The conference regular season is now over. The SECCG will feature Tennessee and LSU. I thought I’d take a look back over how the teams finished out and compare that with how they started and progressed/regressed over the year. You can find my previous looks here, here, here and here.
- LSU (6-2 SEC; 10-2 overall). The best team in the conference – again. The team with two inexplicable losses – again. You have to give Les Miles credit for consistency. And, as the Tigers’ last two games don’t mean much in the vast scheme of things, at least compared to a MNC, expect them to roll. Again.
- Auburn (5-3 SEC; 8-4 overall). Not quite as good as I thought they’d be at the beginning of the season, the Tigers had some good moments (Florida), some bad moments (Georgia) and some inexplicable moments (Mississippi State). That loss to South Florida and near miss with Kansas State don’t look too hot, either. Bottom line: Auburn underachieved, just not as much as some other schools in the West did.
- Arkansas (4-4 SEC; 8-4 overall). Lost amid all of the turmoil between Nutt and the fanbase was the fact that this team was close to having a very successful year. Only one of those conference losses wasn’t tight. Marcus Monk’s injury killed this team’s chances.
- Mississippi State (4-4 SEC; 7-5 overall). Considering how little he had to work with on offense, Croom did one helluva job this year. This was not a team that you wanted to play close and leave in a game. Boring to watch? Sure. But I doubt many Bulldog fans will be complaining at their bowl game. You have to wonder what Croom could do with a team whose offense was merely competent.
- Alabama (4-4 SEC; 6-6 overall). The most inexplicable season in the conference this year, bar none. Alabama was the only SEC team to lose two games out of conference. Saban gets a pass, of course, from the Tide fans and he’s got an excellent class coming in, so there’s no sense of panic in Tuscaloosa, but still. They better hope Saban’s right when he blames it all on inherited personnel.
- Mississippi (0-8 SEC; 3-9 overall). They fired Cutcliffe, who can coach, because he couldn’t recruit. They fired Orgeron, who can recruit, because he couldn’t coach. God only knows who they get this go-round. Ole Miss wasn’t going to be very good this season, but nobody expected the Rebs to be quite that wretched, either. The midseason surge where they looked competent against some good teams (not that they got any wins from it) proved to be a mirage that made Orgeron’s performance look even worse. And that fourth quarter coaching job in the Egg Bowl… ugh.
- Georgia (6-2 SEC; 10-2 overall). Mark Richt told us what he thought he had with this group at the beginning of the season and he was ultimately proved right. Finding a way to get them to play focused was the big story for the Dawgs, but the other part of the picture this year was the time it took to figure out the right personnel to play on the offensive and defensive lines, wide receiver and linebacker. Oh yeah, there was that Moreno kid, too.
- Tennessee (6-2 SEC; 9-3 overall). Well, we learned one thing: Phil Fulmer is a pretty good coach when he has a gun pointed at his head. For all their ups and downs, the Vols wound up where I thought they would record-wise, albeit by a pretty strange route (how many teams have wound up in the SECCG despite being outscored in the conference?). Ainge may have been overshadowed by a couple of other QBs in the division, but he had a fine year. UT wouldn’t be in the SECCG without him. Or the kickers at South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
- Florida (5-3 SEC; 9-3 overall). Again, another team that finished about where I expected. Tebow proved to be a superb QB in Meyer’s system; the Gators’ extremely young defense proved to be Florida’s Achilles’ heel. The Gators are young and loaded and the battle between Florida and Georgia next year should be the big story in the SEC.
- Kentucky (3-5 SEC; 7-5 overall). When the dust settled, 2007 wasn’t even as successful a year for the Wildcats as 2006 was. Maybe the LSU win took too much out of this team. Of course, not going +15 in turnover margin this season didn’t help.
- South Carolina (3-5 SEC; 6-6 overall). Five straight losses to end the season. For once, beating Georgia was not a key to a successful year for the ‘Cocks. This team still has significant depth issues, especially on defense, that aren’t going away with one good recruiting class. You have to question if the task in Columbia is too big even for Spurrier.
- Vanderbilt (2-6 SEC; 5-7 overall). Everyone keeps saying that Bobby Johnson is a good coach. Maybe yes, maybe no. I have a hard time saying yes for sure, when I look across the field at the guy who coached the Commodores’ last opponent. Grobe’s accomplished far more at Wake Forest than Johnson has dreamed of at Vandy. This was an OK season in Nashville, but they’re still not going to a bowl game. And this was a senior laden team, which doesn’t bode particularly well for next year.
Overall, I think you’d have to say the SEC looked much stronger in the middle of the year than where it finished. One big reason for that was the number of teams in the SEC East that returned a lot of players – Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt – and got off to good starts. As the season wore on the youth at Florida, Georgia and Tennessee got its footing and the traditional order was restored (the big three went 5-1 against the others, with the only loss being Georgia’s in the second week of the season).
All that being said, it was also one of the most entertaining seasons I can remember. LSU’s two losses were classics. Auburn’s win at Florida was a nailbiter. ‘Bama had two great games back to back with a last second win against Arky and a last play loss to Georgia. Tennessee and Kentucky played a four overtime game with everything on the line for the Vols. And you had to love Sylvester Croom’s reaction at the end of the Egg Bowl. Really, every team in the conference – except for Ole Miss – had at least one great moment during the season.