The 10 SEC things that I totally didn't see coming at the start of the 2010s decade
Pretty soon, we’ll close the book on the 2010s.
The decade that said goodbye to the BCS and hello to the Playoff will be a thing of the past.
But before 2019 comes to a close and we move on to the 2020s, I thought it would be interesting to go back to how we felt in 2010. Or rather, how I felt in 2010. Ironically enough, that’s actually when I started covering college football, though I was still only a junior in college.
Like many juniors in college, I thought I knew everything that was going to happen. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. If I did, surely so many of the key events in college football wouldn’t have surprised me so much. But they did.
So here are the 10 SEC things that I definitely didn’t see coming 10 years ago:
1. Cam Newton leading one of the great 1-year wonders ever
We knew the former Florida quarterback was talented. He was highly coveted on the transfer market (take that for what you will), but the 2010 Auburn team was coming off a year in which it went 3-5 against the SEC and it was a borderline Top 25 team to start the year. And then, Newton delivered one of the great seasons we’ve seen in the history of the sport.
Between the Heisman-worthy run vs. LSU, the “Camback” against Alabama in the Iron Bowl and obviously the brilliance to prevail in the BCS title game, Newton had a near-perfect season on the field. Nobody saw that type of year coming from him or Auburn.
2. Texas A&M’s instant SEC/national relevance with Johnny Manziel
The decision to add Texas A&M and Mizzou was controversial, but the SEC got a massive return on that investment immediately from Johnny Football. The 2012 season was special for the SEC because not only did the SEC win its seventh consecutive national title, Manziel became a must-see, lightning rod that ignited national excitement about the conference’s newest program. That was after A&M spent the 2000s as a non-contender in the Big 12. Manziel’s Heisman season was another feather in the SEC’s cap in the early part of the decade. And that Bama game in 2012? Unforgettable.
24 days until Aggie football
24 yard TD from Manziel to Kennedy in the Alabama game we will never forget pic.twitter.com/XuGZQ4viuq
— Matt '15 (@Aggie_Matt15) August 6, 2018
3. Lane Kiffin modernizing the Alabama offense
For the record, keep in mind that when the calendar turned to 2010, Alabama looked like it was on the brink of a dynasty and Kiffin was a head coach at a traditional power (Tennessee and then 11 days later, USC). To think that he was going to be the at the root of Alabama’s offensive emergence in the latter half of the decade was completely off the radar.
But Kiffin’s brilliance really came out during that 2015 title run (how well he called that Michigan State game with Jake Coker cannot be overstated). And despite the revolving door of offensive coordinators who followed Kiffin’s bizarre exit — I look forward to him one day having a normal exit — it’s still Kiffin’s offense that’s at the root of Alabama’s identity in 2019.
4. Not 1, not 2 but 3 Florida coaches crumbling under pressure
Let’s not forget that 2010 was the first season of the post-Tim Tebow era. Even if we thought there would be a slight drop off — that team still started No. 4 — nobody knew the decade that awaited. That is, Urban Meyer retires only to leave for another big-time program and win a title, Will Muschamp takes over only to go 10-13 in his final 2 seasons and Jim McElwain only lasts 3 years. Well, more like 2.5. It felt like all of them caved with the pressure that comes with recruiting, developing quarterback talent and ultimately competing for national titles at Florida. Let’s see if Dan Mullen can break that trend in the 2020s.
5. Dan Mullen elevating and staying at Mississippi State for 9 seasons
Speaking of Mullen, let’s go back to when he took over a program with 1 bowl in its previous 8 years. MSU was nowhere near a Top 25 team, especially not after the 2009 season when it was a 5-win Year 1 for Mullen. By the time Mullen moved on after the 2017 season, he turned the keys over to Joe Moorhead with a legitimate Top 25 team that many expected to take the next step in 2018 (especially me). Mullen got there by finding diamonds in the rough and developing quarterbacks like Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald.
— Robby Donoho III (@RobbyDonoho) November 27, 2016
Mullen went from the guy working under Urban Meyer to a top 5 offensive mind in the sport who probably deserves even more credit for what he did on those Florida offenses.
6. How Steve Spurrier’s rise and fall played out at South Carolina
What a roller-coaster decade it was for the Gamecocks. It began with one of the best moments in school history in 2010 with the upset of No. 1 Alabama, which was the beginning of the best 4-year stretch in South Carolina history. A division title was followed by 3 consecutive top 8 seasons to start the decade, which certainly was a higher ceiling than most believed was possible in Columbia.
Then, the fall. It looked like Spurrier’s age caught up to him and the recruiting and development admittedly slipped until he ultimately called it quits in the middle of 2015. When the decade began, I thought we’d see maybe one top 10 season and then Spurrier would fade into the sunset. I certainly didn’t think the peak and the fall would be as dramatic as it was.
7. LSU’s prolific but extremely frustrating decade in Alabama’s shadow
If you want to read something about how much LSU underachieved in the 2010s, this isn’t the place for that. Any program that wins an average of 9.8 games per season in a 9-year stretch is doing something right.
But as much as the decade turned with this growing feeling that Alabama was about to be a force, I don’t think anybody expected LSU to be in the Crimson Tide shadow for an extended time, especially not after the Tigers won the first 2 matchups of the 2010s. They just haven’t won any Alabama matchups since then while watching Nck Saban win 4 more national titles, including of course the one against LSU in 2011. It was ultimately the reason that the Les Miles era ended in the fashion that it did. And a year removed from a 29-0 shutout in Baton Rouge, that shadow doesn’t look like it’s shrinking anytime soon.
8. Post-2016 Georgia
I’ll be honest. I was worried about Georgia in the middle part of this decade. A lot. I worried that Georgia was going to be in an identity crisis. That is, caught in this world where Mark Richt wasn’t good enough and it was somehow worth it to roll the dice on someone who had never been a head coach like Kirby Smart. That was my Georgia mood basically from 2015-16.
I’m pretty sure I said something like this at one point or another:
Georgia is treating Kirby Smart like he's their Jim Harbaugh. … Why?
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 2, 2015
Man, were we doubters wrong about that. I definitely didn’t see Georgia elevating itself to where it would completely dominate the SEC East — the Dawgs haven’t won a divisional game by fewer than 14 points in the past 2 years — and go to the program’s first national championship game since Herschel Walker. Georgia has the makings of the next dynasty in college football with a much higher floor than it had under Richt, who was coming off an 8-win season with rather pedestrian expectations heading into 2010. Even if we all thought Georgia a sleeping giant, I didn’t see it taking this kind of path 10 years ago.
9. Tennessee having a losing record this decade … so far
I wouldn’t have believed someone if they told me that the Vols would have an overall losing record from 2010-18. But as it stands, the Vols are 55-57 in the 2010s decade. It’s actually worse if you dig a little deeper. A 21-51 conference record with one winning season in SEC play is pretty rough, as is the fact that the Vols went just 8-37 against Top 25 teams and 0-24 against Top 10 teams in that stretch.
And yeah, Butch Jones is at the center of that. Derek Dooley obviously shoulders a lot of the blame, as well. Those were bad hires who set the program back years. The problem was that while that was happening, the division got a lot better. I can believe in Jeremy Pruitt while also thinking it’s going to be a lot more difficult to climb back to relevance than we initially thought before he was hired.
10. After 2010, Alabama would be SEC’s only national champ
Context is needed for a sentence like that because my point isn’t that the SEC had a bad decade by any means. But let’s go back go that run from 2006-10 when 4 different SEC schools claimed every national title. After Auburn won it all in 2010, Alabama was the only SEC school to win it all. To me, what that’s more a product of is just how unbelievable that stretch was entering the 2010s. While I think the SEC is in great shape to start a new run, I don’t think we’ll see anything quite as dominant as that.
And look, it’s worth pointing out that the SEC had a non-Alabama national runner-up in 2011, 2013 and 2017. Of the 18 teams that have been in national championships from 2010-18, 10 came from the SEC. Only 1 title game in at stretch was without an SEC representative (2014). But I think it’s surprising that we didn’t see Florida, Georgia or LSU win it all this decade.
Well, not yet. Perhaps 2019 will close on a different note for the non-Alabama SEC teams.