BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — It was bound to happen.
BCS or playoff, the Southeastern Conference’s run of playing in the national championship game had to end eventually. That aura of invincibility and superiority that vexed other teams and fans inevitably would fade, too.
Four losses over two humbling days took care of that — for the moment, at least. It might be a short-term blip, a down season for a conference replacing star quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron whatever the lofty early and midseason rankings indicated.
“The bottom line is everybody gets tired of the SEC because they’ve lifted up seven crystal balls out of eight seasons,” said CBS Sports college football analyst Houston Nutt, a former Mississippi and Arkansas coach. “They’ve been there. The SEC wasn’t as good this year. You look at the quarterbacks that graduated last year. The bottom line is the SEC wasn’t as good this year as in years past.”
That was abundantly clear this week.
One year after ACC power Florida State ended the SEC’s run of seven straight BCS titles, Ohio State toppled No. 1 Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl to advance to the championship game against Oregon.
That came hours after Wisconsin beat Auburn in overtime in the Outback Bowl and a day after Mississippi and Mississippi State got roughed up in their games.
Florida’s Urban Meyer started the run of domination in the 2006 season by blasting Ohio State. Fast forward: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer won his latest classic showdown with Alabama’s Nick Saban that dealt the SEC another body blow.
The SEC West that once dominated the Top 10, and had four playoff contenders much of the season, went 0-4 on Wednesday and Thursday.
The seven-team SEC West finished 2-5 in bowl play, with the victories coming from sixth-place Texas A&M and last-place Arkansas. The SEC is 6-5 overall in the postseason, with Florida playing East Carolina on Saturday in the Birmingham Bowl. The Gators are trying to secure a winning record for both themselves and their league.
“I guess you could call this a mediocre year,” Florida linebacker Mike Taylor said. “You’re going to get scrutinized about it. We want to go out there and get a victory not only for the conference but for each other.”
Center Max Garcia still believes the SEC remains “the best conference in the nation.”
None of what happened in recent days disproves that claim necessarily for a league that routinely reels in highly ranked recruiting classes and delivers more talent to the NFL than any other. It is indicative that it’s no long a closed issue, however.
Other Power 5 conferences made that clear.
For every Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott, other leagues countered with stars such as Oregon Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon.
The two-day purge at least laid to rest the perception that other leagues’ top teams just can’t measure up to the SEC’s best.
After all, the same Wisconsin team that beat Auburn was drilled 59-0 by Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Saban was already a Buckeyes believer.
“I thought they were a very underrated team by everybody in terms of how people thought about them, especially the way they played against Wisconsin and the way they played later in the year,” said the Tide coach, who has brought the SEC three national titles at Bama and one at LSU.
The “SEC is Best” chatter clearly has worn on other teams and conferences. Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson figured Wednesday’s 49-34 win over Mississippi State earned a reprieve of sorts.
“For a week or so we won’t have to hear about the SEC,” Johnson said.
Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly celebrated a 31-28 Music City Bowl win over LSU for another reason.
“To beat an SEC school like LSU allows us to continue to build that national credibility that you need in recruiting today,” Kelly said.
The SEC presumably will remain a big target in coming seasons however this one ended.
“There’s jealousy there because they want their team to win and they get tired of hearing about the SEC,” Nutt said. “Everybody gears up. They want to beat the SEC. To win those seven national titles out of eight, that’s a heck of a run.”
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee and Steven Wine contributed to this report.
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