It doesn't seem like that long ago that an undefeated Auburn Tigers team was being snubbed from the national championship game in 2004. Since that time, the SEC has proven each season that it is the dominant conference in college football.
It seemed certain coming into the season that whoever won the SEC would have a shot at the national championship. However, the league has become so dominant that the top two teams will make it to the BCS championship game.
One of the things that makes the SEC special and difficult is the depth that there is in the league. This has come to fruition once again. Five SEC teams finished the season with 10 or more wins this season, and the SEC dominance shows no signs of slowing down.
As a result, here is the final power rankings of the regular season.
When your team only scores 16.1 points per game but your defense surrenders 32.1 points per game, it is going to be a long season. So was the case for the Ole Miss Rebels and for head coach Houston Nutt in what was his final season.
The highlights of the season for the Rebels were wins against Southern Illinois, Fresno State and a near win versus Arkansas.
Junior Randall Mackey had his moments for the Rebels, but he was not able to carry the team. The defense was torched in most games this season, and in the final three games of the season, the Rebels were outscored by an average of 37-to-4.
The Rebels finished 0-8 in the SEC and 2-10 overall.
Coming into the season I openly questioned if Derek Dooley was a coach who could lead Tennessee back to SEC contention and if Tyler Bray was the quarterback that the media and fans were hyping him to be.
I was neither convinced that they were or were not capable of accomplishing these goals, I just had doubts. One season later, we still do not know the answer.
In the case of Dooley, his team was decimated by injury and a rush judgment would be unfair. However, at the same time, there is no reason that Tennessee should ever lose to Kentucky. The Wildcats have won big games before so that game should not be viewed as a death sentence for Dooley, but fans should rightfully be alarmed.
Bray looked solid against weaker competition but struggled against Florida and Georgia this season albeit without Justin Hunter. It should be noted that Bray still has not won a game outside of the state of Tennessee. The talent is there, but he will need to stay healthy next season.
With all the negatives that was the Vols season, Da’Rick Rogers was the one positive. He finished the season with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. However, even that good news was water downed because of the offseason rumors of his suspension.
While my expectations for Tennessee were lower than other media outlets, I never expected them to sink this low. With their only SEC win coming against Vanderbilt, in which they needed a controversial call at the end of the game to win, the Volunteers finished the season 1-7 in the SEC and 5-7 overall.
The Wildcats seemed destined for the No.11 spot in the final power rankings but finished their final two games strong by hanging tough with the Eastern division champion Georgia Bulldogs and then defeating the Tennessee Volunteers 10-7 in the season finale.
Kentucky did have several young players who displayed great growth during the season. However, in the end, their anemic offense proved too much of a handicap for the Wildcats to overcome.
For the season the Kentucky was 117th in the nation in scoring offense at 15.8 points per game.
During the season, Joker Phillips found himself on the coaching hot seat despite being in just his second season. However, after the season-ending victory over the Volunteers, Phillips was ensured of at least one more season on the job.
The Vanderbilt Commodores finished the regular season 6-6 and No. 8 in the final power rankings under first-year head coach James Franklin. However, they were only four plays away from a top 5 spot in the power rankings.
The Commodores lost games against Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee on the final play of the game.
For the Commodores, they learned how to win the games they should win this season. Next season they will need to learn how to win the games they are not supposed to win.
One of the main factors in the Commodores resurgence this season was their ability to force turnovers. On the season, Vanderbilt created 29 turnovers.
The Florida Gators came into the season expecting a season of transition. However, I am not sure many people thought the Gators would be this bad. It was so bad for Florida that they went the whole month of October without a win (0-4).
There were two major factors in the decline of the Gators this season. The first was that they do not have the proper parts to fit their desired systems. The offenses for an Urban Meyer-coached football team and a Will Muschamp-coached team are night and day. As a result, a football program that had become accustomed to high scoring teams was 72nd in the nation in scoring.
The second factor was injuries to key players. Most notably was John Brantley who seemed to be showing growth under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis prior to the injury.
The bright spot for the Gators was an improving defense. Florida finished the season ninth in the nation in total defense. Their defense was not enough this season as proven in their season finale versus Florida State, where they held the Seminoles to under 100 yards but still lost the game 21-7.
Is Will Muschamp in over his head? We will know more next season.
Mississippi State came into the season with high expectations but a very difficult schedule as well. The Bulldogs finished the regular season with an overall 6-6 record. However, it should also be noted that five of those six teams finished the season with at least 10 wins.
It should also be noted that the Bulldogs played LSU and Alabama as tough as anyone else on their schedule.
The Bulldogs were solid again on defense and running back Vick Ballard rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored eight touchdowns.
In my opinion, Mississippi State is the best 6-6 team in the nation.
