SEC avoids nightmare, but can't deny quality of the conference is down
Wake up thinking the nightmare was over?
Whew! Well, it is. But we have to deal with the reality.
Florida and Georgia did escape with overtime victories, saving the SEC from perhaps its most embarrassing Saturday in 83 years.
But there’s no use denying any longer that the SEC is having a down year. And while the East Division is by far the weaker link, the West Division isn’t without its problems, either.
What happened — South Carolina losing to The Citadel, and Florida and Georgia needing overtime to beat Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern, respectively — is scary enough.
What could have happened would be tough for SEC Nation to endure. The lofty perception the conference built with its amazing success, including seven straight national titles by four different schools, would have given way to ridicule.
There are some really mediocre (aka bad) teams — especially on offense — in the SEC East. Let’s briefly recap the carnage:
South Carolina’s frustrated coach, Steve Spurrier, quit in midseason and the 3-8 team lost to Citadel.
Missouri hasn’t scored in double digits in four of its last five SEC games and has scored more than 13 points only once in seven SEC games. The Tigers had a player walkout and are losing Gary Pinkel on Saturday, barring a shocking victory over Arkansas that would qualify them for a bowl game.
Vanderbilt is averaging 11 points in seven SEC games and lost to Houston 34-0. The Commodores are home for the holidays.
Kentucky’s five-game losing streak was broken with a victory over startup program Charlotte. The Wildcats, whose signature triumph was over Missouri, have quarterback problems and need a rare victory over Louisville to go bowling.
Georgia has no quarterback, possibly no coach, and almost lost to Georgia Southern. Mark Richt tried to pacify critics by flying from the Auburn game to Washington state to make sure a prize recruit wouldn’t de-commit after debacles against Alabama, Tennessee and Florida.
Tennessee, the hottest team in the division, blew 13-point leads in four losses — to the four best teams on its schedule. The once-proud Vols lost at least six games in each of their last seven seasons.
Florida, the division champion, has beaten its last three dreadful opponents, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and FAU — by a combined 18 points and six of those came in overtime against FAU. Florida can forget making the Playoff, regardless how it fares against Alabama.
The West can’t brag too much. The division’s premier non-conference victories — Alabama over Wisconsin and Texas A&M over Arizona State — were against teams outside the current top 25.
Arkansas lost home games to Toledo and Texas Tech. Ole Miss lost to Memphis.
LSU is in freefall, the hometown newspaper calling for Les Miles’ ouster.
Auburn, national champion in 2010 and SEC champion in 2013, is limping toward Shreveport with a come-from-behind overtime victory over Jacksonville State on its resume.
Texas A&M has fallen apart after promising starts the last two years. The Aggies have had an ongoing quarterback controversy since losing Johnny Manziel.
Thank goodness for Mississippi. The Magnolia State’s two programs, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, are on the rise.
And Alabama remains Alabama. The Crimson Tide look like the favorite to win the national title.
How does the SEC return to the top?
An influx of talented quarterbacks would help. Half the teams in the SEC are unstable at the game’s most important position.
Several teams need an overhaul on offense, perhaps beginning with coaching changes.
LSU is reeling without a passing game to complement Leonard Fournette. The Tigers have playmakers at receiver.
Good coaching hires are critical at Missouri, South Carolina and possibly Georgia and LSU.
If schools such as Baylor, TCU, Memphis and Houston can put together passing games that can score points against the best defenses in the country, SEC teams should be able to do the same.
The SEC survived a potential disaster on Saturday. The good news is that while everybody remembers when Appalachian State beats Michigan or Louisiana-Monroe beats Alabama, few remember the disasters that were narrowly avoided.