SEC in Review: Fourth Time Again a Charm
Notwithstanding the SEC's continued dominance, some things did change this year. And that's why we're bringing you a very special end of the year Starting 11 focusing on the season that was in the SEC. But before we do that, it's time to bring to a close the picks challenge with my family's former French exchange student, Audrey. You'll recall that we picked games against the spread all season, and as a grand finale we both picked all 10 bowl games featuring SEC teams.
Ultimately, Audrey and I both went 6-4 in those games.
Meaning, drum roll, after picking 70 games against the spread this season, Audrey, who has never watched a college football game in her life, went 32-34-4.
Meanwhile, in a triumphant turn, I routed her with a record of 36-31-3.
That's a prodigious 3.5 game victory.
I take my bow.
And now with my bona fides as a football picks genius validated by my victory over a French girl, here is the Starting 11 (plus one) wrap-up and look ahead on the SEC.
1. With a wobbly 2009, Les Miles confirmed that 2010 will be his final year at LSU.
I know, I know, LSU fans will point to close losses to Alabama, Ole Miss and Penn State as evidence that the Bayou Bengals are on the comeback trail.
That the Tigers were almost 12-1, 11-2 at worst.
I feel differently. And in your heart so do you, LSU fans.
Because change a single play in the Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Georgia games and the Tigers lose three more SEC contests.
So, lucky for them, LSU split their close games this season.
Miles is now 8-8 in the past two SEC seasons. 2010 will be the season that breaks him. Especially with Nick Saban and Alabama running roughshod over LSU in the SEC West.
2. Nick Saban proved that he's the best coach in college football.
There are conferences where you can have a life off the field and still win. The SEC is not among them.
If I give him five years, a BCS level conference, and a top 50 team from those conferences, does anyone believe that Nick Saban wouldn't have that team in the BCS title game in the next five years?
I'm convinced he would.
3. Georgia's continuing decline will be the story of the SEC east in 2010.
Like 2009, the Bulldogs will go 7-5. Only this upcoming season the schedule is much easier. No matter. The Bulldogs are taking on water and they can't bail out fast enough.
Both the offense and defense will be weaker. And even in a weakened SEC east, the Bulldogs will be in trouble.
At some point this offseason, I'm going to chart the top six programs in the SEC by wins, and measure the relative strength of those six. I've got a theory that the total number of wins among those six stays pretty constant and that what we see is a fluctuation among which teams in the SEC are in the top of the mix.
Basically everyone makes their run, and then returns to the average.
Right now Florida and Alabama are ascendant.
LSU and Georgia are in decline.
Tennessee and Auburn are in holding patterns under new coaches. One of these will rise and become dominant. The other will remain left behind. Given that no one has any idea what to expect from Derek Dooley, the early money is on Auburn reclaiming some past glory. At least assuming that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn returns.
4. Ole Miss is still Ole Miss and consequently, the bottom half of the SEC is still the bottom half of the SEC.
This was going to be Ole Miss' year to return to SEC prominence, right? How quickly did those dreams die? I'll tell you, they were dashed before September ended.
Quick, which programs in the SEC have not won an SEC title since before the Civil Rights movement?
Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina and Arkansas.
Quick, which three programs have never won an SEC title?
South Carolina, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt.
Granted two of those teams are the new additions, but we're moving up on two decades since the SEC split into two divisions. That's plenty of time for a football program to demonstrate it belongs among the championship contenders.
Which of these six teams have never even been to the SEC title game?
Ole Miss, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky.
What's my point in asking all of these questions?
Pointing out that none of these six programs in the SEC are ever going to be relevant for more than a one season spurt. Ole Miss had their chance this season.
The Rebels failed.
Arkansas, who admittedly has been to the title game more than the other teams listed here, will have their chance in 2010.
But odds are they'll fail too.
5. After a 2-10 season will Bobby Johnson spend all his free time wondering why he stayed at Vanderbilt after a bowl win?
Yes, sigh, yes, he will.
We all agree that Bobby Johnson is a good coach, right? I mean, Johnson is probably questioned less than any coach in the entire SEC.
Yet what is Bobby Johnson's record at Vanderbilt after seven complete seasons?
He's 37 games under .500!
And his record in the SEC? 12-52!
Yet everyone assumes he's a great coach.
Just how poorly does Vandy have to perform for someone to be a bad coach?
Anyway, things were bad in 2009, 2-10, but they're about to get worse. In fact, what's the most brutal thing about Vandy's upcoming schedule? For some reason the Commodores continue to schedule like madmen.
Take a look.
The Commodore non-conference?
How about: Northwestern, at UConn, at Wake Forest, and Eastern Michigan
Yep, Eastern is the only guaranteed win on that schedule.
Fact is, the Commodores are going 3-9 at best next year even if they are massively improved. Thank the schedule. No matter the circumstances, Vandy is never going to get to more than four wins in the SEC.
The Commodore schedule should reflect that fact so the team can have a realistic chance at getting to 6-6 and advancing to a bowl game.
Unfortunately it doesn't.
There is a zero percent chance the Commodores are in a bowl game in 2010. And after eight years Bobby Johnson is likely to be 31-77 or thereabouts.
