We made it, folks.
Tonight marks the triumphant return of Southeastern Conference football and, for that, we are grateful.
Let’s pat ourselves on the back for surviving so long without it. Sure, The Masters helped usher in spring and we feigned excitement over the World Cup this summer, but these past few weeks were especially tough as the calendar flipped closer to kickoff.
Eager for days to pass, some may have resorted to desperate measures, like spending time with family. Others tried more conventional methods, like dominating a tub of jalapeno pimento cheese and washing it down with Miller High Life, the champagne of beers.
Thankfully, SEC football is back with a blockbuster weekend of high-profile games. Before offering SEC Banter’s predictions of this week’s key matchups (sorry, I’m punting on South Dakota State at Missouri), I’d like to comment briefly about what makes the SEC experience so unique.
After all, these are high times in the SEC and we, as fans, share several common attributes that set us apart from the rest of the country.
The SEC lifestyle is laid-back and refined. We don’t take anything too seriously around here — football included.
For example, most SEC fans have realistic expectations, especially this time of year. Offer them a 7-5 season and they’ll gladly take it. Just as long as their team is competitive in a few big games and makes it to an exciting bowl game destination, like Shreveport.
Thinking about getting married in the fall?
Terrific, congratulations. Totally disregard the SEC football schedule when choosing a date for your big day. People would much rather see you tie the knot than take in that meaningless 100+-year rivalry that defines their happiness for the year to come.
Fans of the nation’s finest football conference are highly cordial when interacting with each other.
Rare is the occasion in which opposing SEC fans become hostile. In fact, Auburn and Alabama fans often hold joint tailgate parties, sit with each other during games and eat s’mores around the campfire afterward, no matter the outcome.
Speaking of tailgating, it is a casual affair in the SEC. Some fans across the country treat tailgating like a sport in and of itself, with elaborate tents, heavy-duty cooking equipment, big-screen TVs and fully stocked bars. But in the SEC, particularly in towns like Oxford, Miss., just show up with a few folding tables, some bologna on white bread sandwiches and a Pepsi two-liter. You’ll fit right in.
At home, an SEC football game in the background is the ideal setting for an enjoyable, relaxed afternoon.
On a fall Saturday, you’ll frequently find SEC families gathered at the kitchen table playing board games, telling stories of years gone by and spending quality time together. No one lets that Georgia-South Carolina game on TV be the center of attention.
The SEC’s players share this “football is second” mentality. While a select few may enjoy NFL riches after four years of collegiate competition, most SEC student-athletes are focused on hitting the books and immersing themselves in university life.
You’d be amazed at how many Ole Miss players can, on cue, describe in detail the works of revered Southern writer and University of Mississippi dropout William Faulkner.
While not tied to the laid-back, relaxed vibe of SEC football, another unifying factor among SEC fans is politics. Big government is a common theme from College Station, Texas, to Gainesville, Fla. It’s not a stretch to say most SEC fans look to government to solve everyday problems, rather than hard work and determination.
With the hallmarks of SEC fandom now defined, let’s turn to this weekend’s slate of notable games.
No. 21 TEXAS A&M vs. No. 9 SOUTH CAROLINA: The SEC season kicks off tonight in beautiful Columbia, S.C., and the Aggies’ post-Johnny Football hangover begins with a lopsided loss to the Gamecocks.
WEST VIRGINIA vs. No. 2 ALABAMA: Whatever Chick-fil-A gives away inside the Georgia Dome will be more appetizing than this matchup. Bama rolls like . . . well, the Tide.
No. 16 CLEMSON vs. No. 12 GEORGIA: Georgia begins semi-conference play against Clemson, the most-like-an-SEC-team-not-in-the-SEC. I’d tell you what they say about payback, but this is a family publication. Bulldogs over Tigers with relative ease.
No. 14 WISCONSIN vs. No. 13 LSU: LSU lost something like 153 players to the NFL the last two seasons and this Badger team is not to be taken lightly. But Les Miles usually has his Bayou Bengals up for these games. LSU over Whiskey in a close one.
Enjoy opening week in the SEC and please feel free to stop by my house on Saturday. We’re playing Yahtzee, drinking green tea and pondering a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign with some SEC football on in the background.
Ben Prevost is a contributing columnist for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @SECbanter or contact him at SECbanter@hotmail.com.