By Steve Williams
Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day has long been a tradition in the South. Legend has it the bean-like dish helps bring good luck.
This year, for dessert, many Southeastern Conference football fans could have finished their first meal of 2015 with some humble pie.
The menu certainly called for it after a pair of embarrassing bowl losses by SEC members Ole Miss and Mississippi State on New Year’s eve.
Ole Miss bowed to Texas Christian University 42-3 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, then State was run over by Georgia Tech 49-34 in the Orange Bowl.
Earlier this season, the Rebels and Bulldogs had turned the Magnolia State into the capitol of the college football world. Both were ranked in the Top 3 on Oct. 19. Mississippi State was ranked No. 1 for the first time ever and held the top ranking for five consecutive weeks.
It was great to see these two longtime SEC schools enjoy so much success. After looking up to Alabama, Auburn and LSU for years, they had moved ahead of those perennial giants and turned the SEC Western Division into a beast.
All of that crumbled in the national eye on the last day of 2014, and as a result, the SEC’s vaunted reputation also took a hit.
I couldn’t believe Ole Miss, trailing 42-0, elected to kick a field goal with just a little over seven minutes left in its game. That, I thought, was more embarrassing than if the Rebels had been shut out.
TCU definitely made a statement to this season’s first-ever College Football Playoff committee that didn’t include the Horned Frogs in its Final Four. Their blowout win is yet another good reason that the college playoff should be expanded to eight teams. And starting next season, not years from now.
“We want Bama!” TCU fans chanted after watching their Frogs jump to their 42-point command late in the third quarter.
Alabama, of course, was the No. 1 seed among the four finalists picked by the committee, along with No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Ohio State.
Later that evening, when Georgia Tech scored its fourth straight second-half touchdown against Mississippi State to go up 49-27 on the first play of the fourth quarter, veteran TV sportscaster Brent Musburger said, “Suddenly, the SEC is reeling.”
The Yellow Jackets’ flexbone option attack, which totaled 452 rushing yards, made the Bulldogs’ defense look silly.
In the post-game interview, Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson bragged on his team and then got in a shot at the SEC.
“I think we have a Top 10 team and I’m proud of them … And for at least a week or two, we don’t have to hear about the SEC.”
Quite frankly, I agree with Johnson’s sentiments. The SEC has had an outstanding run, with seven straight national titles from 2006-12, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of college football. There are plenty of good teams outside of the SEC.
With Georgia Tech being in Atlanta, it’s probably difficult for Coach Johnson not to hear a lot about the SEC. But with back-to-back wins now over Georgia and Mississippi State, that should be a little easier for him to tolerate.
Despite the beatings Ole Miss and Mississippi State took, the SEC still had Alabama to rake in another national title, but that scenario was foiled in the New Year’s Day nightcap as underdog Ohio State upset the Crimson Tide 42-35 in a see-saw battle.
The Buckeyes, playing with a third-string quarterback, scored 28 unanswered points to erase a 21-6 deficit and held on down the stretch.
The loss left the SEC without a representative in the national championship game for the first time since 2005.
More humble pie, anyone?