Four Downs: SEC Schadenfreude

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Let’s make this perfectly clear up front: Alabama is obviously one of the two best teams in college football. The state of the Southeastern Conference as a whole in 2017 does not reflect negatively on the Crimson Tide, which is outscoring SEC opponents 125-3.

In contrast, Alabama’s two games against Mountain West Conference opponents Colorado State and Fresno State? 82-33.

Yes, the Alabama Football Machine is just fine, if not better than some recent teams the Terminator himself, Nick Saban, has overseen in recent years. Contrasted with much of the rest of the SEC, this Crimson Tide season could be one of the best ever statistically.

In trying to bridge the gap between them and Alabama, some SEC programs widened the chasm. And the rest of the college football-watching nation could not be more thrilled.

Welcome to Four Downs.

FIRST DOWN: CAN’T SPELL SCHADENFREUDE WITHOUT SEC

Entertainment, no matter if it’s current or from literally centuries ago, teaches us that hubris and bullying are recipes for disaster: Nelson Muntz, The Plastics, Icarus. Being too prideful or picking on the weak ensures you will get your comeuppance.

Life doesn’t often play out like film or literature, unfortunately. But when it does, observers will revel in the results.

That’s exactly what’s happening as the SEC approaches a collective low not seen since perhaps the 1990s, when various programs were hampered by NCAA sanctions and others were…well, just bad.

First clearly evident indicators emerged at least two years ago. Here’s what I wrote about the SEC East in 2015. The East was no better in 2016.

Now, that could be written off previously on the basis that the ACC Atlantic is markedly better than the Coastal; the Pac-12 North dominates the South; and the Big Ten East is considerably stronger top-to-bottom (but especially top) when compared to the West.

Besides, with the West owning the SEC championship since Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer checked out at Florida, the strength of the SEC resided in that division.

But the West as a whole is no longer a juggernaut. Alabama is, sure, and Auburn may be improved this season. However, Ole Miss, previously positioned as the challenger to Alabama’s dominance, is bad, and likely to get worse in the coming years with NCAA sanctions looming.

Mississippi State is coming off back-to-back blowout losses against Georgia and Auburn, the clear No. 2 and 3 teams in a conference that otherwise ranges from Meh to Bleh. The Bulldogs’ 37-7 rout of LSU proved more indicative of the state of the Bayou Bengals.

LSU’s home loss to Sun Belt Conference opponent Troy on Saturday is quite a departure from national championship contention. Of course, you can’t spend years branding your style of football with catchphrases like “It Just Means More,” or having your loudest, most prominent cheerleader publish a book entitled “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference,” and not expect backlash.

Ouch. If there’s anything the SEC loves as much as penultimate weekend paycheck games, it’s playing FCS or Sun Belt schools on Homecoming. LSU paid Troy in excess of $800,000 to come to Baton Rouge as Homecoming fodder.

Not since Delta House has a Homecoming weekend been so thoroughly ruined. That’s two Animal House references this weekend!

If there’s any solace LSU can take, it’s that the Tigers got Twitter dunked-on by a quality FBS team. Imagine the indignity of being an SEC program and getting dragged by a Div. III school.

Despite the troubling state of a handful of its programs, SEC football isn’t terrible; to suggest so would be to take the opposite yet equally extreme side of the same ridiculous sentiment that “S-E-C!” chanters perpetuated most of the last decade.

Texas A&M is fine; the Aggies are 4-1 and by UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen’s own admission after Week 1, came literal inches away from being 5-0. And yet, the same attitude that’s run other programs like LSU into a dire state still looms over College Station. The general college football punditry and overzealous fans have been writing Kevin Sumlin’s eulogy seemingly every Saturday since Johnny Manziel left town.

SEC programs collectively buying into the conference’s own myth-building has been its greatest detriment. Forgive the rest of college football for taking some delight.

SECOND DOWN: YOU BETTER LEARN TO LOVE IT

At the height of his run as NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion, Ric Flair told audiences simply: Whether you like it or you don’t like it, you better learn to love it, ’cause it’s the best thing goin’ today.

Whether you like it or not, Stanford running back Bryce Love has been the most explosive, most exciting player in college football this season.

The nation’s leading rusher erupted for 303 yards in the Cardinal’s win over Arizona State, pushing him over 1,000 before October even began. Love’s on pace to break Barry Sanders’ Herculean single-season record.

It’s not even just Love’s numbers that make his season thus far so impressive; Love’s an absolute blast to watch operate.

Love’s emergence out of Christian McCaffrey’s shadow is actually quite comparable to Barry Sanders’ rise to stardom at Oklahoma State. Sanders’ role before 1988 was somewhat limited as a result of playing behind Thurman Thomas.

THIRD DOWN: BIG UPSETS IN FCS

A couple of noteworthy upsets in FCS play Saturday: Central Arkansas took down likely national title contender Sam Houston State, 41-30. The Bears came in ranked No. 11 in the FCS STATS Poll, so the gravity of the upset might not seem all that impressive without the benefit of context.

Sam Houston State last loss a Southland Conference game on Nov. 7, 2015. The Bearkcats opened the Southland slate a week ago with a 66-17 blowout of No. 23 Nicholls State. The complete dismantling of a nationally ranked opponent pretty much matched expectations for SHSU’s forecast in conference play; particularly given the Bearkats opened the season dominating a Richmond team expected to contend in a Colonial Athletic Association universally considered much stronger than the Southland.

UCA’s win was as much a landscape-altering result as Washington State beating USC on Friday night. It’s not the most surprising result out of Saturday’s FCS slate, however.

That distinction belongs to Saint Francis beating No. 22 Liberty — the same Liberty that opened the season with a win over Power Five conference opponent, Baylor.

The NEC is relatively low on the FCS totem pole, as a result of its rosters being only partial scholarship. The NEC champion only began participating in the FCS Playoffs in recent years with the field’s expansion to 20 teams (now 24), previously ending the year with a matchup against the non-scholarship Pioneer League champion.

Liberty, on the other hand, is preparing for a move to FBS independence. This is a program that the university as a whole is attempting to use as a tent pole for its growth. The university’s approach to that end has been questionable.

President Jerry Falwell Jr. complained Liberty was forced to go the independent route, because conferences were denying LU on the grounds of religious bigotry. Shockingly, Falwell makes no statement on the possibility conferences want nothing to do with a university that hired former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, just months after details of widespread, systemic cover-up for rape surfaced at BU.

Before Liberty takes its act to FBS, FCS member Saint Francis give it quite the parting gift, courtesy of NFL caliber talent Kamron Lewis.

FOURTH DOWN: DOG PILE DIARIES

San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny is a Heisman Trophy contender and one of the most difficult players to slow down in college football. Northern Illinois linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis took a page out of the “Rowdy” Roddy Piper playbook and poked Penny’s eyes.

Any difference?

Penny and his San Diego State teammates were understandably upset after the game.

“Something like that shouldn’t be allowed on a football field,” Aztecs quarterback Christian Chapman said. “I think something [disciplinary] should happen.”

San Diego State head coach Rocky Long did not take quite as much of a hard stance, however.

“Because they got it on TV, it’s a big deal. Stuff like that happens all the time. I’m not saying it’s right, because it’s not right for any player to be doing that kind of thing,” he said. “But in those piles — it’s been a long time since I’d been in one — but they used to be nastier than they are now.”

Long did not elaborate how piles used to be nastier; so, The Open Man is doing some crowd-sourcing. Please share your outrageous tales of dogpile dirtiness for inclusion in next week’s edition of Four Downs! Comment below, tweet @the_open_man, or email kyle@theopenman.com.