What we learned in the SEC: Bowl edition

January, 11, 2012
1/11/12
9:39
AM ET
The SEC went 6-3 in bowl games, and one of those losses was by LSU to Alabama in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

What did we learn in the postseason? Here’s a look:

1. The SEC rules: OK, most of us already knew this, but the SEC reasserted itself as the best conference in college football. There were a few blips. Georgia didn’t finish its game against Michigan State in the Outback Bowl, and a kickoff return for a touchdown sunk Vanderbilt against Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. But when the bowl dust had cleared, four SEC teams were ranked in the top eight in the final USA Today coaches’ poll, and three teams were in the top five of both polls. Alabama was No. 1, LSU No. 2, Arkansas No. 5 and South Carolina No. 8. All four teams won at least 11 games, and Alabama, of course, won the big prize. The Crimson Tide made it six straight BCS national championships for the SEC, which has its clutches on college football like never before.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAfter notching his third BCS title win, Nick Saban has cemented his place among the best SEC coaches of all-time.
2. Saban reaches new heights: That argument about the two greatest coaches in SEC history is starting to become a genuine argument. Alabama’s Bear Bryant will always be a part of that conversation, but who’s No. 2? Steve Spurrier is a lock for the College Football Hall of Fame when he retires, and if you go way back, Gen. Robert Neyland deserves mention as well. But with his third national championship in 10 seasons as an SEC head coach, Nick Saban is quickly cementing a spot right up there alongside Bryant. The fact that Saban has done it at two places (Alabama and LSU) is what separates him. And keep in mind that LSU was 3-8 the season before he got there and Alabama was 6-7 the season before he arrived in Tuscaloosa. He’s building a mini-dynasty at Alabama, and it’s a run that easily could include a few more national titles.

3. McCarron is coming: The Crimson Tide kept sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron under wraps this season. They shielded him from the media, wanting him to instead focus on everything that goes into quarterbacking the team. They also didn’t put a lot of the offensive burden on his shoulders. That is, until Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game. McCarron played with the confidence and poise of a fifth-year senior, and was the key to the Crimson Tide’s game plan. He came out throwing against LSU’s defense and finished 23-of-34 for 234 yards. It’s a great way for McCarron to go into this offseason. He will be the unquestioned leader of that offense next season and will be asked to do a lot more. The best news for Alabama fans is that he’s plenty capable. He’s the most physically gifted quarterback Saban has had at Alabama, and the whole experience of the national title game could be the springboard he needs to become one of the SEC’s elite quarterbacks the next two seasons.

4. Head Ball Coach is revived: Despite whether Steve Spurrier is second, third or fourth when you start ranking the best SEC head coaches of all time, he’s proved at South Carolina that there was plenty left in his tank. Spurrier, who turns 67 in April, clearly didn’t go to Columbia for one last taste of football before hitting the golf course full time. He went to win, and the Gamecocks are winning at unprecedented heights. Their 30-13 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl capped their first 11-win season in school history. They recorded their first top-10 finish in the polls in school history, and they’ve won nine or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history after making their first appearance in the SEC championship game in 2010. The "Head Ball Coach" should have a good team in 2012, too, so there could be more firsts on the way.

5. Arkansas’ seniors step up: What else can you say about Arkansas’ senior class and the way it set the tone for this team all season? Really, it’s a senior class that changed the course of Arkansas football. And in taking down Kansas State 29-16 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, the Hogs’ seniors again led the way. Joe Adams had his fourth punt return for a touchdown this season. Jarius Wright caught his 12th touchdown pass. Jerry Franklin led the team with eight total tackles, the fourth straight season in which he’s led the Hogs in tackles. Jake Bequette had two sacks. Tramain Thomas was his usual solid self, and Jerico Nelson had an interception and 61-yard return to seal the game. It’s a senior class that left an indelible mark on Arkansas football and a senior class that paved the way for the Hogs’ first 11-win season since 1971.

Chris Low | email

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