SEC Teams – Take the Fork in the Road

Lyn Scarbrough

October 31, 2018 at 9:10 am.

Oct 20, 2018; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) drops back to throw a pass in a game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Photo Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 20, 2018; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) drops back to throw a pass in a game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Photo Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

– Yogi Berra, catcher, philosopher, manager, MLB Hall of Famer

With the World Series just concluded, it seems like a fitting time to remember words from one of baseball’s all-time purveyors of wisdom.

After all, the Boston Red Sox were old-time Yankee-like with how they dispatched their postseason opponents in winning their fourth World Series title in 15 years.

Power, speed, pitching and confidence. So reminiscent of the legendary days of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, Casey Stengel … and Yogi Berra, the creator of “Yogisms.”

Who can ever forget “Yogisms?”

“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”

“You can observe a lot by watching.”

“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

And, my personal favorite, the one most applicable for SEC football this week …

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

After eight weeks on the college football highway, on The Road to Atlanta, four SEC teams find themselves coming to a fork in the road on Saturday.

The forks are far apart, one in the horse country of northern Kentucky, the other some 700 miles away in the Cajun country of southern Louisiana.

Lexington and Baton Rouge.

By Saturday night, the path to Atlanta for two teams will be much clearer, still with possible roadblocks, but much easier to see.

The trip to the fork has been significantly different for each of the four teams.

When the season started, everybody thought Georgia would be there.

Picked in the preseason Top 10 by all of the experts (Lindy’s ranked them No. 4 nationally), the Bulldogs were supposed to be undefeated heading down the homestretch. They were dominated in a 20-point loss to LSU three weeks ago, but a big win over Florida last Saturday put the Dawgs back in the driver’s seat for the Eastern Division title. Win the final two conference games and there will be a return trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in early December.

When the season started, nobody thought Kentucky would be there. (If they tell the truth, Wildcat coaches and players didn’t even think this would happen.) If not for an overtime loss to Texas A&M in College Station, the Cats would be undefeated.

But here they are, preparing for the most anticipated, ballyhooed game played there in decades. The SEC’s most stingy scoring defense, its most effective versatile running back, and a gigantic dose of confidence has Kentucky in position to take over first place in the East with a win, needing then to only win in Knoxville to qualify for Atlanta.

Never mind that the Big Blue basketball regular season starts in less than two weeks (against Duke in Indianapolis on Nov. 6) or that the Breeder’s Cup is this weekend at Churchill Downs. Fans in the Bluegrass State are talking football.

The road to the Western Division fork was significantly different for the two teams heading there.

One … LSU … was highly regarded in the preseason, but the schedule was daunting, arguably the most difficult in the country. Through eight games, the Tigers have played five teams that were ranked in the Top 25 when they played (Miami, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State) and all but the Starkville Bulldogs were ranked in the Top 10.

The defense has been solid; quarterback Joe Burrow has been more effective than expected; and all but one of the ranked opponents have been defeated.

The other … Alabama … was ranked near the top in the preseason and has proven itself, consistently overwhelming on offense, and adequate for winning on defense. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates.

But, the Tide’s schedule is the near opposite of LSU, one of the least difficult of all contending teams. The Tide has played only one nationally ranked team all season (Texas A&M, ranked No. 25 this week) and that opponent gained almost 400 total yards and scored 23 points in the game played in Tuscaloosa.

If Alabama wins in Baton Rouge, it will only have to beat Mississippi State or Auburn to guarantee the trip to Atlanta. If LSU wins, it’s in the driver’s seat, earning the Atlanta trip if it wins at Arkansas and at Texas A&M to end the season.

Both visiting teams are favored in the early lines, Georgia by 10 and Alabama by 15, and you have to pick both to be the winners. Until the Dawgs and the Tide prove they’re not the best, it’s foolish to go the other way.

But, when you get to a fork in the road, especially if the trip has been unexpected or challenging, you can’t be sure what will happen, which way each team will go.

Regardless of which ones take the right forks on Saturday, fans might want to wait a little longer to confirm those Atlanta hotel reservations.

There will still be more football to play and it would be smart to remember perhaps the most famous “Yogism” of all.

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

And, things won’t be quite over yet.