What we learned in the SEC bowls

Another round of bowl games has come and gone for the SEC, which finished a very mediocre 5-5 this season in the postseason.

That’s one way to look at it.

The SEC also captured college football’s top prize for the fifth straight season with Auburn taking down Oregon on Monday night in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

Here’s a look at what we learned during the bowl festivities:

1. All in at Auburn. The “We’re All In” slogan took off this season at Auburn and was never more apparent than it was Monday night when the Tigers completed their perfect 14-0 season with a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game. It took everybody for Auburn to win this game. Cam Newton threw a couple of touchdown passes in the first half, but wasn’t his usual Heisman Trophy self. That’s right, the Tigers punctuated their dream season with perhaps their best team effort of the season. Senior safety Mike McNeil had 14 tackles. Junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley was unblockable. Freshman running back Mike Dyer took over on the Tigers’ game-winning drive, and the Auburn defense suffocated Oregon’s vaunted running game, holding the Ducks to 75 rushing yards on 32 carries. Keep in mind that the Ducks came into the game averaging more than 300 rushing yards an outing. So it doesn’t get any more clutch than that when you start talking about stellar defensive performances. Newton was the reason Auburn got to this point, but the Tigers won it as a team.

2. Alabama is dripping with talent. Auburn was the best team this season in the SEC. The Tigers have the hardware to prove it. But was there honestly a more talented team than Alabama? You go back and watch Alabama’s 49-7 dismantling of a Michigan State team that went 11-1 in the Big Ten, and the Crimson Tide’s talent jumps off the screen at you. They were healthier than they’ve been in a while for the game and had their offensive line back intact. But watching their combined array of speed, explosive athletic ability and sheer power against the Spartans raises the obvious question: How did this team lose three games this season? It’s a reminder that talent isn’t the end-all. Experience, chemistry and a little luck are equally important if you’re going to win a championship.

3. Miles is money in bowl games. Les Miles has coached in six bowl games at LSU, and he’s won five of them. The only one he lost was a year ago when Penn State slopped out a win over LSU in that quagmire of a football field at the Capital One Bowl. Give Miles some time to prepare, and he’s pretty good. The Tigers overwhelmed Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. It’s a Texas A&M team that was playing as well as anybody in the Big 12 when the regular season ended, but the Tigers toyed with the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl. They lose some great football players next season, notably Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard. But the young talent in this program was on full display in the Cotton Bowl, guys like Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Spencer Ware. With Miles returning to the Bayou for his seventh season after being wooed by Michigan, LSU should be right in the middle of the SEC and national championship mix in 2011.

4. How the Bulldogs have fallen. That 10-6 loss by Georgia to UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl was a microcosm of what we’ve seen from the Bulldogs the past two seasons. The air has been slowly seeping out of that program, which at one time was a pillar of consistency under Mark Richt. But the school’s first losing season under Richt and a combined 12 losses over the past two seasons has Richt backed into that proverbial corner. Somehow, he has to see that this program gets its edge back. But then, he has to get his edge back. His decision to kick a field goal in the shadow of UCF’s goal line on Georgia’s first drive tells you a lot about where that program is right now. Five years ago, there’s no way Richt kicks a field goal in that situation. He goes for the touchdown and doesn’t even think twice about it. The Bulldogs have continued to recruit well on Richt’s watch. But following up an already disappointing season with such a dismal performance in the bowl game puts him in the most precarious position of his Georgia coaching career.

5. East is least. It wasn’t exactly a revelation that the Eastern Division was down this season. And, actually, the East was more than just down. It was just plain bad with four teams -- Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- finishing with losing records. Even the division champion, South Carolina, finished with five losses. The bowl season was a chance for redemption. Instead, it only reinforced how weak the Eastern Division was this season. Georgia didn’t show up in its loss to UCF. Kentucky wasn’t much better in its 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh, and South Carolina played its usual bowl stinker, losing to Florida State. Tennessee lost a controversial decision to North Carolina in overtime, the Vols’ fourth straight loss to an ACC team in bowl games. Florida was the only one that survived, sending Urban Meyer out a winner in his last game. Suffice it to say that the East didn’t help its cause any during the postseason.