6. Kentucky was relevant for the fourth consecutive season under Rich Brooks, will that change under new coach Joker Phillips?
Wildcat fans are nervous that Charlie Strong will make inroads at Louisville. After all, there's a pretty strong argument to be made that the state of Kentucky can't support two bowl-winning programs. Meanwhile, Joker Phillips has brought out the scythe and fired two coaches for not being committed enough to recruiting.
With the weakest SEC East in recent memory coming in 2010, this would normally be Kentucky's year to sneak toward the top and make a run at 5-3 or better in conference. Even with the bowl wins, Kentucky still has not done better than 4-4 in conference in over two decades.
If they don't do it now, when?
7. South Carolina finished its fifth consecutive disappointing season under Steve Spurrier.
It's time to pronounce Spurrier's tenure at South Carolina what it is: a failure.
Spurrier is now 35-28 overall in five seasons in Columbia. In that time he's lost three bowls and won a single bowl game, the Liberty Bowl. That season, Spurrier's second in 2006, is also the only time the Gamecocks have managed to finish with eight wins under the Ole Ball Coach.
As if that wasn't enough, Spurrier is now 18-22 in the SEC and, wait for it, he's lost more games at South Carolina in just five seasons than he lost at Florida in 12 seasons.
Maybe it's finally time to go ahead and bury the Gamecock football program. No matter who is the coach, they aren't winning.
Not unless the Gamecocks join the ACC, anyway.
8. Florida will win the SEC East again with a much weaker team than it fielded in 2009.
In fact, given his success in the NFL this season, does anyone think Florida would have gone 14-0 with Percy Harvin back last year?
I think he would have made the Gators offense explosive, and provided necessary playmaking both in the backfield and at wide receiver.
But that was last season.
With five early entrants, and a questionable head coaching commitment during the offseason, the Gators will take some lumps early in the season. But Urban Meyer will be on the sideline for all of those games. After an early loss at Alabama spells doom, the rest of the SEC East will be so down no one can take advantage of Florida's returning to the middle of the pack. In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone in the East knocking off the Gators head-to-head and managing to get to six wins in the SEC.
The Gators will go 6-2 in the SEC east and no one else will get to 5-3.
9. Arkansas will be a hot pick before falling back to earth.
See above discussion about the bottom six of the conference. This is Arkansas' year to make its run at the top six of the conference. Only, as per usual, the Razorbacks won't quite be able to get there.
And if, amazingly, they arrived in the SEC championship game as they've done twice before, they'd still lose.
Ryan Mallett coming back will be huge for the offense. A well-tutored Mallett will dominate for much of the season, but it won't be quite enough.
And after a nine win season all hope in Fayetteville will be dashed when Bobby Petrino leaves behind the Razorbacks and parachutes in at LSU, for the opening created when Miles is fired.
10. Mississippi State will be in a bowl game in 2010.
In fact, lost amid the neverending bowl season was this fact, if State's quarterback, Tyson Lee, extends the ball on fourth and goal against LSU, the Bulldogs are likely in a bowl game last season. In 2010, State will get the SEC season off to a rollicking start with a Thursday night home game against Auburn.
By the way, Dan Mullen will not be at Mississippi State very long.
How do we know?
He reported that he found out that Urban Meyer was retiring while exercising on his elliptical.
Thesis: No one who uses the elliptical machine lives in Starkville for very long.
Dan Mullen is bound for greener pastures by 2011.
11. Tennessee will be bad in 2010.
Will new coach Derek Dooley begin 2-6? That's what the oddsmakers will forecast. The Vols will be underdogs against Oregon, Florida, at LSU, at Georgia, Alabama, and at South Carolina. The last of those six games, South Carolina, comes the day before Halloween.
Throw in the young talent, lack of upperclass skill, and the brutal schedule and the Vols could have six losses before November even arrives.
Also, before anyone suggests otherwise, the Vols would have been bad in 2010 under Lane Kiffin as well. It's one of the major underdiscussed reasosn I think he left.
Barbara Dooley, Derek's mom, has already gone on the Paul Finebaum show and predicted that her son will be lucky to win three games. He'd better manage that. Tennessee and Ohio State are the only football teams in the country never to lose eight games in a single season.
12. Auburn schedules better than any team in the conference.
Last season Gene Chizik got his first four games in a row at home. That start helped the Tigers weather an abysmal finish; Auburn beat just one FBS team after October 3, finishing 1-5 against the final six teams they played in the regular season.
In 2010, the Tigers boast the easiest schedule of all 12 SEC schools.
Try six of the first eight at home and eight of the first 11. In fact, assuming the Tigers can get past a road game at Mississippi State on the second week of the season, Auburn is likely to be 6-0 when Arkansas rolls into the fairest city on the Plains. Even if they don't start that fast, the Tigers only have four road games, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Alabama, and the Tigers figure to be favorites in three of those four.
A nine win regular season looks very doable.
Meaning Gene Chizik will be a success.
Wonders never cease in the SEC.
Clay Travis is the author of three books. His latest, "On Rocky Top: A Front Row Seat to The End of an Era" chronicles the 2008 Tennessee football season and is on sale now and makes a great Groundhog stocking stuffer for both friends and groundhogs.