The 2012 college football season featured strong Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida teams — the SEC was a heavyweight conference then.
The 2011 season was almost as good as 2012, and in both 2008 and 2009, Alabama and Florida were both goliaths led by Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, respectively.
In a typical SEC season over the past 10 years, at least three teams in the conference provided a high standard of quality. The SEC didn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt without exception, but in a large majority of cases, it did.
Reputations are forged over an extended period of time, and so after a 2013 season in which Auburn, Alabama and Missouri were legitimately strong teams — once again giving the SEC that three-team top-tier minimum (South Carolina made it four, LSU five), it was not only reasonable but accurate to acknowledge the SEC as the king of college football conferences.
Reputations, however, don’t exist forever — at least, they shouldn’t when the flow of events creates a new reality.
Ever since the 2014 season, the SEC has stepped into a different universe… with the sole exception of Alabama.
Yes, the “league” might win another national championship, but anyone who follows college football has to acknowledge the following point: This is no longer a strong league in which Alabama rises above the rest; it’s a weak league which has become Alabama’s plaything.
Maybe LSU has a surprise in store for the Tide Saturday night (this article was published roughly three hours before the start of Bama-LSU). Maybe Auburn is ready for another improbable Iron Bowl upset akin to 2013. However, after Mississippi State’s 35-28 win over Texas A&M in an early game on November 5, it becomes increasingly more difficult to deny the tidal wave of mediocrity which has swept over the 13 SEC programs not located in Tuscaloosa.
The jarring aspect of A&M’s loss is that its opponent didn’t play anything close to the proverbial “perfect game” which — it’s logical to think — an underdog has to produce in order to knock off the No. 4 team in the country. Mississippi State threw two interceptions in the Aggies’ end zone. They missed a field goal. They punted to Aggie star Christian Kirk very late in the first half instead of punting out of bounds. The gaffe resulted in a Kirk touchdown.
Easily preventable mistakes were all that separated the Bulldogs from a 24-point thrashing of A&M. The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final seven-point margin.
Sure, injuries to Trevor Knight and Myles Garrett didn’t help A&M at all, but Mississippi State lost to Kentucky and South Alabama. The Bulldogs allowed 41 points to Samford of the FCS a week ago.
This was not a matchup of equals, or at least, it shouldn’t have been. Reasonable focus, reasonable toughness, reasonable consistency should have been more than enough for the Aggies against a mediocre team in a rebuilding year. Yet, A&M — aside from a garbage-time touchdown inside the final two minutes when trailing by 14 — mustered nothing more than a long touchdown pass. The Aggies’ offense could not produce a second-half touchdown on a sustained drive when the outcome of this game was in doubt.
Don’t try to sell the notion that this was a trap or sandwich game, either. Ole Miss is A&M’s next opponent, and the Rebels have become a nothingburger team. If LSU had been next on the schedule, the trap argument would have carried some weight, but that’s not the case.
At press time, SEC East leader Florida is playing terrible offense against an Arkansas team which surrendered 56 points to Auburn on a day when the Tigers didn’t even pass for 100 yards. Speaking of Auburn, Gus Malzahn’s team was taken to the final minute at home by Vanderbilt.
The more one looks at the 2016 SEC — which is much like the 2015 and 2014 iterations of the league — the more one sees Alabama and 13 other teams dealing with different levels of frailty.
This is not the 2012 or 2007 SEC anymore. Reputations don’t last forever — at least if they’re not backed up with results.