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3/29/2011

Question of the Day #2: The SEC in 2011

Q: Will the SEC be the Best Conference in 2011?

A: Probably.

When people put their eggs all in one basket, usually things don't turn out as planned. Case in point, check out how the Big East did in the 2011 NCAA tournament. After all the hype, only two of the eleven teams made it into the Sweet 16 (and one of those was 11-seed Marquette). Granted, two second-round games were between Big East teams, but I think the point still stands. The SEC, even though they abused the Big 10 on New Year's, had a rather average bowl season, at least early. A 6-5 mark isn't anything to cry over, but the bottom end of the conference (which is where it is thought the strength of the conference comes from) was a paltry 1-4 in bowl games (counting Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia; leaving out the underrated Mississippi State).

Are there any conclusions we can derive from last year's bowl games though? Not really. It's a one-and-done for most of the teams involved and you can never purely assess the teams' psychological makeup heading into an exhibition game after a long lay off. Clearly, even though the SEC was fairly average compared to recent seasons' outputs, I can't think of any other conference that was quite as good last year. The Pac-10 was terrible with USC, UCLA, Cal, and Oregon State not holding up their end of the bargain. Arizona and Washington were nothing to write home about while Stanford and Oregon were great. The Big 12 had Texas losing a step to go along with an incredibly weak bowl showing (A&M getting blown out by LSU, Nebraska blown out by Washington, Baylor blown out by Illinois, Kansas State losing to Syracuse, Missouri losing to tailspinning Iowa). The Big 10 was completely invalidated for 2010 after New Year's. The Big East was mediocre as ever. And the ACC was the usual above-average ACC.

Without a lot of competition and after yet another year of domination in the recruiting rankings, I have to give the nod to the SEC yet again, but this year, more than any other in the last handful, will see the rise of a challenger somewhere. Florida is adjusting to a new coach, South Carolina will be South Carolina again (8-4ish), Kentucky will be Kentucky again, Vandy is going to struggle, Tennessee has a lot of work to do, Georgia will disappoint again more than likely, Ole Miss will remain in neutral, and Alabama will be breaking in a new QB. Not to mention last year's national champion, Auburn, will practically be fielding a different team next season with all of the departures.

Okay, so who is to challenge the SEC if there is to be a challenger? I think it's the Big 10. Yes, as a Michigan man maybe I'm a little biased, but a post-suspension Ohio State team will be as good as anybody in the nation. Michigan may learn how to play defense. Illinois is returning enough guys to be dangerous. Michigan State was a bit of a fraud last season, but very solid. Iowa will be your usual Iowa team. Wisconsin will pound the rock and likely be the favorites in the 2011 conference title chase. Add Nebraska to the mix and this looks like a conference that could pose a threat to the SEC.

So I'm a little non-committal on this question. If I were a betting man, ESPN will give the SEC an automatic pass thanks to their billion dollar partnership, but the bottom half of this conference will be all sorts of weak. Tennessee I think could easily be a top 15 team next season if Bray and the youngsters make the expected progress, but beyond that, Auburn will dip, Alabama will dip, Arkansas will dip without Mallett, while Florida and Georgia are in relative states of flux. Those are your usual conference powerhouses and none seem to be able to dominate the college football field this year. Could Mississippi State take advantage? Time will tell.

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