The debate is done. The squabbles have ceased. All arguments about which conference is king of college football have now been bottled up. Over the past two seasons the SEC has flexed its collective muscle and proved to the country once and for all that it is the premier conference in the land.
So now what? What do we as litigious college football fans have left to argue about?
The Heisman trophy candidates? Nah, it’s still way too early to handicap that race. BCS format, perhaps? Been there, done that, and about sick of hearing ridiculous suggestions that will never come to fruition.
So what’s left to debate? Must we return to the issue of conference supremacy so as to quench our thirst for quarrel? Alas, I think it is inevitable.
Fortunately, I can think of one debate that hasn’t been beaten to death like so many others.
Here it goes: Can the SEC succeed in capturing its third straight National Championship?
To ponder this question, we must first separate the SEC’s contenders from its pretenders. Realistically speaking, only four teams have any chance at all to win the big one—those being Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and LSU.
Of the remaining eight teams, Auburn and South Carolina would be closest to the BCS picture, but each has big enough question marks to keep it out of the National Championship discussion.
So let’s break down each of the four contenders’ shots at making it to Miami, starting with the least likely.
I’m putting all my money on Nick Saban’s pedigree for this pick. Back in 2000, Saban’s first year as head coach at LSU, the Tigers had a moderately successful season, winning eight games. Under year two of the Saban regime, however, LSU leaped into the national spotlight with an SEC championship game win and a subsequent Sugar Bowl victory.
I think the stage is set for the same type of turnaround in Tuscaloosa. The highly anticipated number one ranked recruiting class has finally arrived on campus with super-stud Julio Jones as the face of the future.
John Parker Wilson is all of a sudden the most seasoned quarterback in the SEC West after the departures of Brandon Cox and Matt Flynn. But does he have the winning mentality it takes (13-13 all-time as a starter) to push his team to the championship level?
What will ultimately keep Alabama out of the National Championship game is its lack of winning experience and tough schedule. Will the Tide be able to emerge unscathed after road games against Georgia and LSU, a neutral site game against Clemson, and possibly a SEC Championship game?
All signs point to no. Fortunately for Alabama fans, Nick Saban doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the word no.
If you’re an optimistic LSU fan, you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, we’ve won two National Championships in the past five years with an unproven quarterback each time. There’s no reason we shouldn’t do the same this year with redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee!
Plus we’ve got a veteran offensive line to protect him and a whole heap of talented running backs to lean on. Not to mention our defensive line might be better than last year’s!”
And if you’re a glass-half-empty LSU fan, you’re thinking to yourself, “Damn that Ryan Perrilloux! If he could have kept his head on straight for one measly year we might have had a chance to repeat. Now we’re stuck with a green-as-grass redshirt freshman and a Harvard transfer to take the snaps. There goes our season. Oh well, at least we get to beat up on Ole Miss at home this year.”
It’s true. The Tigers are leaderless at the quarterback position. But with a talented defense and a multifaceted running game to rely on, LSU is as strong a team as any other. If they can find a way to successfully make it to Atlanta and defend their SEC title against Florida or Georgia, they’ll be right in the Miami mix.
The Bulldogs will be preseason top five, probably even top two, but can they navigate their oppressive schedule well enough to be in the top two when all is said and done?
They’ve got four challenging games away from home—at South Carolina, at LSU, at Auburn, and vs. Florida in Jacksonville. I don’t buy Arizona State being a tough road game.
Is it possible, then, for the Bulldogs to escape that gauntlet with only one loss? I can see it happening. It’s certainly possible. I don’t know which game they’ll lose, but it’ll be one of those four.
A one-loss Georgia team would represent the East in the SEC Championship game. That would be the last and highest hurdle the Bulldogs would have to clear for a shot at the National Championship game. If they win the SEC with one loss, they’ll have a guaranteed spot in Miami.
Here’s why the Gators have the best shot to win the SEC its third consecutive National Championship: quarterback, coach, and schedule.
It’s really pretty simple when you break it down. Tim Tebow is the best football player in the conference, and Urban Meyer is the best football coach in the conference. Combine those two forces of nature, leave boatloads of talent at their disposal, give them a relatively easy schedule, and see what happens.
I don’t see how they don’t win it all.
Now I realize the Gators have, in addition to a full SEC slate, both Miami and Florida State on their schedule. But it’s not 2000 anymore. The 'Canes and ‘Nols just aren’t scary like they used to be.
The only daunting SEC game they have is the cocktail party against Georgia. If they survive that one, it’s easy sailing to Atlanta and then on to Miami.
When it’s all said and done, the cards line up best for the Gators to represent the SEC in the Orange Bowl. Georgia could conceivably make it, and LSU and Alabama are long shots but still should be considered.
In the end, though, the Gators have the best chance to extend the reign of SEC dominance for yet another season.