The Auburn Tigers came into the season as the defending national champions with high expectations while critics expected the bottom to fall out. The reality was somewhere between the two.
The Tigers finished the regular season with a 7-5 overall record. While this is a far cry from the 14-0 season last year, this is about where they should be. This team has a load of talent, but it is also very young.
This combined with the instability of the quarterback position and inconsistency of the defense were the reason for the five losses.
It is hard enough to win many games when you lose as much talent as the Tigers did, but when you’re in the SEC West, it can be near impossible.
The good news for the Tigers is that they are losing very little talent and should be able to win 10 games again next season.
South Carolina finished the season 10-2 with a 34-13 win over Clemson. Going into the season, I predicted that the Gamecocks would finish 10-2, but thought they would own the tiebreaker with UGA to get into the SEC Championship Game.
However, if you had told me that South Carolina had lost stud running back Marcus Lattimore and quarterback Stephen Garcia had been dismissed from the team, I would have seen the team losing four games. Remarkably the Gamecocks were able to finish strong and have proven they are more than a one-man team.
Connor Shaw has begin to come into his own completing 30-of-39 passes over the past two games for 427 yards and six touchdowns to only one interception.
It has been the defense, however, that has carried the Gamecocks. South Carolina is fourth in the nation in total defense, giving up a stingy 268.9 yards per game.
The Gamecocks came in fifth in the final regular-season power rankings but could make a case to be as high as two. However, the deciding factor was how they would do head-to-head versus Arkansas and Georgia at this point in the season.
The fact is the loss of Lattimore would be too great at this juncture in the season.
Despite a 41-17 defeat to LSU on the final week of the season, the Arkansas Razorbacks completed one of their top regular seasons in the last two decades with an overall record of 10-2.
I know that Razorback fans are not going to be happy with this ranking. However, the Razorbacks' top two wins this season are versus South Carolina, who was without Marcus Lattimore, and Texas A&M who finished seventh in the Big-12.
As a result, the final ranking came down to who would win the game between Arkansas and Georgia. The Bulldogs can be streaky on defense. However, their defense would be too much for the Razorback offense.
The Razorbacks have a very good offense but will continue to struggle against the elite defenses because they cannot run the ball effectively.
The passing offense has been outstanding this season led by quarterback Tyler Wilson, who threw for over 3,400 yards and 22 touchdowns and Jarius Wright who hauled in 63 passes for 1,029 yards.
To say the least, Bobby Petrino has this team close to a national powerhouse.
The Georgia Bulldogs came into the 2011 season as the whipping boy for the national media. Head coach Mark Richt was said to be on the hot seat, according to the national media, and the Bulldogs were going to have another mediocre season.
The Bulldogs would exceed expectations and win 10 of their last 11 games to finish 10-3 on the season.
The Eastern division champions were the only team to dominate the LSU Tigers for a half. However, a lack of depth and several mental mistakes would catch up with the Bulldogs as the Tigers ran through and past them in the second half.
The resurgence of the Bulldogs, despite having to replace every skills position player but one on offense, was the result of the much improved Bulldog defense. The Bulldogs finished the season as the No. 3 ranked defense under second-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Aaron Murray led the offense with 2861 passing yards and 35 total touchdowns.
The Alabama Crimson Tide finished the regular season with a record of 11-1 and No. 2 in the power rankings. Their success is the result of having perhaps the best defense in the last two decades.
This defense will allow the Tide to play with anyone in the country. It also doesn’t hurt that they have Trent Richardson who has 1,910 offensive yards and 23 total touchdowns.
This combination is what led voters to give the Tide a mulligan on their only defeat of the season.
The bruising Alabama offensive line will need to open holes in the championship game to win, but the Tide defense will make sure they have a shot. Perhaps the most difficult thing the Tide have ahead of them before the bowl game is staying focused with all of the awards and recognition the players will be getting.
I got a feeling Nick Saban will make sure they remain focused.
The question remaining for the LSU Tigers is not if they are the best team in the SEC or the nation. They have proven that without a doubt 13 times this season. The remaining question is where this team will be ranked historically after Jan. 9.
The Tigers will have the opportunity to defeat four top three teams in one season. I have been unable to verify where that ranks historically, but they just reeled off the most impressive regular season of my lifetime.
This team does not have a weakness—they are just less great at certain positions.
One of the most telling signs of the greatness of this team is that Tyrann Mathieu is a Heisman finalist, and he might not even be the best defensive back on the team.
What makes this team special is the seasoned depth that they have. There are other teams with great depth, but none of them rotate as many star players as the Tigers. For example, look at the Crimson Tide. If Trent Richardson got hurt, their team would drop from great to very good.
With the Tigers, however, there is not one player that they could lose that would drop them from being a great team.
There is no doubt in my mind that if the Tigers win the BCS championship, they will be the best team of the last decade and perhaps further.