Alabama’s loss in the Sugar Bowl ended an eight-year run of SEC teams playing in the national championship game. Brynn Anderson AP
Alabama’s loss in the Sugar Bowl ended an eight-year run of SEC teams playing in the national championship game. Brynn Anderson AP

Gil LeBreton

SEC’s slip shows no league is dominant

By Gil LeBreton

glebreton@star-telegram.com

January 08, 2015 11:15 PM

Judging from the crowd dancing around Nick Saban’s football grave, most of America seems delighted to welcome the Buckeyes and Ducks to play for the college national title.

Make no mistake. Ohio State and Oregon properly earned their ways to Arlington for the big game.

The king is dead. Long live the king.

Please place your leftover potato salad in the receptacles on your way back to Tuscaloosa and Starkville.

That appears to be the theme, at least.

From Pasadena to New Jersey, they are hailing the demise of the Southeastern Conference. The Buckeyes and their third-string quarterback dominated Saban’s Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl, and most of the rest of the SEC West didn’t fare any better, either.

Be careful what you’re proclaiming, though. Heavy weighs the crown.

From that first August peek-in at the SEC — a Texas A&M shellacking of then-No. 9 South Carolina that turned out not to be so special — the SEC was overrated.

The Aggies eventually changed quarterbacks. LSU never had one. Mississippi State and Ole Miss both ran out of gas. And Alabama — the mighty Crimson Tide — trailed in the fourth quarter in four games.

We didn’t need the bowl season to tell us that something wasn’t quite right this season with the SEC’s grits. But a lot of us drank the sweet tea, anyway.

The Aggies made it all the way to October on the wings of that stomping at South Carolina. And when the customary SEC West powers hiccupped, we were quick to hail the two Mississippi teams as proof of the league’s unmatched depth and prowess.

The Bulldogs and Rebels soared to the top of the polls.

And what a plunge awaited them.

True, SEC teams won seven bowl games this season. But bowl games, even under the new “competitive matchup” invitation system have always been about favorable pairings and geographic advantages.

You don’t see many bowl games in St. Paul or Akron, do you?

You’ll get better traction arguing that, except for the three College Football Playoff games this season, bowl results tend to mean little or nothing. The four-week layoff between games encourages disparities in conditioning and mental focus.

Some teams embrace their bowl opportunity with crusading fervor. Others just go for the parties.

A few seasons ago, one school declined to charter a bus or a jet for its team, and instead it gave mileage money to each player with the instruction, “just meet us in Memphis.”

You can imagine how that went. But it’s not uncommon for teams to gather loosely for their final bowl preps.

In LSU’s loss to Notre Dame in Nashville, defensive coordinator John Chavis was negotiating his new contract with Texas A&M in the days before the bowl game. Kevin Sumlin said on ESPN that he and Chavis were even talking on the phone minutes before kickoff.

Chavis’ ill-prepared defense performed accordingly.

Be careful, therefore, before assigning trends based upon bowl performances. Two of the Big Ten’s loudly trumpeted New Year’s victories were achieved in the final seconds.

If the SEC’s reign atop the college football world is over, who’s poised to take its place?

Better yet, crown no one. Measure the top teams on their own merits, not by their neighborhoods.

Remember that a team like TCU got left behind.

The old system used input from the computers. But as the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” The computer formulas are subject to their original biases — often, the preseason polls.

In theory, an unbiased committee can select the four best college football teams in America.

We have yet to see that, though.

Be content with seeing just one champion crowned Monday night, not a new top-dog conference.

There probably isn’t one, anyway.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gillebreton

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