The fall of the SEC West (or how Saban, Alabama destroyed the competition)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Remember when the SEC West was the most respected and feared division in all of college football? Remember when that once mighty division sent not one, but two teams to the 2011 National Championship Game?
That game and one fluke play have shaped the past five years in the SEC West, and not in a good way. Since Alabama beat LSU for the 2011 national championship in New Orleans, it’s been full-throttle panic mode for the six other programs, frantically searching for answers to the question of how to keep pace with the Crimson Tide.
And while Alabama has held up its end of the bargain, winning two more titles since then, the same cannot be said for the remaining group. The Tide has relegated them to a band of stooges falling all over themselves in Keystone Cops-like fashion.
All but one has changed coaches since then, including the loser of that title game. Yes, even LSU succumbed to the pressure; firing, then rehiring, then firing again Les Miles, who unwittingly stumbled into the footsteps of program coaching legend Charlie McClendon. Like Cholly Mac before him, Miles couldn’t conquer the beast. Five consecutive losses to Alabama, coupled with a boring offense headed to nowhere, finally took its toll.
Only Mississippi State has retained its coach since 2011, and that’s because, well, it’s Mississippi State. Dan Mullen, in his eighth season, is the first coach in program history to finish in the AP top 15 twice. His six-year bowl streak — in jeopardy this season — is the longest in program history.
Yes, similar to Donald Trump’s destroying of the establishment Republican Party stalwarts, Alabama has done the same to the rest of the SEC West.
One play, however, had the potential to perhaps end the madness and quite possibly change the course of SEC history. But it was madness on that one play that made the difference in the overtime thriller. Last season Ole Miss needed only to stop Arkansas on 4th-and-25 to continue its run to the SEC West title and end Alabama’s streak — or at least slow it down.
But a blind backward pitch, scoop-and-run resulted in a Razorbacks first down and eventual game-winning touchdown/two-point conversion. The Football Gods had spoken, and what for all the world looked like a derailment of one of the most impressive runs in Alabama’s illustrious history, was back on track. The SEC West underlings were put back in their place, and Alabama soon would collect its fourth national title during Saban’s decade of dominance.
Granted, the West remains the superior division within the conference, but that’s by default (are you listening Hillary?). The SEC East continues to be the punching bag and punch lines of a joke. Alabama and Saban have impacted that side of the conference as well, and the argument could be made that it is even more so.
Three former Saban assistants are now head coaches of SEC East programs. Former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain is in his second season at Florida. Former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is in his first season at Georgia, and Will Muschamp, who coached Saban’s defenses at LSU and the NFL Miami Dolphins, is in his first season at South Carolina.
All seven programs in the SEC East have changed direction with new coaches since Alabama won the 2011 national championship, and the division continues to flounder in disarray.
The SEC West is headed in the same direction.