THERE WERE A NUMBER OF embarrassments for the SEC during the recently completed football bowl season. None was greater than the incidents at the conclusion of Florida’s victory against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
As the final seconds ticked off the Legion Field scoreboard, Florida players first serenaded interim coach D.J. Durkin with a Gatorade bath. Then Florida fans began chanting “SEC! SEC! SEC!”
The Durkin dunking could somewhat be justified as a salute to a defensive coordinator who was filling in as interim coach. But the “SEC! SEC! SEC!” chants? Instead of trumpeting the league’s power in football, that mantra instead signaled how far the league had fallen this past season.
Who believed a longtime SEC power would ever celebrate a victory over a middle-of-the-pack AAC club that concluded the season with an 8-5 record? No one who believed all season that the SEC was the most dominant league in college football.
No one who believed the SEC West was the strongest collection of teams ever assembled in one league. No one who believed that national championships and bowl victories were the birth- right of the SEC.
A disastrous bowl season for the SEC debunked all those theories.
The SEC would like you to believe it was a wonderful holiday season of bowl success. The league already has begun touting its seven bowl wins as a national record, matching the total the SEC won following the 2007 and 2013 seasons.
Never has a record been more deserving of an asterisk.
Let’s take a closer look at those seven wins. The most impressive of the bunch was Georgia’s win against Louisville in the Belk Bowl because the Cardinals were the only ranked team the SEC defeated in a bowl game. Louisville was No. 20 in the final regular-season Associated Press poll.
Louisville finished the season with a 9-4 record. The other SEC wins came over ECU and Minnesota, which finished with 8-5 records; Iowa and West Virginia, which closed at 7-6; and Miami and Texas, both of which finished at 6-7.
Those collection of wins proved only that middle-of-the-pack SEC teams stacked up well against middle-of-the-pack teams from the other power conferences, plus East Carolina.
The five SEC bowl losses were more revealing. LSU fell to unranked Notre Dame, Mississippi was blown out by sixth-ranked TCU, Mississippi State was bowled over by 10th-ranked Georgia Tech, Auburn lost to 17th-ranked Wisconsin, and Alabama fell hard to fifth-ranked Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
All those losses proved that the SEC West could not stack up against the best teams from the other four power conferences as well as Notre Dame, an independent.
We should have seen this coming. The SEC’s dominance in college football had to end sooner or later, and there were clear cracks in that foundation that showed during the regular season.
The most noticeable of those fractures were Missouri’s early season home loss to Indiana and the ACC’s sweep of four SEC teams in rivalry games to conclude the regular season. Indiana finished last in the Big Ten’s East Division with a 1-7 record, 4-8 overall, while Missouri claimed its second consecutive SEC East title. The ACC, long the whipping boy of the SEC, flexed its muscles when Clemson defeated South Carolina, Georgia Tech beat Georgia, Louisville downed Kentucky and Florida State topped Florida on the same weekend.
That should have told SEC followers that this season was out of the norm, and the league had slipped some after winning seven consecutive national championships and appeared in eight straight BCS title games.
That was confirmed during the bowl season when Alabama was eliminated in the first round of the inaugural College Football Playoff and the rest of the league registered one bowl victory of significance.
At least USC did not play a part in further embarrassing the league, first by avoiding a loss to Miami in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl, then by refraining from dunking its head coach and chanting “SEC! SEC! SEC!”
Florida and its fans should have known better.