Another college football season is in the books. With the end on Monday night, we look back at the season and some of the more stranger events and aspects of the season.
1. LSU’s preseason, regular season and BCS Championship
For someone who writes articles about SEC football, the LSU football program is pure gold. Les Miles himself would provide enough to talk about day in and day out, but the crazy guys from Louisiana give us more. They give us the honey badger, a quarterback who warms up for the season by fighting marines, and an insane run through one of the hardest football schedules known to man. It’s only fitting that this crazy program drops a goose egg in the BCS National Championship Game after demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re the best team in the land.
The 2011 season of the LSU Tigers will be one of the most memorable seasons ever (although Tigers fan will want to forget it after Monday’s game). Prior to starting off against the national championship runner-up from last year, the Oregon Ducks, on a neutral site to kick off the season, their new offensive coordinator goes down with Parkinsons and their quarterback (and others) decides to kick a marine in the face. No matter, good ol’ Pick-Six Lee is ready to do battle. Leading the Tigers through an insane September of Oregon, at Mississippi State on a Thursday night and at West Virginia, LSU shows that off-the-field drama is no big deal. Unfortunately, mediocre quarterback play is a big deal. After running the table, the offense, which began to slow against Georgia in the SECCG, hits a brick wall against Alabama for round 2 against the Tide. 92 yards of offense in probably the worst performance in a national championship game in recent memory.
That’s LSU and that’s why we love ‘em. Can’t wait for next year. Of course, they will be sick and Les Miles will be awesome.
2. Nick Saban’s continued dismantling of the Florida football program
Boy, Saban was sure pissed about losing the 2008 SEC Championship Game, wasn’t he? Ever since then, the merciless coach of the Crimson Tide has been methodically dismantling the Florida Gators’ football program. First, he gave Urban Meyer a heart attack via the 2009 SECCG (revenge for 2008).
Then, in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the Gators started 4-0. Hooray! John Brantley is an adequate successor to Tim Tebow! In the fifth game of each season, the Gators played Alabama. The combined score of these two Nick Saban beatdowns was 69-16.
In the 2011 game, Saban enlisted the help of linebacker Courtney Upshaw to finish off the pitiful Gator program once and for all. In pure evil genius fashion, Saban decides to fully demoralize the Gator fan base by letting them think that the Gators have a chance. They even allow the awful John Brantley to pass all over them for a quarter and a half. Then, early in the 2nd quarter, Upshaw takes a John Brantley interception to the house. It wasn’t enough. Later, on a sack, he bent Brantley’s leg back injuring him and knocking him out of the game. It wasn’t enough. Later, Upshaw sacked backup QB Jeff Driskel in the same manner… bending his leg back and injuring him. Brantley would be out for weeks and so would Driskel.
The Gators got killed of course, then went on to lose to LSU and Auburn with some of the worst offense we’ve seen in decades at Florida. Florida finished the season 6-6. The program is in shambles, Urban Meyer ran off to the safety of the Big Ten and John Brantley is probably filling out applications for an Ocala pop warner coach position.
Florida won 2 BCS Championships in 3 years with Urban Meyer. Alabama has now won 2 in 3 years with Saban. Somehow I don’t think the Tide will fall off like the Gators did.
3. Georgia’s back or are they?
It just doesn’t seem like SEC football these days without a call for Mark Richt’s job. Losing (essentially) at home to Boise State to start the year in one of the most non-competitive games of the year – other than the BCS Championship Game of course – did not help his cause. Losing at home the next week to SEC East rival, South Carolina, increased the intensity.
The Mark Richt haters forgot to factor in one important ingredient in their plans to oust CMR from his job: the schedule.
Georgia was the prime beneficiary of scheduling in the SEC. Playing in the horrid SEC East of course provided a benefit in 2011. Throw in SEC West opponents of Missisippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn and BOOM, you got yourself a ten win streak and a trip to Atlanta!
Those ten wins even gave them Dawgs some confidence because they played well – especially their defense – against the SEC West Champs LSU for a half of football. Then they got decimated of course in the second half. But who didn’t? After all this was LSU.
Fans figured that Georgia would go on to win the bowl game against Michigan State and it will be a great season. After all, the Big Ten sucks right? Well yes, except Blair Walsh can’t make clutch field goals and Mark Richt sometimes prefers to lose a few yards while centering the ball on the field prior to a field goal rather than get closer to the actual field goal. Oh well, the result was a loss to Michigan State. A lone blemish on a day where the SEC East was going to sweep the Big Ten.
We’re left confused about the state of Georgia football. Are they back? I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll see next year.
4. Vols program gets worse. Way worse.
I’m not going to comment on the Vols’ record. Actually I am. They went 5-7. They went 1-7 in conference. And the one win came as a result of Dooley’s boys “beating the s**t out of Vanderbilt” in overtime. VOLS PRIDE!
Sure the Vols had some tough injuries like Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter. But you know who else had injuries? Lots of teams. How about John Brantley? Marcus Lattimore? Knile Davis? etc. The reality is that the Vols are terrible right now and Derek Dooley isn’t helping. For crying out loud, the Vols lost to Kentucky this year. Just to rub it in some more, let’s list the teams that Tennessee beat in 2011: Montana, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt.
Just last week, Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon left the Tennessee program. Important assistants. They left to goto Washington. What? Do they have a football team? I guess so. They must. What else would the be doing up there? The word coming out of Knoxville is that nobody likes Dooley. Not his coaches. Not his players. Not Vanderbilt. Shoot, I think his dad Vince Dooley is considering bailing on the Dooley train.
Bottom line is that the Vols are going to can Dooley probably after next season. Why not do it now? You’ve got to. Why wait a year to do what we all know you’re going to do? It’s time to clean house and it’s time to pay whatever it takes to get a good coach in there, because the bottom line is that Tennessee SHOULD be a good football program. As an SEC fan, I WANT Tennessee to be a good football program because I want to enjoy the victory more when my team beats them. There’s no fun beating a Tennessee team that is pumped to beat Vandy in overtime. C’mon guys, clean house!
5. Mississippi State is still Mississippi State
The popular dark horse candidate of the 2011 SEC West division started the season with an 0-4 in-conference record. It’s not easy trying to get to that next level as a program when you play in the toughest division in college football. Dan Mullen has indeed brought some attitude to Starkville, but he hasn’t yet brought any wins over the divisional big boys.
While the Michigan beat down in the Gator Bowl last year was outstanding and a great spring board for this season, the season just never materialized for the State faithful. From the get-go, it just wasn’t meant to be. When Chris Relf failed to get into the end zone against Auburn as regulation ended on the 2nd week of the season, it was almost inexplicable. Chris Relf is a beast, had the angle, and a small Auburn defender kept him out of the end zone. It essentially defied physics. All of a sudden, the season which was meant to be the next step on the ladder to SEC West legitimacy started 0-1 in SEC play against a rebuilding Auburn team. Welcoming the LSU Tigers to town on a short week a few days later was an automatic 0-2 hole.
A 6-6 season gave the Bulldogs an opportunity to beat ACC team, Wake Forest. They capitalized and won 23-17. We will see what the future holds for Mullen and his Mississippi State program.
Meanwhile, staying in state, Ole Miss hit a new low this year and fired the Nutt. Hugh Freeze has taken over as the head coach.
Will the Mississippi teams ever be able to compete in the new era of the SEC West?
6. What a year for the Gamecocks!
If you never read William Wallace’s review of the Georgia-South Carolina game from week 2 this past season, go read it now. It’s beautiful and represents everything great about South Carolina football. My favorite line was:
Spurrier just took his shirt off and cracked open a Busch Light. Garcia strolls over, smoking a cigarette and high fives the coach. These two are magic together.
While magic together in their own way, Garcia was terrible on the field early in the season. He got himself benched. Then he got himself kicked off the team. Doesn’t this seem like 5 years ago? Marcus Lattimore then blew out his knee. What a disaster!
Except it wasn’t. South Carolina didn’t repeat as SEC East Champs, but they managed to win ten games for the second time in program history. Then they beat Nebraska in a great win in the Capital One Bowl – boom, an 11-win season, a first in Gamecock history.
Well done, Spurrier.
7. Weird year for Auburn
Auburn kicked off the season with a game against Utah State which requires 2 touchdowns and an onside kick in the game’s last minutes (watch video here). It was an up and down season for the Auburn Tigers, but it got really weird towards the end. First, the Gus Malzahn wife video circled the web. Then, Malzahn himself shocked the world by taking the Arkansas State head coach job. Arguably the hottest assistant coach in the land a year ago and still a guy who could land a number of head coaching jobs is going to Arkansas State? Yep, and now it looks like stud running back Michael Dyer is heading there with him.
Auburn has talent, but with LSU and Alabama reloading each year and Arkansas on the rise, it might be a while before Auburn wins the west again.
8. Vanderbilt has life
The James Franklin era started with success. Vandy finished 6-6 and went to a bowl game. Vanderbilt scored nice wins over UConn, Ole Miss, Army, Kentucky and Wake Forest. While it would have been nice for Vandy to finish the season with a bowl win over Cincinnati, the season was still a success for Franklin. Jordan Rodgers finished the year with 1524 passing yards (and 420 rushing yards) and Zac Stacy might have been the surprise player of the year with 1193 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
It will be fun to see if Franklin can keep this program moving in the right direction.
9. Arkansas has one of the quietest, most exciting seasons in the country
I’ll admit, I was on the Arkansas bandwagon before the season started. I thought they perhaps had an opportunity to win the west if a few plays went their way. The Knile Davis season-ending injury before the season even started definitely hurt. After the incredible 2010 season that Knile Davis had, Hogs fans were ready to see him dominate in 2011. Despite the injury, fans felt like Arkansas could still contend in 2011. Then Alabama smoked the Hogs in week 4. It was again a clear reminder that Arkansas has not yet joined the upper echelon owned by Alabama.
A week later, the Texas A&M game was thrilling. A great second half comeback led by Tyler Wilson’s 510 passing yards, Arkansas got a key non-conference win which got the Razorbacks back into the winning groove after the humiliating loss in Tuscaloosa.
Arkansas played a huge day-after-Thanksgiving game against LSU where they both were ranked in the top 5 – in fact, it was a week in which the SEC owned the top three spots in the polls! Arkansas took an early lead, but got overwhelmed by the power defense and run game of the LSU Tigers.
The 10-2 Arkansas Razorbacks played Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. I was actually very impressed with the KState Wildcats. They are a good football team. And Arkansas is even better. This was a great win and a great way to end the season with an 11-2 record. Arkansas finished the season occupying the 5 spot in the final AP poll.
This team was the best offensive team in the conference. Tyler Wilson thre for 3638 yards and 24 touchdowns. Joe Adams is probably the most exciting player in the SEC not nicknamed the Honey Badger. His punt returns were insane this year. Reminders are here and here.
Bobby Petrino has his team playing some great football, and as an SEC fan, I’m excited to see the 2012 Hogs take the field.
10. The Game Of The Century and The Rematch
If there was one storyline that dominated the SEC and all of college football in 2011, it was the Alabama vs LSU game(s). We weren’t through the month of September before all eyes in the game were on the November 5th matchup between Alabama and LSU. The game (in my opinion) DID live up to the hype despite zero touchdowns. The 9-6 LSU overtime win was full of great plays on both offense and defense, incredible hits and great coaching. It was outstanding football.
After key teams at the top of the polls fell and Alabama continued winning, it became clear in November that we might be looking at a rematch. Not just a rematch, but the first ever All-SEC BCS Championship Game. The rematch materialized, but the rematch most definitely did not live up to the hype. And this has nothing to do with a defensive game. Defensive football is still good football. This has to do with the fact that the LSU Tigers – after running through an insane schedule undefeated – didn’t even show up. LSU has 92 yards of offense and didn’t cross the 50 yard line until well into the 4th quarter. They were shutout on the biggest stage. Total disappointment (unless you’re wearing the Crimson of course).
Regardless, even with a disappointing BCS Championship Game, it takes nothing away from the conference. Nobody can argue that the two best teams in the country were not playing for the national title. The SEC domination continues. Six BCS Championships in a row.
There’s no reason to think it can’t continue. LSU might be even better next season. The word rebuilding isn’t in the vocabulary of Nick Saban. The SEC East will rebound and eventually get back to par with the west. Teams like South Carolina and Arkansas continue to take steps towards becoming top tier programs.
SEC football is still by far the finest football in the land.
Bonus: Oh yeah, the SEC added two teams!
You can’t recap 2011 without mentioning expansion. The historic year saw the addition of the Missouri Tigers and the Texas A&M Aggies to the Southeastern Conference. TAMU of course will join the SEC West and Missouri will join the East.
The expansion to fourteen teams will make the 2012 season especially interesting. You can see the SEC conference schedule here.
As always, you know Saturday Down South will be leading the charge, reminding you on a daily basis why the SEC is the standard when it comes to college football. Thanks for a great season!