Let’s be real. As the cool kids say, keep it 100.
Last season? Boring by SEC standards.
For the first time since Vince Young took out an all-time great USC team in the Rose Bowl in 2005, the national championship didn’t include an SEC team.
Sure, the Mississippi State/Ole Miss uprising was fun. But when we got to December, a bland Alabama team, by Nick Saban’s standards, clobbered surprise two-time SEC East champion Missouri in Atlanta.
The quarterback play fell off significantly. Perhaps the biggest star entering the season, Todd Gurley’s absences due to a suspension and injury robbed us of what could’ve been a historic year. Even Nick Chubb’s brillance couldn’t make up for that.
Most of the SEC’s top teams — heavily slanted toward the West Division — blew it in the conference’s premier bowl games.
On to 2015, eh?
Here are 10 reasons why this season will be more exiting.
1. The SEC West is insane.
We knew Arkansas didn’t have a legitimate shot to make real noise in the division last year. Auburn and Texas A&M were too flawed on defense. Injuries (Ole Miss) and quarterback play (LSU) helped crush two other teams.
Five of the seven teams in the division can make legitimate arguments that they should be better in 2015.
The other two: Alabama, which won the SEC, must replace a ton of offensive production, but remains a division favorite. And Mississippi State, which lost a ton of starters, but returns the conference’s most accomplished quarterback in Dak Prescott and played a slew of backups last year.
The Tide remain capable of winning another title, but no longer occupy a tier of their own. The race not to finish last will be just as interesting as the race to finish first, with all seven teams capable of winning at least eight games in the regular season.
2. Jim McElwain’s first season > Derek Mason’s first season.
Again, let’s be honest. Sports fans aren’t so different from soap-opera fanatics. Many of us enjoy a good public drama. In college football, coaching changes are a main fascination.
Although the post-James Franklin era at Vanderbilt was an interesting preseason topic, the tip of the iceberg became the entire iceberg about one half into the rain-soaked season opener against Temple.
The Jim McElwain era at Florida may not begin with very many fireworks in 2015, but if he can create upward mobility for the future in a way that parallels what Butch Jones has done at Tennessee, the Gators will stay interesting all season.
3. The collection of backfield talent will blow your mind.
We’ve written about this over and over and over, so I won’t belabor the point here or list a bunch of names. But let it suffice to say that Jay Leno’s garage is to hardcore car enthusiasts what this year’s SEC running backs are to old-fashioned lovers of handoffs and dominant backfields.
The SEC’s running backs are good enough to blow your mind, even if you’re a jaded, skeptical veteran of a fan.
4. Old faces in new places.
Lane Kiffin’s move to Alabama as offensive coordinator last season entertained us. But the number of high-profile coordinator moves and hires this offseason buries that singular splash.
The biggest, of course: Texas A&M’s bloody coup of John Chavis from LSU and Auburn’s victory in the free agent bonanza surrounding former Florida head coach Will Muschamp. It will be fascinating to watch the two men try to turn around the defense at those programs, especially with the high-powered offenses of the Aggies and Tigers.
5. Speaking of drama, how about the SEC’s QBs?
Last year, we knew Dak Prescott was in position to break out and we thought Maty Mauk would as well. Prescott performed even better than we expected and Mauk — well, Mizzou did win the SEC East.
This year, both of them return — along with more potential breakout players like Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs, which could elevate the SEC’s quarterbacks closer to ’13 levels.
There’s also Prescott’s potential as a one-person wrecking crew as well as intrigue with quarterback competitions at Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and potentially Texas A&M lasting into the fall.
6. Mark Richt could extend a certain symbolic gesture to his detractors this season.
I’ll let you determine what that gesture may be. But Georgia could claim “best in the SEC” status in two key areas: running the ball and rushing the passer.
We probably can rule out three teams from the SEC East division race — Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Florida — and it’s going to take a lot for South Carolina to bounce back to the front.
So often in sports we build narratives only to watch them crumble. I wonder what Richt’s reaction will be if this is the year the Bulldogs finally win the SEC again?
7. Are the bricks tall enough yet?
The SEC is better when Tennessee is very competitive. The last two seasons in the SEC East were sort of like the American League East when the Boston Red Sox and/or New York Yankees go through a rare down year.
It may be another couple seasons before Florida makes an ascension. But Butch Jones has Team 119 on the verge of a true breakout after the Vols broke a long streak of years without a bowl win last season.
Jones’ brick-by-brick mantra may not have reached Great Wall of China stature yet. But Tennessee has built enough of the building to offer additional excitement and buzz to the SEC.
8. We’re due for some title-game drama.
Yes, we know, the SEC West probably still is much better than the SEC East. But look at these SEC Championship Game scores since 2009: 32-13, 56-17, 42-10, 32-28, 59-42 and 42-13.
Remember that one time that Aaron Murray and UGA nearly wiped out eventual national champion Alabama, only to have the clock run out after a completed pass just yards short of the end zone? Yeah, that was three seasons ago.
Real excitement in the fourth quarter of an SEC title game has been rare, and the West Division winner usually claims the crown by default. It’s got to drift the other way, or at least become more exciting, eventually. Why not this year?
9. Mizzou could claim the SEC’s second-ever division Three-Peat.
Wouldn’t it be something if the Tigers defied every prediction not once, not twice but three times?
Just imagine the underdog story. Picked no better than third (I’m guessing that’s where they’ll land in this year’s preseason media poll) in any of the seasons, Mizzou joins Steve Spurrier’s mid-’90s Florida teams as the only SEC programs ever to reach three consecutive conference championship games.
The odds are against them, but can anyone write off the Tigers at this point after what happened the last two seasons?
10. It will be so much fun watching SEC legend Tim Tebow revive his career as the starting QB for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Almost had you there.
10. The SEC is due for another national championship.
After winning seven consecutive BCS titles — I’m still not sure any of us can grasp how monumental that was — the SEC lost a thriller to a great Florida State team following the 2013 season, then didn’t even make the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game.
Since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, the Tide never have gone a full three seasons without a national championship. (He won in 2009, his third season, then again three years later in ’11, then again in ’12.) And that’s just one program.
Sure, teams like Ohio State and TCU could be outstanding this year. But between Bama, Auburn, Georgia and others, expect the SEC to be in it to win it in 2015.