"S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!" Go to any school in the conference and you will hear that chant, especially in big games. It riles up the other 4 power conferences who constantly feel dogged by them and it hopes that the day would come that the SEC would fall flat on their faces and look weak.
Well, that day and year finally arrived. The SEC is no longer the best college football conference (for now) as they fell to the ACC in a big way (4-10 in SEC/ACC games, including the national championship game. To add on, the SEC also had a losing record to the Big 12 (1-3), but at least they went 2-1 against the Big Ten while going 3-0 against the PAC-12. Of course, Big Ten fans will point out the SEC avoided Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State while the lone loss was to Wisconsin by LSU. And the PAC-12 will say the SEC dodges them because of how the PAC-12 plays so differently. Add in with other losses to South Alabama (Mississippi State), Middle Tennessee (Missouri), Southern Miss (Kentucky), and South Florida (South Carolina) while near embarrassments to Appalachian State (Tennessee), Nicholls (Georgia), Western Kentucky (Vanderbilt), and Louisiana Tech (Arkansas) and what you got was a giant mess that was the SEC.
This year, it was the Alabama conference in all reality. The Tide steamrolled through the SEC en route to a second national championship appearance in a row. Of course, we all know what happened, thus pretty much ending the talk of the SEC is being the best team. But the part was, the next best team was 8-4 Auburn who Alabama smacked, and 8-5 Florida, who Alabama obliterated. Both had big wins, but a lot of holes when they went up against stronger teams in the ACC.
Probably the other main story in 2016 in the SEC was LSU. The Tigers were heavy favorites to win the SEC, even over Alabama, given their recruiting is top notch. However, the Tigers, plagued by a stale offense, inept quarterbacks, and it has been that way for a while, stumbled at Wisconsin and later on Auburn, thus sending Miles out the door. Enter Orgeron and got the Tigers to open the offense up a little bit more (despite Leonard Fournette's injuries), rolling through teams until Alabama, where they scuffled against the Tide on the offensive side. However, LSU kept Orgeron as outside of the Alabama & Florida games and thumped Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. As for the rest of the West, Arkansas disappointed again, despite having a few bright spots and many wondering when Bret Bielema will get his walking papers. Texas A&M continued their trend of starting off hot and by the midway point of the season begin to crash & burn and many are wondering when Kevin Sumlin will get his walking papers. Mississippi State fell off with Dak Prescott going to the NFL and went 5-7 but because of some NCAA rule was permitted to play in a bowl game and won. Ole Miss, clouded in controversy and recruiting issues, fell badly and did not make a bowl game where some wondered if Hugh Freeze will get his walking papers.
The SEC East continues to be a giant mess as Tennessee, also a heavy favorite to win the SEC, did not live up to expectations and looked like a giant dumpster fire at times while coach Butch Jones became a butt of jokes for his comments and actions over the season. Georgia fans hoped hiring Kirby Smart away from Alabama would give the Bulldogs Saban 2.0 and instead by the end of the year thinking they ended up with Ray Goff 2.0 or Jim Donnan 2.0 and are screaming "next!" South Carolina, who surprised many by hiring underachieving head coach Will Muschamp, showed improvement throughout the season. Kentucky, with better prospects, still scuffled at times, but made a bowl appearance for the first time since 2010. Vanderbilt, for the little resources they have for recruiting, had some big wins against Georgia and Tennessee made a bowl game for the first time under Derek Mason. And Missouri looks lost in the shuffle.
WHAT I GOT RIGHT: Alabama winning the SEC Championship. Of course, I had them losing two games, but given how Tennessee and LSU played this year, it didn't turn out to be a shock. I also got Kentucky at 7-5. And while I didn't get the record close at all for Georgia, I got Kirby Smart would have difficulty appealing to the masses in Athens.
WHAT I GOT WRONG: Let's just say what I REALLY got wrong. 1. Tennessee underachieving. Butch Jones may recruit, but he is not really showing he can coach on top of that. 2. I was WAAYYYYYYYYYY OFF on South Carolina and Vanderbilt, but I am glad they did well this year. 3. Florida won the East, so I had a misfire on that one though I was only a game off on my projection. 4. Auburn was in the Sugar Bowl when I penned them at 5-7. 5. Ole Miss fell apart and badly. 6. Mississippi State also had a losing record.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS IN THE SEC HEADING FOR 2017
1. Can the SEC reclaim their "best conference" moniker? If they are, they're going to need far better coaching than what they have gotten unless your name is Nick Saban. Yes, they can all recruit, but if you cannot coach on top of it, that is where the issues lie. You have coaches who act like clowns with what they say and how they act (Jones), coaches who look lost (Smart), coaches who are under the gun with violations (Freeze), coaches who seemed to have lost control of the team (Sumlin & Bielema), and coaches who have stale ways of calling games (McElwain & Muschamp).
2. Will Alabama recover and return to the national championship? Well, never doubt Saban. They will lose A LOT on the defensive side this season, but the offense is primarily in tact, which is good for Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarbrough, Calvin Ridley, etc. But they do lose a few guys (Cam Robinson & Ardarius Stewart). However, Alabama has that "next man up mentality." And of course, you're also talking about a program that really is the #1 program in the nation in recruiting. They already netted the #1 back in the nation in Najee Harris so that running game will look very sick next year. It will be the defense that will have a "couple" of questions to be answered in 2017. Of course, they get Florida State out of the shoot.
3. Will there be a team that can actually compete against Alabama in 2017? Most of the time, you look to Alabama's rivals: Auburn, LSU, and Tennessee. Auburn, nobody knows on a yearly basis what they can do. LSU has Orgeron now, but time will tell if he will upgrade the team and Tennessee has the talent, but probably not the coaching to this point. Plus the latter two are playing in Tuscaloosa in 2017. I would say perhaps LSU given they are really not fearful of going to Alabama. Outside of that, nope.
4. Will there be a team that finally breaks away from the rest in the SEC East? Judging by the schedule in 2017, probably Florida. They get a huge benefit of having only 3 true road games in 2017. Yes, they start out with Michigan, but that is in Arlington. They get Georgia in Jacksonville, which is really a home game for them. And the lone 3 roadies are Kentucky, MIssouri, and South Carolina. Texas A&M, Florida State, and LSU are all at home. So the only way Florida messes this up is internally. They could run the table in terms of the conference and still end up with 2 losses (Michigan and Florida State).
5. Which coach is on the hottest seat? You can make an argument that everybody not named Nick Saban is on the hot seat in the SEC, and that includes the recent hires of Muschamp, Smart, and Odom. I think only Saban, Orgeron, and McElwain are safe for 2017. But if I have to choose one, it has to be Bielema. Even over Kevin Sumlin. And Bielema's style has not won over the fans. Yes, he helped get Arkansas out of a very dark area from 2012-13 because of Bobby Petrino, but he has really stopped going forward. His style isn't working and the team lacks discipline. And even he seems nonchalant about the things he does on the field. Arkansas is not a program that is fine with being 8-4 or 7-5 while getting thumped by the likes of Auburn and LSU. If he suffers another 7-5 season like he did this year, he's out of a job. Other guys to be really looked on the hot seat are Sumlin, Freeze, and Malzahn.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat