Matt Hinton made an interesting point today: if the preseason consensus is correct, then the depth of quality about which we SEC fans brag is overrated. Florida and Alabama have dominated in the last two seasons and there is no reason to think that 2010 will be any different, as evidenced by the fact that every entity offering a prediction have the Tide and Gators meeting again in the Georgia Dome. There are a few potential responses to this phenomenon:
1. The predictions are wrong. I feel like a voter who generally wants to throw out the bums inside the Beltway, but always votes for the incumbent senator and representative. Florida and Alabama shouldn't be the runaway favorites in their divisions this year. Alabama lost nine starters off of the defense that carried them to the national title and there have to be doubts as to whether a Saban team can win with the emphasis on the offense. Plus, national champions tend to have a slight hangover in the following season, otherwise known as regression to the mean. Florida lost even more than Alabama did, they have a coach who retired at one point last December, and they are transitioning to a 3-4 without the defensive coordinator who was their unsung hero over the past two years. These two teams look anything but impregnable. Prognosticators tend to assume that past results are likely to continue into the future, hence the fact that preseason top tens usually look suspiciously like the end-of-season rankings from the previous season. College football doesn't work that way. In December 2008, I decided that it was inevitable that Florida and USC would meet in a title game to settle the question of who is the dominant program in college football. In December 2009, Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer both left their programs. Things change.
2. Coaching in the SEC isn't as good as I thought. When bagging on the Big Ten, I like to point out that the resumes of the coaches in the SEC are far better than those of their friends to the north. Arkansas hires Bobby Petrino; Minnesota hires Tim Brewster. In practice, the roster of coaches in the SEC right now do not look great. Mark Richt and Les Miles have developed chinks in the armor. There's a case to be made that Miles won with teams assembled by Saban, while Richt's heyday coincided with Ron Zook at Florida. Steve Spurrier might be more resume than coach at this stage. Bobby Petrino might establish the same lesson that Michigan may be learning: success in the Big East was a non-reproducible mirage in a defense-free bubble. Moreover, Auburn and Tennessee strayed from the resume-based hiring requirement in tabbing underwhelming candidates. Thus, as good as Saban and Meyer are, they might be benefiting from a trough in the quality of SEC coaching. If this is true, then we can expect some significant upheaval over the next two years.
3. Unipolarity or bipolarity are the state of nature in modern college football. For whatever reason, there is little uncertainty in college football right now. Virginia Tech dominates the corpse of the ACC, Texas and Oklahoma are the automatic picks in the Big XII, Ohio State and Penn State dominate the Big Ten, and USC dominates the Pac Ten (although that's obviously subject to change with Hello Kiffin pawing at the controls). Why should the SEC be different?
4. Unipolarity or bipolarity are the state of nature in the SEC. Florida and Alabama met in the first three SEC Championship Games. Florida and Tennessee dominated the conference in the 90s. Alabama dominated the conference in the 70s. The SEC is always good, but it often has periods in which one or two teams run away from the pack.