Life In The SEC Is Harsh: Revisiting Each Team’s Most Recent Low Point
Each SEC Team's Most Recent Low Point
At some point during its membership in college football’s toughest conference, every SEC team has tasted the bitter reality of unforgiving life in this league. Well, every team other than Texas A&M. Though the Aggies didn’t go undefeated in their first season as members of the SEC, Kevin Sumlin’s bunch did soar well above expectations. And no one soared higher than 2012’s Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel.
At this point, Aggie nation couldn’t be happier. In fact, it seems only the spirits in Aggieland are higher than the voices of Manziel’s critics. But that won’t be the case forever. It will be interesting to see how things evolve in College Station if A&M drops a few games this season and falls short of its lofty expectations. At some point in this league, you’re going to fall on your face. There are just too many good football programs to believe otherwise. Even the powerhouses such as Alabama, Georgia and LSU have endured dark times in the Southeastern Conference.
So far, life in the SEC has been just peachy for Texas A&M, but the hard times are always lurking right around the corner. The Aggies may be able to avoid them for a while, but eventually life is in this cutthroat world gets the best of every team. There is a huge threat looming in No. 1 Alabama, which travels to College Station next weekend.
Will the Crimson Tide rush in and wash away the arrogance of this SEC newcomer? Or will A&M avoid the fall for another week? We’ll find out soon enough. Either way, things can change in a hurry -- just ask the other members of the conference. All it takes is a heartbreaking loss, one bad coaching hire or one troublesome player to send a program into a downward spiral. Let’s look at some of the most recent low points for each SEC team.
Alabama: The Mikes (Price and Shula) Era, Err Error
It may be hard to imagine now with Nick Saban in town, but even the Alabama Crimson Tide suffer hard times in the SEC. After Dennis Franchione enjoyed some marginal success in Tuscaloosa, he bolted to Texas A&M and left Alabama in the dust. His predecessor, Mike Price, brought a highly-touted offensive scheme from Washington State, only to get canned after only a few months for using his university-issued credit card to pay a strip bar tab in Florida. With only weeks left before the 2003 season, the Crimson Tide brought back former quarterback Mike Shula to lead the program. And lead it he did – right into the cellar of the SEC West. In four seasons under Shula, Alabama finished with a winning record only once – 2005, a 10-2 season capped by a Cotton Bowl Victory. Shula finished his tenure at Alabama with a 26-23 record, however, the Tide was later forced to vacate the 10 wins from 2005 and six wins from 2006 because of an NCAA violation related to a textbook scandal. So officially, Alabama was 10-23 under Shula.
Arkansas: Post-Petrino Fallout
In 2012, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ dreams of competing for an SEC and possibly a national championship came crashing down harder than then head coach Bobby Petrino did when he lost control of his motorcycle. The infamous crash led to the discovery that Petrino was having an extramarital affair with an athletic department assistant, who was with him on the motorcycle that day. His resulting termination left the Razorbacks without a coach and not enough time to conduct a legitimate search prior to the season. The result: a dismal 4-8 season under interim coach John L. Smith. rkansas began the season ranked in the Top 10, but things can fall apart in the blink of an eye in this league, a point driven home last September when the Razorbacks were obliterated 52-0 at home by Alabama and 58-10 by Texas A&M.
Auburn: Everything Post-BCS Championship
In the two seasons since Auburn’s magical 2010 title run, the Tigers have had very little success in SEC play. In 2012, in fact, the Tigers had absolutely zero league success, going 0-8 against conference opponents. Overall since hoisting the crystal football in 2010, Auburn is 4-12 in SEC games. Worst of all, the Tigers are a dismal 0-6 against their three biggest rivals – Alabama, Georgia and LSU – and were blown out on almost every occasion. In those six games, Auburn has been outscored by a total of 231-41. It’s worse if you include the 63-21 drubbing Texas A&M laid on the Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2012. Last year’s 49-0 loss to Alabama in the Iron Bowl marked the second-most lopsided game in the history of the rivalry.
Florida: Pre- And Post- Steve Spurrier Eras
Despite intermittent success, the Florida Gators football program had never been considered a national power and had never won a conference championship in 83 seasons of play prior to the Old Ball Coach’s tenure. Then Spurrier led Florida to five SEC titles in six seasons, including the school’s first national championship in 1996. He led them to another in 2000. Then, in 2002 he headed for the NFL and left one of the best programs in college football in Ron Zook’s hands. Despite reeling in top-ranked recruiting classes, Zook’s teams were inconsistent at best. After two consecutive five-loss seasons and an embarrassing upset by the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Zook was fired midway through the 2004 season, but was allowed to finish out the regular season.
Georgia: Between Dooley and Richt
After Georgia Bulldogs legend Vince Dooley hung it up after the 1988 season, the days of competing for SEC and national titles were gone from Athens for a while. His predecessor was Ray Goff, or Ray “Goof” as he was called by Florida head coach Steve Spurrier – the name was promptly adopted by the Bulldogs’ faithful. Goff took over as head coach in 1989 and coached Georgia until 1995, posting a 46-34-1 record (.574 winning percentage). His teams were 0-5 against Tennessee, 1-6 against Florida, 2-4-1 against Auburn, 5-2 against Georgia Tech and won no conference titles. Goff had a 2–2 bowl record. Jim Donnan took over as head coach in 1996 and coached the Bulldogs until 2000, posting a 40-19-0 record (.678 winning percentage). Donnan's teams produced no conference titles and were 1-4 against Tennessee, 2-3 against Auburn, 1-4 against Florida and 2-3 against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs lost to all four of these rivals in 1999.
Kentucky: That Familiar Blue Feeling
The Kentucky Wildcats haven’t been to a major bowl game since the Bear Bryant era (1946-1953) and haven’t won an SEC Championship since 1976. Other than a couple of decent runs the in the 1990s and 2000s, this program, which has a sub .500 all-time record, has been characterized by NCAA infractions and disappointment. The Cats' most recent high point was in 2007. Kentucky was ranked eighth in the nation before a loss to South Carolina; however, the Wildcats bounced back from the loss and defeated No. 1 LSU in a historic triple-overtime game the next week. It’s pretty much been all downhill since that win, hitting rock bottom when Joker Phillips was fired after a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt on Nov. 4, 2012. Through Week 1 of 2013, things haven’t really gotten much better in Lexington.
LSU: Two Words – Curley Hallman
Sure, the Gerry DiNardo era (1995-99) was nothing to brag about, and the BCS title game whipping by Alabama is painful, but there are two words that terrify every LSU fan right down to his or her very core. They represent the worst thing that has ever happened to LSU's football program in more than 100 years. These words that can make a grown backwoods bayou man cry are Curley Hallman. When he took over in 1990, LSU had never had more than two consecutive losing seasons in its entire history. Hallman, however, would quickly rewrite the record books in Baton Rouge. His record of ineptitude stands unmatched in the annals of Tigers football history – four seasons, all of them below .500. He is the only coach in LSU history to have coached at least 10 games and post a losing record. His 2-9 mark in 1992 is the worst season in LSU football history.
Mississippi State: Three Straight Weeks In Late 2012
There’s no doubt the Sylvester Croom teams of the 2000s were tough to watch, but Mississippi State’s most recent dose of SEC reality came less than one year ago. Dan Mullen and the 2012 Bulldogs charged out of the pound with seven straight wins. But then reality struck, and it struck hard. The first dose came on a late-October Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Alabama Crimson Tide crushed the undefeated Bulldogs 38-7. There was no time for Mississippi State to lick it wounds, however, as the following two weeks brought two more soul-crushing losses. The first was a 38-13 manhandling by Texas A&M, followed by a 37-17 spanking by the LSU Tigers.
Missouri: It’s One And Only Season In The SEC
The Missouri Tigers’ lone season in the SEC, 2012, was anything but memorable. Prior to joining the conference, Missouri had won three Big 12 North Division titles in four years from 2007 to 2010. But that success did not translate to the Tigers’ new league. Missouri suffered through a tough 5-7 inaugural SEC season, marred by injuries and lopsided losses to the league’s best teams. Just look at the Tigers results (all losses) against ranked SEC opponents last year – No. 1 Alabama (42-10), No. 7 Georgia (41-20), No. 7 South Carolina (31-10), No. 8 Florida (14-7) and No. 9 Texas A&M (59-29). Welcome to the best conference in college football.
Ole Miss: The Big O
By the time Neanderthal-like head coach Ed Orgeron took over the Ole Miss football program, the glory days of John Vaught were a distant memory. But the two coaches prior to Orgeron, Tommy Tuberville and David Cutcliffe, had enjoyed some success in the SEC. But Orgeron would have none of that, doing his best to send even those semi-memorable tenures to the farthest reaches of Rebel faithfuls’ memory. It all came crashing down in 2007, which was a historic season for Ole Miss. The Rebels went winless in the SEC for the first time since 1982, finishing 3-9 (0-8 in league play). It was the last that Ole Miss, and perhaps anyone, has seen of Orgeron.
South Carolina: Oh So Close
Steve Spurrier has taken South Carolina to heights it never dreamed of. However, despite back-to-back 11-win seasons, the Gamecocks have suffered some monumental letdowns. In 2010, South Carolina made it to its first ever SEC Championship Game, only to be obliterated 56-17 by Auburn. Last year, after dominating No. 5 Georgia 35-7, the Gamecocks came apart in the following two games. South Carolina lost a heartbreaker to LSU 22-21, and promptly got its you-know-what handed to it by Florida 44-11 the following week.
Tennessee: Rocky Bottom
The Tennessee Volunteers experienced some historic lows under Derek Dooley, but one of the most embarrassing was its 41-18 thrashing by Vanderbilt last season. That game just goes to show how the tables can turn in the SEC – that perennial punching bags can rise up and take down historical giants. Before Dooley, the Vols hadn’t suffered three straight losing seasons since 1909 to 1911. Even worse, Dooley led Tennessee to an 0-12 record against Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Texas A&M: Will Offseason Equal Off Season?
Texas A&M and its star quarterback Johnny Manziel have yet to really experience the empty feeling associated with getting smacked in the face by a sledgehammer of SEC reality. The Aggies have pretty much had their way with the other teams in the league so far, and the two losses a year ago to Florida and LSU could have easily been wins. Last season, A&M was a surprise to most. No one really expected them to have that much success in the SEC. Now, they must deal with the SEC and expectations, which have never been higher in Aggieland. In addition to the expectations, the Aggies will also have to deal with the distractions associated with Manziel's maniacal offseason. If Alabama is able to roll into College Station and take Manziel's lunch money, the Aggies will have their first taste of just how difficult this league really is. Could a loss next weekend send A&M on a downhill trajectory?
Vanderbilt: Week 1’s Wild Finish
The Vanderbilt Commodores entered 2013 with maybe the highest expectations in program history. The Dores were coming off a historic 9-4 season and had the SEC’s longest winning streak at seven straight. There hasn’t been a more exciting home game at Vanderbilt Stadium in several decades. After a back-and-forth game against Ole Miss, Vandy found itself facing fourth-and-18 late in the fourth quarter. It seemed all was lost. Then a miraculous first down completion kept the dream alive, and the Commodores promptly scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:30 left on the clock. But the jubilation was short-lived, as the Rebels’ Jeff Scott rushed for 75 yards less than 30 second later to reclaim the lead for good at 39-35. The final minutes of that game were a microcosm of the larger principle – success in this league is often short-lived.