2011 BCS National Championship: The SEC vs. The Field
Debate: Will the SEC win its sixth straight BCS National Championship?
Athlon editors Patrick Snow and Braden Gall debate whether the SEC can stay atop the College Football mountain:
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): A familiar chant has reigned over the college football world for the last five Januarys – “S-E-C, S-E-C!” It may seem stubborn to pick against America’s toughest conference, however, I believe that streak will end in 2011, with the fans in Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 country chanting “Finally, Finally!”
So if not the SEC, then who? Here’s a look at the teams with the best shot to break the streak:
The Oklahoma Sooners have to be the best bet to prevent an SEC sextet (is that an NCAA violation or just at BYU?). The Oklahoma offense should be a juggernaut this season, with quarterback Landry Jones and All-America wide receiver Ryan Broyles leading the way. OU has playmakers at every skill position, and the defense is young but very talented. It will not be easy to win at Florida State in September, but I can see Bob Stoops’ bunch – which beat FSU by 30 last year – running the table in the Big 12. Oklahoma is my top choice to take the crown away from the SEC.
The Oregon Ducks got a taste of the title game last year, and they will be motivated to finish the job this season. All-America runner LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas are back to lead one of the nation’s most creative and explosive offenses. There are concerns on the O-line, but Chip Kelly and staff have recruited well and should be able to continue lighting up scoreboards. The defense will be solid, although All-America cornerback Cliff Harris is suspended for the huge opener against LSU. If the Ducks beat the Tigers, I believe they will go unbeaten in league play once again.
Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting has been stellar in Tallahassee, and the Florida State Seminoles are ready to return to national prominence. The offense doesn’t have that one All-American, but the depth chart is loaded with solid playmakers at running back and receiver. Quarterback EJ Manuel has proven to be an effective starter, and he could break out as a star this season. The defense has great athletes at every level, with dominant pass rusher Brandon Jenkins and freaky corners in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes leading the way. If FSU can get revenge on Oklahoma, the Noles could be playing for it all in January.
The common theme between these three – besides being great teams – is that they could lose the big non-conference game early and still play for the national title by going undefeated in their league. I’m not sure the SEC teams will be able to overcome any out-of-conference losses.
Two other dark horses to break the streak are Boise State and Nebraska. I would not pick the Broncos to beat an undefeated SEC opponent in the big game, but an undefeated Boise could prevent a one-loss SEC from getting to the title tilt (can’t you just hear the talk shows on that one?). The Cornhuskers have a new-look offense and a new conference. Quarterback Taylor Martinez should become comfortable with that new offense during a very manageable first month of the schedule, and the defense should be great with tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David leading the way. The Big Ten road isn’t easy, but NU could become a “legend” in its first year in the league.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): It is highly unlikely that the SEC will win every remaining BCS championship – whether the money-grubbing series ends in 2014 or not. But until proven otherwise, the SEC is still looking down on everyone else in college football, and 2011 will be no different.
A half decade of dominance says so.
The real question is, whose turn is it? Four different SEC teams have claimed the BCS National Championship over the last four seasons, and there are rabid packs of Tigers, Hogs and Bulldogs with their eyes set on a trip to New Orleans in January.
The Contenders: Alabama, LSU and Arkansas are obvious top-15 teams who return loaded for bear in the SEC West. South Carolina, fresh off its first SEC title game berth in school history, Georgia and Florida each enter the summer with a legit claim to the SEC East throne.
The Florida Gators are absolutely loaded with young talent, and Gainesville native Will Muschamp has a coaching staff with sparkling NFL resumes. South Carolina is brimming with confidence and returns a solid defensive line to go with skill players that make NFL general managers salivate. Georgia has the best quarterback in the conference, Aaron Murray, who is a special player with a championship prep resume and one of the best seasons an SEC freshman has ever produced. The chaotic 3-4 defense in year two under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham should be improved and much tougher to stop at the point of attack.
There is clearly still plenty of clout waiting to prove itself in what should be a much-improved SEC East. That said, however, the 2011 champion will likely emerge from the West.
The Razorbacks are replacing the howitzer that was under center last fall, but have one the best supporting casts in the nation waiting for Tyler Wilson. The defensive line should be excellent as game-planning guru Bobby Petrino enters his third season in Fayetteville.
The Hogs have the unenviable task of playing in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge this fall, and one could argue that the best two rosters in the nation belong to the Crimson Tide and the Bayou Bengals. Each has a head coach with a championship pedigree. Both running games will be downright nasty and incredibly productive. And each team will be battle tested with tricky road non-conference games.
If LSU can survive against Oregon and West Virginia, and Bama can return from Happy Valley unscathed (and from The Swamp, too, for that matter), both schedules will culminate with a battle at the Capstone on November 5.
Alabama has the best offensive line, linebackers, secondary and head coach in the nation and will be at home against the Tigers. And LSU has The Hat.
Regardless how these epic SEC tilts play out, there is no conceivable way an unbeaten SEC champ gets left out of the BCS National Championship game.
I am taking the five-time defending champion. You can have the field.
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