I probably should have spotted the SEC West’s fraudulent credentials in early October, after Tennessee invaded Tiger Stadium and destroyed LSU.
Warning signs had already appeared, like when LSU lost to Florida State, or when Texas A&M lost at home to Appalachian State, or when Penn State entered Jordan-Hare Stadium and blew up Auburn, or when Alabama needed a last-second field goal, to beat a Texas team plays their backup quarterback.
And yet, I’ve grown so used to SEC West dominance that I didn’t really appreciate this division’s free fall into mediocrity until I saw Missouri win the Battle Line Rivalry Trophy on Black Friday after defeating Arkansas celebrated.
That’s when the reality became clear: the 2022 SEC West is a tin god, and the East claimed division superiority by default.
No. 1 Georgia (12-0, 8-0 SEC) should confirm again this Saturday when they take on No. 13 LSU (9-3, 6-2 SEC) in Atlanta.
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If Georgia wins the SEC championship, as is widely expected — the Bulldogs are a 17.5-point favorite — it would be only the second time in the last 14 seasons that the East have won the league.
However, this goes beyond the defending champions Georgia. Eastern teams went 8-6 in interdivision games this season.
Notable streaks ended. The Vols beat Alabama for the first time since 2006. South Carolina beat Texas A&M for the first time ever.
Georgia and Tennessee each went 2-0 to the West, and every East team except Vanderbilt won at least one crossover game.
Alabama is being debated as a hot contender for the college football playoffs, but the West’s mediocrity means the Emperor has no clothes in this debate. Alabama suffered two losses despite not playing the SEC’s best team, since the SEC’s best team resides in the east, and the Crimson Tide finished second in the weaker division of the conference.
To what do I attribute this reversal of superiority?
Is talent flocking to SEC East? A little more, yes. The division also improved its overall coaching roster.
Most of the time, though, I think the answer to this reversal lies with the West: Auburn and Texas A&M are down, and Alabama and LSU aren’t at their best.
These four programs should be at the forefront of the West, but each is far from its peak. That pushed the pendulum east.
Auburn made a bad decision to fire Gus Malzahn and a worse decision to hire Bryan Harsin. It paid the price. Harsin will go down in program history as one of the worst coaches. The Tigers suffered a straight losing season for the first time since 1998-99.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is also worse off than his predecessor, and a young Aggies team will fail to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2008. Auburn took at least one step to fix its troubles by hiring tried and true winner Hugh Freeze on Monday.
Alabama got lost on defense. Georgia is now doing Alabama better than Alabama Alabama. Reminds me of the story of how Dolly Parton once secretly entered a drag queen Dolly Parton look-alike contest – and lost. An impersonator made Dolly better than Dolly Dolly. That’s what Georgia did to Alabama.
Credit to LSU for grabbing the vulnerable state of the west to win the division in Brian Kelly’s first season, but this won’t be Kelly’s pinnacle. He’s just getting started.
Oh, the East deserves credit.
Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Tennessee’s Josh Heupel, and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer are each an improvement on their predecessors.
Jeremy Pruitt’s and Will Muschamp’s concurrent employment as SEC head coaches remains an indictment of the profession.
Transfers also helped the eastern schools.
The Vols, South Carolina and Kentucky each started a power five transfer quarterback.
And Georgia became college football’s pre-eminent force with a proven formula that thrived in Alabama: It hoarded the most talent.
By combining elite recruitment with outstanding player development, Smart built Georgia into a powerhouse reminiscent of the Alabama dynasty’s heyday.
This West vs. East dispute fades into the sunset.
Divisions are eliminated in favor of a contiguous 16-team SEC after Oklahoma and Texas join. If the divisions were gone today, Tennessee would face Georgia in Atlanta instead of LSU.
For 30 years we’ve debated the supremacy of the SEC division, and for more than a decade the debate has never been very compelling. The West has ruled the SEC since Urban Meyer left Florida.
His reign is over.
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