 6 p.m., ESPN Plus: This ancient series has turned one-sided, with the Bearcats winning 16 straight. But Miami occasionally stays close — within one possession each year from 2014-17.
  9. Iowa State at Ohio, 11 a.m., ESPNU: The Cyclones are 25-5 all-time vs. the Mid-American Conference but lost to a MAC team (Toledo) as recently as 2015.
  10. Kansas at Nevada, 9:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: KU’s domination of Illinois showed college football that Lance Leipold won’t be a one-hit wonder in Lawrence.
  11. Long Island at Baylor, 11 a.m., ESPN Plus: I didn’t even know Long Island had a football team until West Virginia was scheduled to play the Sharks in 2020.
  12. Villanova at Central Florida, 5:30 p.m., ESPN Plus: Big and clutch win for UCF at Boise State, 18-16. But Knights quarterback John Rhys Plumlee was injured late and will miss several weeks, including the Big 12 opener at Kansas State next week.
  13. Tarleton State at Texas Tech, 6 p.m., ESPN Plus: Tech is 0-2 for the first time since 1990, when the Red Raiders opened with a 17-10 loss at 18th-ranked Ohio State and a 51-35 loss against 18th-ranked Houston.
Share with your crowd
Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming