Now that the national championship has been decided, here’s a look at the final SEC power rankings for the 2011 season:
1. Alabama (12-1): There will always be a group of fans who insist that Alabama should have never even been in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. But the system worked for the Crimson Tide this season, and they took full advantage. You’ll search long and hard to find a better defense. Nobody scored more than 14 points against Alabama’s defense all season. And while there might be some debate about whether Alabama deserved a rematch, there’s no debate about who was the better team on Monday in the Big Easy.
2. LSU (13-1): Everything had gone right for LSU until Monday night. The Tigers went belly-up offensively against an Alabama defense that was overwhelming. Lasting impressions are what people remember, and the disappointment in the Superdome will resonate for a long time. But it was still a great season on the Bayou. The Tigers beat eight nationally ranked teams, including three top-5 teams. It just so happened that they had to go through Alabama a second time, and that’s what got them.
3. Arkansas (11-2): The Hogs might have been overshadowed by Alabama and LSU, but they had their second straight outstanding season under Bobby Petrino. They won 11 games for the first time since 1977 with a pair of victories over top-10 teams, including Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. It’s a senior class they will remember fondly in the Ozarks.
4. South Carolina (11-2): Think the Head Ball Coach is having fun in the twilight of his career? He was almost giddy following South Carolina’s 30-13 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. It was the Gamecocks’ first 11-win season in school history, and they did it despite some adversity. Star running back Marcus Lattimore missed the last half of the season after injuring his knee.
5. Georgia (10-4): The finish was not what the Bulldogs were hoping for, getting blown out in the SEC championship game by LSU and then faltering in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. Nonetheless, to win 10 straight games after opening the season 0-2 and even making it to the SEC championship game speaks for itself. Mark Richt, his staff and the seniors on this team did a great job of keeping the faith.
6. Auburn (8-5): The Tigers lost so much from their 2010 national championship team that nobody expected them to be in the title chase again. Still, the drop-off on offense and defense was probably steeper than anybody expected. Winning the bowl game and getting to eight wins helped ease the pain of being blown out late in the season by LSU, Georgia and Alabama.
7. Florida (7-6): There wasn’t a lot to celebrate in Will Muschamp’s inaugural season in Gainesville. The Gators didn’t beat anybody of note, were painful to watch on offense for the second straight season and finished with six losses for the first time since 1987. They were still able to carve out a winning season thanks to their victory over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, and Muschamp should be better able to put his stamp on the program in Year 2.
8. Mississippi State (7-6): The expectations were dizzying for the Bulldogs coming off their 9-4 finish in 2010, and while they didn’t make any noise in the Western Division race, they did make a second straight bowl appearance for the first time in more than a decade. The downer for the Bulldogs was that they went a second consecutive season with only one Western Division win -- Ole Miss.
9. Vanderbilt (6-7): James Franklin made an immediate impact in his first season at Vanderbilt. He took a program that had won just two games in each of its previous two seasons and guided it to only its fifth bowl game in school history. The Commodores were solid on defense all season and improved dramatically on offense. They didn’t play one of their better games in losing to Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
10. Kentucky (5-7): It was a struggle all season offensively for the Wildcats, who had hoped to lean on their offensive line. But that never happened, which was only made worse by a lack of production at quarterback. First-year coordinator Rick Minter did improve the defense, and the Wildcats kept the season from being a total loss by winning over Tennessee and snapping a 26-game losing streak to the Vols.
11. Tennessee (5-7): If you’re looking for hot seats, Derek Dooley’s figures to be mighty toasty if the Vols don’t make considerable strides next season. The 2011 season went from mediocre to bad after Kentucky beat Tennessee 10-7 in the regular-season finale with a receiver playing quarterback. There seemed to be a disconnect that developed between Dooley and his team that he needs to fix this offseason.
12. Ole Miss (2-10): The Houston Nutt tenure at Ole Miss came to a disappointing end this season. Nutt was fired toward the end of the season, and the Rebels went on to lose their 14th straight SEC game before it was all over. Ole Miss does have some promising young players in the program, but new coach Hugh Freeze will have his work cut out in the big, bad Western Division.