SEC teams will be back in the title hunt in 2015
NEW ORLEANS -- For the first time since the 2005 season, the SEC will be sitting at home while college football's national championship is being decided. And that is going to sting for a little while.
From 2006 to 2012 the SEC celebrated seven straight national titles by four different schools (Florida, LSU, Auburn, Alabama). In 2013 Auburn came within 13 seconds of making it eight straight championships before losing to Florida State at the Rose Bowl.
But with No. 1 Alabama's 42-35 loss to No. 4 Ohio State Thursday night in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff, the SEC will not be represented in the Jan. 12 national championship game in Arlington, Tex. Either the Big Ten (Ohio State) or the Pac-12 (Oregon), will win the first CFP title.
While there was disappointment conference wide on Friday, it was tempered by the fact that the SEC's great run had to come to an end at some point. There are just too many good teams and winning is just too hard. Still, if you're an SEC fan it hurts not being a part of the upcoming celebration in Texas.
Alabama, which sought a chance to play for its fourth national championship since 2009, is going to have a tough time watching Ohio State and Oregon play for the title at AT&T Stadium.
A lot of people gave up on Alabama after the Crimson Tide lost at Ole Miss on Oct. 4 and then had to fight to register a 14-13 win at Arkansas. Alabama looked like a rebuilding team. But then the Crimson Tide rolled off eight straight wins, including a wild 55-44 victory over Auburn in the Iron Bowl. They won the SEC championship and became the No. 1 seed in the first College Football Playoff. Then suddenly, after 60 minutes of football at the Louisiana Superdome, the season was over. Ohio State and Oregon get to play another game. Alabama will not.
"We're very disappointed in the outcome today," coach Nick Saban said after the game. "It was our goal to play our best in this game, so we would have an opportunity to play in a national championship game. But we obviously didn't do the things we needed to do as well as we needed to do them to have a chance to do that."
Back in mid-October things looked very promising. The SEC had four of the top six teams (Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, and Alabama) and six teams total in the first College Football Playoff rankings. Mississippi State was No. 1 for four weeks and No. 4 for two weeks. In the next-to-last week of the season the SEC could dream about getting two teams in the playoffs with Alabama at No. 1 and Mississippi State at No. 4. But the Bulldogs lost to Ole Miss on Nov. 29, opening the door for Ohio State to take the fourth spot.
The SEC still had three teams in the final CFP rankings: No.1 Alabama, No. 7 Mississippi State and No. 9 Ole Miss. But the postseason was not kind to the SEC's most high-profile teams. The day before Alabama lost to Ohio State, Ole Miss was dominated by TCU 42-3 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Mississippi State was handled by Georgia Tech (49-34) in the Orange Bowl. Auburn, which was still in the discussion when it beat Ole Miss on Nov. 1, lost to Wisconsin 34-31 on New Year's Day.
The SEC West, which qualified all seven teams for bowls, went 2-5 in those games. Arkansas was impressive in beating Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl. Texas A&M beat West Virginia 45-37 in the Liberty Bowl.
The SEC East, which had received some criticism as being down, got wins from Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Thus, the SEC was 6-5 in bowl games with one game left involving Florida, which plays East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Saturday.
So the SEC, relative to the recent past, struggled in bowl games this season. But does this represent a trend? Does it mean that the SEC has slipped a notch?
Hardly. Let's take an early look at 2015:
**--Alabama's not going anywhere. The Crimson Tide will have to find a new quarterback with the departure of Blake Sims, who had a storybook senior season. We can also be confident that WR Amari Cooper will jump to the NFL. Safety Landon Collins is probably turning pro as well. Still, the talent remains deep in Tuscaloosa, with players like RB Derrick Henry returning. Saban is still the best coach of his generation.
**--Auburn will have a new defensive coordinator in Will Muschamp, the former head coach at Florida. Muschamp and Gus Malzahn should be a pretty potent combination.
**--Texas A&M, which has struggled on defense since joining the SEC, took a big step toward fixing that by hiring DC John Chavis away from LSU.
**--LSU has to fix its problems at quarterback and the Tigers will certainly miss Chavis. But there is a bunch of talent in Baton Rouge.
**--If quarterback Dak Prescott returns for his senior season, Mississippi State will again be a factor in the SEC West.
**--Ole Miss will have a new quarterback as Bo Wallace finishes his eligibility. That standout freshman class of 2013 in Oxford will now be juniors. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell needs to bounce back from his a broken leg.
**--Georgia will have a new quarterback but the Bulldogs return running backs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Keith Marshall. WR Malcolm Mitchell has already announced that he is coming back.
**--Florida has a new coach in Jim McElwain who is putting together an impressive staff. It won't be long until the Gators are back in the mix.
**--After beating Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Friday to finish 7-6, Tennessee will be in year three under Butch Jones and each season the talent and depth gets better.
**--Steve Spurrier will be back for his 11th season at South Carolina. He'll be looking for a quarterback to replace Dylan Thompson and to fix a struggling defense.
**--Missouri has won 23 games and gone to a pair of SEC Championship games in the past two seasons. Quarterback Maty Mauk (14-4 as a starter) returns.
So you get the picture. The SEC placed 12 of 14 teams in bowls this season and it could happen again in 2015. Will the conference and its fans miss being on the big stage on Jan. 12? You bet. Can the SEC get a team back into that spotlight in January of 2016? Absolutely.