There have been multiple instances recently in which Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey has rightfully boasted about his league staging 69 out of a possible 71 football games this past season, a stat that includes the SEC title contest in Atlanta.
What hasn't been discussed as much is how the coronavirus pandemic altered the conference's bowl landscape, as Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee received postseason invitations but never got to compete.
The Gamecocks and Volunteers went a combined 5-15 last season and weren't exactly peaking in late December, with South Carolina undergoing a coaching transition and with Tennessee having launched an internal investigation into alleged violations that ultimately led to Jeremy Pruitt's termination. It was a different story at Missouri, however, as the Tigers had completed a better-than-expected 5-5 season under first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz and were eager to take on No. 15 Iowa in the Music City Bowl.
Drinkwitz isn't looking back, though, with his Tigers having already put on pads this spring. They will conduct their spring game March 20, a whopping four weeks before anyone else in the league.
"I don't want to lay on the beach worrying about spring football," Drinkwitz jokingly said of his spring break plans when asked on a recent Zoom call about the early start. "I've never really liked the idea of practicing for seven or eight practices, then you break, and then you come back. If we're going to get out there, let's get our minds on our business.
"Let's go for four weeks, and let's make sure we're improving every day."
Missouri held its first practice Feb. 28 and is scheduled to have its 15th and final workout March 26, six days after its spring contest. The Tigers conducted three spring practices last year before the COVID-19 outbreak suspended all college athletic activities around the country.
The only other SEC team already practicing is Florida, but the Gators are the lone league program to announce they will not showcase a spring game for a second consecutive year. The Gators were actually the first to start on Feb. 18, and they are also seeking to get in all 15 practices in a four-week span.
"Hosting fans for an intra-squad spring football scrimmage seems unwise given all the circumstances, including the fact that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is being used as a large scale COVID testing and vaccination site," Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a recent statement.
Eight SEC teams have announced April 17 as the date of their respective spring games: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Alabama and Georgia are expected to begin the 2021 season in the top five nationally, with Texas A&M right on the doorstep, while Auburn and Vanderbilt are breaking in new coaches.
Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee will stage their spring contests April 24, with Kentucky the only SEC program yet to announce its spring plans.
Missouri this week announced its next two Saturday practices will be open to the public.
"We'll give you your money's worth," Drinkwitz said of the inaugural viewing opportunity. "It's free."
The 2021 Southeastern Conference schedule for spring football games:ALABAMA — April 17ARKANSAS — April 17AUBURN — April 17FLORIDA — No gameGEORGIA — April 17KENTUCKY — TBALSU — April 17OLE MISS — April 24MISSISSIPPI STATE — April 17MISSOURI — March 20SOUTH CAROLINA — April 24TENNESSEE — April 24TEXAS A&M — April 17VANDERBILT — April 17
Mincey in portal
Tennessee reserve defensive lineman John Mincey announced Friday on social media that he was entering the NCAA transfer portal. The former three-star signee in 2018 out of Homerville, Georgia, had 18 career tackles in 24 games with the Volunteers. He notched his lone sack as a freshman during a 14-3 win over Charlotte.