The SEC is the best league in the country -- and has absolutely no shot of winning a national championship.
Try to get your brain around that.
|As Tommy Tuberville knows, winning ain't easy in the SEC. (AP)|
"It's easier to play one game, win the national championship, certainly, that it is to go and win the SEC East, then win the SEC in the championship game," Vols coach Phil Fulmer said.
The addition of a 12th regular-season game -- plus a conference title game -- should be viewed more as a roadblock than opportunity. Just another chance to lose a season-crushing game.
Consider that in the eight-year history of the BCS, only two SEC teams -- LSU in 2003 and Tennessee in 1998 -- have played for the national championship. Only the Big Ten, with one appearance, has played in fewer championship games.
During that same period, half the league (six teams) has won a conference title. No dominant team has emerged.
And if you need to be reminded, Auburn ran the table two years ago and still didn't get a sniff. Coach Tommy Tuberville was reduced to canvassing for AP votes in the press box at the 2005 Orange Bowl.
"I think about it every day ..." Tubs said. "I think we should have been in the game. I think the fans missed out on it. I think it will always be a question mark."
Four teams -- Florida, Georgia, Auburn and LSU -- will start in or near the top 10. No surprise there. But the league could see its BCS chances crumble in third week of the season. On Sept. 16, Florida goes to Tennessee while LSU goes to Auburn play what is essentially an elimination game.
While all the SEC coaches return for the first time since 1988, five teams are breaking in new quarterbacks. In this age of offensive balance, the SEC isn't balanced. Five of the 12 teams finished 90th or worse in total offense. Auburn was best in the league at No. 37.
|3. South Carolina|
|6. Mississippi State|
|Team to beat:|
|Kenny Irons, Auburn|
|Quentin Moses, Georgia|
|Coach of the year:|
|Steve Spurrier, South Carolina|
The average SEC offense was 76th out of 119 I-A teams. The average MAC squad was 61st.
The counter to those numbers, of course, is that there were some dominating SEC defenses.
"The defenses this day and age have gotten so sophisticated that you're kind of in a cycle right now offensively of trying to figure out how to make a first down," Fulmer said.
At the end of the year, it resulted in grinding mediocrity by SEC standards. Only two teams (LSU and Alabama) lost less than three games overall. Every SEC team had at least two conference losses except Auburn.
Given the national outlook, it's probably going to take the SEC champion to go undefeated -- and hope. The national race is so wide open that there promises to be a bevy of one-loss teams at the end.
The idea is to have one dominant team, not a lot of good teams.
"It's a very competitive league now compared to maybe the early '90s," said Steve Spurrier who coached the dominant team of the era at Florida. "There was maybe two or three teams, four at most, that could win it. Now there's a lot more."
SEC East: Predicted order of finish
1. Florida Florida might have the best talent in the division, but have you seen that schedule? Chris Leak still has to prove he is comfortable in the spread offense. The running game (a middling 56th nationally) must produce. The defense is still the center of this Urban Renewal.
Which team will be the SEC's best in 2006?
Total Votes: 13,025
2. Georgia Texas Jr. Pretty much solid all over the field except at quarterback. Freshman Matthew Stafford is the guy of the future. But senior Joe Tereshinski might need to manage the Dawgs offense until Stafford is ready.
3. South Carolina Ask yourself this: How many other SEC programs could quarterback Blake Mitchell start for. Yeah, we know. That's why Spurrier is magic. Coach Superior will pull off at least one upset this year, get the program to eight victories and to a mid-level bowl in Year 2.
4. Tennessee There's so much being put on Erik Ainge and David Cutcliffe that it's not fair to assume the Vols will be back right away. A 7-5 finish and a return to a bowl should be considered progress.
5. Kentucky Nothing has changed. Rich Brooks still sits on the hottest seat in college football. Nine victories in three years were deemed good enough by AD Mitch Barnhart to give Brooks another chance. There is optimism, though. Watch shifty runners Rafael Little (rehabbing from a broken wrist) and Alfonso Smith light it up.
6. Vanderbilt After the departure of Jay Cutler, it's another year of Vandy being Vandy.
1. Auburn Tommy Tuberville loses coaches and superstar players and keeps winning. This year he should get his second SEC title in three years. The Tigers are loaded even with only 11 returning starters.
2. LSU Last week, Les Miles said he expects the Tigers to win every game. At least he was honest, if not prophetic. The SEC title comes down to a Sept. 16 visit to Auburn. If LSU can make it through two hurricanes, it can certainly fight off some Tigers.
3. Arkansas No drama here at all. Houston Nutt has a high school coach as his offensive coordinator. There is a budding quarterback controversy for an offense that runs better than passes. Five-star quarterback recruit Mitch Mustain didn't come to Arkansas to redshirt, either.
4. Alabama If quarterback John Parker Wilson stays healthy he might make them forget about Brodie Croyle. A power running game featuring Kenneth Darby and a serviceable defense will make this a tolerable down year for Mike Shula.
5. Mississippi Ed Orgeron shook up the coaching staff and brought in a proven quarterback -- former Tennessee player Brent Schaeffer. Indiana transfer BenJarvus Green-Ellis should further help an offense that was putrid last year. Inspirational linebacker Patrick Willis led the nation in unassisted tackles.
6. Mississippi State Anyone expecting big things from Sylvester Croom this year better have patience. It's hard to project more than three wins out of the Bulldogs. Skill players are needed, badly.
Kenny Irons, RB, Auburn, Sr. With at least five SEC programs breaking in new quarterbacks, Irons is going to be the No. 1 offensive force in the league. He's got speed, power and the potential to go for 1,500 yards for the SEC favorites.
Quentin Moses, DE, Georgia, Sr. What is it about Georgia and defensive ends? The school pumps them out quicker than Britney Spears pumps out ... uh, never mind. Senor Wingspan (6-foot-5, 257) should have a monster year in Willie Martinez' defense. Again. Almost 45 percent of Moses tackles came behind the line. You have been warned, SEC.