It’s hard to get an overall feel for a season until you’re well into October each year. After seven weeks of football, I can tell you as a die-hard SEC fan and college football fan, this season doesn’t measure up to previous years.
Monitoring the interest and buzz on the web as well as social media like facebook and twitter provide supporting evidence of this fact. The reality is that for the SEC, 2011 sort of sucks. Now of course if you’re an Alabama fan or an LSU fan, you strongly disagree, and that’s to be expected. And I’m taking nothing away from these teams which I love to watch as much as the next guy. But with that said, here are the reasons why 2011 leaves much to be desired.
The Competitive Landscape
As everyone knows, Alabama and LSU are the clear frontrunners in the SEC. From there, it’s not even close. It’s not good when you’re only 4 weeks into the season and you can identify the only meaningful game on the entire conference’s schedule for the remainder of the year. That is of course November 5th. Since early in October, nearly all fans have been looking to this date as the game that will settle it all.
While the game is going to be huge and huge games are great for the conference, it also means the rest of the games have gone down in relevance.
I realize Alabama is a better team than Tennessee, but they are a 30 point favorite this week. That is ridiculous and hardly a good thing for SEC football. LSU prior to the announcement of suspensions was favored by 23.5 against Auburn. While upsets can happen and have in the past, it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen this year. Alabama and LSU will both be undefeated on November 5th. Both teams barring a mental collapse will likely win out after that game leaving one loss between the two teams at the conclusion of the regular season.
Alabama has played 4 SEC teams in the last 4 weeks. They’ve won the four games by a combined score of 162-31.
LSU has played 4 SEC teams in 2011 and won by a combined score of 133-31. Almost as impressive.
Now, a major part in this uncompetitive landscape is the harsh reality that the SEC East is awful this season. Simply put, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have not carried the east at all this year. Injuries knocking out some of the biggest superstars (Hunter, Bray, Lattimore, Brantley) in the east has made the crappy division even worse. Stephen Garcia at least made things interesting and now he’s gone as well.
Georgia losing to Boise State and South Carolina started the year on a down note for the Dawgs. They went on to beat 5 average teams in a row which is good, but nothing to hang your hat on.
The 2011 Gators look worse than the 2010 Gators and have Florida fans ironically praying for the return of John Brantley.
Tennessee has a gun-slinging quarterback and two stud receivers, but 2 of the 3 are injured and the rest of the team is average at best.
South Carolina can’t even get over the mental hurdle required to become a nationally relevant team despite having insane talent, and now they’re without their starting quarterback and superstar running back for the remainder of the season.
The fact that the SEC East sucks so bad puts a major damper on the season. The SEC Championship Game is one of the most exciting games each year; except in 2011, either Alabama or LSU will likely be a double digit favorite against a three-loss SEC East Champ.
This is much different than the 2008/2009 seasons where fantastic Florida and Alabama teams ran through their respective divisions to face off in uber-exciting SEC Championship games.
The conference is indeed better when the divisions are on relatively equal footing. The balance will likely return in the near future as historically the balance is very consistent, but history doesn’t help us in 2011.
Last season, the east was equally crappy, but it didn’t matter. There was a team that came out of nowhere led by the best player in the country that captivated our attention. We tuned in every week to see if Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers could continue their win streak. The incredible run culminated with an insane Iron Bowl comeback that an entire nation of football fans witnessed. There was no single game that everyone pointed to like we’re now pointing to with November 5th. Every week was relevant, interesting and exciting.
In the west, Mississippi State has had a disaster of a season despite having high hopes for 2011. Mullen’s Bulldogs are an incredible 0-4 in conference play.
Arkansas is probably the best team not named LSU or Alabama, but the fact that they got blown out by Alabama makes it clear that they aren’t in the same tier as the top two teams. With that said, if there is another interesting game remaining on the 2011 schedule other than the November 5th game, it might be the Arkansas-LSU game in late November.
Auburn has won more games than maybe fans thought they would at this point in the season due to 2011 being dubbed a rebuilding year, but wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina and Florida aren’t really that impressive are they?
Ole Miss is awful this year – nothing else needs to be said.
The Lack of Star Power
One other factor that might be contributing to the lack of excitement in the SEC this year is the lack of star power. For years, Tim Tebow enthralled or enraged fans. Tebow is ideal for interest levels and ratings. He was insanely good and just as polarizing. You knew his face. The cameras always showed his bible verse eye-painted face every few seconds. How many fans can picture Tebow crying on the sideline after the Alabama loss his senior season? Everyone.
Following Tebow’s departure, a fellow named Cam Newton filled the void perfectly. Again, a talented, polarizing athlete captivated fans across the southeast. Cameras captured his big smile on the sideline and during post-game celebrations each and every Saturday.
There’s no lack of talent in the SEC, but the closest thing to star power we have right now is who? The honey badger? Trent Richardson? Marcus Lattimore? Richardson and Lattimore are somewhat quiet, and the honey badger is a defensive player which isn’t the same as an offensive star.
Now, this article is not to take anything away from November 5th. The game is going to be incredible. Even if the score ends up 6-3 and a defensive slugfest, it is still going to be incredible because of the level of talent on both sides of the ball.
The problem is more the reason why this game is going to be so big. The reason is that this is the game that essentially will decide it all. In the SEC, we typically talk about the gauntlet of tough games that our conference champion typically has to run through. This season is a bit different. Taking nothing away from the schedules of LSU and Alabama (LSU’s September was ridiculous), but the in-conference schedules this year are nothing to brag about due to the weakness of the other SEC teams.
Enjoy the November 5th game because it hopefully will live up to the hype. It’s going to be fun to watch. Also, enjoy the rest of the season because frankly, even if it is a down year, there still isn’t anything better than SEC football.
But heading into 2012, there are a few things for which I’m rooting. First, I’m hoping for the SEC East to get its act together. I think Georgia has the young talent to possibly be a very good football team. Second, I’m hoping for the emergence of some new superstars. No, we’re not likely to see a Cam Newton or Tim Tebow, but hopefully we’ll get something close.
Despite 2011 being a season that I wouldn’t necessarily say is the best representation of what is so great about SEC football, we still likely have the two best teams in the country which is excellent. These two teams are special, and one of them will likely bring home the 6th straight BCS Championship to the SEC. While there may not be a large number of games from here until then that will contribute to who represents the SEC in the BCS, I will thoroughly enjoy the few that do – most notably, the November 5th LSU-Alabama game.