Little question this season ended with not with a bang, but a whimper, for the vaunted SEC. It’s not the apocalyptic debacle some are portraying it as – the conference finished the bowl season 7-5, which is evidence that there was some depth this year (assuming you want to read much into bowl games that oftentimes come down to little more than discovering which team wants to be there) – but there’s little question that the Alabama and Mississippi schools’ collective flame out was not what we’ve been used to seeing from the conference powerhouses this time of year. And there will probably be a price to pay in the next preseason polls, once ESPN gets done hammering public perception.
But that’s for next season. The task at hand it to rank the conference’s collective body of work for the season just finished. Not an easy one, trust me. But here goes (teams’ final records in parenthesis).
- Alabama (12-2 overall, 7-1 SEC). A program that defines itself by team depth and quality play found the focus on a star wide receiver and its much-traveled, notorious offensive coordinator. Saban had better find the time to fix a surprisingly vulnerable secondary.
- Georgia (10-3, 6-2). Claiming the conference’s best bowl win and top-scoring offense, along with every other SEC teams’ flaws, gets the Dawgs the second spot. And before you accuse me of being a homer, consider that what this really means is that Georgia was the conference’s biggest underachiever.
- Mississippi (9-4, 6-2). Laid a major egg against a very good TCU team, no doubt. But Ole Miss has a couple of solid wins on the résumé and was really hurt by key injuries.
- Mississippi State (10-3, 6-2). After all is said and done, I’m left with the basic impression of a team not ready for prime time.
- Missouri (11-3, 7-1). A flawed team with a great coach.
- Auburn (8-5, 4-4). Losing to a team with a one-dimensional offense that lost its previous game by 59 points isn’t the best way to convince me you had a good season, Auburn.
- Arkansas (7-6, 2-6). A team that improved as the season went on, and probably should have finished with a conference win or two more than it did.
- LSU (8-5, 4-4). Les Miles ought to be asking himself where he can find a functional quarterback. Joe Alleva ought to be asking himself whose bright idea was it to pay Cam Cameron $1.3 million this season.
- Texas A&M (8-5, 3-5). Now we know the limits of how far a team with a truly crappy defense can go in today’s SEC.
- Florida (6-5, 4-4). For all the recruiting hoopla the program enjoys, I’m not convinced this team was really all that talented.
- Tennessee (7-6, 3-5). At least the Vols looked like a team that wanted to go bowling.
- South Carolina (7-6, 3-5). With the bowl game win, Spurrier managed to salvage mediocrity.
- Kentucky (5-7, 2-6). Kentucky would have welcomed the opportunity to salvage some mediocrity for itself.
- Vanderbilt (3-9, 0-8). What is this “mediocrity” you speak of?