It’s spooky season, and not because your team’s season is on the brink of collapse. Everyone fears something. I still fear waking up and missing the bus, and I haven’t taken a bus to school in 20 years. SEC teams are more than half-way through the 2023 season. With plenty of storylines to draw on at this point in the year, and with Halloween in mind, here is the one thing each SEC team is fearing the most this season.
Alabama – Missing CFP for second-straight year
Even if the Crimson Tide miss the College Football Playoff this season, it will only be the third time Alabama has missed the CFP in its 10 years of existence. But “this is Bama, Paul.” Diehard Tide fans are scared that another year not in the playoff means Saban’s dominance over the sport is officially over. It probably is, but not because Saban has lost his edge or suddenly can’t coach. The sport is changing. The SEC is changing. Playing in six CFP National Championships (winning three) in a 10-year period will probably never be replicated.
Arkansas – Losing the fanbase
Sam Pittman made a business decision by firing offensive coordinator, and friend, Dan Enos. The firing is warranted given how much the Razorback’s offense has digressed in 2023; barely averaging 300 yards per game and only 26.5 points game. Arkansas plays at Florida and Auburn, FIU, and Missouri at home to end the regular season. It lost one score games, all on the road, against ranked LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama. Pittman will likely get another year, but if the Razorbacks stumble to 3-9 (beat FIU) and 0-8 in the SEC, what hope does the fanbase have for the future? A future with anticipated tougher schedules with Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC. Arkansas fans are scared their football program is stuck in reverse as it enters the super conference era.
Auburn – Four years without a win over Georgia or Alabama
It’s going to take time for Hugh Freeze to rebuild Auburn’s roster to the level that allows it to avoid long losing streaks against its two historic rivals. Most fans understand this. Freeze’s 2024 class currently ranks 17th in 247Sports composite class rankings. However, his class ranks 11th in average star rating (91.48) and has a commitment from 6-3 5-Star wide receiver, Perry Thompson. Freeze pulled 20 players from the portal in his first recruiting haul as head coach, including his starting quarterback Peyton Thorne. Georgia needed a superhuman at tight end to beat the Tigers in Jordan-Hare back in September, but the Bulldogs also spotted Auburn two turnover that led to points. UGA won its eighth-straight in the series. Despite a 4-4 record, Auburn should be bowl eligible with games against Vanderbilt, Arkansas and New Mexico State before it welcomes the Crimson Tide at season’s end. The Tigers will try to avoid losing to Alabama for the fourth-straight year and eight out of the last 10. Losing to your archrivals on a regular basis is pretty scary when bragging rights and recruiting is on the line.
Florida – Losing out and ending momentum
Stewart Mandel of The Athletic predicted Florida to go 3-9 this year. The Gators are 5-3 and proved him wrong early with a Week 2 win over then-No. 11 Tennessee. But Florida looked bad in losses to Utah, Kentucky, and Georgia. This Saturday it plays a reeling Arkansas team. As noted earlier, the Razorbacks offense is ineffective, but the team is coming off a bye before traveling to Gainesville. If Florida messes around a loses to Arkansas, it must find a win at No. 13 LSU, at No. 14 Missouri, or No. 4 Florida State to finish 6-6. Not making a bowl game is scary if you’re a Florida fan and more so if you’re Billy Napier. Could a losing season cause a few key commitments in Florida’s currently ranked No. 3 recruiting class to look elsewhere?
Georgia – Losing one of next three games against ranked teams
Most Georgia fans would say that not winning another national championship scares them. But you have to get through the first 12 games before championship dreams become closer to reality. Georgia’s opponents in its next three games are all ranked, as of now, in the Top 20, starting with No. 14 Missouri in Athens this Saturday. If UGA didn’t have to worry about injuries and played to its full potential every week, penciling in a 12-0 regular season and third-straight playoff appearance would be a no brainer. Unfortunately, injuries happen, and college football is played by 18-22-year-olds. The prospects of coming out unscathed against three-straight ranked opponents sounds scary – even for a program that’s been ranked No. 1 in 20-straight AP Top 25 polls.
