WARNING: THIS POST IS GOING TO BE VERY, VERY LONG. GET YOUR POPCORN READY.
I have the same argument with one of my dearest cousins every two or three weeks about the SEC and their (perceived) dominance.
Now….before you start flaming me on this, hear me out!
I am not going to sit here and argue that Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida are not good teams (although I’ll be addressing Florida’s and LSU’s bowl season woes in this series). Even the recently adopted Texas A&M has proven to be quite a good team when it has its mojo going. However, it’s the teams that follow suit that I find immensely overrated. Teams like Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Tennessee are all imposters. However, even when these teams get on a 2-0 start with wins over NC State and Georgia Southern, they jump from 33rd to 23rd. Meanwhile, an Oregon State team that beats the then #4 team in the nation and the then #19 team in the nation remains unranked.
That’s all a hypothetical situation though… oh wait, it wasn’t. Tennessee is the aforementioned SEC team who won two unimpressive games against NC State and Georgia Southern and proceeded to go 3-7 (1-7), picking up wins over lowly Akron, Troy and Kentucky. Oregon State beat a great Wisconsin team and a good UCLA team in impressive fashion and didn’t get the pollster love. If Tennessee would have beaten the #4 team at home and the #19 team on the road, they probably would have seen a top 15 ranking. But Tennessee didn’t beat the #4 team or the #19 team. They didn’t even beat a ranked team this year. They ended up 5-7 (1-7) on the year missing a bowl. Let’s do a little breakdown of the non-UF/UGA/LSU/TAMU/Alabama SEC teams. We’ll get to those five later.
This series will be broken down into three parts: East, West, and Overview. Here’s a breakdown of each team’s season, rather than looking at the SEC as a whole. We start in the East…
Kentucky was officially the worst team in the SEC. They went winless in the conference and only won two games on the season, Kent State and Samford (…). Not only did Kentucky lose consistently, they ranked 119th in points for and 87th in points against (17.9 ppg and 31 ppga). A completely horrible team that was reflected in the firing of Joker Phillips. The hiring of Mark Stoops may be a turning point…but I heard that from my Kentucky fan family when they hired Joker Phillips. Maybe Calipari can start coaching football?
Key Wins: None, seriously.
Key Losses: Vanderbilt
Losing to Vandy is one thing, losing 40-0 at home? That definitely made a statement on the status of the team…
We already beat on the Vols a little bit to prove my initial point so I won’t go on for too much longer. Here’s the breakdown though:
Key Wins: NC State, Kentucky
I say these are key wins because they’re the only teams in BCS conferences that the Vols beat. They did beat NC State and Kentucky pretty handily (35-21 and 37-17), but they only beat NC State and Kentucky…
Key Losses: Vanderbilt, Missouri
While the Missouri loss wasn’t terrible (51-48 OT), it was at home to the newcomer of the conference that didn’t go on to be a top ten team. The Vanderbilt loss, however, was earth shattering for the poor Vols. Losing to the perceived little brother of the state of Tennessee is one thing, but getting absolutely run 41-18 is pretty bad. Granted, Vanderbilt was pretty successful this year going 9-4 (5-3) as well as beating NC State in a bowl, they still lost to Vanderbilt.
I don’t actually like this picture because it belittles a player who truly has passion for the game. Not one athlete hasn’t experienced what he felt at the end of a hard fought game.
But seriously, it sums up Mizzou’s season pretty well…
They were not bowl eligible this year going 5-7 (2-6), but they also got rolled in the SEC (including getting washed in the TAMU game). On top of that, their team as a whole was anemic at best. Going 82nd and 67th in points per game and points allowed per game respectively, it was a very unimpressive year for the Tigers (too many SEC schools have the Tiger mascot). Needless to say, they would have had more success staying in the Big XII.
Key Wins: Arizona State, Tennessee
The Tennessee win was impressive because it showed they could compete with mediocre SEC teams (they had already beaten Kentucky). The Arizona State win was nice for Mizzou because ASU went on to have a pretty successful year under Todd Graham in his first season.
