Tuesday, January 18, 2011

5 Yard Out: Southeastern Conference (SEC)

Now that the 2010 season is officially over, it is time to wrap it up. At the start of the year COLLEGE FOOTBALL HAVEN previewed each conference with a “5 Step Drop.” We will look back at those predictions to see how this year shaped up with what was expected in a series of “5 Yard Out” columns over the next few weeks. First up, the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

5 Step Drop: Southeastern Conference

One thing that didn’t change was that the road to the national championshp still goes through the SEC. Auburn became the fourth different SEC team in the last five years to win the national championship.

1. Who will win the conference?
Preseason answer: Alabama Crimson Tide.
2010 champion: Auburn Tigers.
Alabama controlled it’s destiny late in the year, but a 24-17 loss to LSU on November 6 gave the Tide two conference losses. Auburn ran the gauntlet unscathed and claimed it’s first SEC title since 2004.

2. Who is the top returning player?
Preseason answer: Mark Ingram, Alabama.
2010 Top Player: Cam Newton, Auburn.
To use the same reasoning as was used in the preseason: How can the answer to this question be anyone but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner? Newton ran away with the Heisman. He came in under the radar transferring from Blinn Junior College, but it was obvious that he learned a few tricks from Tim Tebow while at Florida. Newton finished the year with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing, and 51 total touchdowns (30 passing, 20 rushing, 1 receiving). He had a 182 pass efficiency rating, which was only 0.6 points behind the national leader Kellen Moore.

3. Which team will be the most improved?
Preseason answer: Mississippi State Bulldogs.
2010 Most Improved: Auburn Tigers.
Mississippi State did show marked improvement going from 5-7 to 9-4 with a bowl win. However, there is no way to compete with Auburn’s leap from 8-5 to 14-0 and national champions.

4. What will be the biggest surprise?
Preseason answer: The SEC champion will not play in the BCS title game.
2010 Biggest Surprise: The collapse of Florida.
Mississippi’s loss to Jacksonville State was a close second. However, after the Gators lost 5 games total in their previous 40 contests, Florida lost five out of eight games between October 2 and November 27. The offense was so bad that Urban Meyer resorted to using a 3 quarterback rotation by the end of the year. It is not like this was a blip in the radar, either. The long term prospectus looked so bleak that, this time, Meyer quit the job for good.

5. Which coach is on the hottest seat?
Preseason answer: Les Miles, LSU.
2010 Coach on the Hot Seat: Mark Richt, Georgia.
Les Miles validated himself with the LSU faithful this year. Pretty much every other SEC coach did so as well, or they are still new enough to the job to have not worn out their welcome. Except Mark Richt in Athens, Georgia. The Bulldogs had a very slow start without A.J. Green for the first four games. Georgia finished 6-7 after losing to Conference USA champion UCF in the Liberty Bowl. Richt faces a win or else ultimatum in 2011.

While the 2010 season was a down year for the SEC, six teams still finished ranked in the final AP and USA Today Top 25. Most importantly, the SEC ran its string of consecutive national championships to five. Other notable achievements included Arkansas making its first appearance in a BCS bowl, and South Carolina making its first appearance in the SEC championship game.

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