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Cleveland: SEC Bowl Dominance

SECFootballlogoMost telling moment of the college bowls season? It came in Alabama’s 38-0 dismantling of Big Ten champion Michigan State.

Spartans’ quarterback Connor Cook, who somehow survived the Cotton Bowl carnage, was shown on the sidelines talking about Alabama and telling anyone who would listen and millions of lip-reading TV viewers: “They’re (insert profane adjective here) everywhere.”

He was talking about Crimson defenders and he was correct. Bama’s speed, strength, quickness and size combination overwhelmed Michigan State. It was as if we were watching men vs. boys. And it was a familiar theme in games involving teams from the Southeastern Conference Western Division.

All seven SEC West teams played in bowls. Six won big. One, Texas A & M, playing with its third string quarterback, lost. By six points. The other six won huge by an average margin of 27 points.

This is dominance, so extreme, it bears repeating: Auburn 31, Memphis 10; LSU 56, Texas Tech 27; Mississippi State 51, North Carolina State 28; Alabama 38, Michigan State 0; Ole Miss 48, Oklahoma State 20; Arkansas 45, Kansas State 23.

What we saw, game after game, were SEC West teams so much faster and quicker it often appeared their opponents were out-numbered. Seemed as if the SEC teams, particularly the defenses, were using 13 or 14 players.

The SEC, overall, was 8-2 with an average margin of victory of 26 points.

In Charlotte, while Dak Prescott completed a marvelous career, State fans chanted: “SEC! SEC! SEC!” In New Orleans, where a touchdown run by left tackle Laremy Tunsil highlighted another rout that could have been worse, Ole Miss fans chanted, “SEC! SEC! SEC!”

Finally, we have found something on which the two can agree.

Actually, it’s hard to see how anyone can disagree with this fact: The best college football is played in the SEC West.

A year ago, many national sports commentators talked and wrote incessantly about how the SEC (the West in particular) had been exposed during the major bowls. Remember? Ohio State toppled Alabama. TCU routed Ole Miss. Georgia Tech stung Mississippi State. It was almost as if the rest of the nation rejoiced in the SEC West’s demise.

The resentment is somewhat understandable, if misguided. Before 2013, the SEC had claimed seven straight national championships. Florida State won in 2013 and Ohio State in 2014. The rest of the U.S. became tired of hearing SEC! SEC! SEC!

The guess here is that they will hear it one more time next week, although Clemson, Alabama’s national championship opponent, is extremely SEC-like in its speed/size quotient. We shall see.

Alabama has much going for it besides size and speed. For one thing, Bama has played a much more difficult schedule. If you play in the SEC West, you are guaranteed at least six opponents headed for bowls. For the second straight season, all seven West teams played in a bowl, an amazing feat considering the round-robin division schedule.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, an Illinois native, played his football at Iowa and previously coached at Kansas State and Wisconsin. He is a product of the midwest, but he knows where the best college football is played, and he believes the SEC West doesn’t get the respect it deserves because the teams beat up on one another.

“What people have to realize is we play each other,” Bielema said after the Liberty Bowl. “If somebody wants to find out, come in and play all seven of us, and see what you think.”
Bielema should know. His first Arkansas team finished 0-8 in the league. In three years, his teams are 7-17 in the league. And they are good, really good. In the SEC West, everyone is really good.

Rick Cleveland is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His email address is rcleveland@msfame.com.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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