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SEC Banter: Sept. 12 will go down as a banner day for the SEC
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On the heels of a disastrous bowl season to end the 2014 campaign and a national championship drought spanning a full two years, SEC critics have grown more vocal in declaring the conference’s dominant days are done.

Many outside the South say the SEC is overrated. Top heavy. Riding on reputation, not results. The best of the Big 10, Pac-12, and ACC are just as praise-worthy as the once-mighty SEC.

In the midst of these mutinous outcries, Sept. 12 offered a unique moment for Southeastern Conference football: a chance to quell the rumpus of SEC overratedness.

If you listened carefully around noon that afternoon, you heard it. A faint whisper, at first, emanating from the plains of Auburn, Ala., drifting on the cool breezes that ushered in the season’s first fall temperatures.

Slowly but as sure as pecans grow in Georgia, the whisper evolved into a murmur, and the murmur matured into a familiar, rhythmic refrain. A bold, booming refrain repeated often during the heyday of the finest football conference in the land: “SEC! SEC! SEC!”

The rallying cry spread quickly across the Southeast. It was audible in Tuscaloosa. In Little Rock, Knoxville, and Gainesville, Fla. too. By midnight, it had traveled wildly beyond the Sweet South and into the hinterlands.

It was, by any measure, a signal to the rest of the country – and SEC haters, in particular – that on this day, the Southeastern Conference returned to dominant form, and to reclaim its rightful place on the throne of college football.

The domination debuted in Auburn. The dreaded Jacksonville State Gamecocks of FCS fame arrived in Jordan-Hare Stadium with their customary swagger. Yes, Las Vegas had installed Auburn as a 45-point favorite, but what does Vegas know?

Fresh off an opening-game victory over the Chattanooga Mocs (that’s right, they’re called the Mocs), Jacksonville ‘You Think It’s In Florida, but It’s Not’ State was expected to dispatch the Auburn Tigers with ease.

No one besides the boys in Vegas – not even the players’ parents – gave No. 6 Auburn a chance against Jacksonville ‘Shouldn’t It Be In Florida?’ State. And, for 59 minutes, the contest went as anticipated, with the Gamecocks firmly in control and the outcome all but certain.

Then the SEC awakened. Miraculously, Auburn mounted a furious last-minute comeback and tied the game at the end of regulation. The Tigers went on to win in heroic fashion in OT and Toomer’s Corner was rolled like never before.

The conference’s dominating display had only just begun. A mere 130 miles to the northwest in the Yellowhammer State, second-ranked Alabama hosted the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders of the vaunted Conference USA.

Similar to Jacksonville ‘It Has To Be In Florida!’ State at Auburn, only the most delusional Crimson Tide fans – that means really, super-delusional – thought Alabama could turn back the Blue Raiders.

Alabama gave Middle Tennessee the middle finger en route to a 37-10 victory.

The dominance continued in lovely Little Rock, Ark. at the shrine to college football known as War Memorial Stadium, where the No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks welcomed the Toledo Rockets to town.

Not a soul in the cosmos believed the Razorbacks could ground the Rockets. After all, Toledo’s first game against Stony Brook was canceled due to severe weather, and without film to study the Rockets’ tendencies, Arkansas was at a severe disadvantage.

Low and behold, the Razorbacks persevered. Sure, they lost. But only by 4 points. Arkansas can keep its chin up and shoulders high. If ever there was a respectable loss, this was it.

Follow Interstate 40 East for 529 miles to Knoxville, Tenn., where the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers kicked off against the No. 19 Oklahoma Sooners at 6 p.m. Fans across the SEC watched anxiously to see if the rebuilding project known as Volunteer Football was back.

Boy, was it back.

The Vols surged to a 17-0 lead over Oklahoma in the second quarter: in other words, victory! Tennessee so thoroughly dominated Bob Stoops’ Big-12 squad that it led 17-3 with 8 minutes left in the game.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Oklahoma came back to win in two OTs and the Vols squandered their largest lead in Neyland Stadium history (built in 1921), but you can’t take away the fact that Tennessee lead by 17 points.

Well, fine, Oklahoma scoring more points took away the lead, but still, they had a 17-point lead!

We next returned our gaze to the great state of Arkansas for No. 21 Missouri at Arkansas State.

The contest was played at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, Ark. before an announced crowd of 29,143. Informed college football observers know there’s no place like Centennial Bank Stadium, what with its raucous Arkansans cheering on their A-State Red Wolves.

But the Tigers put a ‘good old-fashioned whipping’ on those Wolves, prevailing 27-20. Missouri overcame a 17-10 halftime deficit and the emotional challenge of traveling to Jonesboro, Ark. in the first place to secure the win.

Down in the Swamp, Florida played host to East Carolina. What does a 31-24 Gators victory over the Pirates mean to you? Pure domination, that’s what.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain later said he was ‘disappointed’ in the Gators’ performance. But what on God’s green earth is disappointing about a hard-fought, 7-point win over East Carolina at home?

Meanwhile, over in bustling Columbia, SC, the Head Ball Coach had his hands full against Kentucky. Never mind that the Wildcats had not won an SEC road game since 2009. This was a team to be reckoned with.

South Carolina should feel no embarrassment, inadequacy, or frustration in losing at home to Kentucky 26-22. Again, it was only the first time Kentucky won a conference road game in 20 tries. No shame in that.

Finally, the nightcap. If you’re into nightcaps around 1 a.m., was No. 14 LSU at No. 25 Mississippi State. The crowd at Davis Wade Stadium recently set a Guinness World Record for ringing the most cowbells at the same time.

Les Miles attempted to set his own Guinness record for the most stubborn/predictable coach in history, as his baffling second half play calling almost cost LSU the game.

Despite Miles’ efforts, the Tigers prevailed 21-19.

On Sept. 12, from a faint whisper, to a murmur, to the familiar, loud declaration of dominance: “SEC! SEC! SEC!” An epic day of dominance, indeed.

Ben Prevost writes SEC Banter for The Times. It appears on Thursday during college football season.

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