Some observations about the SEC's less-than-stellar showing in the bowl games.
1. It's the best league, but its top two teams are light years ahead of the rest.
2. When you send 10 teams to the post-season, you'll get some odd matchups, as in lower-ranked SEC teams vs. teams with better records from supposedly weaker conferences (Tennessee vs. Va. Tech, for instance, or LSU vs. Penn State, the No. 2 team in the Big 10).
Still . . .
*South Carolina's performance against UConn takes the cake for the worst bowl showing of any team, even Cincinnati. In the great scheme of things, bowl games say very little about next year's team, but the widespread ineptitude Steve Spurrier's players displayed against a Big East opponent shows just how far the Gamecocks still have to travel, while raising further questions if at his age, Spurrier still has the want-to to make that journey with them.
*When we look at the tape of the 2009 season, one of the great surprises will always be why, week in/week out, all that physical talent at LSU played so soft and slow. Penn State buried the Tigers in the slop of Orlando whenever the Nittany Lions really needed to, and at big moments, even the Tigers' vaunted secondary offered less resistance than Rachel Uchitel. New defensive coordinator John Chavis was supposed to make a difference. Looks like the new coach needs some new players. The Louisiana heat comes early for Les Miles.
*While on the subject of problematic defenses, Auburn and Arkansas survived because their opponents couldn't kick. Who would have thought East Carolina would have been able to throw and run with such ease against the Hogs, or that Northwestern would move the ball up and down the field against Auburn? The Plainsmen didn't help their cause with their celebration penalties, but the underdogs from the Big 10 bit off huge hunks of turf against a team that was bigger and faster. That said, kudos to Gene Chizik and his staff. The excitement at Auburn didn't stay dormant for long, and the new guy looks and acts like a head coach. Chizik and Gus Malzahn must find a quarterback, but with a bunch of players returning and recruiting gathering even more steam, expectations will be boiling throughout the summer in Tiger Nation. At Arkansas, so much depends on whether Ryan Mallet stays another year. Bobby Petrino still must prove he can recruit with the SEC big boys. Otherwise, he will simply be relying on a different set of mirrors in 2010. Mallett's return could change much of that.
*How would things have been different at Ole Miss had Houston Nutt built his offense around Dexter McCluster instead of Jevan Snead? The script of the Cotton Bowl was unfolding along the familiar lines of all Ole Miss losses: When Snead struggles, the Rebs fall apart. McCluster put Ole Miss in front, Snead's mistakes kept it close. Fortunately for the SEC'ers, Oklahoma State made even more errors down the stretch, and they made several in the vicinity of the Ole Miss goal line. Next year Nutt's offensive line will be better, and he will continue to ride the benefits of Ed Orgeron's recruiting. For good or bad and probably both, it's likely he will have a returning quarterback. But he will lose the SEC's most valuable and versatile offensive player, a player who would have won Mississippi a few more games, had his head coach not taken so long to figure out what he had.
Oh yeah, Ole Miss fans, Dan Mullen has something smoldering in Starkville. Look for some maroon flames next falls.
*As expected, Lane Kiffin is recruiting like a mad man, but he faces an off season filled with more holes than a woodpecker tree. His is a meat-and-potatoes approach in which you line up against your man and whip his butt. He doesn't have a flashy offense like Auburn or Arkansas, or nearly enough depth to fully feed off his daddy's defense. Now he loses his best player, Eric Berry, a senior quarterback who played above almost everyone's expectations, and one of his best overall leaders, Montario Hardesty. Next year, Tennessee will be younger than ever. The kids have real potential, but Tennessee is nowhere near the point of winning without a quarterback who makes big plays (Georgia will be rowing the same boat). Looks like another year in east Tennessee where the head coach will make most of the headlines.
One game to go, more on that to come.
P.S., Peter St. Onge - I guess the view from the top provides clarity on everyone else's shortcomings. A dissenting view: While it's definitely self-affirming for the Tide fan to say that the problem with the SEC is the "rest" of the SEC, the Tide's close calls against Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina beg otherwise. Alabama is the best team in the conference, yes, but only by the length of Terrence Cody's outstretched hand.
A nitpick: The Northwestern kick-that-wasn't only would have sent the game into a second overtime. And yes, while Auburn's depleted defense gave up yards and points to Northwestern, Auburn was one silly, late-game fumble away from a 14-point win.