Oct 23, 2013

Whitley Writes: SEC Shake-Up Could Bring Fresh Faces To Capital One Bowl

Going into the football season most experts agreed on at least one thing. It would be a cold day in you-know-where before Missouri was in the mix for the Capital One Bowl.

Given the Tigers’ history in Orlando, we shouldn’t be surprised at what happened last weekend. Figuratively speaking, it was a cold day in Columbia, Oxford, Knoxville, College Station and Nashville.

Those were the sites in perhaps the most upsetting day in SEC history. It was like a condensed French Revolution, with Rebels, Tigers, Commodores and Volunteers storming the Bastille and tossing the aristocracy out of the top 10.

The immediate reaction from pundits, commentators and Pac-12 fans is that the sky is falling on the SEC. Alabama is still No. 1, but the league’s run of seven straight national titles is now just one upset away from ending.

With all due respect to Chicken Little, it’s time to chill.

The SEC’s health doesn’t depend solely on keeping Nick Saban upright. All the upheaval is really quite therapeutic for fans in states like Mississippi and Tennessee. What’s more, it’s great for bowls.

Halfway through the season, a dozen SEC teams have shots at getting bids. Sure, only three teams have fewer than two losses. But six could still finish with 10 wins.

That makes them very interesting to the Capital One Bowl, which has the first choice of any SEC team outside the BCS. . Nothing against the aristocracy, but it’s sort of nice not to be rounding up only the usual suspects like South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Who would have suspected Auburn, which won three games last year? Gus Malzhan was named head coach and has confirmed his reputation as an offensive mastermind.

The Tigers beat Texas A&M last Saturday and climbed to No. 11 in the AP poll. The only bigger surprise is the team at No. 5.


Last season was the Tigers first in the SEC. If the league were a high school, newcomer Mizzou would have been the freshman who kept getting weekly wedgies from upperclassmen.

That 5-7 team has gained respect in a hurry. Missouri is 7-0 and has beaten Georgia and Florida by a combined 34 points the past two weekends. The Tigers have a two-game lead in the SEC East and could all but lock it up if they beat South Carolina on Saturday.

It’s enough to give people around here chills. Not at the thought of Missouri coming to the Capital One Bowl. It’s the memory of the last time the Tigers played in Orlando. Anyone remember the Tangerine Bowl on Dec. 19, 1981?

“A cold, blustery day,” Gary Weeden recalled.

He’s now the principal at Kissimmee Middle School and brother of Cathy Weeden, the Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Florida Citrus Sports. In 1981, he was an 11-year-old taking in his first big football game.

His father bought Zonies packages for Gary and older brother Warren. The three of them drove over from Daytona. It became one of those father-son memories frozen in time.

They had a great time at the parade, where U.S. hockey hero Mike Eruzione was grand marshal. There was the pep rally at Church Street Station. Then there was the un-Florida-like wind chill, which barely got above 35 degrees most of the day.

By the time the Weedens took their seats in the end zone for the 8 p.m. kickoff, Gary felt like an 11-year-old popsicle.

“That wind blew across the stadium and straight into our faces,” he said.

He remembers Missouri was playing Southern Miss. He remembers his father was never the type to leave a game early. But mostly, he remembers his dad saying words the family enjoys ribbing him about to this day.

“All right, guys. We’re leaving at halftime.”

For the record, the final score was Missouri 19, Southern Miss 17. Nobody figured this might be the year the Tigers return, then strange things started happening. Georgia and Florida were blindsided by injuries. The usual dominant defenses apparently decided to take the season off.

If this keeps up another year or two, we’ll start worrying that the sky might really be crashing on the SEC. Traditional powers like LSU and Georgia don’t become traditional powers by staying down long.

It’s easier to see the non-powers will keep improving. If that means Missouri will roll into the Capital One Bowl, that’s good news. Football and weather history prove that cold days can still provide very warm memories.


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