The SEC Blog: A big win brings an even bigger challenge
Hey, Dan Mullen. Your Florida football team just took down unbeaten Auburn in a top-10 showdown in the Swamp to replace the Tigers at No. 7 in the AP poll. Wide receiver Freddie Swain and defensive back Shawn Davis earned SEC Player of the Week honors, and you were named the Bobby Dodd Trophy National Coach of the Week.
What are you going to do now?
You're not going to Disney World.
You're going to pack up your hungry bunch of Gators, board a plane and lead them into Death Valley after dark for another titanic, nationally televised, undefeated top-10 tilt with No. 5 LSU. You're going to transition from trying to score against Auburn's Derrick Brown and one of the better defenses in college football to attempting to stop LSU's Joe Burrow and the nation's No. 1 scoring offense.
The frying-pan-into-the-fire nature of the Gator schedule comes as no surprise to the head coach with the second-longest tenure in the Southeastern Conference.
"That's SEC football," Mullen said. "That's what it's all about."
This is SEC football taking its toughest-league-in-the-land reputation to the extreme. Florida at LSU will be the second top-10 matchup for both teams this season, and we're only in Week 7 of a 14-week regular season (with two open weeks per team built in.)
LSU already owns a 45-38 non-conference shootout victory at then-No. 9 Texas. Florida's resume is topped by that 24-13 conference heavyweight decision over then-No. 7 Auburn. Which means Saturday night's survivor in Baton Rouge will be the only team in the nation with two wins this season over top-10 opponents.
And to think, just a week ago before hearing the Gators growl in Gainesville, Auburn was the only FBS team with two wins over ranked opponents this season. The ante gets raised quickly around here.
Two top-10 wins in a single season would be enough to earn a lot of coaches a raise and an extension. In the SEC in 2019, it'll earn either Mullen or LSU coach Ed Orgeron a shot at more potential top-10 summit meetings.
On Oct. 26, LSU will welcome current No. 12 Auburn to Tiger Stadium. On Nov. 2, Florida will tangle with current No. 3 Georgia in their traditional rivalry in Jacksonville. On Nov. 9, LSU will visit current No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
But wait. There's more. On Nov. 16, current No. 3 Georgia visits current No. 12 Auburn. On Nov. 30, current No. 12 Auburn plays host to current No. 1 Alabama.
Regardless of the ebb and flow of the polls to come, that's a dizzying array of marquee games-in-waiting for the five SEC teams with the most impressive resumes to date. It also could be a powerful argument in favor of two SEC teams reaching the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years, especially when you compare that rugged road ahead with the remaining schedules for the rest of the AP top 10.
Ohio State, now tied at No. 3 with Georgia, still has to play two top-10 opponents in Wisconsin and Penn State but neither is in the top five. No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 10 Penn State have to meet one top-10 team each in Ohio State. No. 2 Clemson has just one currently ranked opponent left in No. 19 Wake Forest, as does No. 9 Notre Dame in No. 16 Michigan.
No. 6 Oklahoma has to meet two currently ranked opponents in No. 11 Texas and No. 22 Baylor, neither of which is in the top 10.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher could be a witness in the case of the SEC's backloaded bevy of big games to come. His No. 24 Aggies already have battled one No. 1 team in Clemson. They'll face off with another No. 1 team Saturday in Alabama. Considering Fisher and company close the regular season against Georgia and LSU, it's entirely possible A&M could meet a third No. 1 team this year.
Add it all up, and it'll be a significant accomplishment just to win either division title. The reward could be another SEC Championship Game for the ages.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, especially when there are so many big regular-season games still to savor before the first Saturday in December, starting with Saturday night in Baton Rouge when the sun finds its home in the Western sky.
How big is Florida at LSU? For the first time, the three quarterbacks who've led the Tigers to a national championship - Warren Rabb (1958), Matt Mauck (2003) and Matt Flynn (2007) - will appear together in Tiger Stadium as honorary guest captains.
You need all the mojo you can get when you're trying to win the biggest game in the country, the biggest SEC game of the season - which promises to be an appetizer for even bigger games to come.
"We know how it is in the SEC," LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said. "It's going to be like this every week from now on."
In the SEC at the halfway point of the 2019 season, that's only a slight exaggeration.