Asif Lakhani is an MU alumnus who graduated with a degree in magazine writing in May 2012. During his time at MU, he worked at the Columbia Missourian as a reporter and was a part of the Web team at Vox Magazine. He is currently living at home in Roswell, Ga., and proudly representing the Tigers in Southeastern Conference country.
There was only one option when I started watching college football. See, I’m from Georgia, so it started with the Georgia Bulldogs but then slowly expanded to the rest of the Southeastern Conference teams. After that, not even the best USC or Texas teams received my full attention, and they still don’t.
In the South, more people attend college football games on Saturdays than they do church on Sundays. The loyalty runs deep, and the competition is fierce. There’s a reason the last six national champions have all come from the Southeastern Conference.
SEC decals and license plates can be seen on cars zooming on highways in Atlanta, Alabama, Tennessee and other SEC states. Team logos are practically tattooed on croakies, babies’ clothing and jackets. Banners, framed photos and memorabilia adorn walls of the most basic restaurants, bars and fans’ homes.
Once, at a Georgia tailgate, someone told me the population during the week in Athens, Ga., is about 115,000. On game days, the average population is more than double that at 300,000. Their stadium alone holds 90,000 people. A recent ESPN.com poll asked whether fans were more excited for Week 1 of the NFL, Week 2 of college football or September baseball. Almost every state (and myself) said it was looking forward to the NFL more. Alabama, on the other hand, voted for Week 2 of college football.
Last week Missouri started its conference play. I want the Tigers to do well (and think they will), but there are some things y’all need to know about the SEC as we move forward into the season.
One, football is not to be taken lightly. Each week is more grueling than the one before and a cakewalk compared to the one upcoming. MU played Georgia last week only to be followed by another top 10 team in South Carolina two weeks from now and then number one Alabama shortly after that.
Two, the defenses are without question faster and more complex than anything else at the collegiate level. James Franklin experienced that first hand when Jarvis Jones chased him down on Saturday. During the first LSU/Alabama game last season, one CBS commentator noted how there were 10 future NFL cornerbacks on the field.
Three, I watched on TV last week as the Tigers faithful cheered the team on. I wished I could be there. Unfortunately, what ended up standing out the most was the red in the stands. SEC fans travel. Granted, the airport adding Atlanta as a destination helped, but that’s only the beginning. Alabama and LSU fans will absolutely fill restaurants and hotels when their teams are scheduled to play in Columbia.
Four, an enclosed stadium with multiple levels isn’t a deal breaker in this league. Faurot Field is a tough environment to play in, especially on a cold night, but it takes more than 70,000 to rattle battle-tested teams. Leaving the stadium during the fourth quarter when your team is only down by a touchdown isn’t good either and unfortunately also happened when the Tigers used to play the Longhorns and Sooners.
Missouri will compete hard in its new home, but as we’ve seen already, the expectations are greater than anything all its teams have experienced before. (It is about more than football after all). One Kentucky fan, wearing a watch containing the UK logo on its face, said Missouri need not come to the SEC unless it has something of value to bring.
Mizzou’s new uniforms are going to be the sharpest on the field and court, but no one cares about what you’re wearing when all that matters is winning, which sometimes requires you to get dirty as well.