The Southeastern Conference boasts 6 consecutive BCS Championships after winning the 2011 season title by default as league members Alabama and LSU faced each other. The Crimson Tide came out on top 21-0 to avenge its only regular season loss, a 9-6 overtime setback at home on November 5th.
Alabama's BCS victory marked the first time since 1936 that a member of any conference won the national championship without winning its own conference.
Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban won his second national title with Alabama and third overall (LSU, 2003 season), becoming the first head coach to win three national championships in the BCS era.
The preseason Congrove Computer Rankings had forecasted an Oklahoma-Alabama championship game and favored the Sooners to take home the Waterford crystal football.
A university from the state of Alabama has won each of the last three titles with Auburn (2010) and Alabama (2009) taking the previous two matches.
Prior to those seasons, Florida (2008), LSU (2007) and Florida again (2006) brought the bacon back to college football's dynasty conference. Additionally, an SEC team won the very first BCS championship game in 1998 (Tennessee) and LSU won the 2003 title, giving the SEC 8 championships in the BCS's 14-year era. In fact, LSU's loss last season was the first time an SEC team had been defeated in a BCS Championship game.
The computer doesn't forecast an SEC team to make it to the BCS title game this year as it foresees a season in which the league is rife with parity at the top.
Seven SEC teams - Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina - will begin the year with power ratings between 80.52 and 85.03, landing all seven of those schools among the top 22 in the country on opening day. Newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M are only 3-3.5 points behind that group and ranked just outside the top 25. Of the available 72 postseason game slots, 22 could go to SEC teams as the computer expects 11 of its 14 members to be bowl eligible with records of 7-5 or better.
The SEC needs a playoff of more than 4 teams just to determine its own conference champion. How in the world can anyone believe that a 4-team playoff is sufficient to determine a national champion!?
While all of the preseason hype has surrounded Alabama and LSU, the computer has Arkansas and Florida winning their respective divisions. The Gators, in fact, were the only team to go undefeated (8-0) in computer modeling of league play. The Razorbacks will come close to running their conference slate, losing only at South Carolina by 1.38 points on November 10.
The championship game in Atlanta tilts in Arkansas' favor by 3.56 points.
Arkansas was getting the same kind of attention from many pundits back in the spring, before head coach Bobby Petrino was fired on April 10 after a motorcycle wreck uncovered a scandalous affair with a subordinate. And were it not for that shake-up, the math suggests the computer would have Arkansas as its preseason national title favorite.
John L. Smith, the special teams coach under Petrino last season, was named April 23 as the head coach of Arkansas for the 2012 campaign. The former Louisville and Michigan State head coach is 132-86 overall and 1-6 in bowl games.
Arkansas' fortuitous schedule brings both Alabama and LSU to Fayetteville.
Florida's only anticipated blemish is a projected 3.26-point loss at rival Florida State in the final game of the regular season. The Gators' unbeaten conference run would lead to their first appearance in the SEC Championship game since 2009. It would also represent a dramatic improvement from Florida's 3-5 SEC record a year ago in Will Muschamp's first season as head coach.
The Gators get the comfort of hosting LSU and South Carolina and don't have to face Alabama or Auburn. But they do have to visit Texas A&M as only a 1.42-point favorite, host LSU as a 2.24-point pick, entertain South Carolina with just a 1.06-point edge and play Georgia on neutral ground with a tight 0.94-point margin.
Alabama is handed forecasted losses at Arkansas (6.75) and LSU (3.95), as well as an opening day 4.47-point non-conference loss to Michigan in Cowboy Stadium at Arlington, Texas. Saban's team also has to travel to Missouri as a mere 1.61-point favorite and Tennessee as a 6.09-point pick. A 2.95-point home win over arch-rival Auburn at season's end gives 'Bama the tie-breaker over the Tigers for 2nd place and a 9-3 overall mark.
Auburn's 10-2 overall forecast includes a 0.70-point underdog role at home to Arkansas and a narrow 0.97-point win over Clemson in game two of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta. (Tennessee faces North Carolina State the night before in game one in Atlanta).
LSU's schedule is brutal. Not only does it send the Tigers on four extremely dangerous road games to Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas, it also forces the team to play Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama in a 4-game stretch from September 6th to October 3rd. The Bayou Bengals are the underdogs by 2.10 at Auburn, 2.24 in "The Swamp" and 5.80 at the Hogs. They get a 2.18-point safety net at the Aggies and are a narrow home favorite over South Carolina (1.81) and Alabama (3.95).
Texas A&M and Mississippi State are both projected to finish 7-5 overall, 3-5 in conference. A 1.96-point Aggie win at Starkville determines the 5th-place tiebreaker.
Mississippi State should turn a favorable first-half schedule into a 6-1 start before encountering a 4-game skid in a back-half that lines up Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU and Arkansas.
Ole Miss is once again at the bottom of the pile. The Rebels have finished last in the division the past two years while going 1-15 in SEC play and currently hold a 14-game conference losing streak. They open the year ranked 119th out of the 124 teams measured by the Congrove Computer Rankings. Their saving grace is that two forecasted losses are very winnable games - at home vs. UTEP as a 2.14-point dog and on the road at Tulane where they are less than a point (0.68) to the down side. They also get Vanderbilt at home, as well as chief rival Mississippi State in the annual Egg Bowl.
South Carolina is the projected eastern division runner-up, followed by border rival Georgia. That pecking order comes down to the Gamecocks holding serve on a predicted 5.89-point over the Dawgs in Columbia on October 6. Steve Spurrier's team visits LSU as a slim 1.26-point underdog the following week, and then immediately heads to Florida as a mere 1.06-point underdog. South Carolina had double-digit wins for the second time in history last year and could need the projected 0.05-point season-ending win at rival Clemson to repeat that feat.
Georgia is given a somewhat surprising 3rd-place divisional finish by the computer as you would think the absences of Alabama, LSU and Arkansas from the schedule would give the Bulldogs a clear advantage. However, the computer has Georgia barely winning at Missouri (0.85), losing at South Carolina (5.89) and Auburn (3.80), and also succumbing to Florida in Jacksonville (0.94).
Missouri gets the 4th-place nod over Vanderbilt by virtue of a projected 6.14-point home win over the 'Dores on October 6.
Tennessee's 5-7 prediction and 6th-place division finish has multiple opportunities to improve as the forecast includes home losses to Florida, Alabama and Missouri. It also includes a narrow 0.46-point favorite status in the opener vs. N.C. State in Atlanta.
A disastrous 1-11 forecast for Kentucky sees the lone victory coming at home against FCS member Samford in the next-to-last game of the season. The 'Cats begin the year ranked 118th out of 124 FBS teams. Still, it's difficult to swallow the part of the forecast that says Kentucky is a home underdog to Kent State (0.85) and Western Kentucky (10.48).
The additions of Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12 mark the first time that the make-up of the league has changed since Arkansas and South Carolina began playing SEC schedules in 1992. Missouri was placed in the Eastern grouping of teams while Texas A&M was placed in the Western half of the league's make-up.
The membership agreed on a 6-1-1 scheduling format beginning this fall, in which each squad will play six intra-division games, one permanent cross-division rival and one rotating cross-division game.
The cross-division rivals are as follows: Florida - LSU, Georgia - Auburn, Kentucky - Mississippi State, Missouri - Arkansas, South Carolina - Texas A&M, Tennessee - Alabama, and Vanderbilt - Ole Miss.
Missouri and Texas A&M fans won't have to wait long to see their teams play their first SEC game. September 8 is the date that the Tigers host Georgia and the Aggies welcome Florida in contests that are virtually a toss-up. Missouri is a 0.85-point underdog to the Bulldogs and the Aggies are a 1.41-point underdog to the Gators. Texas A&M hosts Missouri in the season finale as a 3.37-point favorite to give both teams identical records of 7-5 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. Ironically, it's the same record Missopuri had at the end of the regular season in the Big 12 last year. It's a 1-victory improvement for A&M that comes at the expense of two FCS teams after having none on the schedule a year ago.
Missouri was a member of the Big 12 since 1928. The Tigers claimed outright championships in what was then-called the Big 6 in 1939, 1941, 1942 and 1945. Missouri also won the crown outright in 1960 when the conference was called the Big 8. The Tigers haven't won another football conference championship since they shared the title with Nebraska in 1969. The Big 8 expanded to the Big 12 in 1996 and Missouri's recent resurgence led it to the opportunity to play for that title in 2007 and 2008 as winners of the conference's North division, though the Tigers were soundly defeated by Oklahoma on both occasions.
Texas A&M played in the Southwest Conference from 1915 until 1995 when the league disbanded. The Aggies were one of four additions to the Big 8 in 1996, along with Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. The expansion led to the conference reconstituting itself as the Big 12. From 1917 to 1993 Texas A&M won 16 outright Southwest Conference titles and shared another. The Aggies three-peated three times, from 1939-1941, 1985-1987 and 1991-1993. They lost in the Big 12 championship game in 1997 when Nebraska prevailed 54-15. Texas A&M then won its 18th conference title the following year by a 36-33 count over Kansas State. The Aggies never claimed another South division title after that.
