If everything stays on schedule for the Auburn football team, and that could be a big if in these days of the Covid-19 scare, Monday is the revised start date for full squad, preseason practices in preparation for the revised, conference-only schedule.
When the SEC announced two additional games for each of its 14 teams last week, the league added a home game for Gus Malzahn’s Tigers vs. Tennessee and a road game vs. South Carolina to increase the schedule from eight to 10 games. While neither of those are sure wins, the Tigers came out okay in the process, especially considering how much tougher the schedule became for some other teams.
Arkansas and its new head coach, Sam Pittman, found out the Razorbacks will be playing the co-favorites in the SEC East with a home game vs. fourth-ranked Georgia and a road trip to Gainesville to face eighth-ranked Florida.
It’s a tossup whether or not the Razorbacks have the toughest additions or if that distinction goes to Missouri and its new head coach, Eli Drinkwitz. Mizzou will get an additional home game vs. SEC West preseason favorite Alabama, which is ranked No. 3 nationally, and a road trip to fifth-ranked LSU to face the defending national champions. Good luck with that, Eli. You are going to need it.
Both of Tennessee’s new opponents are nationally ranked. The Vols will play Auburn, which is No. 11 in the preseason coaches Top 25, and will take on No. 13 Texas A&M. The Aggies are considered a team that could win the SEC West this year, but the addition of a home game vs. Florida will make Texas A&M’s path to the division title a more difficult one to navigate.
LSU received a major break from the SEC with the two additions being a home game vs. Missouri and a road trip to Vanderbilt. Coach O hit the schedule lottery with those picks.
The schedule-makers didn’t add much additional stress to Auburn’s major rivals. Alabama will travel to Missouri for its road game and play at home vs. Kentucky. Georgia will play at Arkansas and adds a home date vs. Mississippi State. The SEC’s commissioner, Greg Sankey, didn’t endear himself to many folks around the league going easy on the Bayou Bengals, Tide and Georgia Dawgs.
Three days later, the commissioner did win some respect with his comments that the SEC is not in a hurry to make a final decision on playing this season or canceling the football season. He noted that conference officials are not giving up on plans to have intercollegiate sports this fall even though some other leagues have thrown in the towel.
Previously, the SEC pushed back the start of the first games from Sept. 5 to the 26th. From what I can tell, the vast majority of college football players want to play this fall. If an individual doesn’t want to participate, nobody is forcing him to suit up and play. The players who opt out can keep their scholarships and attend classes for the 2020-21 academic year.
I agree with coaches who have made good points about dealing with Covid-19. Their take is that young, healthy athletes who are being closely monitored by doctors are at less risk of being impacted by the virus than they would be as a random college student doing the same things many other students are doing on a weekly basis. That makes perfect sense to me.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter