5 things that must happen for the SEC East to retake power
Alabama’s win over Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship Game was more than a conference title for the Crimson Tide. It marks the beginning of the SEC West’s takeover as the dominant division in college football’s best conference.
Starting with Alabama’s 32-13 win, the West has captured the last seven conference champions and has been responsible for all five of the national championships won by the SEC since Florida’s BCS victory in ’08.
How does the SEC East retake power in the conference? It’s a tall task, and it won’t happen overnight, but these five things must happen to restore the order:
1. Win the battle of the Big 3s
While the recent accomplishments of Missouri (division champions in 2013 and ’14) and Ole Miss (10-3 last season) deserve to be recognized, the Big 3 teams of each division are traditional powers Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the East, and Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the West. In the current conference arrangement, these six teams make up three pairs of permanent rivals (Florida-LSU, Georgia-Auburn, Tennessee-Alabama).
If the East were to at least win two Big 3 matchups, which hasn’t happened since 2012 (wins by Florida and Georgia), it would suggest a shift in power. A sweep of the Big 3 by the East would make a statement.
2. Start beating the ACC
Georgia has done a fine job beating its ACC rival, having won 13 of the last 15 games against Georgia Tech. However, the rest of the division, not so much.
Florida has lost five of the last six contests to FSU, including the last three in a row. UK has dropped five straight to Louisville. The Gamecocks had a five-game winning streak against Clemson (2008-13) but have lost back-to-back games to the Tigers.
The SEC likes to brag about being the best conference in college football, but the East’s recent struggle with the ACC weakens that argument. However, the silver lining here is that with the success of FSU and Clemson, future wins by Florida or South Carolina would help repair the division’s reputation.
3. Follow through on the Saban model
No division admires Alabama coach Nick Saban quite like the SEC East. For better, or worse, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all believe that hiring a former Saban assistant will bring success to their teams.
A warning to the Saban-ized programs: don’t half-ass it. Hiring a Saban assistant who will install his own take on The Process isn’t enough to emulate Alabama’s success.
Saban does more than Xs and Os. He does everything possible to make sure Alabama will not be outdone. He hires top-grade assistants, makes sure those assistants are among the best paid, builds a farm system of coaches by hiring former on-field assistants as support staff and ensures Alabama’s facilities are among college football’s best.
The Saban model won’t work for these teams unless their schools invest heavily in assistants and facilities, an area in which SEC West schools set the standard.
4. Go to more bowl games (by beating the West in the regular season)
It’s been a long time – 2008 to be exact – since the East sent more teams (five) to bowl games than the West (three). It’s hard to imagine the West only sending three teams now, or even four if you throw in Texas A&M since ’08 was pre-expansion, but it happened when Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State all finished below .500, while Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt went bowling.
Last season, the entire West went to bowl games while only three East teams (Florida, Georgia and Tennessee) saw their seasons extend beyond November. A big reason for this was the East going 2-12 against the West. The reverse could have potentially resulted in six bowl berths from each division. Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt would have gone to bowl games, while Arkansas would have been home for the holidays at 5-7.
No one expects the East to go 12-2 this fall, but evening up the final tally would start to close the gap that’s most evident during the postseason.
5. Win the SEC Championship
This one is about as obvious as stating you have to score more points than the other team to win a football game, but the above four suggestions are meaningless if a West team walks away as the victor in Atlanta.
Even if the East’s Big 3 all win against their rivals from the West, the East matches or somehow exceeds the number of bowl teams from the West, and the East notches a perfect 4-0 against the ACC, most of the college football world will forget about all that if the West wins its eighth consecutive SEC title.
In the end, it all comes down to Atlanta.