Kentucky – Bottoming out this season
The Wildcats seemed destined for another 9–10-win season after demolishing Florida in late September. Mark Stoops has the Kentucky fanbase accustomed to more than annual 6-6 seasons. Following the Florida win, Kentucky went to Athens and matched up against a Georgia squad not playing at an elite level. Turns out, the Bulldogs only needed to chase the Cats for around sixty minutes to get back to elite status. Kentucky, since losing 51-13 to UGA, has been nothing close to elite; it’s lost three-straight and is on the verge of letting a promising season get away. Only one likely loss remains on the schedule: Alabama. Kentucky is good enough to beat Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Louisville, but all three are on the road and Louisville is surprisingly a Top 15 team. Losing 7 straight after starting 5-0 is a real possibility.
LSU – Finishing as an SEC fraud
LSU was No. 5 in the preseason AP Top 25. Talking heads everywhere picked LSU with the Heisman contending QB to win its second-straight West division and challenge Georgia for a playoff spot. Then Florida State – built by dynamic transfers – ripped apart the Bayou Bengals on opening weekend and the mood changed. LSU has since rebounded and is a win at Alabama on Saturday from being in a three-way tie for first place in the West. The offense is averaging 47 points per game and leads the country in total offense. Its defense is also giving up a slew of yards and ranks 76th points per game. If LSU loses to Alabama, it’s finishing, at best, 9-3 – 10-3 with a bowl win. Ten wins seasons are good, but they’re disappointing when your fanbase expects the program to improve on the surprise 10-win campaign in 2022 and push Georgia and Alabama for a playoff spot.
Ole Miss – Wondering what might have been
The country band Little Texas sang “What Might Have Been” in the early 90s. Got to love 90s country music. Every heartache a man can have was written into a country song. If the 2023 Ole Miss football team finishes the regular season 11-1 and doesn’t win the SEC West in its final year, Rebel fans will wonder what might have been. Ole Miss lead Alabama in Tuscaloosa 7-6 at the half. Seven points is a far cry from the 38.9 points per game the Rebel offense is averaging this season, but leading the Crimson Tide on the road when Saban’s program is as beatable as it’s been in years is worth noting. Ole Miss’s offense never got going and Alabama rolled to a comfortable 24-10 win. The Rebels going 11-1 means an upset at Georgia in a couple of weeks. Fans would relish the moment and wouldn’t think twice about the Bama loss…until they watch Bama play in Atlanta in December. Ole Miss has come oh so close to winning the tiebreakers necessary to make it the West division representative in the SEC Championship Game. It will need to win out and hope for Alabama to lose two SEC games against LSU, at Kentucky, and at Auburn to play in Atlanta for the first time. There is a chance that Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU could finish tied for first in the West. But ain’t nobody go time to figure out who plays in Atlanta with that mess of a tiebreaker.
Mississippi State – Losing offensive identity
College football misses “The Pirate,” Mike Leach. His prolific Air Raid offense influenced the high-octane passing attacks we see at places like USC, Washington, Oklahoma, and LSU. Leach’s teams at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State had an offensive identity, even if that identity didn’t lead to conference championships and playoff berths. His offensive style (and unmatched personality) helped brand the programs he coached into fun, must-watch teams. First-year Bulldogs head coach Zac Arnett chose to move away from the prolific passing attack to a more traditional pro-style system. Mississippi State went from averaging 328 passing yards per game in Leach’s three years running the program, down to 198 this season. The Bulldogs are rushing the ball better under Arnett – 156 yards per game compared to 63 yards per game from 2020 – 2022. Injuries to preseason third team All-SEC QB Will Rogers has affected the Bulldogs production, too. Without Rogers behind center, Mississippi has averaged 10 points against Arkansas and Auburn. At 4-4 and winnable games against Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Southern Miss upcoming, the Bulldogs are still within striking distance of bowl eligibility. Given this is the first season following Leach’s unexpected passing, Arnett getting his team to bowl eligibility should be celebrated. But as Arnett’s tenure in Starkville continues, the prolific passing attack that identified the program over the last few years should be viewed as a fond memory of The Pirate that defined it.
