SEC West Football: Perception and Reality Are Not Always Aligned
It is true of every school. The fans who fill the stadiums of the SEC West each Saturday in the fall see their school through a filter that may not be quite on the money.
Beyond these perceptions, there is always a reality that is a bit more humbling and probably more accurate.
While you may feel your toes being stepped on a little as you consider the reality for your school, just remember that your big rival is also seeing things in a light that is also probably not quite right.
With that said, here are the perceptions and realities for each SEC West school.
Perception: These are good times in Tuscaloosa, with BCS crystal footballs everywhere and top recruits stacked up like cords of wood before winter. What is more, there is no end to these days of glory as long as Nick Saban is the man on the sidelines.
Reality: Things will change—even Saban won’t be able to keep churning out national titles at his current pace.
What will cause the party to stop? It is usually something out of the blue like an unexpected recruiting scandal or the arrest of four players that has lingering repercussions.
Perception: Auburn fans believe they are not the “other program” in the state of Alabama, but equal, if not superior, in every possible way to their cross-state rival.
Reality: Most of Auburn’s great years have occurred during periods of turmoil in Tuscaloosa—even when the Tigers earn a day in the sun with a national title, it becomes old news really quick with the Tide putting bookends on each side of Auburn’s crystal football. 'Bama then adds a a third one in four years for an exclamation point. It is also measured in SEC titles—the score is Alabama 23, Auburn 7.
Perception: The Razorbacks are able to consistently play in the upper tier of the conference with schools like Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU.
Reality: There is good and bad news here. While the Hogs are not going to be one of the league’s big boys for any extended window of time, they are also not one of the SEC’s second-class citizens. They are well positioned to have opportunities for significant success from time to time, similar to Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Perception: Les Miles is the crazy uncle we all love—while he may be a bit eccentric, he is going to sustain success at LSU for years to come.
Reality: Yes, the LSU head man is personable. But, unless he can find a solution on offense for the Tigers, he won't be one of those guys that is at a school so long he gets to select his retirement date.
Perception: Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs are near the corner, and they are almost ready to make the turn to become a player at the top levels of SEC football.
Reality: When you are 1-12 in games against ranked opponents in the last three seasons, you are not only still a good way from turning the corner; it is debatable that you have even reached the sidewalk yet.
Perception: Rebel fans love their football and what happens inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is really important to alumni and students.
Reality: What occurs during tailgating time is more important in Oxford than what happens on the field. Consider that Ole Miss has a football record of 110-106 since 1995. It does not get much more “average” on the field than that. Meanwhile, virtually every tailgate ranking has The Grove on their list of top spots to be on game day.
Perception: In just their second season in the SEC, the Aggies are poised to become the new king of the conference.
Reality: Here are other schools that were rumored to be doing the exact same thing over the last few years: Arkansas and Auburn. How did things work out for these two?
Kevin Sumlin provides a more stable coaching situation than the previously mentioned heirs to the throne, and Johnny Football is back for another year—but, don’t let the split they achieved over the Tide and Tigers last year convince you that the two usual suspects to lead the West are going to just step aside without a fight.
Next week we will look at the perceptions and realities for the SEC East.