In 2006 and 2008 it was Florida. In 2007 it was LSU. Last year it was Alabama. Now it’s Auburn. Five seasons, five BCS titlists from the SEC. And now we ask: Will the run continue?
Early guess: Nope.
Looking to 2011, Auburn will surely lose its two best players — Cam Newton and Nick Fairley — to the NFL draft. Arkansas is losing Ryan Mallett, its best player. Alabama is losing Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus, perhaps its three best players. LSU could be losing its coach to Michigan. Florida has lost its coach to retirement. So who does that leave?
South Carolina? The Gamecocks will doubtless be favored in the SEC East, but they just went 9-5 and looked feeble in their two postseason losses. Mississippi State? Well, those Bulldogs seem the rising team in the West, but would you really count Mississippi State as a national championship possibility?
And what of Georgia? As we know, these Bulldogs just had their first losing season since 1996 and have lost A.J. Green to boot. But the schedule looks much kinder, and Georgia does have a quarterback and might have a defense.
The ever-helpful Orlando Sentinel has already compiled a preseason Top 25, and UGA fans will be pleased to know Matt Murschel has included the Bulldogs at No. 18. (This from the same newspaper that didn’t have Georgia — rather presciently, we must say — in its Top 50 for 2010.) Murschel has South Carolina 14th, Arkansas 16th, Mississippi State 19th and Auburn 24th.
Only two SEC teams crack his Top 10 — Alabama at No. 3 and LSU at No. 4 — but neither seems impregnable. The Tide might be another year away from another BCS title, and who ever knows about the Tigers?
A ridiculously early guess: Next January will see a champ from a different league — perhaps the Big 12 (Oklahoma), but more probably the Pac-10. Oregon didn’t show much against Auburn, but it’s still a talented team, and Stanford might be better than that. Quarterback Andrew Luck is returning, and next year the Cardinal gets Oregon at home. But Stanford will be without Jim Harbaugh, who has fled to the 49ers.
In sum, there’s no kneejerk preseason No. 1 for 2011 the way Alabama was this season and Florida was in 2009. (Neither made it to the title game.) Next year will be unsettled, precisely as the season just completed turned out to be. Flash back to August. Know where the champion-to-be? No. 23 in the Associated Press poll, one slot ahead of Georgia, six spots behind Georgia Tech.
Update: Multiple news sources in Baton Rouge are reporting that Leslie Miles will remain at LSU. Which would seem to make the Tigers the preseason SEC favorite, wouldn’t you think?
By Mark Bradley