Missouri – Coming up short of a special season
Missouri is an average program since joining the SEC. The Tigers have finished .500 or worse six times in their 11 full seasons in the SEC. One of the seasons Mizzou exceeded expectations was 10 years ago when the 2013 Tigers played for the SEC Championship and finished No. 5. Is it a coincidence or fate that the 2013 and 2023 teams both started 7-1? Mizzou fans hope this 7-1 start becomes an 11-1 or 10-2 finish. To finish 11-1, the Tigers will have to knock off Georgia in Athens this Saturday. Is it a coincidence that the last time Missouri beat Georgia was 2013 in Athens? Mizzou doesn’t need to beat UGA to justify a special season, but it does have tough games against Tennessee and Florida (both at home) following the Georgia game. After going 6-7 the last two seasons, going 8-5 or 9-4 would be a step in the right direction for Eli Drinkwitz program, but a season with less than 10 wins after such a strong start won’t be considered special.
South Carolina – Disappointing season with no signature wins
That 14-3 halftime over No. 1 Georgia feels like four seasons ago. Save for a win over a mediocre Mississippi State team, the Gamecocks have been a disaster since dominating Georgia in Athens for a half. There’s a lot of Gamecocks fans with broken hearts, and one head coach with a broken foot. Despite the miserable 2-6 start, South Carolina’s four remaining games are winnable and all at home (Jacksonville State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Clemson). A bowl game is possible but capturing a signature win in 2023 can only happen against the in-state Tigers to end the regular season. No, this Clemson isn’t even close to the caliber of teams that made the CFP every year from 2015 – 2020. But true Gamecocks know that beating the Tigers is always a signature moment. Clemson leads the rivalry 72-43-4 and won seven-straight before South Carolina’s 31-30 win in – the other – Death Valley last year.
Tennessee – Was last year’s lethal offense a flash in the pan?
The Volunteers aren’t struggling offensively this year. They’re averaging 443 yards per game and rushing for an SEC-best 221 yards per game. But the quick-strike Josh Heupel pass attack has taken a significant step back in year three. The 2022 Vols averaged 525 total yards, 326 passing, 199 rushing, and a national best 46 points per game. This year’s offense led by Joe Milton is scoring a decent 31.8 points per game, good for sixth in the SEC. The offense looked elite in the first half against Alabama, rolling the Tide to a 20-7 lead. Then it didn’t score again, and the Tide scored 27 of their own points to pull away for the dub. This late in the season, it’s unlikely the Vols offense rekindles last year’s spark.
Texas A&M – Jimbo Fisher gets another year after a 7-5 or worse record
Texas A&M is guaranteed at least one more win in the regular season when it hosts Abeline Christian. It should be favored at home over Mississippi State. The Aggies are talented enough to win at Top 15 Ole Miss and LSU, but they’re likely underdogs in both. If A&M wins the games it should and loses the games it’s the underdog in, it will finish 7-5 – the third season under Jimbo Fisher with 7 or fewer wins in the regular season. At some point, Texas A&M needs to cut its losses and start over. Unless the Aggies rebound and finish 9-4 or 10-3, I believe Aggie fans are ready to move on from the $75 million man. Time to drill for oil money, I mean buyout money.
Vanderbilt – Another winless SEC season
The Commodores finished winless in SEC play in 21 seasons (17.5% of seasons). Conversely, Alabama has one winless SEC season in 1955; before Bear Bryant took over. Vandy needs to find a win against Auburn, South Carolina, or Tennessee to avoid a 22nd winless SEC campaign. Going 0-8 in conference play would be a big disappointment for Vandy fans that saw the program take a step forward last year with late season wins over Kentucky and Florida.
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