LSU'S ambush of Alabama has muddied things a bit in the Southeastern Conference. To wit: Unless Florida is upset by South Carolina in Columbia this weekend or hypnotized by Vanderbilt in Gainesville the following Saturday, the Gators, ranked eighth in the AP poll, will face. Alabama in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4. And should the Gators be defeated by top-ranked Florida State at home on Nov. 27, neither they nor the Tide, now No. 12, will go to Birmingham with more than nine victories.
Suddenly, the SEC title game has only slightly more luster than, say, the Carquest Bowl.
The matchup most fans would rather pay to see, even if it were shown only on a Jumbo Tron screen in Eastaboga, Ala. (a neutral site, by the way), would pit sixth-ranked Tennessee against seventh-rated Auburn. Not only are these now the SEC's top-ranked schools, but they also share an inveterate disrespect for one another. Besides, the Vols boast perhaps the best offensive skill players outside of Tallahassee. Undefeated Auburn, a surprise success story under new coach Terry Bowden but ineligible for the postseason because of probation, is easily the most intriguing team in college football this season.
Meanwhile, the Citrus Bowl, which gets the first pick among the SEC teams after the Sugar Bowl takes the champion, has an interesting quandary. If Alabama wins the SEC title game, does the Citrus invite 9-3 runner-up Florida, which it stiffed last year in favor of Georgia, or does it take 9-1-1 Tennessee, which in three weeks may be ranked as high as fourth? And what if Alabama should lose to Florida in Birmingham? Does a 9-2-1 defending national champion—assuming that Alabama upsets Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 20—have more cachet than the Vols?
Last year's inaugural SEC title game was a sellout. The novelty of the event, the pristine 11-0 record that Alabama brought to the contest, and an outstanding promotional campaign by the game's sponsors, the Birmingham Football Foundation, were the reasons for the success—and the 83,091 who attended did not seem to mind the exorbitant ticket prices. This year all tickets have a $40 base price (up $10 from a year ago); depending on the premium added according to seat location, the final price may run as high as $250.
To get a seat along the sidelines in Legion Field for the Dec. 4 game, a fan will have to fork over at least $75. Given the potential matchup, that could be a little pricey.
For Stallings, who took the blame for the LSU loss, postseason prospects have dimmed.