LEXINGTON, Ky. — The start of the college football season is less than two months away, but “talking season” for the Southeastern Conference is already under way.
The league’s annual media days began Monday in Hoover, Alabama and the conference will undoubtedly boast of its past successes on the national scene. Although Alabama is the cream of the crop, the Crimson Tide has been the only conference program to carry the weight when it comes to national prominence.
Although the Crimson Tide have been national champion and runner-up during the past two years, the other traditional top contenders in the league, such as Florida, Georgia, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee have slipped down a step or two from the food chain. The league compiled a 6-9 record against Power 5 conference last season, a sign that other conferences are catching up with the SEC in the race for national supremacy.
The Atlantic Coast Conference made big gains against the SEC last season, winning 10 games in 14 tries. One of those big wins for the SEC was Kentucky’s 41-38 upset of Louisville on Thanksgiving weekend.
Ironically, Alabama opens its season against Florida State on Sept. 2 in Atlanta, an early test for both schools on Labor Day weekend.
From 2006-2012, the SEC won seven straight national championships, with Alabama winning three titles, followed by Florida with two. LSU and Auburn each captured one championship during the unprecedented run by the league. Since that time, other powerhouse programs (Florida State, Ohio State and Clemson) joined Alabama atop the college football’s proverbial mountain.
Until proven otherwise, Alabama remains the team to beat in the SEC. The Crimson Tide have won 17 straight games against conference foes by an average of 21 points per game. Other league teams are struggling to keep pace with Alabama’s success under Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will be loaded again this season with returning quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Auburn, which lost to Florida State in the national championship four years ago, LSU and Arkansas will attempt to dethrone Alabama in the Western division this season. Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee will have an easier time trying to overthrow Florida as the top team in the East.
Kentucky was one of the surprise teams last season and is poised at making a serious run to reach the league championship game for the first time in school history. The Wildcats came close, awfully close last season, but losses to Georgia and Tennessee in the final two league games eliminated Kentucky from a possible first-place finish.
The Wildcats have seven home games this season, including league encounters against East rivals Tennessee and Florida. Kentucky also hosts Missouri and Ole Miss. The league road games are at South Carolina, Mississippi State, Vandy and Georgia.
Other top league games to watch this season are Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 25), LSU at Florida (Oct. 7) and Florida vs. Georgia on Oct. 28 in Jacksonville.
Aside from the Wildcats, Tennessee will be trying to regain its swagger, while Georgia attempts to make its way back to the top under second-year coach Kirby Smart, a former Saban assistant at Alabama.
In addition, can LSU survive the post-Les Miles era under Ed Oregon? How much will Alabama miss offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, now the coach at Florida Atlantic? Can Auburn fly high with the addition of former Baylor signal caller Jarrett Stidham, a rising star with Kentucky roots.
Indeed, the storylines will be aplenty this week and that means football season is just around the corner.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.