Well, the regular season is over, only the bowl games remain. This year in the Southeastern Conference was a little different than most, but somehow things remained fairly normal, after all there is a SEC team in the national championship game.
What made this year different is the fact that it was the western division of the conference that had the dominant team, and that it was the eastern division that had the log jam throughout the season. The teams in the eastern division were so close that the seven tiered tie breaker that the conference has in place was not enough to decide the champion, it had to go to the BCS standings for help. The balance of power has seemed to move a little in the last few years. The SEC is no longer dominated by the eastern division, in fact the western division has three of the last six and two of the last three conference championships.
Auburn started off the year with a high ranking and even higher expectation. Those dreams were deflated rather quickly in the season opening loss to USC, and completely obliterated the next week with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech. So who would become the SEC’s best team? It seemed as if Arkansas might be the one after they started the season off with a very unexpected drubbing of Texas. It appeared that they were on their way, but that lasted about two weeks. Georgia looked good throughout the season, but never great, and that showed in three losses to LSU (twice) and Florida. Tennessee played well throughout and snuck out a win over Alabama that would have been a season breaker, but the loss to Georgia turned out to be the one that stung. Then we have LSU, the only southern team remaining with a chance at the national championship, in a year where everyone in the country had at least one loss. The parity of college football becoming more and more evident with each passing fall. The eyes of the SEC will turn to the Bayou Bengals to bring the championship home to its natural place. Meanwhile MSU has broken the color barrier in the SEC head coaching ranks with the hire of Sylvester Croom. I believe this is an excellent hire, and he should be able to take MSU into the upper half of the western division.
The outlook for the SEC next year appears to be strong. Georgia, Florida and LSU will be considered the top teams. Tennessee and Auburn shouldn’t be far behind. After that Alabama should rebound to return to a bowl game, although a trip to Nashville or Shreveport isn’t exactly Miami or Tempe. Ole Miss will fall a little, Eli Manning had a superb year surrounded by less than superb talent. The Rebels remain the only team in the west to not make a showing in Atlanta; I look for that to continue for a while now. As stated Mississippi State did hire a new coach and should be moving up, but it won’t be next year, the cupboard is more than empty in Starkville. Arkansas should be a top 40 team, I am not sure about top 25. In the east, aside from the top three, the bottom three will pretty much be par for the course, USC and Kentucky will vie for fourth place and Vanderbilt will finish in the cellar again. The recruiting season is heating up, and there is no hotter (or dirtier) place than the deep south for that saga. I will touch on that a little closer to signing day. This was, in some opinions a down year for the SEC, it did have it’s worst non-conference record since the league split into divisions, however, as I said in my column in early august, Will this be the year the SEC returns to the top, or will it take another year? Well, that is yet to be determined, but one thing for sure, there are only two conferences who have a chance at bringing the Sears trophy home and the SEC is one of them. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, this is SEC country after all.