Playing the “what if” game is always dangerous, but let’s do it anyway—just for today—and rewind to Georgia’s first championship season under Mark Richt.
It was 2002, and that David Greene led squad was pegged by many as the best team in the SEC, ending their regular season at 12-1 while securing their first SEC title in twenty-years.
The only thing standing between them and a BCS bid was a loss by either Ohio State or Miami.
Unfortunately for them, both teams won out and, eventually, played each other for a shot at the national title.
Now, fast forward to the here and now and ask yourself, if given today’s college football landscape, you could see a scenario where a one-loss SEC team is overlooked in favor of an undefeated Big East one.
I’ll go on the record and say it wouldn’t happen—not today.
The media is securely on the SEC’s bandwagon. Many sportswriters and pundits believe that even a two-loss SEC team is better than most any undefeated WAC, Big East, or Mountain West one.
However that wasn’t the case in 2002 when Miami was still the media darling and considered, by many, to be unbeatable.
So when did the SEC become king?
Well, despite BCS Championships by Tennessee (1998) and LSU (2003), the shift officially began in 2006 when
Urban Meyer actively campaigned for his one-loss Gators to be extended a bid to the BCS title game based on the premise that their schedule was tougher.
He felt, and this appears to be the reigning sentiment even now where SEC teams are concerned, that there was no schedule more grueling than an SEC one.
He won the argument, much to Michigan’s chagrin, and Florida played Ohio State for the national title.
The rest is history.
In 2007, LSU benefited from the same logic, as they were offered a spot in the BCS title game as a two-loss team—and won—giving further credence to the idea that the SEC is “the toughest conference in the nation”.
Now, what if Georgia were given those same benefits in 2002?
It seems fair to argue that they would have leap frogged either Ohio State or Miami for a spot in the title game—undefeated records or not—and then who knows?
Now, I know what you’re thinking, I’m taking a whole lot of license with this argument, and I probably am, but it has to make you think…just a little bit.
Of course, most would be quick to point out that even though you can’t get 2002 back, you still have to justify the lapses since.
A loss to Tennessee in 2007 left room for LSU to make their move.
A bad loss to Alabama in 2008 negated Georgia again.
Add to that, attrition, injuries, coaching changes, and a rising level of competition, and the perception of your program, within the SEC, as a stand-alone product—particularly judged against the successes of LSU, Alabama, and Florida—becomes as much a factor as the play itself.
Coach Richt deserves responsibility for recruiting misses (the years he failed to close the borders and great talent got away) and being too loyal to both coaches and players (redshirting Knowson Moreno, keeping Willie Martinez for too long, and starting Joe Tereshinski over Matthew Stafford in 2006). By no means can Richt be let off the hook—and he isn’t.
The only point here is to state that the perception of the SEC, since 2006, has played as much a role in the opportunities that have been granted as anything.
Sure, LSU and Tennessee won titles in 1998 and 2003, respectively, but ask anyone how many people—outside of Knoxville and Baton Rouge—thought they would?
The SEC was still playing second-fiddle to the Big 12 (Oklahoma), the Big East (Miami), and the ACC (Florida State/Virginia Tech) in those early BCS years—and the teams in those conferences were given far more respect.
Georgia’s luck in 2002 might have been different had that team played in today’s landscape.
Perception is everything, and sometimes, too, it’s just bad timing.
What say you?