The Southeastern Conference is in the midst of a significant trend, and we’re not talking about spread offenses.
In three years, the SEC went from the last of its seven straight BCS national championships to losing the final BCS title game (Auburn against an SEC-like Florida State team) to Alabama getting bounced from the semifinals of the inaugural College Football Playoff in the Sugar Bowl by eventual national champion Ohio State.
And to think the swagger-filled talk was once about the SEC getting three teams into the CFP.
As the 2015 season approaches, the possibility exists that the SEC teams will beat each other up to the point where they aren’t good enough to qualify for the CFP. Remember, by its very nature, the four-team playoff will exclude at least one of the champions from the so-called “Big Five” conferences.
Last year, that was the Big 12, as co-champs TCU and Baylor were passed over in favor of Ohio State, allowing the CFP selection committee to avoid a huge controversy in its first time carrying the ball.
The SEC snickered a bit. Who could have imagined at the time that the laugh might be on the SEC this year?
Even off the field, the old SEC seems to be losing some of its luster on the national scene.
Outgoing SEC Commissioner Mike Slive helped to make the conference the powerful football entity it is. It was Slive who brought Missouri and Texas A&M into the conference, who created the SEC Network (which by early accounts has been more lucrative than anyone dreamed) and who demanded big-time schools like those in the SEC have more autonomy to govern themselves under NCAA rules.
Now with his retirement set for July 31, the SEC seems like it will be a little diminished without his guiding hand, though right-hand man Greg Sankey will be taking over come August.
The conference will still have its quality teams, with Auburn or Alabama or both likely to be in the preseason top 10 when the national polls are released this summer. And the schedule certainly still has the look and feel of the old SEC, a heavyweight bout awaiting each and every weekend.
But every SEC team has at least one potentially fatal flaw that could leave it a loss or two short of the playoffs.
It seems like every program is either breaking in a new coach or a new coordinator or two or a new quarterback. In the case of traditional SEC power broker Florida, it’s all three. The resulting deficiencies make it hard to handicap the Gators as a possible SEC East champion.
Though hopes of national glory may be endangered for the SEC this season, hopes of contending for the conference title will touch more corners of the league than in most years.
The SEC appears to be more wide open than it has been for a decade. In the West, everyone except Mississippi State, which returns Dak Prescott but suffered heavy losses elsewhere, could contend. In the East, Georgia will be the safe preseason favorite, but resurgent Tennessee is the trendy pick. No one expects Missouri to pull off a third straight division title, but those Tigers have as good a chance as anyone in the East.
The flip side to a bigger field of contenders is the prospect the SEC could wind up with its first three-loss champion since LSU in 2001.
And that won’t cut it as far as the CFP final four is concerned.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.