By Brad Bradford
In 1998, the BCS put together a formula and format, pitting the top two teams in the National Championship game played on a Monday night after the bowl season is complete. It might as well been referred to as “The SEC Invitational.”
In those 15 years, an SEC team has been in the game nine times, starting with Tennessee that first year. NO SEC TEAM HAS EVER LOST the championship game! (Correction: LSU did lose in 2011, but lost to fellow SEC member Alabama).
The SEC has now won the last seven in a row with Bama in a search for its 4th in the last 5 years. Since Auburn also won it in 2010, the state of Alabama should change from the “Yellowhammer State” to the “Crystal Ball State.” Last year, Alabama totally dominated Notre Dame in Miami and it could have been worse if Nick Saban had chosen.
This is the last year for the BCS championship series as we know it. In the fall of 2014, there will be a new system that takes the “Final Four” teams in a two-game playoff (1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 with the winners facing off) for the championship. The SEC just had a Brer Rabbit moment. They just got thrown in the briar patch and got what they wanted all along. This new format gives the SEC the chance for even more domination. If, for a moment, anyone with half-a-brain thinks the SEC won’t have at least one and probably two teams in the playoff, I can set you up on a blind date with Manti Teo’s girlfriend.
The new system should allow for the loser of the SEC championship game to remain in the top four where they belong. If this format had been in place in 2004, Auburn would have gotten its chance for the trophy. Instead, the Tigers will go in the history books as the only undefeated team from a BCS conference to get shut out of playing for it all.
CAN ANYONE CHANGE THE SEC HIERARCHY THIS YEAR? There has never been a more dividing line in the East and West divisions than this year. Both sides have an overwhelming TOP 3 and BOTTOM 4. In the East, the top three are South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. None of the others have a cutdog chance of moving up. In the West, it has Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU at the top. If Auburn or Ole Miss has a couple of upsets, either could slide up in place of LSU because of the Bengal Tiger’s brutal schedule.
Team-by-team schedule breakdown:
ALABAMA: After opening up against Virginia Tech in Atlanta, the Tide has an open date before playing Texas A&M in College Station. This will be the game of the year in the conference. The Tide defense will not allow Johnny Football to scramble around and beat them this year. If Bama wins there, they will roll until the annual showdown with LSU in Tuscaloosa. Again, having an open date before this game will allow Nick and Kirby time to remind the Tide about the last time the Tigers played there. Drawing Kentucky from the East instead of South Carolina, Georgia or Florida is huge. Prediction: SEC WEST CHAMPIONS. 12-0.
TEXAS A&M: After being the darlings of the nation last year, the Aggies are going to get everyone’s best shot this year. Everybody in the nation with a TV will be watching the showdown with the Tide on September 14th. Like Bama, A&M does not play South Carolina, Georgia or Florida. They also have an open date before playing at LSU in November. Prediction: 2nd in the WEST. 11-1.
LSU: The Tigers open in Dallas against a good TCU team. Bad news: They have to play Georgia (A) and Florida (H) from the East. Good news: their open dates fall before Alabama (A) and Texas A&M (H). Prediction: tied for third in the West with the seat warming up for Les Miles. 8-4.
AUBURN: With wins against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, they could be the surprise team in the West and start rolling the wires at Toomer’s Corner. Gus Malzahn put together a first-class coaching staff of recruiters. Open dates fall before Ole Miss and before the Iron Bowl. Playing at LSU and Texas A&M will be brutal for a young team. Prediction: tied for third in the West (depending on the Ole Miss game). 8-4.
OLE MISS: Everybody is jumping on the Rebels’ bandwagon after their going 7-6 last year and signing a top 10 recruiting class. As my friend Lee Corso says: “Not so fast.” The Rebels play at Texas and have to travel to Tuscaloosa. They don’t have to play the Big 3 from the East but playing back to back games at Auburn and Alabama is going to be tough. Prediction: tied for third in the West. 7-5.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs open on the road against Oklahoma State and later play South Carolina and Texas A&M on the road on consecutive weekends. The 2 key games for Dan Mullen to stay employed: Beat Auburn on the road and beat Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Prediction: 6th in the West and a new coach in Starkville. 6-6.
