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Don’t expect a smooth voyage when SEC season begins | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

There doesn’t seem to be any insurmountable obstacle remaining for Southeastern Conference football to start as scheduled on Sept. 26. The coronavirus figures in many SEC states, and especially in campus towns, remain high. Some games set for Sept. 12 have been pushed back or postponed. This isn’t a bubble. But the SEC seems committed to playing, attempting to salvage some normalcy and some cash in the process. 

Even if the games can be played safely, don’t expect the SEC football you see in the first weeks to look the same on the field. The first week of the season that ended Monday, admittedly involving some less talented rosters, showed that. Navy was routed by BYU. It was obvious that the Midshipmen, normally a physical team with a precision triple-option offense, had little or no full-contact work in the preseason. If the blocking and tackling is bad, then the football will be bad — and so it was. 

The SEC may dodge the worst effects of COVID-19 despite live crowds and tailgating (in some spots,but not Tuscaloosa) and the rest, but it hasn’t dodged coronavirus disruption in its practices. Auburn has been disrupted, losing several practices and a scrimmage. Tennessee scratched a scrimmage Saturday. LSU has had whole position groups sit out. Alabama hasn’t missed any practices or announced any changes, but some players have been absent from time to time.

Florida coach Dan Mullen, who hosted a Zoom call Tuesday, said coronavirus precautions had “essentially eliminated the preseason, that’s the best way to put it.

“You're looking at training camp where it really goes from unlimited hours, with one day off a week - and that day you're allowed two hours of film - to 20 hours a week," Mullen said.

"You’re looking at a normal day, you practice in the morning and you have a recovery lift in the afternoon while you’re watching some film. All that time, a bunch of walk-through times gets eliminated. A lot of little teaching and all that stuff. You went from having a training camp to basically have an in-season schedule. In season we’re 20 hours a week. Training camp you’re not. But you adapt and adjust and try to be better by Week Four than Week One, which is always the case.”

The consequences will depend on some unpredictable swings of the pendulum. If everyone is affected equally, that’s one thing. But let’s look at a game like the Alabama opener against Missouri. The Crimson Tide will be a substantial favorite in Columbia but if a significant position group is sidelined, that might increase the possibility of an upset, despite Alabama’s depth. On the other hand, what if Alabama has a full roster and Missouri is missing four or five starters? That might not make for a particularly competitive game, to put it mildly. 

Nick Saban’s great strength as a coach has been adapting to circumstances, whether it has been recruiting limits, no-huddle offenses or this pandemic. Some Week One sloppiness won’t be the end of the world, although one can’t imagine a perfectionist like Saban sitting still for phantom blocks and missed tackles. Possibly, the unpredictability of it all will make the season more fun, although most Alabama fans prefer predictability, for obvious reasons.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt