Time for a college football fix with South Carolina starting the SEC spring practice schedule Tuesday. We’re ranking the SEC programs over the last 10 seasons (1999-2008) based on titles, overall record, miserable seasons and general fan sentiment:
1. Florida: 96-33 (.744), three SEC titles, two national titles (worst record: 7-5, 2004)
Gets the top spot despite willingly hiring Ron Zook, who was mocked in the SEC but was a coach of the year in the Big Ten. That’s kind of like a struggling high school kid going back to kindergarten and dominating the spelling bee. Does anybody still argue that Big Ten football is superior to the SEC? The Gators get the edge over LSU because they don’t have a losing season in the last 10 years. Last losing season for Florida: 1979.
2. LSU: 93-35 (.727), three SEC titles, two national titles (worst record: 3-8, 1999)
What’s more embarrassing: Going 1-7 in the SEC at LSU (where you’re the only BCS school in a talent-rich state) and losing to Houston, or coaching the worst team in the XFL? Someone should ask Gerry DiNardo, because he accomplished both.
Fortunately for LSU fans, Nick Saban arrived and the Tigers have won at least eight games per season since the 1999 debacle. Saban left and later took the Alabama job. Aside from burning him in effigy and making “Nick Satan” shirts, I think LSU fans have handled that with class.
3. Georgia: 98-30 (.766), two SEC titles (worst record: 8-4, three times)
More wins than any other SEC school in the last 10 years. Only team with AP top-10 finishes in all 10 seasons. Only school aside from Florida with bowl berths in all 10 years. Remarkable. Also: no national-title-game appearances. It’s a little like Peyton Manning’s Colts and the 1990s Atlanta Braves: Do you judge the Bulldogs based on the entirety of their success or the underwhelming number of titles? I think the No. 3 spot is about right.
Look, there have been only nine BCS champions. I think some Georgia fans take the team’s consistency for granted. I got an e-mail calling for Mark Richt’s dismissal after last year’s Alabama game. How would Georgia fans handle a 2008 Tennessee-type season? My guess: It would involve pitchforks, torches and Richt’s house.
I’ll compare Georgia football to the Red Hot Chili Peppers: Astonishing long-term consistency, but were they the very best at any given time? I say no.
4. Auburn 85-39 (.685), one SEC title (worst record: 5-7, 2008)
A really impressive run sandwiched between two five-win seasons, the latter stinging much more than the first. Of course, we’ll always wonder about the 2004 team and its chances against USC in the BCS title game. Auburn and USC had a combined six first-round NFL draft picks in 2005, and that doesn’t include future first-rounders Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. I would have loved to see that game. In other news, we’re stuck with the BCS until at least 2014.
5. Tennessee: 85-41 (.675), no titles (worst record: 5-7, 2008)
Ask a Tennessee fan to name the three most memorable parts of the last 10 years. Here’s my guess: 1. The 2008 nightmare and Phillip Fulmer’s dismissal. 2. Zero SEC titles. 3. The mortifying loss to Vanderbilt, clinching a shocking losing season in 2005. Not good times.
Still, there are plenty of great memories (who could forget Florida in 2001?) and three SEC title-game appearances. The 2004 season with Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer was a thrill. But the 0-5 mark in Atlanta in the last 10 years really hurt the program. Even the Washington Nationals think Tennessee is bad in Atlanta.
6. Arkansas: 72-52 (.581), no titles (worst record: 4-7, 2005)
I just don’t think, in the SEC’s current climate, Arkansas can do much better than this. Yet some fans flew planes over the stadium with banners calling for Houston Nutt’s dismissal as coach. I will never, ever, understand the vitriol toward Nutt in Arkansas. Ever.
7. Alabama: 75-51 (.595), one SEC title (worst record: 3-8, 2000)
Yes, the times are good right now in Tuscaloosa. Yes, there was the 1999 SEC title. But the seasons in between were the equivalent of Chinese water torture for Alabama fans. The 2000 team was one of the most disappointing of all time. There was probation, the Mike Price ordeal, Dennis Franchione bolting, Mike Shula’s failure and a loss to Louisiana-Monroe. A new era, however, has begun.
8. South Carolina: 61-59 (.508), no titles (worst record: 0-11, 1999)
When you watch Lou Holtz on ESPN now, doesn’t it blow your mind that he was the head coach of a major college football program less than five years ago?
9. Ole Miss: 62-58 (.517), no titles (worst record: 3-9, 2007)
David Cutcliffe left Ole Miss, took a break and ended up at Tennessee. Ed Orgeron left Ole Miss, went to the NFL and ended up at Tennessee. Should we start checking Houston Nutt’s phone records now or wait until he gets to Knoxville?
10. Mississippi State: 47-71 (.398), no titles (worst record: 2-10, 2003)
Remember the Jackie Sherrill days? Neither does he. (It’s a joke...)
11. Kentucky: 49-70 (.412), no titles (worst record: 2-9, three times)
Rich Brooks is the most underrated coach in all of college football.
12. Vanderbilt: 37-79 (.319), no titles (worst record: 2-10, two times)
Or maybe Bobby Johnson is.