ARKANSAS: New coach Brett Bielema is trying to bring a power running game to Fayetteville like he had at Wisconsin. The Hogs play South Carolina at home but have road games against Florida, Alabama and LSU. He will get it done in time. Prediction: 7th in the West. 5-7.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Steve Spurrier is entering his 9th year in Columbia with his best team yet and the top player in the league in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The early East favorite will be the winner of the Georgia game in Athens the second week of the season. They have the schedule advantage of avoiding the Big 3 from the West. Playing Clemson the week before the SEC championship game will be a challenge: Prediction: SEC EAST CHAMPIONS. 11-1.
GEORGIA: The Dogs were 5 yards away from keeping Bama out of the championship game last year. Opening the season on the road against Clemson and back home the next week against South Carolina is a make or break 2 weeks. They play LSU at home but the key game will be Florida in Jacksonville. Prediction: tied for second in the East. 10-2.
FLORIDA: Will Muschamp’s team has an early showdown at Miami and later travels to LSU in October. In November, they play Georgia (Jacksonville), Vandy at home then at South Carolina. As always, the Gators close the season against Florida State. Team will be better than its record. Prediction: tied for 2nd in the East. 9-3.
VANDERBILT: The opening game against Ole Miss will set the tone for the season. Road games against South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida will make it tough for the Commodores to repeat their 8 win total from last year. An open date before Georgia at home is important. Prediction: 4th in the East. 7-5.
TENNESSEE: Playing back to back September road games against Oregon and Florida will be difficult for new coach Butch Jones. In October, the Vols host South Carolina then travel to Alabama the next week. Ouch! Prediction: 5th in the East. 5-7.
KENTUCKY: After opening on the road at Western Kentucky with its new coach Bobby “Motorcycleman” Petrino, the Wildcats play Louisville (H), Florida (H), South Carolina (A) then host Alabama in a five-week period. This is why they change coaches every four years. Prediction: 6th in the East. 3-9.
MISSOURI: The Tigers October schedule: at Vandy, at Georgia, Florida at home, then South Carolina at home. They don’t play the West Big 3. Doesn’t matter. Prediction: 7th in the East and a coaching change. 4-8.
HOW WILL THE SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PLAY OUT? Alabama will lock up the West a week before South Carolina plays Florida for the East. Alabama plays a young Auburn team on November 30. South Carolina plays a potential top 10 Clemson team on November 30. Bama beats South Carolina 30-10. MVP: Amari Cooper, Alabama wide receiver.
WHO WILL ALABAMA PLAY IN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME? STANFORD? Will lose to either Oregon or UCLA. OHIO STATE? Went undefeated last year with zero pressure. Urban will get sick again thinking about facing Saban. OREGON? First year head coaches don’t make it this far. CLEMSON? Will be Clemson and have a crazy loss. FLORIDA STATE? Having to replace too many NFLers and coaches. LOUISVILLE? Could go undefeated and be left out because of a weak schedule. The answer: TEXAS A&M. The Aggies will run the table after losing to Alabama and finish 2nd in the final BCS rankings. Giving Nick Saban and Kirby Smart more than a month to prepare for Johnny Manziel again is just not fair. Alabama has been here before; A&M has not. Alabama will win its third straight 35-7. MVP: Heisman trophy winner, A.J. McCarron.
To the SEC haters, be careful saying, “Wait ‘til next year.” In 2014, ALL four slots in the playoff could be SEC teams.
Brad Bradford is a 21-year veteran of the coaching business, six years as a high school assistant, four years as a head coach, three years at the University of Alabama and eight years as the running backs coach for Howard Schnellenberger at the University of Louisville. The author of the inspirational and humorous book, Hang in There like Hair in a Biscuit, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @coachhardknocks. He is the president of Bradford Consulting Group and resides in Destin, Fla.