Shane: High hopes or pipe dreams?

By Shane from Centerpoint

I’m beginning to get a sense of déjà vu. I’m having memories of the early Nineties, a period in SEC football history when the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators met annually in the championship game. Both programs dominated their respective divisions, and the only question at the beginning of each season was which team would win the “big” game at the end. Now it seems that history is about to repeat itself; the Tide and the Gators are currently loaded with superior talent and speed. They are also led by two of the best coaches in the nation. I have no doubt that these two SEC “superpowers” will meet in Atlanta for the next three or four years in a row.
Yes, I know that the SEC has several other strong teams that could be considered contenders. Georgia is a program that has the potential to challenge Florida on the Eastern front, while LSU should be considered Alabama’s main competition in the West. However, neither team will be able to sustain the pace required to match the two juggernauts.
Simply put: Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are destined to rule their divisions for several years to come.
So you aren’t convinced yet, huh? Maybe you think a team like Auburn could possibly rise up quickly under their new commander, Gene Chizik. You think last year’s debacle was an exception to the norm? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Auburn is at least two years away from being able to compete with LSU and Ole Miss, with an even longer path to catch Alabama.
Here’s why: This is a “transition” year for Auburn, and the Tigers have somewhere between 71 and 75 players on scholarship. The resulting lack of quality depth could spell disaster for Chizik. The interior line situation down on the Plains is on life support, while the offensive coordinator is stuck with 5 or 6 average signal-callers. Not one of them has stepped forward to become the team leader, which is required for success in the nation’s toughest conference
Some of you might ask, “What about Ole Miss?” The pundits are convinced they will play Florida in the title match. Well, those of us who’ve studied Houston Nutt know that (and I keep bringing it up), somewhere in the course of the season, he’ll blow a game he’s supposed to win – it happens every year. In fact, I think that is exactly why Arkansas fired him. That’s right Rebel fans, Arkansas cut Nutt loose for “choking.” Putting your faith in Coach Nutt is futile. Under his guidance, I’m afraid Ole Miss is destined to remain a pretender.

I know that somebody is going to bring up the Tennessee Volunteers. Many experts predict that Tennessee will rise to prominence quickly under the leadership of Lane Kiffin. His fan base is convinced he can build a champion. So far, the only thing he’s done is run his mouth – a lot.

Realistically, Vol fans should exercise caution and understand that Kiffin may be more like former Alabama coach Mike Shula when he’s on the field, than Urban Meyer or Nick Saban. Can you say “interim”?

Making it through a transition year can be tough on a seasoned veteran, and it usually becomes a game of survival for a rookie coach, especially in the SEC. None of this bodes well for Lane Kiffin’s long-term outlook, not with Vol fans and their unrealistic belief that this clown will soon lead them to the promised land.

Now, lets bring the argument back around to LSU. The Tigers began to fade last year as the talent that Nick Saban left-stockpiled (the ‘07 national champs consisted of 19 starters who were Saban’s recruits) left for the NFL or graduated. This year will reveal whether Les Miles is the man who can reload and coach the players back into contention. I personally doubt that Miles will ever get Louisiana State back to point of being a consistent front-runner.

I also mentioned the Georgia Bulldogs earlier in this article. Honestly, I believe that Mark Richt is a great recruiter and a very good coach at game time. He also has a huge talent-base surrounding him. But, something is missing in Athens, and it’s called a “killer instinct”. In order to compete with relentless competitors like Meyer and Saban, Richt must push himself to the brink. By the way, he hasn’t changed anything yet. Actually if Mark doesn’t figure out how to stop others from raiding his home turf for great players, he will no longer have the problem, because he won’t be the coach.

Finally, I’ll get back around to my original point – the fact that Florida and Alabama are poised to take control of the Southeastern Conference for the next several years. It will be interesting to watch them fight for supremacy, and I’m sure there will be many classic, gridiron battles involved in the process. Conversely, the remaining SEC football programs will be just like the rest of us – they’ll have to buy a ticket; or they can sit back and watch the championship game on TV.
—Shane writes a weekly column for the Call News and the Capstone Report.