The 2011 season was extremely disappointing for the Texas A&M faithful who saw their team ranked as high as 8th in the preview magazines. The Congrove Computer Rankings projected a No. 7 finish for the Aggies who, instead, faltered to a 6-6 regular season.
As a result, Texas A&M fired Mike Sherman and hired Kevin Sumlin away from Houston. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter served as interim head coach in the Aggies' 33-22 win over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. DeRuyter is now the new head coach at Fresno State where he replaces Pat Hill.
Sherman posted a pedestrian 25-25 overall record in 4 years at College Station while Sumlin 35-17 in the same time span at Houston. Sumlin, a former Texas A&M assistant under R.C. Slocum in 2001 and 2002, led the Cougars to a 12-0 record in 2012 before falling to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship game. His team also lost in the 2009 CUSA championship game to East Carolina.
Ole Miss will also open the 2012 season with a new head coach.
The Rebels announced on November 7 that Houston Nutt was forced to resign, effective at the end of the year. His 4-year tenure in Oxford started well and ended awful. Mississippi posted 9-4 seasons in Nutt's first two campaigns, both of which included Cotton Bowl victories. But the following seasons saw those records drop to 4-8 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2011. The Rebels were 0-8 in the SEC last season to run their conference losing streak to 14 in-a-row. Nutt's career record is 135-95.
Hugh Freeze was introduced on December 5 as the new head coach at Ole Miss. Freeze spent just one season as the head coach at Arkansas State, leading the Red Wolves to a 6-win improvement over the previous season from 4-8 to 10-2. In the process, Arkansas State captured its first outright Sun Belt title and gained its first 10-win (10-2) season since 1986. Freeze was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach at ASU when Steve Roberts resigned at the end of the 2009 season. Freeze coached Michael Oher whose story was told in the award-winning feature film, "The Blind Side".
Two SEC teams entered last season with new head coaches. Florida was 7-6 in Will Muschamp's inaugural season in Gainesville, while Vanderbilt was 6-7 in James Franklin's first campaign in Nashville.
SEC teams went 5-2 in other bowl games at the end of the 2011 season.
Arkansas opened a 19-0 lead and then held on for a 29-16 win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl as Joe Adams returned a punt 51 yards for a touchdown, Tyler Wilson threw two scoring passes, and Zach Hocker added three field goals.
With Florida's 24-17 Gator Bowl win in Jacksonville, Ohio State finished a season with 7 losses for the first time in 114 years of football as it failed to avenge its 2006 BCS title game loss to the Gators.
South Carolina set a new school record for victories, finishing 11-2, with a 30-13 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
Michigan State defeated Georgia 33-30 in a triple-overtime thriller in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
Auburn blocked two Virginia punts and recovered an onside kick en route to a 42-23 Chick-fil-A Bowl win. The Cavaliers had early leads of 7-0 and 14-7 before the Tigers reeled off 21 straight points to take command. Auburn is tied with Mississippi State and Rutgers for the nation's longest bowl winning streak at 5 in-a-row.
Mississippi State knocked off Wake Forest 23-17 in a Music City Bowl battle of two 6-6 teams. Head coach Dan Mullen guided the Bulldogs to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1999-2000.
Vanderbilt lost 31-24 to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl on the strength of Ralph Abernathy IV's 90-yard kickoff return after the Commodores had just taken a 21-17 lead in the 4th quarter.
Vanderbilt is just 2-2-1 in bowl games with its only victories coming in the 1955 and 2008 seasons.
Conversely, Alabama (34), Georgia (26), Tennessee (25), Auburn (22), LSU (22) and Mississippi (21) are all among the top 13 schools for all-time bowl wins.
On May 19, the SEC and Big 12 announced a five-year agreement for their football champions to meet in a postseason bowl game following the 2014 season. This came in the wake of the BCS' April 26 announcement that a 4-team playoff could well be on the way. The current BCS agreement ends after the 2013 season.
The new bowl game would match the two conference champions unless one or both are selected to play in a new four-team national championship model. Should that occur, another deserving team from the conference(s) would be selected for the game.
The two league champions have met twice in BCS bowl games since 1998, both in BCS National Championship Games. In 2010, Alabama defeated Texas, 37-21, in Pasadena, Cal., and in 2009, Florida defeated Oklahoma, 24-14, in Miami, Fla.