College Football Preview For 2011: The End of the SEC Championship Dynasty
The 2010 college football season saw the rise of the latest SEC powerhouse, the Auburn Tigers.
Armed with the nation's finest offensive and defensive players in Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, and led by the latest SEC coaching genius in Gene Chizik, a salute to the impressive display of Auburn is in order.
The Southeastern Conference has proved dominant in BCS Championship games for the past five seasons, producing the current title holder in addition to prior winners LSU, Alabama, and the "double-dipping" Florida Gators.
Followers of the college game acknowledge the premier position the SEC has achieved in National Championship competition over the past five years.
That will all come to an end as the 2011 season unfolds.
Let us take a look at the reasons why.
What Changes Led to This Era of SEC Dominance?
The BCS was born to place the top two teams in the country in a championship contest.
The split National Championship year of 1997 saw the end of the old bowl selection system and the coming of the BCS era. The four "major" bowls would take turns hosting the championship contest.
The Orange, Sugar and Fiesta Bowls left a slot open to invite another highly ranked opponent to face their conference tie-in team in the years they did not host the title game.
The Big 10 and the PAC-10 opted for a continuation of their obligation to send each league champion to the Rose Bowl.
The "Granddaddy of them all" had grudgingly joined the BCS carnival when the Tournament of Roses Association agreed to release the Big Ten and PAC-10 champions to another bowl event if it was necessary to force a National Championship game.
And also if necessary, they would invite "outsiders" to their glorious event in Pasadena.
Necessary mind you.
The Rose Bowl was added to the yearly National Championship rotation, hosting the 2001 season blowout of Nebraska by Miami.
The truth is, most of the early BCS Championship games (1998-2001) were not very interesting, and consisted mainly of Florida State being rewarded with title opportunities as a result of running roughshod over the weaker Atlantic Coast Conference.
In the first eight seasons of the BCS, 1998 through 2005, the SEC appeared in two National Title games. Florida State alone appeared in three championship contests.
Hardly an indication of the dominant Southeastern Conference era to come.
The Arrival of the Separate BCS Championship Game
The 2006 season saw the arrival of a separate BCS Title contest, played after the four original "BCS Bowls" were completed.
This event would be held at one of the BCS locations and rotate yearly.
Seen at the time as a "cave-in" to Rose Bowl purists who still demanded their beloved Big 10 versus PAC-10 classic on New Year's Day, this addition of two more BCS teams served to jump start a SEC reign of dominance that continues to this day.
The SEC has won all five separate BCS Championship games, taking each title from the inception of the contest in the 2006 season until this moment.
Did the addition of the two seemingly weaker teams to the entire BCS scenario have an effect? The answer is very likely seen by the conference affiliation of those teams who opposed the SEC for the championships, consisting of the Big 10, the Big 12 and the PAC-10.
The conclusion is the additional teams had no effect.
Coaching improvement is a factor. Urban Meyer replacing Ron Zook at Florida and Nick Saban stepping in for Mike Shula in Tuscaloosa definitely improved the chances of the Gators and the Crimson Tide.
The Auburn family firmly supports coach Gene Chizik, something that can not be said of his predecessor.
Likewise, LSU coach Les Miles was recently named by one national publication as "the most wildly interesting coach in America." What else can one add to that?
Superior coaching begets superior personnel. The level of talent at the championship teams of the SEC over the past five years has been approached by only Ohio State, Southern California and Oklahoma.
Superior coaching and the best players, a deadly combination which led to this SEC era of dominance.
A Ladder Goes Down As Well As Up
In the 2010 football season, two time BCS Champion Florida suffered a step backward. The finger points directly to the loss of the nation's finest player, quarterback Tim Tebow, to the professional ranks.
True, there were some youth issues as well, but no one on the roster for the upcoming season can equal Tebow so the problem of supreme talent will continue to exist.
Add to this situation that coach Urban Meyer has stepped down. He is replaced by a man who has never been a head coach for a day in his life and has no connection to the Florida staff or operating style. It is easy to see why Florida will still suffer under unrealistic expectations in 2011.
Alabama lost their best players. Auburn lost their best players. No amount of self-convincing will change that fact. Regardless of who comes back, these two teams will not be as good in 2011 as they were in their championship years of 2009 and 2010.
LSU, often overlooked as a BCS contender, has ample talent returning but not an overwhelming list of superior players as they had in 2007.
Arkansas is on the way down while Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia should be competitive for the East division title but no more.
Mississippi State may in fact be the surprise team of 2011, led by an outstanding coach and solid line play. However, the Bulldogs do not seem to be a lurking BCS kingpin at this time.
Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vanderbilt will assume their natural positions in the SEC.
From this view, the SEC will not produce a team strong enough to make it into the 2011 BCS Championship game.
If not the SEC, then who will be the most likely participants in our next National Title clash?
2011 Season Bowl Projections: The Big Seven
The Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Texas A&M
The Capital One Bowl: Auburn vs. Nebraska
The Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Syracuse
The Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State
The Orange Bowl: Boston College vs. Mississippi State
The Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon
The BCS Championship Game: Stanford vs. Oklahoma
The departure of coach Jim Harbaugh may cost Stanford the overall No. 1 ranking in the final regular season poll but there is little doubt the Cardinal will be present in the National Championship game.
The projected 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, looks to follow in the footsteps of the past two winners by producing an undefeated BCS Championship.
Oklahoma will put the best overall team on the field in 2011 while Ohio State and Oregon follow close behind.
LSU appears to be the best of the SEC while improving Syracuse surprises out of the Big East.
Fortunes have turned around at Notre Dame and the Irish will be in search of their first BCS contest in several years.
Boise State should be inspired to run the table and go back to the BCS party as well.
Florida State talks a good game but the Seminoles do not like to get hit, and the rugged brawlers from Beantown have just the answer for such opponents. Undetected clotheslines. Put Boston College in the Orange Bowl as the ACC champion.
The 11 Best 11s For 2011
No. 1: Oklahoma
No. 2: Stanford
No. 3: Ohio State
No. 4: LSU
No. 5: Boise State
No. 6: Oregon
No. 7: Notre Dame
No. 8: Mississippi State
No. 9: Boston College
No. 10: Syracuse
No. 11: Oklahoma State