Terrible. Wretched. Overrated. Crappy. Pitiful.
And these are just the printable adjectives that have been used this season to describe the SEC.
Some have even suggested the SEC is dead.
Hold on, there. Let’s not get all apocalyptic just yet. Sure, it’s been a strange and sometimes ugly season for the once undisputed kings of college football. The SEC has Alabama, then 13 teams of varying shades of mediocrity. The only reasons the conference produced 12 bowl teams are 1) there are more bowl slots to fill than qualifying teams and 2) SEC fans will travel to or watch any game on TV to prolong the season.
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Clearly, though, aside from Alabama’s pursuit of its fifth national championship in eight seasons, this hasn’t exactly been a sterling season for the SEC. Auburn, the second-highest rated SEC team, must upset Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to avoid five losses and probably falling out of the Top 25.
The argument could be made that SEC teams beat each other up, and there’s some truth to that. But the SEC was 6-8 against Power Five conference teams. Three of those losses came to Clemson (Auburn and South Carolina) and Wisconsin (LSU), while two others came to Florida State (Ole Miss and Florida).
More troubling than that, though, was the fact that SEC teams lost three games to non-Power Five teams. Mississippi State lost to South Alabama and BYU, and Kentucky to Southern Mississippi.
So a strong showing in the bowl games – and I mean really strong – is the only way for the SEC to mitigate the damage to its reputation.
Granted, nothing will completely restore the luster. But a strong finish would prevent utter embarrassment. It will take more than a winning record in bowl games. It will take nearly a sweep.
First, Alabama needs to dominate Washington and either Ohio State or Clemson in the playoff. The Crimson Tide blew through the SEC schedule like they were playing in the Sun Belt Conference. They struggled in the first quarter of their SEC opener against Ole Miss, falling behind 24-3 with 2:47 left in the first half. From that point on through the SEC Championship Game against Florida, Bama outscored its SEC opponents 355-110.
If the Crimson Tide continues to dominate, it will prove that it wasn’t just the rest of the SEC that was vastly inferior to Alabama.
Second, the SEC must win all of the games in which its favored. That would be:
Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Iowa
Citrus Bowl: LSU vs. Louisville
Music City: Tennessee vs. Nebraska
St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Miami-Ohio
Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
That leaves six other bowl games in which the SEC is the underdog. That includes the Birmingham Bowl, South Carolina vs. South Florida. Never mind the fact that South Florida is actually pretty good. No SEC team should ever lose to an American Athletic Conference team.
So now we’re down to five games that could sway public perception.
Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. Oklahoma
TaxSlayer Bowl: Kentucky vs. Georgia Tech
Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas
Independence Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. N.C. State
The SEC needs to win at least two of the five. The most impactful upset would be Auburn beating Oklahoma. Just before the playoff teams were announced, some analysts were making the case for the Sooners to be included. If a four-loss SEC team can beat the Big 12 champs, that makes a strong statement.
So a 10-3 postseason record that includes two wins by Alabama would make a strong case that the SEC was at least as strong as any conference in 2016. Anything short of that would confirm that the dynasty is over.