* – In one season apiece, the major polls disagreed. The total given is the higher number.
NOTES: Missouri and Texas A&M are not included since they did not play SEC games until last season. Teams are sorted by overall winning percentage, which only really conflicts with SEC winning percentage in the case of Ole Miss/Vandy, but the Rebels have had one more bowl win and one more top-25 finish in the time period. SEC #2 just means winning the division but not the SEC Championship. No games this season are included.
Before I start, I wanted remind people about my LSU/Auburn Rivalry Blog. LSU has won 5 out of 6, but they’ve been pretty close, and there were a lot of great games not too long ago.
Getting back to the chart I made, I got the inspiration for this from the LSU media guide. These are records of all of the SEC teams (with the exception of Missouri and Texas A&M) since Les Miles took over at LSU before the 2005 season.
You don’t have to tell me that the vast majority of Alabama’s losses took place toward the beginning of that period, but this is interesting nonetheless. I don’t know how long Alabama can continue winning games at the current rate, but the fact that the last 8 seasons have gone as well as they have for LSU is cause to be grateful even if it’s a constant source of frustration to think about how close LSU came to beating Alabama last year and how they beat Alabama a second year in a row as one of 13 victories in 2011, and somehow it wasn’t enough.
Things can and do change for a lot of teams that have been at the top recently. USC was a major power from 2002 to 2008, but the Trojans have only had a double-digit-win season once since then. I don’t know how Florida will do this year, but if they fail to reach double digits in wins or even fail to finish above .500 in the SEC, it will be third time in four years since the Gators went 13-1 in 2009, in what had been their third one-loss season in four years.
Texas is a similar example. The Longhorns have gone only 23-19 since January 2010 after losing only 8 games total in the prior 6 years.
Point being, it’s very hard to keep that kind of run going, even if Alabama does so.
It is interesting how close LSU and Alabama are on this graph, despite the Tide having three BCS championships to one. LSU has one more overall win, one fewer loss. Alabama has one more bowl win in the same number of appearances. LSU has one more top 25 finish. Alabama arguably has one more top-10 finish. The SEC wins are exactly the same. If you were wondering, Les Miles is 5-4 against Alabama with the Tigers, 5-3 in official conference play.
Florida is a close third but is a bit behind in top-10 finishes. Georgia is right there in many of the statistics, although they’d won 9 fewer games than LSU had going into this season. There is a relatively large drop between Georgia and the next group.
It’s also interesting to consider the permanent inter-divisional games. #1 LSU vs. #3 Florida, #2 Alabama vs. #8 Tennessee, #4 Georgia vs. #5 Auburn, #6 South Carolina vs. #7 Arkansas (Arkansas is supposedly going to switch to being Missouri’s permanent rival, but the bridge schedules haven’t done this), #9 Miss. St. vs. #10 Kentucky, and #11 Ole Miss vs. #12 Vandy.
You would think the best SEC East team on a list like this would have played the best SEC West team in an SEC championship game, but they have not. It can be hard to recover from a loss to the other division.
It’s a bit of a tangent, but I’ll go over some examples. Had both LSU and A&M either beaten or failed to play Florida, that would have resulted in a three-way tie atop the division last year. Unless Florida had beaten Alabama instead, in which case LSU would have proceeded to the championship game based on beating A&M head-to-head. Many thought LSU should have won the West in 2006 after beating Arkansas, but the loss to Florida (combined with Arkansas’s lack of inter-divisional competition) prevented that. In 2007, the loss to LSU kept Florida from tying for the SEC East title, although Georgia would have advanced in a three-way tiebreaker. In 2005, Florida’s loss to LSU definitely kept them out of the title game. Auburn beat Georgia that year and only lost to LSU in conference, so if Florida had beaten LSU, that would have changed both of the division winners and still prevented a rematch. So even if LSU and Florida are the best teams, chances are one of them won’t make it into the championship game. When LSU did make it despite losing to the Gators (in 2001 and 2003), Florida had fairly mediocre years, but that was when the East tended to beat up on the West anyway.
Georgia has also never had a rematch with Auburn in the SEC championship game despite Georgia’s 5 appearances and Auburn’s 4 appearances since 1997. Tennessee isn’t too relevant in the title picture anymore, but the Vols never had a rematch with Alabama either. Nos. 9-12 have combined for only one appearance in the SEC championship game despite what should be a natural advantage in the good years.
Anyway, like most LSU fans, I do have mixed feelings about Les Miles. Standing by and watching the JJ implosion in 2011 was so frustrating to me. Winning a rematch is an unfair demand in the first place, and it may not have helped, but he needed to do something. That was a two-possession game until very late too. If LSU had made a better show of it, there would have been a chance at an AP championship even with a loss. The great escape against Tennessee (2010) is still baffling. And no matter how many times we beat Ole Miss, I don’t feel much solace about the one that got away in 2009.
But despite all these caveats, I still look at this graph and feel pretty good about the program over the last 8+ seasons. Many thought we would take a significant step back relative to Saban, but (apart from the whole national-title thing) we’ve really taken a step forward. Although his combined record in his last two seasons with the Tigers was 22-4, only one Miles season (2008) ended with fewer wins than Saban’s last season with LSU in 2004. 11-2 has been about a typical year for LSU since Miles took over. The Tigers won exactly that number in 2005, 2006, and 2010, and won more in 2007 and 2011. Fewer wins in 2008, 2009, and 2012, but two of those years (2009 and 2012) were for the most-part as good as the 11-win teams, except I think losing the chance at playing for an SEC title (and maybe even an eventual national title) really took the wind out of their sails.