The wild, wild SEC west
An expressionless Joe Burrow took his seat among members of the Baton Rouge media ready to pepper the first-year LSU quarterback with questions.
Now eight weeks into the 2018 football season, Burrow was accustomed to addressing the press leading up to a game, but the Tigers’ next opponent all but ensured that there would be a giant elephant in the room.
That elephant was the Alabama Crimson Tide, a rival that LSU had failed to best in the last seven contests.
It would be Burrow’s first time playing the Southeastern Conference powerhouse, but he knew exactly what the outcome of the game meant for the season.
“If you’re timid, don’t come out of that locker room,” he said with a wry smile, and like a teaser trailer for a summer blockbuster, excitement around Baton Rouge began to crescendo.
Tiger fans would have to wait one more year before finally ending their losing streak to Alabama, but the sentiment Burrow expressed to the media that day was a powerful one.
The LSU Tigers will never take the field fearing an opponent.
That statement was embodied in the 2019 football season where LSU defeated seven teams ranked in the top 10 on the way to capturing the school’s first 15-0 record and fourth national championship.
Unfortunately, some LSU fans forget events just as quickly as they happen, and there are some fans who live by the weak creed of “what’s the easiest path to the championship game?”
That may be a question that Crimson Tide fans love to ask one another every season, but it doesn’t have to be the motto of this fanbase.
Yet, when news broke of Texas and Oklahoma seeking to join the SEC, many fans had a host of emotional reactions.
Some expressed concern that adding two blue-blood programs from the Big XII Conference would make the road to the College Football Playoff that much more difficult for their beloved Tigers. Others indicated that the days of LSU having the edge on Texas and Oklahoma on the recruiting front were numbered.
Newsflash for fans that are new to a typical LSU football season, but the Tigers play in the SEC West. Have you heard of it? It’s the only division in college football that boasts seven national champions and four national runners-up since the 2010 season.
These accomplishments are spread across three teams in the SEC west, a division where seven teams currently have membership. That means nearly half of the division has appeared in or won a national championship in the last 11 years.
It would be difficult to imagine a tougher road to a national championship than what LSU has to play in a normal college football season, so please spare me the sentiment that adding a team that has struggled to find relevance since Vince Young found the corner of the end zone in the 2006 Rose Bowl is cause for concern.
What about recruiting? Wouldn’t it be fair to assume that Texas and Oklahoma participating under the SEC banner would elevate their ability to recruit?
Maybe it will. Texas A&M and Missouri made the switch from the Big XII to the SEC in 2011. Has LSU struggled recruiting against either school?
If anything, adding Texas and Oklahoma would allow LSU to have more exposure in both of those states when the Tigers play there, thus helping Ed Orgeron and company recruit the talent that lives there.
Even if it were the case that Texas becomes a bigger threat to recruiting than I give them credit for now, 70% of LSU’s drafted players last year were from the state of Louisiana, and the bulk of LSU’s recruiting classes are always comprised of in-state talent.
LSU has a stronghold on the borders of the state of Louisiana, and Texas and Oklahoma wearing SEC patches on their jersey won’t change that fact anytime soon.
Fine, Chris. We get it. We were being silly and emotional when the news of Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC broke. But, does this news help LSU at all?
It absolutely does help, inquisitive reader.
A USA Today article by Steve Berkowitz projects a path for the SEC to generate $1.3 billion in revenue for the 2024-2025 fiscal year should Texas and Oklahoma join by that time. To put that number into perspective, the entire NCAA generated $1.12 billion in revenue for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
More money in the SEC’s coffers means more money for LSU as the conference gives an equal allotment of its revenues to each school. That means better facilities, stadium upgrades, and an overall better experience for the LSU student athlete.
If the SEC becoming the richest conference in college football isn’t good for LSU, then I would be hard-pressed to find something that was good for the Tigers.
What about LSU’s football schedule?
It appears that the conference will be shifting to a “pod” format instead of the traditional division format that the schools play in now. An example of what this would look like is here:
In this new format, the only teams that a school is guaranteed to play every year are teams in the same pod. In the above example, this means that LSU would play Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M every year while playing teams in the other pods every other year.
This allows for a far better format than the programs play in now and gives teams a chance to actually play all the schools in their conference, both home and away, in a four-year period.
Once again, to put this into perspective, LSU plays at Kentucky this year. This will be the first time that the Tigers will travel to Kentucky since 2007, 14 years ago.
That is an awful way to schedule games against teams in your conference, and as of now, the SEC is the only conference that has this problem.
Yes, in the new pod format, LSU will not have the chance to play rivals like Auburn, Alabama, and Florida every year like the team does in this current format.
New memories will be made against new teams though. Fans still talk about LSU’s miraculous win in 2010 against Tennessee or 3rd down and 17 against Texas in 2019. Neither of those teams have been on the Tigers’ schedule very much in the last 20 years. Neither of those teams would be considered a bitter rival to LSU. Yet, both opponents gave fans memories that will last a lifetime.
No matter what team finds itself on LSU’s schedule, I am confident that the Tigers will rise to the occasion. College football has changed a lot in the last 20 years, and LSU has found a way to not only survive but thrive.
College football will continue to change drastically in the next 20 years, and the schools and fans that embrace the change will continue to thrive.
As for any program or fan too timid to adapt with the game, it’s best that you don’t come out the locker room.