Now Let’s Everybody Just Calm Down, Shall We?
There was plenty of backlash surrounding last season’s Alabama/LSU slugfests, and this was the cover of ESPN’s college football preview magazine this season. That’s all fine and well. It’s natural to want to topple the king.
Perhaps it should be expected that as soon as the SEC looked anything other than dominant in bowl games that the criticisms would come out. That as soon as Florida laid an egg in the Sugar Bowl or Les Miles screwed up in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl that the “overrated” claims would come falling down.
This is all so silly.
Has the SEC’s reputation really been built to the point that not only fans, but pundits expect every conference team to win every bowl game? Not only is that not happening this year, it hasn’t ever happened since the SEC began it’s national title streak.
Georgia lost the Liberty Bowl to UCF a couple of years ago, and somehow the SEC has survived. South Carolina lost badly to UConn and Iowa a few years before bringing in Jadeveon Clowney to literally destroy Michigan. Just two years ago, the conference went 5-5 in the postseason. Arkansas’ bowl record has been more miss than hit in recent years. Mediocre bowl stats aren’t completely new to the SEC.
But ultimately, no one cares about those stats. The SEC wasn’t overrated those seasons. All most people remember is that the SEC has won six consecutive national titles. And if Alabama defeats Notre Dame on Monday night, no one will worry about anything else. Ask anyone about the SEC in 2010, and they’ll say that was Cam Newton’s year and won’t remember the league going 5-5 in bowl play.
The overrated complaint also overlooks that the SEC still has a third of this year’s bowl games still to play. In addition to the National Championship Game, Texas A&M takes on Oklahoma on Friday night* and Ole Miss plays Pitt on Saturday. The SEC could still go as well as 6-3, in which case nobody will be making fun of the SEC (or 3-6, which would be bad.) But ultimately, it all comes down to what happens with Alabama.
*It’s ok if you’ve forgotten about that. As Razorback fans may remember from last year, the Cotton Bowl is on Fox so it’s not mercilessly promoted on ESPN all month. But we assure you, it will be there on Friday night.
Besides, bowl records aren’t the only evidence proving the SEC’s college football dominance. The SEC fills the NFL with more players than any other league. Recruiting rankings, if you’re into those sorts of things, are dominated by SEC programs. Even Bret Bielema, who won the last three Big 10 championships, voluntarily left Wisconsin for Arkansas, who hasn’t won a conference title since it was in the SWC.
Even though the SEC has a reputation for terrible non conference schedules in the regular season, the league claimed its share of big victories from September – November. Alabama dominated Michigan in the season opener, and from there SEC teams defeated bowl teams Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Washington, Tulsa, and Louisiana Tech.
All that being said, it’s really the in-conference regular season that sets the SEC apart. Before Florida won the 2006 title, the SEC was already developing a reputation that season for being a tough conference by producing top-notch games nearly every week in the season. That’s truly what made the SEC the SEC. The national titles are just the proof. The real threat to that isn’t what happens in bowl games. It’s diluting the SEC schedule by expanding to 14 teams but keeping the schedule at eight games. For instance, this season Alabama was scheduled to play Georgia before Missouri was added. If Alabama had played and beaten Georgia, Alabama would have played Florida in Atlanta. That’s a much better schedule than the Crimson Tide traveling to Columbia to blow out Missouri in the rain. Here’s to hoping the SEC will go to a 9 game conference schedule in the future.
So don’t worry about the SEC. We’ll be fine. Florida losing to Louisville certainly doesn’t help the conference, but it’s ultimately forgettable unless you’re a Louisville fan. Nobody watched the Mississippi State/Northwestern game. No, really, no one watched it, and you probably forgot it happened until you just read it.
But if Alabama loses, then yes the narrative going forward is quite different. The SEC will just have to prove it all over again.