Decline and Fall
The Final Days of the SEC Era
The bowl season is over and all that remains is the championship game. So what were the most obvious lessons we learned from these bowl games? The biggest winner has to be the entirety of the Big Ten. Amazing how a few great wins and the hiring of Jim Harbaugh can alter the perception of a conference overnight. Imagine if Ohio State wins the national championship on the 12th, and you add a resurrected Michigan, current versions of Michigan State and Wisconsin, then add some wild cards like rebuilt Penn St or Nebraska, you have a pretty solid conference all of the sudden. People were throwing dirt on Ohio State and the Big Ten up until about 10:30 EST on the 1st. Funny how that works. If Jim Harbaugh delivers and Urban Meyer can tolerate coaching against a madman like Harbaugh it will be safe to say that the Big Ten could be back in a big, big way.
What was the other obvious lesson that stood out? Without any doubt the biggest loser was the unbridled arrogance of the SEC. I know the immediate response will be to focus on what the East did, but the teams we were told deserved their lofty rankings all year without any real supporting evidence, the power hitters in the West, are the ones that the image of domination rests upon. After their best teams were embarrassed or lost as heavy favorites it became clear to the entire country that the emperor indeed has no clothes (be thankful Fulmer retired).
Yes, the arrogance of SEC fans referring to their championship game as the final four, like it was a birthright to play for the championship is finally over. The arrogance of the SEC flatly telling us that two teams, or maybe THREE teams from the SEC deserve to be in the playoffs will finally be silenced. Now they will have to earn it just like everybody else. Their fiefdom made of sand has finally collapsed under the weight of the playoffs and the massive hype it could never live up to. The era of the SEC superiority complex has come crashing down.
What should have been clear from the last few years and perhaps longer is the artificial propping up of the SEC since it has ceased being head and shoulders above the other conferences, especially after the East took a nosedive a few years ago. In reality, “Nick Saban and Friends” could have been a more appropriate description since 2011 (Sorry Auburn, I believe Saban must have had a mini stroke during the 2013 Iron Bowl with the decisions he was making). Unfortunately for the public at large, ESPN was in deep with the SEC and needed to get their co-owned SECN in every household in the country, so for the last three years the SEC has been like a zombie conference. Even though they were clearly not the same conference they once were, ESPN couldn’t let them die, so for at least the last three years the hype machine was brought in and set to overdrive to artificially prop up a decaying corpse of a once undisputed Goliath.
Let’s get something straight. The SEC is still a power football conference, possibly the best, but not without legitimate discussion anymore. Up until the last week of 2014, we were fed propaganda on how far superior the SEC, especially the SEC West, was to every other conference even though impartial analysis over the last few years said otherwise. Ask yourself if Northwestern beat Nebraska in week 1 and Illinois beat Ohio State to open conference play, do you think Northwestern and Illinois would shoot up to the top 3 teams in the country? Yet, that is exactly what happened this year in the SEC with the forlorn Mississippi schools. Instead of accepting that this was a byproduct of the power schools in the SEC having down years, ESPN painted it as if the lowly Mississippi schools were serious title contenders. When the SEC’s best teams start losing to the worst teams, it was never an upset, in fact they both must be great! Yep, the arrogance of the SEC and their media partners wore the blinders with a sense of entitlement that would allow them to take great umbrage if somebody had the audacity to question the Mississippi schools’ credentials or the growing charges of SEC bias.
Forget that the majority of the SEC rarely plays anybody out of conference with a pulse. That was uniquely not a problem for SEC teams because they were given a pass. A team like Baylor who played 9 conference games was crucified for their out of conference schedule, yet at one point the committee members were tripping over themselves to anoint Mississippi State as the greatest team in the country with what will most likely go down as the worst out of conference schedule in the history of college sports, and probably all sports. That all comes into question now.
Forget that the last three years their championship game (aka “the Final Four”) winner was fortunate enough to play the likes of another SEC team, a push over Notre Dame team, and then played against and lost to an ACC team that Oregon just routed by 40 points. That is what ended this week. If it were up to the same BCS formula previously used, the championship game this year would have been #1 Florida State vs #2 Alabama. Talk about cheating the fans. The playoffs are far from perfect, but at least we finally get to see other teams from other conferences more deserving of whatever SEC team wins their conference. The playoffs will always be flawed until they expand to 8, but it still beats the old rigged SEC Invitational that we used to have.
What happened this week was not a fluke. The decline of the SEC had been obvious for years to anybody not specifically partnered up in business with them. While still a strong football conference, the last few years they had been mostly riding the coattails of 2006-2010 seasons when they did legitimately dominate. Now teams in the SEC who don’t challenge themselves will have to answer the same questions as other teams not in the SEC. No longer can they just flash their SEC membership card and get a pass. The SEC knows they have work to do on their image after a humiliating bowl season where their top 5 teams in the West gave up an eye popping 40 points per team. The fans are feeling the sting of being shut out of playing for a title in almost a decade. They may have done better overall than other conferences, but no conference lost as much as the SEC or SEC West did.
Big picture, this has been a great week for college sports fans. College football has become a national sport again (well, except in ACC land as usual). This is the way it was meant to be, with every region competing for a chance at the title. Every conference goes on runs, but the last few years we have been flooded with a steady stream of propaganda that has spectacularly crashed and burned in front of our eyes. The remnants of the SEC empire is under siege by the rising tide of time (and the Big Ten) only to eventually drift into history. College football has begun a new era in 2015.