Back to the drawing board

Kyle Riviere
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

Contrary to what you've heard in the past week, the king is not dead...but he is in bad shape.

After a decade of dominance, it appears that the SEC has finally loosened its grip on college football.

They won eight national titles in 11 years and seven in a row but come Monday night, they'll have to grudgingly sit at home and watch a team from another conference hoist a national championship trophy for the second straight season.

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were not kind to the SEC. It was a low mark that saw the conference go just 1-4 in bowl games. It was a stretch that proved to be one of the most embarrassing moments for the conference in recent memory.

But outside of the SEC, it was a time to rejoice. The millions and millions of SEC haters throughout the country couldn't have asked for a better way to begin the new year.

They spent Jan. 2 smiling and gloating like their teams had just won the national championship, and the words "I told you so" could not escape their lips fast enough.

For once, they finally had the justification they needed to brand the SEC as overrated, and they certainly didn't waver. They shouted it from the heavens.

It was like a second Christmas for notorious anti-SEC radicals like Colin Cowherd and Danny Kanell.

But for those here in SEC country, the disappointing thing about it all wasn't the fact that it was a mediocre bowl season, it was that this time around, the SEC haters just might have been right.

The SEC's reign of dominance is over. Other conferences, most nobly the Pac 12, have caught up--at least for now they have.

So, how did this happen? Just two years ago, Alabama was destroying Notre Dame to win the SEC a seventh straight title. How did this decline happen so quickly?

For me, it's a two-pronged answer that deals with both sides of the ball.

I believe one problem has to do with many SEC teams' decision to alter an offensive philosophy that always gave them the edge over other conferences.

The SEC has always been known for its hard-nosed offensive approach with big, physical offensive lines and big tailbacks running downhill. They punched teams in their mouths, and they played ball control.

It was old-school, grown-man football. But lately, many SEC teams have decided to go finesse. Many have tried to keep up with the Joneses and implemented spread, up-tempo attacks like numerous schools from outside the conference have run for years.

Texas A&M and Missouri brought these offenses into the SEC, and teams like Ole Miss, Kentucky and South Carolina have all tried to duplicate them to a certain extent.

Even though Auburn works out of the spread and plays up-tempo, they were still a hard-nosed, physical team last year. It was no surprise that they came an eye-lash away from winning the national title.

But this year, they went more finesse. Even Alabama at times has gotten away from a power-rushing attack to experiment with more of a spread, no-huddle approach.

The second thing that always gave the SEC their edge was defense. And the thing that always made their defenses unique to any other conference was their dominant defensive lines.

But unfortunately, there just haven't been many dominant defensive lines in the SEC the past two seasons.

There has been a substantial decline. There is no Nick Fairley, or Courtney Upshaw, or Barkevious Mingo or Jarvis Jones, and the results have been crippling for the SEC. Just look at the results this bowl season.

LSU gave up 263 yards rushing and 31 points to an average Notre Dame offensive line and rushing attack in their overtime loss.

Ole Miss was out-gained on the ground, 177-9, in their 42-3 drubbing to TCU. Mississippi State gave up an astounding 452 rushing yards in their 49-34 loss to Georgia Tech.

Auburn gave up 400 yards rushing in their overtime loss to Wisconsin, and Alabama inexplicably gave up 281 rushing yards and 42 points in their loss to Ohio State.

A good example of this huge decline of SEC defensive lines is the Georgia Tech factor. To stop a triple-option attack like theirs, it all starts up front. If your defensive line is good enough to cause disruption in the trenches, you can shut it down.

That's what happened when Georgia Tech played SEC teams in the past. Since Paul Johnson took over as head coach in 2008, they went just 2-6 against SEC teams and averaged 25 a game.

But this season, they beat both Georgia and Mississippi State and scored an average of 39 per contest.

This talent decline is quite baffling when you consider how the SEC has dominated recruiting. The only explanation is that a lot of those big-time recruits just haven't panned out and lived up to their high grades.

The SEC is certainly not dead. They still went a very good 14-8 in bowl games the past two seasons, and Auburn came just over a minute away from winning the conference its eighth straight championship just last season.

However, many conferences like the Pac 12 have bridged the gap the past two years.

If the SEC wants to once again assert itself as the best conference in college football, they'll have to get back to what made it so dominant in the past decade: physical, smash-mouth offenses with tenacious defensive lines.