Key Losses: Syracuse
Syracuse had a decent year, capping it off with a drubbing of former rival West Virginia. But it’s still Syracuse and they still belong to a horrible football conference.
Knocking Vanderbilt’s football team has been a pastime of many for quite some time. Steve Spurrier even mentioned that “there are no Vanderbilts in the NFL” during his stint in the professional leagues. However, Vandy had a pretty good year for their standards. Going 8-4 (5-3), they qualified for a bowl game. They accepted the bid to the Music City bowl and handled NC State quite well, making the SEC very proud. This may be a turning point for the Commodores, but then again they’re only two years displaced from two 2-10 seasons in a row.
Key Wins: Tennessee
For the second time since 1982, Vanderbilt gets bragging rights in the state of Tennessee for a year. Crushing them 41-18, there was no doubt in that game.
Key Losses: Northwestern
What self respecting SEC team loses to a Big 10 team? Northwestern went on to have a pretty successful season, but we all know how much the Big 10 and SEC hate each other.
South Carolina is finally consistently good. They started out the year wonderfully beating the teams they needed to and taking it to #5 Georgia 35-7. They did slide for two weeks against LSU and Florida, but that isn’t much to be ashamed about. They recovered from a Marcus Lattimore injury and finished their season on a five game win streak and an intense bowl win over Michigan. The SEC faithful cannot complain about South Carolina’s season.
Key Wins: Georgia, Clemson
They were able to maintain state supremacy over Clemson even without their star halfback.
Key Losses: LSU, Florida
Again, this isn’t much to be ashamed about.
I am probably going to feel a little bad after this segment is done. My favorite family of cousins are diehard Gator fans and they are pretty supportive of my Ducks. But as Freddy Mercury so aptly said…the show must go on.
Florida had an amazing regular season. I repeat, an amazing regular season. Ending the season at #3 in the nation, had Notre Dame lost to USC, it would be another all-SEC championship between Alabama and Florida. Had Florida shown up in the NC, it would be their third appearance in six years. However, they were relegated to the Sugar Bowl as the highest ranked SEC team not going to the championship. When the Bowl schedule was drawn, plenty of Florida fans sighed and looked the other way when Louisville was paired with Florida. Some called it a huge disappointment, some dismissed the game entirely. I doubt many saw the stumbling, bumbling Cardinals competing with the dominant, new-look, not-your-older-brother’s Gators.
However, sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater and his gang of misfit athletes took it to the heavily-favored Gators to the tune of 33-23. It would have been a bigger blowout if Florida didn’t score two touchdowns while Louisville was just trying to run down the clock in the fourth quarter. This game was perhaps the most impressive game of the entire bowl season. Louisville positioned themselves (along with the Big East) for national prominence next year.
Meanwhile, Florida is left to pick up the pieces, the Florida fanbase wondering whether Louisville was the real deal, or if Muschamp’s squad isn’t as advertised…
Key Wins: LSU, Florida State, Georgia, South Carolina
Pretty self-explanatory, the teams ranking #4, #10, #10, and #7 respectively.
Key Losses: Georgia, Louisville
Losing the Cocktail Party has to burn for Florida, but losing to Louisville will leave a sour sting until opening weekend next year.
Georgia did have a great season, beating the likes of #2 Florida and #16 Nebraska. However, their only wins against ranked teams were…Florida and Nebraska. But the weakness of their schedule, and the SEC as a whole, will be addressed in the third part of the series. The thing about Georgia is that they consistently propose a team that will run to the championship only to end up with a few losses against teams they should have beat. It was a disappointment for Georgia to end up in the Capital One Bowl, but they made the most of it by whipping Nebraska by 14 points.
Key Wins: Florida, Nebraska
Key Losses: South Carolina
The SEC breakdown will continue with the Western Division analysis.