Conference races never go exactly the way we expect.
When it’s all said done, you can figure that the schools that give their coaches new contracts exceeded expectations and the schools that fire their coaches fell short of expectations.
The 2017 SEC season was no different, though the number of teams that felt the need to change coaches and the degree to which the teams failed to meet expectations were eye-catching.
Here’s a breakdown of how the teams in the SEC did in comparison to what was expected in August:
Better than advertised
Georgia: Sure, the Bulldogs were picked to win the East, so their presence in the SEC Championship Game wasn’t surprising. But the fact that they won the SEC title, were ranked No. 1 in the initial CFP rankings and enter the CFP ranked ahead of Alabama did exceed expectations.
Auburn: The Tigers were picked second in the West and figured to contend for the division title. But the regular-season blowout of Georgia and clear-cut win against Alabama went beyond expectations.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ runner-up finish in the East was partly due to the overall weakness of the division, but nonetheless their two-victory improvement both overall and in the SEC compared to last season was significant.
Mississippi State: After winning just three conference games a year ago, the Bulldogs were picked to finish second to last in the West, but they bounced back well enough to finish .500 in the league and get coach Dan Mullen the job at Florida.
Missouri: There was no reason to think the Tigers would be in this group after they started 1-5. But the offense came alive and they won six straight games, finished .500 in the league and rolled into a bowl game.
They were what we thought they were
Alabama: The nature of being Alabama means that a failure to win the CFP could mean the Crimson Tide ultimately fall short of expectations. The fact that they’re seeded fourth and had to sweat out even getting in could be considered a disappointment. But even though they didn’t win the West, they’re still 11-1 and in the title hunt once again.
LSU: It was uncertain just what the Tigers would do in Ed Orgeron’s first full season as head coach and a 3-2 start provided a bleak outlook heading into October. But LSU’s only loss since then was to Alabama, and Orgeron’s first season was in line with realistic expectations.
Ole Miss: The dismissal of coach Hugh Freeze during the summer could have set the stage for a disaster, but interim coach Matt Luke held things together well enough to overcome the odds and earn the full-time head coaching position.
Kentucky: The Wildcats finished with the same regular-season record (7-5) and conference record (4-4) as a year ago, though tying for third in the East was better than the fifth-place prediction.
Vanderbilt: The 1-7 conference record was a disappointment, but the bar for the Commodores is generally set at bowl eligibility. They missed by one game.
Florida: The Gators were picked to finish second in the East and were ranked early in the season. But a rash of injuries contributed to a free-fall that led to the in-season firing of Jim McElwain, and Florida didn’t even get bowl eligible.
Tennessee: The Volunteers won nine games a year ago and they were picked to finish third in the East, but the season turned into a disaster. Butch Jones lasted longer than McElwain but didn’t finish the season, which ended with Tennessee winless in SEC play.
Arkansas: Bret Bielema managed to finish the season, but after the Razorbacks won seven games last season and were picked fourth in the West this season, a 1-7 last-place finish doomed Bielema.
Texas A&M: The Aggies matched their regular-season (7-5) and SEC records (4-4) of a year ago, and tying for fourth in the West was in line with their fifth-place projection. But that wasn’t good enough to save Kevin Sumlin’s job as the blown 34-point lead in a season-opening loss at UCLA loomed over the team all season.