10 August 2011
This is a tough one for me.
First, I want to be clear. I feel the best football in the nation is played here in the SEC. No other conference comes close. I'd put the SEC's fourth or fifth place team against any other conference's champion any day. So if you ask me if the best team in the nation is in the SEC I will certainly say yes.
But that doesn't mean they will win the national title.
The fact is, this conference has gotten even tougher. One could reasonably argue that nine teams have a legitimate shot at playing in Atlanta this December. I would say only Vandy, Kentucky and TSUN are out of it before the season begins. Beyond those three, it's anybody's title. Sure, Bama and LSU stand out as the big boys, but I don't see that they are head-and-shoulders above everybody else. The rest of the league is close enough in talent to make this a contest. Of course, the problem is how that will play on the national stage.
Commissioner Slive has inexplicably asked the conference to schedule tougher non-conference opponents. Well, request granted, Commish. You just made it that much more difficult for the SEC to win the national title. Brilliant! In order to make the BCS title game the SEC champ will have to navigate a brutal conference schedule and an increasingly difficult non-conference schedule. That's no easy task. Who among the SEC powers can do it this year?
Bama you say? Well, the Tide may be the conference's best on paper but they have to travel to Penn State, Florida and Starkville this year, as well as Auburn for their annual anyone's-ballgame brawl. Then they have to beat Arkansas and LSU in Tuscaloosa. Not impossible, but a tall order for the SEC's best.
LSU? Who crafted their schedule? The Tigers play an early BCS elimination game against Oregon. They have to travel to West Virginia, Starkville and Tuscaloosa. They get Florida and Arkansas at home, and they have to go to Oxford to play the game the Bears always have circled on the schedule. Don't know what it is about that one that LSU can't seem to get up for.
Perhaps a dark horse will emerge from the SEC like Auburn did last year. Well, in order to do that Arkansas will have to beat Texas A&M, Bama in Tuscaloosa, and LSU in Baton Rouge, not to mention the defending SEC East champ Gamecocks.
How about Georgia? In addition to their tough conference schedule the Bulldogs also have Boise St. to deal with.
Florida? If they navigate the treacherous SEC waters the Seminoles will be waiting at the finale.
Things don't look good for a 6th straight SEC national champ. I'm gonna go ahead and say no one will emerge from this conference undefeated. And even surviving with only one loss will be tough. Meanwhile, Oklahoma will coast through their conference until they face Oklahoma State in the final game. If Oregon survives LSU they will tap dance over the PAC 12. Florida State doesn't seem to have much competition in the ACC. And Boise only has to survive Georgia to get to TCU where the winner of that one will likely go undefeated. So there's a good chance the SEC Champ will have at least one loss while a number of other teams nation-wide have a shot at going unbeaten.
That leaves the SEC out of the big dance.
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