Think about the most indispensable player on your favorite college football team. Now imagine playing the season without him on the field.
Fans of Penn State, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Miami and Purdue are already dealing with that reality. The best players and top NFL prospects on all five teams have already said they will opt out of this season and prepare for the NFL draft.
In these uncertain times, it makes sense. There’s a very real possibility nobody will be playing college football this fall.
But even if there is a full or partial season, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau and Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore have opted out. All have reason to believe they will be selected in the first round of the next NFL draft. All five decided playing a college season during the COVID-19 pandemic was too big of a risk to absorb.
Before anyone thinks this would be an appropriate time to break out the SEC mantra “It Just Means More,” stop. Auburn linebacker Chandler Wooten has announced he will also sit out the 2020 season. The same is true for LSU defensive tackle Neil Farrell, a former star at Murphy High School.
The decisions by Wooten and Farrell are different from the other high-profile opt-outs. Instead of walking away from their college teams, they plan to redshirt and then return for the 2021 season.
Wooten shared a heartfelt message to Auburn fans explaining he is expecting to become a father this fall, which helped lead him to the decision he needed to put his family first and walk away from the game temporarily.
This could work out to be a net positive for Auburn. The Tigers will lose Wooten for this 10-game season (we hope) but have him back for 12 or 14 games the following year (we hope). It’s also worth noting 2021 could be Auburn’s best chance at a championship in years. Pairing Wooten with Owen Pappoe at linebacker, plus third-year starting quarterback Bo Nix, could be a formula for big success.
While Wooten wasn’t expected to be Auburn’s best player this season, he was certainly among the top 10 Tigers.
Wooten was the first SEC player to announce he would opt out of this season, but he certainly won’t be the last.
The same argument works for Farrell, who is facing a pivotal time in his career. While he was a contributor on LSU’s national championship team, he was not one of its star players. That was set to change this season, which could have led to a major payday in next year’s NFL draft.
All that is still possible for Farrell, but now that dream is being delayed by one year.
More players will join the ranks of those who simply decide they don’t need to play football at the college level again. Others will be forced off the field because of a positive COVID-19 test.
There’s no “if” in that statement. In fact, an SEC administration official told players last week in a conference call they know every team will be hit by an outbreak at some point during the season.
That’s the reality we live in at this time, as the future of the sport is very much in peril.
The SEC did a great job choosing opponents for each team in the new 10-team, conference-only lineup of games.
Too many fans made a big deal about the two games that were added to each team’s schedule. The right way to look at it is how tough each team’s complete schedule now is.
For instance, in their cross-division games, Auburn and Alabama both play Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Auburn also plays South Carolina, while Alabama faces Missouri. How could anything be more equitable than that?
LSU has the easiest schedule among SEC West contenders, but not by a wide margin.
The only team that has a real beef is Arkansas, which plays Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Missouri. Combined with their games against the SEC West, that means the Razorbacks will face (and lose to) all seven of the league’s best teams.
One more consideration is Florida has an easier slate than Georgia, but that was going to be the case regardless of the two new opponents added because of the Bulldogs’ games against Alabama and Auburn.
Let’s all hope this debate rages on throughout a full and safe season.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on the new Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m.
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