I’m not happy about Alabama winning the BCS title (and finishing #1 in my ratings) and I still don’t like the man at all, but Nick Saban has been pretty good about reminding people what it means to be in the SEC rather than pretending this is all about Alabama. He gave Georgia and the SEC credit, saying, “We got here by 5 yards — Georgia was 5 yards from scoring [the winning touchdown in the SEC title game],” Saban said. “It’s a pretty tough league we play in. We’re going to have to improve as a program to have the opportunity to play for a national championship again, because of the quality of our league.”
After, the LSU game, Saban’s opening remarks to the media included the following: “LSU played a great game. They had a great game plan. They did a great job of executing. I think their quarterback played really well. There was a stretch there in the second half where they converted seven straight third down and five or mores…. This was a very physical game. I’m going to tell you that our guys are probably going to be as sore as they’ve ever been after any game.” It was obviously in part to give his team credit for winning despite this, but he acknowledged all during the following week that if anything he needed to keep a lid on his team’s self-congratulatory mood (he was smart enough to worry about what happened in the A&M game before it happened), so I don’t think he was just patting himself or the team on the back with these comments.
I believe the Tide would have finished undefeated and possibly without the scares it had against LSU and Georgia had it competed in any other conference, and the same may well have been true had the Tide faced Notre Dame’s schedule. That’s not to say there wouldn’t have been any close games, but I don’t think there would have been the type of game that either the Tigers or the Bulldogs had against the Tide. I don’t think Texas A&M was as outstanding as some think they were, but they beat Alabama because they got out to a 20-0 lead, and I’m almost certain that they’re the only team in the country that could have realistically done that.
I just mentioned the three best teams that Alabama played this season (at least based on the games those teams gave Alabama), and it could have easily been any one of them in their place. I’ll further note that the Tide did not play Florida or South Carolina. So if the schedule and a couple other things had worked out differently, Alabama could have been the fifth or sixth team in the SEC this year. After all, that’s the spot LSU (at least according to the polls) ended up in this year, and we saw how close they were to Alabama on the field.
Speaking of which, LSU and Florida (LSU’s only conference loss besides Alabama) had disappointing bowl results, but they were basically national quarterfinalists. Georgia beat Florida, which eventually got the Bulldogs into the semifinal against Alabama, which had beaten LSU to all-but secure its place in the semifinal. The fact that Florida and LSU (and their fans) didn’t seem enthused by the bowls they ended up in–and the teams suffered losses in those games–doesn’t take that away in my view. I don’t think Florida or LSU would have lost those games had they taken place during the regular season even if both the Gators and Fighting Tigers had played them on the road. If you had put LSU or Florida in the Cotton or Sugar against Oklahoma, you might not have seen the same final score, but you would have still seen strong SEC wins in either case. I think the same can be said with regard to the BCS Championship against Notre Dame.
That being said, there were 14 teams in the SEC and that leaves out 8 of them; but even Missouri, which wasn’t eligible for a bowl, beat Arizona St., and Kentucky, which was winless in the SEC, beat Kent St. Northwestern did beat Mississippi St. and even Vanderbilt earlier in the year, but the Commodores came on strong at the end of the year and those Bulldogs did not. Both Tennessee and Vanderbilt beat North Carolina St., Vanderbilt doing it in a bowl, and Tennessee (which did not win enough games for a bowl berth) doing it to start the year. Also, there was another SEC bowl win when Ole Miss soundly beat Pittsburgh, which was a 33-yard field goal (attempted in the second of three overtimes) away from beating Notre Dame in South Bend.
If you look at inter-conference record, the SEC was second to the Big XII, but I think when you look at the top 2 Big XII teams, that’s an indication that the whole conference was a step behind the SEC. The Pac-12 was probably a better conference than the Big XII, but they were 24-11 out of conference to the SEC’s 43-8 before the bowl games. Both the SEC and Pac-12 were just over .500 in games against the AQ’s (and Notre Dame) before the bowls. The Big XII was 25-2 overall, but I think you’ll find that apart from the record, the conference didn’t do anything that impressive.
I don’t have anything particularly complimentary to say about Arkansas and Auburn, but I think in a lot of conferences both would have made bowl games. I felt like Auburn gave up, but with a few wins rather than losses in September and October, I don’t think that would have happened. I almost forgot that Arkansas beat a pretty good Tulsa team in November though.