This past weekend, the SEC was able to come out with plenty of Ws–along with a few losses. With just a few weeks left until conference play, I’ve compiled a list of 5 things to take from the weekend–as fans AND teams.
5 Things to take from the SEC this weekend
1. Non-conference schedule difficulty MATTERS.
It may not seem that important right now, but having a tough non-conference schedule really makes a difference in the long run for SEC. When you’ve got a team that’s ranked in the SEC but has an easy non-conference schedule, it doesn’t give you much of a boost in the RPI later on in the season. If you beat a team that gets beat by everybody, it doesn’t show much. Then again, if you get beat by a ranked team that keeps on winning, it shows. And if you manage to get a win against that team, it boosts your RBI and can make you look better than any ranked team. Auburn took a win against No. 8 Arizona this weekend, and the Tigers will be rooting for them for the rest of the season. But when the #4 Arkansas Razorbacks punch out a series win against Valparaiso, and loses the last game of the series, it won’t say much for their ranking that week.
2. Rack up the wins early [for a winning season].
The season isn’t going to get any easier. With six teams ranked in the top 25, once conference play starts there won’t be an easy weekend in the SEC. Even with a tough non-conference schedule, if you’re an SEC team you should be able to take a game or two from any team you play. Winning a series or taking a sweep should be first priority, because when you start playing against the teams like Florida and South Carolina, it will be tough for either team to take a weekend sweep. Teams like Georgia and Kentucky have the right idea, because when conference play comes around, they won’t have these “sweep” luxuries anymore.
3. Take everything you can from each non-conference game.
Before you know it, conference play begins in the next few weeks. In the SEC, you have to have everything figured out before that time comes. You have to know which pitcher you’ll start for the weekend, and who relieves best for the type of offense you’re playing. You need to know which hitter is clutch and who can play every day. If you figure these things out and they don’t work in the SEC, then you tweak it in the midweek games. There’s not much time before conference play starts, so you can’t take a single game for granted. Know which players are prominent, know which freshman can shake off the nerves if they need to come off the bench. Teams learn this in non-conference games. Fans learn this watching non-conference games.
4. Extra inning games and walk-offs are more than just exciting.
Guess what. Whether you’re a fan or a player, a walk-off pumps you up. When it’s in the middle of a series, it brings excellent momentum going into the next game. Tennessee took the walk-off in an 11th inning against Seton Hall to win the series, and with that momentum they got the sweep. Neither team is ranked, but it doesn’t take away from the game. On a fan’s perspective, it gives us momentum to return to the games. And as any SEC team will say, it’s the fans that help the team to win. Teams will take a walk-off any chance they can get it, and if your team is losing going into the bottom of the 9th, get excited for a chance to go into extra innings.
5. Midweek games are still a part of the non-conference schedule.
So, you are playing a no-name school on Tuesday and Wednesday of the week. You should be able to blow out the team 22-0. That doesn’t make the games any less important. It just brings you more comfort. This way, you’re not going into the next weekend with a record of 0-8. But you still need to take these games seriously with every opportunity. In blowout games or midweek games, this gives a chance for non-starters to get some playing experience. In case you need to make an immediate substitution during conference play, and the only bench player you have is a 5’6” 140lbs freshman with no collegiate playing experience, things aren’t so comfortable anymore. With playing time in these games, it can shake off the nerves and bring the player–and the team–confidence. However, you shouldn’t accept these games as automatic wins either. Counting your chickens before they hatch is a team’s ultimate downfall. What if Middle-of-Nowhere State has a bomb-hitter your team never saw coming? Before you know it, you’re down 5-3 in the top of the 9th and you’ve got a loss heading your way.