A month ago, the league reached its high water mark based on national polls. That week, the SEC boasted three of the top five teams in America, four of the top eight, and six of the top twenty-five.
The first BCS poll of the season (out this week) lists the SEC with one of the top five, three of the top ten, and only four in the top twenty-five.
Those are still impressive numbers, but why the decline … and should SEC fans be concerned that national perceptions of the league could hurt a conference team's BCS championship hopes?
Why the decline?
1. Middle Class Malaise: No, it’s not the economy. It’s the disappointing seasons of Auburn in the West and Tennessee in the East, and the inconsistency of Ole Miss and South Carolina.
The top four SEC teams (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia) are better than the top four in any other league. The bottom four (let’s say Miss State, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Vandy) are superior to the worst teams in any other conference.
However, the poor showings of Auburn and Tennessee, along with the up and down performances of the Rebels and Gamecocks have hurt national perceptions of conference depth.
2. Big 12 Love: Just as Florida, Georgia, and LSU were losing a game each, the Big 12 stepped in and filled the power vacuum.
With terrific performances by marquee quarterbacks, attention moved to Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State. The national media, always more herd than individual, moved attention to the southwest.
As those teams beat each other up the next few weeks (and as more people discover that DEFENSE is as unwelcome in the Big 12 as Sarah Palin at a mainstream media party), perceptions may change again.3. Voter Fatigue: Excepting Ohio State followers, most college football fans and media do not want to see the Buckeyes back in a title game. A similar backlash may be occurring with the SEC. People are just as quick to jump off a bandwagon as to climb aboard one.
Should SEC fans be concerned? Perhaps not.
1. Closers: No conference closes like the SEC. Count the big game coming up … this week is Georgia-LSU, the next has Georgia-Florida, then Alabama-LSU. No other conference will have so many games with national implications.
2. Non-Conference Games: The SEC can reassert itself starting Thursday when Auburn plays West Virginia on the road. The Tigers have had a week off to prepare for a team that actually knows how to run the spread offense. Other non-conference games that could impact national attitudes include Vanderbilt against Duke and Wake Forest, Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, and South Carolina-Clemson.
3. History: The SEC has proven itself in the past two national title games with blowout wins. If a conference team finishes undefeated or with only one loss, expect that team to play for another national championship.
Enjoy the games!
Game Day Weekly Conference Ratings
1. Alabama … Crimson Tide needs to play better in second half to be a champion.
2. Georgia … Dogs gaining plenty of yards, but not putting teams away.
3. Florida … Idle Gators drop a spot … can offense continue recent surge?
4. LSU … Bengal Tigers rebound with nice win over tough South Carolina squad.
5. Ole Miss … Much like Alabama last season, the Rebels keep losing close games.
6. Vanderbilt … Commodores hung in there with Dogs although they never really threatened.
7. South Carolina … Gamecocks had their chances against LSU; an 8-win season is possible.
8. Kentucky … The Wildcats struggled past Arkansas with a late rally … can’t afford to dig a big hole against Gators.
9. Arkansas … Hogs showing a fine running attack, especially Michael Smith, but tough to see many wins left on this schedule.
10. Auburn … Will Tub’s Tigers see how the spread is supposed to be run when they take on the Mountaineers?
11. Tennessee … Big Orange shows some fight with solid win over Miss State. Fulmer’s fate may be known this week.
12. Mississippi State … Bullies offense ranks lower than Congress’ approval ratings.
Last Week’s Record 5-0
2008 Record 44-14
Finally, a week with no glitches pushes the Professor to thirty games over .500 on the season. The top call was probably LSU over a hot South Carolina team that many picked in an upset. Luckiest choice … how about Kentucky coming back from a 20-7 deficit?
All Times Eastern
Alabama at Tennessee (7:45 ESPN)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Alabama
Ole Miss at Arkansas (7:00)
This is the soap opera game of the week. Arkansas is improving, and had Kentucky on the ropes before letting the Cats claw out a 21-20 victory. Ole Miss played Alabama tough and could have won, but that has been the story of the season for the Rebs … close but no cigar. This will be an emotional homecoming for former head Hog Houston Nutt. I have a feeling the Razorbacks will spoil it for him.
Game Ball: Arkansas
Auburn at West Virginia (7:30 10/23 ESPN)
Tigers had week off to prepare, and it looks like Kodi Burns is their guy at quarterback. The Mountaineers are tied for the Big East lead, but struggled to get past doormat Syracuse in their last outing. WVU QB Pat White is one of the best when healthy; he missed the Cuse game with a head injury. Auburn has to show more to earn a pick.
Game Ball: West Virginia
Kentucky at Florida (12:30 Raycom)
Florida took a week off at a bad time in my opinion. The Gators were just getting their offense in gear and had a lot of momentum after swamping LSU. Kentucky eked out a come-from-behind win over Arkansas. The Big Blue defense has been good, but gave up too many yards on the ground against Hogs. Gators grind it out.
Game Ball: Florida
Georgia at LSU (3:30 CBS)
The Georgia offense keeps putting up big yardage numbers, while failing to pile up points. For the Dogs to have a chance in this one, the young offensive line must neutralize the talented Tiger defensive front. Don’t be surprised if Georgia tries to run straight at LSU with TB Knowshon Moreno, then look for deep play action passes to outstanding freshman WR A.J. Green. LSU will counter with a strong rushing attack. The duo of Charles Scott at FB and Keiland Williams at TB was effective at South Carolina so expect to see more. QB Jarrett Lee throws a nice ball when given time. Loser of this one is likely out of the national title race, but still much in the SEC chase. I think Georgia is a bit more solid team.
Game Ball: Georgia
MTSU at Mississippi State (7:00 ESPNU)
The Blue Raiders beat Maryland earlier in the season, so handling the woeful Bulldog offense is not out of the question. However, Sly Croom’s teams usually are disciplined enough to beat teams with less talent. A pick’em game and perhaps the nation’s ugliest matchup this week.
Game Ball: Miss State
Duke at Vanderbilt (3:00)
David Cutcliffe is a good guy and doing a nice job in his first season with the Blue Devils. The former Ole Miss head coach and Tennessee assistant certainly knows the Commodores well. Still, who can pull for Duke in anything? The school is arrogance personified, from its politically correct faculty (remember how the faculty and pres threw the lacrosse team under the bus) to the saintly Coack K. Vanderbilt (no small snob faction there either) still needs one win game to become bowl eligible. This would be a good time to do so.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt
Open: South Carolina